Ecce Homo

Ecce Homo

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“Ecce Homo” by Adam Chmielowski, a.k.a. Saint Brother Albert and a character in my new play, The Actor.

Preparing for the Release of “The Actor”

Preparing for the Release of “The Actor”

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I haven’t had much time to blog of late as I’m in the homestretch of preparations for the release, next Tuesday, of my play, The Actor, based on part of the early life of Karol Wojtyła, the man who became Pope John Paul II. I’m timing the launch of the play with the canonization of John Paul II, which will take place in Rome on Sunday, April 27.

Homeschoolers will be especially interested in talks I’ll be giving at two homeschooling conferences this summer. I’m going to speak on, “Children’s Literature, Catholicism, and the Golden World,” a version of a talk I gave last fall at Notre Dame, to both the IHM National Homeschool Conference in Fredericksburg, Virginia and the IHM Maryland Homeschool Conference in Mt. Airy, Maryland. Here are the dates and locations:

IHM Maryland Homeschool Conference

St. Michael’s Catholic Church

Mt. Airy, MD 21771

Saturday, May 17, 2014

 

IHM National Homeschool Conference

Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center

2372 Carl D. Silver Parkway

Fredericksburg, VA 22041

Friday, June 20, 2014

I haven’t yet been told the precise times of my talks–I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

At both conferences I’ll be available to sign books after my talks. I will have limited numbers of Patria books with me, so I encourage you, if you’re interested in signed books, to purchase yours beforehand from Amazon and bring them to the conference.

Trojan Tub Entertainment, the children’s entertainment company under which I publish the Kingdom of Patria series, will have a vendor table both the Friday and the Saturday (May 16-17) of the national conference.

I look forward to seeing you at one of these events!

 

The photograph above is of St. Mary’s Church in Wadowice, Poland, where soon-to-be Pope Saint John Paul II was baptized on June 20, 1920. It is reproduced courtesy of Piotrek Szymakowski at Flickr Creative Commons under the following license.

Can You Name This Actor?

Can You Name This Actor?

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My friend Jeff Bruno is doing the cover design for my new play, The Actor, based on part of the early life of Karol Wojtyla, the man who became Pope John Paul II, and today he secured the use of this photograph of the 18 year-old future pope (the photograph was taken in 1938). I think such a headshot makes a fabulous cover for this play.

What do you think?

Very Soon Till Curtain!

Very Soon Till Curtain!

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I couldn’t resist announcing this on Twitter today so there’s no reason not to blurt it out here. (Are we connected on Twitter? Find me @danielmcinerny.) I’m preparing to launch my latest work, one I haven’t even mentioned here as a work-in-progress. It’s a play about a young actor desperate to forge a career in the theatre but who, through the crucible of his country’s occupation during World War II, discovers that he has been given the gift of a very different calling–to the priesthood. The play is called The Actor. The young actor is a Pole named Karol Wojtyla. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, you might better know him as Pope John Paul II.

The Actor is not a full biography of Pope John Paul II, not even of his youth. It concentrates on the period between his first year at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and his decision to enter the underground seminary in 1942.

Watch this space for further details on publication, which I’m aiming to be on Monday, April 21, a week before the celebration of John Paul II’s canonization on April 27.

The photograph above is of Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. Karol Wojtyla was just getting ready to serve Mass here when he and his friend, Father Figelwicz, first heard the approach of the Nazi invasion. Photograph reproduced courtesy of Maciej Szczepańczyk at Wikimedia Commons.

A Question for Mr. Rob Lowe

A Question for Mr. Rob Lowe

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Readers of High Concepts: A Hollywood Nightmare will remember Giggs, the hitman-screenwriter-philosopher who debates questions of justice with his victims while carrying out his dirty jobs. This is his blog.

Gadfly Blog. Number 2.

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine Mr. Rob Lowe was asked what he believes (politically). His answer:

“My thing is personal freedoms, freedoms for the individual to love whom they want, do with what they want. In fact, I want the government out of almost everything.”

To a certain extent I am sympathetic to Mr. Lowe’s concern for freedom from interference. I can think of numerous occasions in my life where the government, and her policing agents, were more than just a nuisance to me. Yet I wonder. At one point, if any, does freedom from interference devolve into moral anarchy? What if I would like to use my freedom to relieve my neighbor of his goods at gunpoint?

No doubt Mr. Lowe would want to draw the moral line at armed robbery. But many in my acquaintance would have no interest in drawing this conventional moral line. If an armed robbery suits their purposes, they pursue it with gusto.

What, Mr. Lowe, would you have to say to them? I imagine your answer would be something like the following:

“Personal freedom can never mean the freedom to interfere with someone else’s freedom.”

Interesting. But what I would like to know is this. Where do you get this principle? And how is it not self-violating?

For after all, in asserting it aren’t you interfering with the freedom of all those who disagree with you?

The “Shoot” Scripts and Diaries Season 1, by Miles Taylor-Reese

The “Shoot” Scripts and Diaries Season 1, by Miles Taylor-Reese

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“That Miles. So much energy, so little parental supervision.” So remarked Giggs, in the pages of High Concepts: A Hollywood Nightmare, about Miles Taylor-Reese, the 16 year-old military academy dropout and slasher film sommelier who ends up in Hollywood dating Persephone Mills and posing as “Newton Orchid,” Donnie Percival’s best friend and amanuensis.

Per his contract with Simon Todhunter and Midas Demiurgos, heads of Pandaemonium Pictures and Phantasmagoria Studios, respectively, Miles squired Persephone Mills around Hollywood, always careful not to be photographed too closely so as not to reveal that his acne was still robust and that he was actually eight years younger than his girlfriend. Miles’s contract as Persephone’s boyfriend was for a maximum of two years, however, and when the contract was up he and Persephone went through a very public period of “conscious uncoupling.” Not that Miles’s lawyers hadn’t provided for him. For there was a provision in Miles’s contract to the effect that, upon its termination, Miles would sign a fresh deal with Todhunter and Midas as writer-director-lead actor of his own television series.

