Tag Archives: Paris

Why Thrillers Are Fun to Write, and #1 to Read: William Thompson Ong Interview

After he retired from a long career in the advertising industry, William Thompson Ong knew he wanted to return to his other love – 41z1MhGnReL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_writing – but didn’t know where to start. Like other writers, he wanted to draw plenty of fun and enjoyment from his daily sessions. However, he also wanted to write books that would find large audiences.

Ong did some research, and it brought him back to one of the favorite genres he read as a youth and young man: action thrillers with plenty of mystery. Bingo! He transformed into a typing thoroughbred, and burst out of the gates. In just a few years, he has written seven novels and a popular thriller series. In the second part of this exclusive interview, Ong reflects on why thrillers are so much fun to write, why they are the #1 fiction genre for readers (just ahead of the other ingredient in his books, romance), and how the stars have aligned ideally in the persona of Kate Conway, his protagonists for the novel series The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha, and The Fashionista Murders, all available on Amazon.com.

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: What is it about the personalities and characteristics of investigative journalists that make them ideal protagonists for thrillers and mysteries? 

WILLIAM THOMPSON ONG: I’d like to answer with some comparisons between the detective and the newspaper guy or gal. Both appear to be dedicated to discovering breakthrough facts or evidence they can weave into a conclusive story or an indictment.  Aren’t they both in the same business, after all—fighting crime?

In Kate Conway’s case, the hurdles are set higher. The investigative reporter is in a class by herself at a newspaper or magazine journal, assigned to the really big and explosive stuff—stories and cases that go far beyond the murder story.  These are the bright, tenacious, and fearless guys and gals who won’t be home for Christmas—they’ll be spending it hiding in a basement in Teheran to escape a terrorist’s sword. These are the guys and gals whose names will appear on the stories that garner Pulitzer Prizes for their papers—(to say nothing of boosting circulation enough to keep today’s newspapers alive for another year.)  And in most cases they’ll be acting alone—not with the NYPD at their disposal.

Tom's jacket photo. Alicia #9 (preferred)WJ: You mentioned a disparity between typical education levels of an investigative journalist and detective, which creates major story problems in moving crime novels along because of the distrust with which one often views the other in real life. How did you get around that in your series?

TO: I made Kate’s father a gnarly ex-detective—(Paul Conway is a career dick from Brooklyn). When Kate needs help she whistles and Paul Conway appears, wise in the details of police procedure (which Kate and I choose not to be) and just dropping his name opens doors for Kate. Some may think I am cheating by supplying Kate with a crutch like this. But it allows Kate to cruise on a higher level and solve the really complicated crimes.

All of this explains why I lean away from the straight detective story in favor of the mystery-thriller. I’m still that stickler for detail.  But now I can keep a lot more balls in the air when it comes to plotting.

WJ: In The Fashionista Murders, and also The Mounting Storm, you give an expert’s touch to how you portray the high fashion industry and the high-end art world. Are these interests of yours, or just story drivers that you researched (well) and brought to life?

Like Kate Conway herself in The Fashionista Murders, I am totally turned off by fashion—which is why I attached the serial killer to the story. In The Mounting Storm, introducing Kate to Margaret Winship opened up the world of art and museums and society that heightened Kate’s search for the missing Monet she suspects belonged to her grandmother and triggered Kate’s unmasking the Nazi.

It also opened all of Kate’s subsequent novels to the swanky world of high finance and billionaires and celebrity society with its pretension and snobbery and deviousness—absolutely wonderful and trusty elements for layering your novel.  These elements are story drivers and not comfortable elements already present in my life—although at one time I seriously considered becoming an artist.

WJ: You had an interesting way of becoming a thriller writer after leaving the advertising industry:

TO: I did. My decision to write thrillers was based on some good old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants research.  I found thrillers to be the most popular genre. I also found there were more female readers than male readers, which helped lead me to inventing Kate Conway.  Discovering that romances were the second hottest genre convinced me to spread Kate’s adventures with hot and spicy romance.

