Tag Archives: Forrest Gump

Old School Sundays: John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”

A novella under one-hundred pages, Of Mice and Men is one of my all-time favorite classics. This is one of those stories where if, by the end, you don’t have an emotional reaction, I’ll venture to say there’s something wrong with you!

Furthermore, and it’s rare I’ll say this, but a fabulous film version exists. Directed by Gary Sinise (yes, Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump!), who also stars in the film as George, along with John Malkovich as Lennie, it captures the essence of the story without missing a beat.

What I imagine when I read ‘Of Mice and Men’
“Old Tractor”
j. l. johnson → in Automobile

My favorite scene from the story is when Lennie (who is mentally handicapped) stumbles upon Crooks, the ranch’s “stable buck,” a black, ostracized ranch hand who was kicked by a horse, and (as his name suggests) resulted in a crooked spine.

“Crooks said gently, ‘Maybe you can see now. You got George. You know he’s goin’ to come back. S’pose you didn’t have nobody. S’pose you couldn’t go into the bunkhouse and play rummy ’cause you was black. How’d you like that? S’pose you had to sit out here an’ read books. Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody–to be near him.’ He whined, ‘A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya,’ he cried, ‘I tell ya a guys gets too lonely an’ he gets sick'” (Steinbeck 66).

The story takes place in California during The Great Depression, so it’s clear why racial separation was taking place. What struck me about this scene is the fact that Crooks is reaching out to Lennie–a man who possesses the intelligence of a child. Lennie can’t fathom Crooks’ grief, but as he says, ‘Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you.’

Loneliness is a quiet emotion. When we segregate, when we ostracize others–and it could be in a number of situations: school, work, family, etc.–we are rarely aware of the depth of pain we thrust onto the banished, the shunned, the exiled.

In fact, so quiet and non-intervening are the lonely, that we’re often surprised to find they have feelings at all. But in reality it’s true: ‘a guy gets too lonely and he gets sick.’

This is how literature teaches us.

*On a side note, today I came across a great link on Oprah’s website, that I’d like to share with all my hardworking, persevering, and aspiring writers:

10 Things That Should Never Stop You from Writing Your Story

See? It turns out we’re not alone after all 🙂

 

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Far Out: Writing fiction set in different decades

I’ve always been fascinated by decades past, particularly those before my birth.  My novel spans the ‘70s and ‘80s, and I’ve written short stories set in similar periods. It’s not easy to capture the ‘vibe’ of another decade, because it goes beyond saying, “My story is set in the seventies so I’ll have my characters watch The Brady Bunch.”  Dropping popular celebrity names, fashion styles, or any peppering of timely—and obvious—pop culture references will not do the setting’s vibe justice.

When I first began to research my novel’s era, I was biting off more than I could chew. Countless hours were spent memorizing hairdos, current events, slang terms, and more. None of which, might I add, turned out to be successful in creating my story’s (totally far out) vibe. In movies and television shows these elements may be important due to their visual natures, but it doesn’t work the same way in literature. Though some well-placed epoch-relevant allusions work well, there is no need to constantly remind the reader what decade it is. The groove should take care of itself.

Nicolas Raymond → in Objects

So taking a step back and re-analyzing the situation, I found that taking a broad, academic approach to researching a different decade works wonders. Take any ten year period and think about the big picture. What were people’s hopes and fears at the time? What philosophies surrounded the era? This is what I mean by vibe.

Two great books have aided my process:

Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and The Making of Eighties America  by Phillip Jenkins

Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now–Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything by David Sirota

Both books gave a comprehensive overview of the 1970’s and 1980’s, respectively. Just having a sense of the overall climate of the two decades gave me tremendous insight.

In the meantime, I’ve developed some strategies to live by when researching the glory days:

  1. Peruse books, magazines, and newspapers from the era. I got lucky when my father-in-law came across boxes of old Newsweek compilation books in his garage. The books were categorized by year.  From obscure cigarette brands to long-forgotten car models, vintage kitchen equipment, and not to mention, the big stories of the day, these books greatly contributed to my setting’s ‘vibe.’
  2. Watch television shows, movies, and music videos (if applicable, otherwise, listen to the music) of the era. Also, read books written during the era. Particularly with film and television, this helps with the visuals. The semi-faded backgrounds, the slower day-to-day pace, the humor, and of course, the ‘look and feel’ of the decade. Translate this into the writer’s mind, and somehow, magically, it ends up on the page. I’ve made a point to watch movies like Saturday Night Fever, The Breakfast Club, and other pop culture classics circa…well, fill in the blank. Nick at Nite can be helpful, as can old episodes of Saturday Night Live.
  3. Watch television shows, movies, music videos, and read books that portray a different era. Get some ideas on how it’s been done. Which ones are believable? That 70s show, Happy Days, Mad Men, and The Wonder Years come to mind. As do films such as Dazed and Confused, Rock Star, The Sandlot, Forrest Gump and A League of Their Own.Some great fiction that depict the days of yore? Try Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, Jodi Picoult’s Second Glance (Told in parts during the 1930s—what a feat!), and of course, many more.

My main point in this: the details do matter, but so does the bigger backdrop. Establishing setting (either time or place) on details alone just won’t do the trick. The vibe is crucial, even in its most subtle forms. Without the vibe, the story’s just stuck in some timeless purgatory.

Have you ever written in an era other than this one? Did you go back even further (in other words, a ‘real’ historical novel)? What was your experience like? How do you capture ‘the vibe?’

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Breaking Through, The Setting, The Writing Life, Writing Tips