WJ: Were you a big reader of mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction in your growing up years? Who were your favorite 41u0RCXXw7L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_authors, and what influenced you most about their works, styles and/or voices?

TO: When I was 9, my father brought home The Five Orange Pips and lightning struck. I became a Sherlock Holmes fan forever, admiring his characters and atmosphere (who can resist The Hound of the Baskervilles for atmosphere?) as much as his sleuthing.  But as I grew older, my tastes gravitated to more intricate thrillers like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Gorky Park, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Day of the Jackal.

By the time I reached college, writing style became important—the   grace and class of W. Somerset Maugham as well as the biting vividness of Hemingway and the magic of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I have worn out several soft-cover editions of A Farewell to Arms and The Great Gatsby.)

WJ: Story structure and writing style definitely resonates in your books. We start off on one trail, only to be switched to another – then another –  always with entanglements of some kind involved. Is this a reflection of the way Kate keeps changing and running into surprises? Or the storycrafting style you’ve decided to run with?

TO: It’s both. The multi-layering of plot that I began in The Mounting Storm logically became a pattern for all of Kate’s novels.  In the beginning I had no thought of making the novel into a series.  It was to be a dark and brooding Citizen Kane type of story dramatizing the deviousness of Stirling Winship with Kate almost a minor figure. On the advice of an agent I cut some 90 pages and 30,000 words of background color on Stirling and turned it into a fast-paced thriller featuring Kate. But almost all the plots and subplots remained intact and we were off to the races with the Kate Conway series.

41WA0IPiSeL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_WJ: Rather than go the traditional publishing route, you’ve partner-published with Charles Redner and RiPublishing. Could you elaborate on the advantages you’ve found to the path you’re taking?

TO: The advantages? I am getting to see my books in print, I’m getting strong reviews, and I’m selling enough books to encourage me to keep going. Plus, it’s happening right now. This sure beats waiting around while an editor fiddles and fusses with changes for a year and then spends another year wondering whether the publishing house bosses will give me the final green light.

Self-publishing no longer bears a stigma. It’s attracting big name authors as well as beginners.  If you can’t afford to wait, it’s the place to be. If your books have the necessary magic, they will almost certainly rise to the top.

Partnership-publishing is even better. In Charlie Redner, I have the advantage of a fellow author who acts as my publisher and also my agent when it comes to advice.  There’s a lot of advice you’ll need, especially if you’re like me and have a mind that was built to function in the old days before the computer and the internet—back when we spent our time thinking and doing things instead of walking around pressing buttons on gadgets. (But thank Heaven the word processor replaced my typewriter!)

WJ: Final question: In each of your books, what is the one scene, situation, or character shift that surprised you most when it came flying from your mind to pen or computer screen?

TO: What a terrific question for ending this interview!

In The Mounting Storm, it’s the scene where Kate’s having dinner as the guest of Winston Winship.  She has found the guy an obnoxious bore and lets us know it. But then he says something encouraging about her idea for a new magazine—and she warms to him. When he invites Kate to the party he’s throwing in the Hamptons, which she absolutely hates…

            Kate looked at him before answering, digesting all over again his         coolness, his incredible confidence, his mastery at what he does, his   extremely good looks. And his eyes, those wonderful gray eyes with      their look of sadness.

           “Yes, I’ll come,” she said. “I love the Hamptons.

In The Deadly Buddha, in the party scene at the Hollywood movie studio, Kate has no idea the handsome dude chatting her up—and from whom she reluctantly accepts a ride back to her hotel—is the Welsh movie star she’s been ordered to interview.  He stops at the Griffith Observatory and they find themselves having a ball as they recall from memory the lines James Dean and Natalie Wood exchanged in Rebel Without a Cause. This is how the scene ends:

             Kate didn’t lean over and kiss him, although she thought about it. They were too busy laughing. They laughed all the way back to the hotel. The doorman helped her out. She turned to wave goodbye, but he was already in the circle and heading toward the Wilshire exit, his hand waving carelessly in the air.

           That was the moment Kate realized she didn’t even know his name.

In The Fashionista Murders, we go through the thought process that keeps Kate from giving in to sex, this time in the apartment-studio and in the arms of the handsome photographer covering the fashion shows with her:

Maybe the shrink her friends had dragged her to was right—instead of shutting men out of her life she should loosen up when she felt her buttons being pushed and let things happen. Maybe she needs to change—not just Cam.

          “You are not only a sex maniac but a full-fledged, card-carrying, conniving bastard,” was the way she began the terms of her surrender.  

           She took a step back, grasping both his hands in hers while shaking her mane of Irish red hair. “And now that I have made it ridiculously clear, you may do what you want with me—so long as it’s not boring, distasteful, or so devious it will land us in jail.”

 I warned you how much fun it is writing thrillers, especially when you decide to stretch the boundaries a little. Thanks again for inviting me into your sanctuary.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Action Fiction, Adult Literacy, Author Platform, Books, E-books, Featured Websites, Fiction, Journalism, Mysteries, Reading, Self Publishing, Television, Thrillers, Writing, Writing Education

From Mad Men to Thrillers: An Interview with William Thompson Ong

William Thompson Ong, or Tom as his friends know him, has created quite a stir with thriller readers in the past 12 months with his trilogy of novels featuring journalist-protagonist-amateur sleuth Kate Conway.Tom's jacket photo. Alicia #9 (preferred)

The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha and The Fashionista Murders (published by Ri Publishing) combine tight, twisting plots, charming bad guys to which Kate becomes attracted, and some high-powered crime solving in great professional settings – art museums, Parisian fashion runways and the like. The trio of novels (not a trilogy; Tom has more Kate Conway novels in his future) also incorporates two aspects of writing of which I can never get enough (or impress more upon writers) – tough, gritty narrative voice, and attention to detail  explicit in time, place, and the character’s personal likes and dislikes. NWhen I see this, I see someone who has married fine journalistic skills with excellent fiction-writing style. ot as easy to write or maintain as it sounds.

41z1MhGnReL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Behind Kate Conway is a novelist with an illustrious past in the advertising industry, especially for fans of the hit AMC TV show Mad Men. Tom Ong is an original Mad Man, an advertising copywriter and, later, executive who began his career on New York’s Madison Avenue a decade before Mad Men star Jon Hamm was born. Later, he moved to the West Coast, where he cooks up plot twists rather than hook and tag lines.

This is the first of a two-part interview with Tom, in which he reflects on his Mad Men days and takes us deep into Kate Conway’s world, and the ways in which he constructed it. I found his answers rich and fascinating. Hope you do, too.

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: First of all, Tom, you’ve made an interesting creative leap – from being an advertising agency executive to writing thrillers. How did that come about?

William Thompson Ong: It wasn’t that hard. I entered the business as a copywriter, and every copywriter I knew was secretly working on a novel. It was in our blood. At one time at the Benton & Bowles agency we had four guys writing copy for P&G and General Foods, along with our other clients who went on to become successful novelists and lyricists and screenplay writers—Israel Horowitz, Shepherd Meade, Ed Hannibal and Herman Raucher  (who wrote Summer of ’42)—all of us working at the same time and on the same floor. Even though I eventually had many executive titles, like Creative Director and even CEO of my own agency, I was always a copywriter, creating ads and aiming for the fences.

WJ.COM: Could you give us a brief synopsis of your background?

WTO: I grew up in the quiet, tree-lined suburbs of Cleveland, and got my undergrad degree from DePauw University in Indiana. I wrote some short stories and then some angry editorials as editor of the campus newspaper, which led to my MA in journalism from Columbia. After the army I spent 15 years with the biggest advertising agencies in New York City—yes, I was one of the original Mad Men. Then I opened my own agency in Philadelphia and ten years ago cashed in on my lifelong dream, migrating to Los Angeles cold turkey to pursue a new career as a novelist.

WJ.COM: You’ve been quite prolific since becoming a full-time novelist.

WTO: I’ve completed seven novels (plus two screenplays). The three novels in the Kate Conway series are thrillers and have been partnership-published and are doing quite well on Amazon.  I have four more historical thrillers waiting to be published, and I’m still developing plots for Kate Conway.

WJ.COM: Have to ask, since you were one of the originals – how authentic is Mad Men?

WTO: Don Draper is hard to resist as the handsome anti-hero in a world of snakes and dragons, but in a sense he spoils the series for me.  I was hoping it would be more about the classic creative wars that took place at the time between the good guys in creative and the bad guys, at both the client and the agency—all heavily-armed and  thoroughly trained to shoot down any idea that looked fresh and original. I will give Don credit for his ploy in taking on the Cancer Society client and its anti-smoking messages to get even with the cigarette account the agency lost.  That was brilliant—and Don’s personal high for me.

What I like about the series is the telling it like it was—the drinking and smoking, the cheating and jealousy, the double-dealing and back-stabbing, the toll the business took on marriages. Incredible!—we were all so busy trying to survive and get ahead we failed to realize what was going on.

WJ.COM: What were some of the toughest parts of the adjustment from writing ad copy to subjective, character-based fictional narrative?41WA0IPiSeL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_

WTO: No matter how good you are with words, it requires work and study to absorb the basics of good fiction writing. And there definitely are rules: ‘Show, Don’t Tell’; establishing and following well-defined character arcs; knowing your characters intimately; and keeping the action moving—plus a dozen other rules that you should learn to follow before you can break them. You can break them when you reach that point of competence and hear that voice whispering in your ear saying you have arrived.  Then you can forget the rules because they are no longer rules on paper—they are automatic in your head.

When I sat down to write ads and campaigns I would always begin by briefing myself as thoroughly as possible and then staring at that blank sheet of paper—rejecting idea after idea until I knew I had nailed that one idea that would knock everything else silly. It’s the same in fiction writing—we are always staring at that blank sheet of paper and forcing ourselves to come up with that one great plot, one great character, one great scene, one word that propels our story forward. It’s the same process for both. And it’s nakedly, sinfully, deliciously, heart-warmingly beautiful.

WJ.COM: What do you feel are the most important points to remember when writing action-based fiction?

WTO: Every writer has a checklist. Here’s mine, just the way I have the points written down:

  1. SHOW DON’T TELL. Avoid “She saw . . . /noticed . . .” Substitute: “She turned. Two snakes were slithering down the embankment.”
  2. NEVER BE BORING—keep asking yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen next?
  3. Welcome friction, antagonism, fear, unexpected twists and turns. Make characters want something out of reach in every scene.
  4. Know where you are going with the story.
  5. Start the FLASHPOINT OF ACTION on Page One
  6. Make Kate a tough cookie and keep her there. Never let romance get the best of her.  Keep her innocent of how sexy she is.
  7. AVOID CLICHES AND EMPTY GESTURES.  ‘She finished eating and, wiping her mouth with a napkin, smiled.’

8 .  Watch the adjectives, adverbs. Ditch the colons and semi-colons. Don’t try so hard with word play. Use dialogue more often to advance the story.

Another thing I keep in mind is that, broadly speaking, thrillers are action-oriented while literary fiction is character-oriented.

WJ.COM: You’ve brought your journalistic skills into the mix through the way you interlace precise details that are on the money for time and place as well. Could you talk about the importance of enriching narrative with well-chosen details?

WTO: At Columbia University we had a tough, white-thatched ex-Chicago Daily News editor as one of our professors. His name was Roscoe Ellard and he described the cub reporter who couldn’t wait to hand in the story of a horrific fire that destroyed a landmark church and its historic steeple. The reporter captured all the details—the time of the fire, names and addresses of the dead, degree of burns of all victims, age of the church, the hospitals involved, whether arson was suspected, plus dozens of other facts that were right on the money. The professor finally asked the cub writer one simple question.

“How high was the steeple?”

A stony silence followed.

For the rest of the school year Professor Ellard, in his huge booming voice, not only opened every class with the same question, but as students passing each other in the halls or meeting in bars our official greeting became: “How high was the steeple, pal?”

41u0RCXXw7L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_WJ.COM: The other side of your journalistic background comes from Kate Conway, the protagonist in three books now – The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha and The Fashionista Murders. Is Kate the journalist you would have been had you not moved into the advertising business?  

WTO: This is a tricky question, and I’m not sure, since Kate and I represent opposite sexes. My first response would be to say yes, that Kate and I are Type-A personalities not content to stand idly by but want to always plunge in and slug the perpetrator – or at least try to bring the body at our feet back to life.

WJ.COM: How different or similar were your primary goals?

WTO: Kate’s primary goal in journalism is to do what she was taught as a child and had driven into her being by her Catholic parents and especially her detective father— TELL THE TRUTH.  That also describes my background, my family, my political views and, although I am a Presbyterian, my religious beliefs.  With a nation full of evil CEOs, politicians and killers posing as saints, there is plenty for Kate and me and any other investigative reporter, real or imaginary, to feast upon.

WJ.COM: While many male novelists have written strong woman characters, it is very rare to find a male thriller writer using a female protagonist.

WTO: I have received a lot of praise for establishing Kate as a role model for women. I set out to do this intentionally.  In Kate’s first novel, The Mounting Storm, we see her flair for journalism in writing an innocent bio piece about Margaret Winship, The Museum Queen. The piece leads ultimately to exposing her husband and finding the missing Monet, but in it, Kate has Margaret deliver a stern lecture challenging today’s women in the work force to keep giving back to their own sex as they plunge ahead.

WJ.COM: What is Kate’s primary motivation in life? How is it she finds herself crossing paths with the twisted, sophisticated, charismatic bad guys you bring into each story?

TO: Close behind Kate’s driving preoccupation with discovering and telling the truth is coming face-to-face with a talented and romantic male character who she is attracted to and, plot-wise, becomes deeply  involved with—and in two of the three novels comes close to marrying.

I’ve already mentioned how I chose a woman as my major character to stand out from the male-dominated thrillers.  I decided to take this extra positioning step by not being afraid to have romance that leads to sex (and a lot of it) become a powerful and controlling factor in all three of Kate Conway’s adventures.

In this case it was more than relieving my own boredom.  I felt I was being adventurous myself, perhaps venturing where others feared to tread and all that ego-enhancing stuff.  But I knew I was on the right track when women readers and the dozen or so agents who read the first manuscript loved Kate just as written with all her romantic entanglements.

(PART TWO will run on Friday, August 9)

Leave a comment

Filed under Action Fiction, Adult Literacy, Author Platform, Books, E-books, Featured Websites, Fiction, Hybrid Authors, Interviews, Journalism, Mysteries, Television, Thrillers, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Education

Catching Up on Stories, Legacies, and Interviews

Catching up on a lot of good writing news while getting ready to head to San Diego for the Southern California Writers Conference – always a great weekend of fun, frivolity, and connection with other authors, editors, agents and publishers.

Last week, author Martha Halda and I were interviewed on Jennifer Hillman’s Abstract Illusions Radio TCW_r2_ecover-loresshow. Each of us talked with Jennifer for about an hour on this wonderful Internet radio show that merges creativity, expression and spiritual topics. I discussed my newest books, The Champion’s Way that I co-wrote with Dr. Steve Victorson, and my novel, Voices, that will be out later in 2013. I also talked about the writing process, and how vital it is to submit well-edited manuscripts, whether you have a publishing contract or are self-publishing. I will be addressing this topic directly at the Southern California Writers Conference.

"A Taste of Eternity" author Martha Halda

“A Taste of Eternity” author Martha Halda

Martha spoke about her memoir, A Taste of Eternity, concerning her near-death experiences and how she has repurposed her life to align more closely to what she experienced, and to share those  with others. She’s currently shopping the book to publishers, and is receiving a ton of comments and reaction to her work. Since I am helping her with the book and editing it, I’ll give you some inside information right now: It is a fabulous read, with a lot of content you haven’t seen in any other near-death memoirs. Let me put it this way: Any middle-aged woman who jumps off 50-foot cliffs into the chilly Himalayan snowmelt waters in the Ganges River to celebrate her birthday is going to be writing from a place of fearlessness. That’s what makes A Taste of Eternity so special.

I’ll be interviewed on all matters writing April 26 on The Write Now! cable television show in icon-spring2011Orange County, which is co-hosted by my partner in all things poetry, The Hummingbird Review publisher Charles Redner. Really looking forward to it. Speaking of The Hummingbird Review, we’re building the Spring 2013 issue right now, with a distinct theme: the relationship of Hollywood and literature. We have great essays and poems from some familiar names, as well as distinct new voices. Will share a preview on all the goodies very soon in this blog.

• • •

376462_204666292995418_1130802602_nNow to switch gears for some very cool music-related news: Stevie Salas, who grew up surfing in my hometown of Carlsbad, Calif. and is considered a guitar legend in most parts of the world, recently received one of the greatest honors you can imagine. He was named the contemporary music advisor to the Smithsonian Institution. To give you some perspective, the poetry consultant is Billy Collins, who formerly served as the Poet Laureate of the United States – a position appointed by the President.

Years ago, Stevie played with This Kids, a great North San Diego County cover band. Then he moved to LA and, after some tough times, he made it – big-time. About 20 years ago, he played guitar on major world tours by Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger, among others. He has since recorded more than 20 albums, sessioned on countless others, created the Rockstar Solos mobile app that is selling off the charts, and created and served as executive producer for Arbor Live, which airs in prime time every Friday night in Canada.

Stevie Salas exhibit in the Smithsonian Institution

Stevie Salas exhibit in the Smithsonian Institution

I don’t know of many musicians with bigger contact lists, either. Stevie keeps talking about his “six degrees of separation” from every noteworthy musician of the last 30 years, but when he starts talking about it, you realize there are really only one or two degrees.

We’ll have another announcement concerning Stevie very soon. It’s going to be a good one, and it has to do with a book!

• • •

Cover Placed_Proofing6The technology/innovation/creative business magazine that I edit, The Legacy Series Magazine, made a huge splash at Macworld/iWorld in San Francisco last weekend. In addition to thousands of magazines being given away, the magazine booth was among the most crowded at the massive show.

What a labor of love, this magazine: to talk with the top innovators, movers and shakers on a variety of very current topics. Among many other topics, we focus a lot on social media and publishing, as well as the devices, apps and other technology that support it. One of my personal thrills was to interview former high school classmate David Warthen, who co-founded the AskJeeves search engine (which later became Ask.com) that revolutionized search.

But the best news of all concerns the magazine’s expansion. In 2013, The Legacy Series Magazine is moving to a quarterly digital format, with the final issue of the year, a larger-sized issue, releasing on newsstands nationally as a print magazine as well. Will keep you posted.

• • •

"Home Free Adventures" author Lynne Martin and her husband, novelist Tim Martin

“Home Free Adventures” author Lynne Martin and her husband, novelist Tim Martin

Finally, a very happy bon voyage to Lynne and Tim Martin as they sail on the Atlantic this week to begin Year 3 of their Home Free experience. During their three-month interlude in California, Lynne sold her travel narrative, Home Free Adventures, to Sourcebooks. She’s about halfway through the draft manuscript now. As her editor, I can assure you that this fun-filled book is loaded with incredible insight that takes more than simply being a tourist to acquire. The hook is that Lynne and Tim live in each area they stop (Buenos Aires, Paris, Istanbul, Italy, Ireland, etc.) for one to three months at a time, becoming residents, not tourists. The book zips along with plenty of spice, compliments of Lynne’s keen sense of humor, love of people, and love of food.

There is a backstory to this book. Five months ago, the idea didn’t even exist. A meeting in a Paris cafe with a Wall Street Journal contributor started an amazing ball rolling. Whereas some of us might have said, “Someone else probably already thought of this,” Lynne jumped on it and went from zero book writing experience to a deal — quickly. Goes to show what happens when you believe in your ideas so fully that you pour yourself into them. And then, put together an outline that can connect with large numbers of readers (and acquisition editors), and share a compelling story with plenty of personality and good information, to which readers can relate.

That will be the common mantra next week at the Southern California Writers Conference. Which is a good place to sign off, for now …

Leave a comment

Filed under Author Platform, Books, Creativity, Editing, Education, Featured Websites, Fiction, Film, Innovation, Internet, Journalism, literature, Music, Online Media, poetry, Reading, Social Media, Technology, travelogue, Uncategorized, writers conferences, Writing, Writing Education

Hugo: When Two Storytelling Masters Meet on Screen

During the 18 months I worked on George Lucas’ Blockbusting book as a researcher and ghostwriter, one recurring storyline captivated me over and over: the origins of various moviemaking techniques and genres. With all due respect to Thomas Edison, the Lumiere brothers and Edwin Porter, the moviemaking we know today threads back to a single source: the magical French filmmaker Georges Melies. The eccentric former stage magician brought storytelling, imagination, color, fantasy and magic to the big screen more than 100 years ago, as best known in his seminal one-reeler from 1902, Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1865 classic sci-fi novel, From the Earth to the Moon.

On Friday, while looking for a good movie to attend, Martha and I saw the trailer for Martin Scorsese’s new film, Hugo. It had “great story” written all over it: a boy and girl embark on an adventure within the clock towers and inner walls of Paris’ Montparnasse (central train station) to discover the mystery behind an automaton found by Hugo’s late father (I want to be careful here not to give away too much of the plot). In chasing this mystery, they come across a discovery that changes the lives of everyone concerned — and brings some very important history back to life. For two hours, I marveled at the intersecting storylines, the use of classic page-turner dialogue like “it wouldn’t be an adventure if there wasn’t danger,” the rich characters and settings, and the way Scorsese masterfully wove colorful 1920s Paris into his deeper story.

That’s the essence of the plot line. Here’s the treasure: within Hugo, we became reacquainted with the great Melies (again, I won’t tell you how).  For 500+ movies (of which approximately 80 remain), Melies wrote, directed and co-starred in his movies, painted and designed his sets, and splashed color and magic throughout his studio. Beginning in 1896, two years after cinema’s inception, he made movies for the thrill of seeing his imaginations and stories in live action — and for the way they enlivened his adoring patrons. Now, thanks to this incredible gift from Scorsese, Melies comes to life again for a time and generation in dire need of reconnecting with their imagination and their ability to live their dreams. Everyone who wants to reconnect with the pure pleasure of making stories would do well to learn everything you can about Melies and the gift he gave the world through his filmmaking.

If you have ever wondered about the starting point for real movie-making, or about the way great stories are told, see this movie. We experience the tale of how one person can change the world — told over and over again, through the actions of several characters. This movie is a celebration of what makes pure storytelling so much fun, both for the creator and the reader/viewer: coming up with ideas, letting your imagination run with them, and letting the characters play them out, no matter how fantastical, colorful or magical they might be.

Hugo is a modern cinematic masterpiece by a masterful filmmaker who never makes the same movie twice. There are no bombs, profanities, car chases, inane characters or clichés. Rather, there is magic, imagination, adventure, deep character interaction and the sweetest qualities of romance. Somehow or another, with everything else having been done, Scorsese found an original thread in one of his favorite playgrounds — bringing history to life. In the same season he brought us the George Harrison documentary on HBO, he comes up with Hugo. Wow!

Whether you love movies, love stories, write stories or love adventure, mystery and imagination, Hugo will take your heart and inform as well as entertain you. For anyone who writes stories, shoots photos, makes movies, paints or engages in any other creative form, this movie is a must-see.

1 Comment

Filed under Adult Literacy, Christmas, Creativity, Education, Featured Websites, Film, History, Online Media, Reading, travelogue, Writing Education