Thus was born “Shoot,” a new television series scheduled to air on HBO about a group of LA friends shooting their own web series.

“It’s a show about the plight of young people coming into adulthood in a post-critical world in which commitment, moral absolutes, and prime-time television have been thrown into the cultural dustbin,” explains Miles, who has happily ceased using “Newton Orchid” in public. “Yes, all the characters are obsessed with their careers and their sexual lives. But underneath all that they’re fretting about their places in the cosmos. Digital technology has lowered the bar of entry for them into the entertainment industry. But it’s also placed on their shoulders, at a conspicuously young age, the awesome responsibility to choose themselves and make great art. Quite frankly, they’re frightened. And that kind of insecurity can be very funny.”

Miles is giving the burgeoning “Shoot” tribe unprecedented access to his creative process and the behind-the-scenes world of television by writing a blog about his experiences. The “Shoot” Scripts and Diaries Season 1 will henceforth be appearing regularly in this space.

 

The photograph above is reproduced courtesy of Ricardo Diaz at Flickr Creative Commons under the following license.

Why Do We Need Heroes? Thoughts After Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Why Do We Need Heroes? Thoughts After Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Readers of High Concepts: A Hollywood Nightmare will remember Giggs, the hitman-screenwriter-philosopher who debates questions of justice with his victims while carrying out his dirty jobs. Giggs will return this spring in his own crime series, beginning with a trio of linked short stories: Gadfly, Series 1. Wait. What? Will Giggs be the criminal or the detective? I’m not sure even Giggs knows the answer to that question. You’re going to have to read to find out.

Recently Giggs began writing a blog–or something like one.

“Call it a blog if you’d like,” says Giggs. “I prefer to think of it as Aristotle’s Problems meets the Nietzschean aphorism.”

Uh, right. Anyway, I think you’ll agree that, whatever its genre is, it’s pure Giggs.

Posts from Giggs’ Gadfly blog will appear in this space whenever the philosophical muse strikes him.

 

Gadfly Blog. Number 1.

“Literature is a luxury, but fiction is a necessity.” –G.K. Chesterton

I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier the other day. As I was waiting for the movie to start I was struck by the sight of a grandfather and grandson who bounced into the theater full of giddy anticipation, each one wearing a t-shirt with Captain America’s shield emblazoned on the front. There followed two hours of praeternatural derring-do, shoot-em-ups, explosions, switcheroos, moral compromise on the part of our national leaders, and moral uncompromise on the part of the hero. It was not high art and was not meant to be. It was merely captivating.

Why do we need stories of superheroes? And I don’t mean comic book superheroes only, but all the untouchable protagonists who careen through sensational adventures against tyrannical opposition in pursuit of this thing called “justice.” The knight errant. The cowboy. The detective. The spy. Even the pirate with the heart of gold. What are we looking for in these kinds of stories? What need do they address?

It is easy to sneer and label this kind of fiction “low-brow.” But the creators of same are used to it. They only laugh and keep on telling their stories. Because they know that, whatever the pretensions of the “high-brow,” not even the high-brow can live without them.

Question: what is the grandfather trying to pass along to his grandson?

 

The image above is reproduced courtesy of Marvel Studios.

How to Cultivate Binge Readers

How to Cultivate Binge Readers

I had always wanted an audience of binge readers. It seemed to me the summit of all writerly aspiration. My ideal reader was someone who would call in sick to work, grab a bag of Scoop Fritos and a quart of guacamole, wrap himself or herself in a comforter (that’s “duvet” for all my friends in Australia and the UK), power off the phone, and read my entire opus until they finished, lost consciousness, or both, preferably at the same time.

Truth be told, I’m a little jealous of the creators of TV shows like Breaking Bad, Homeland, Downton Abbey, and Sherlock, who are able to cultivate fans courageously prepared to forego bathing for days while they binge on the show’s last two or three series. That’s the kind of fan I want by my side–though I would appreciate it if they would stand a step or two down wind.

It’s difficult to say what childhood trauma might have caused this desire to cultivate binge readers. If I had to guess, I think I’d have to chalk it up to the time, somewhere between my tenth and eleventh birthdays, when I saw an advertisement in the South Bend Tribune for an all-day Planet of the Apes film festival at a local theater. For me in those years, the works of journeymen hacks such as Aeschylus, Dante, Shakespeare, and Dickens were just warm-up acts for the Planet of the Apes saga. Western art had reached its zenith in these films, and I could think of no better ten hours than ones spent in a dark theater binging on them like Scoop Fritos. Yet my mother flatly refused to take me, saying something vague about not wanting to kill all my brain cells before I had completed puberty. That’s quite a trauma for a sensitive young lad to endure. Such a thing will leave its scars. Freud would be able to describe it more accurately, but I suppose my sub-conscious is hankering to gift to others the binge experience I could never have myself.

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But sensing intuitively that the artistry of the Planet of the Apes saga was beyond my poor powers, I looked for another, more approachable model from which to learn. It was in watching Series 3 of BBC’s Sherlock back in February that I found it.

As I’ve already had occasion to mention, I have been working on revisions of the first three short stories in my Gadfly crime series, which I am going to launch sometime (I hope) in the spring. I wrote first drafts of the stories in January and February, and upon finishing them I was immediately, unequivocally, and unabashedly appalled by what I wrote. Three of the lamest short stories you will never hope to see. Not that you ever will see them. The only bingeing these drafts would inspire is a book burning. So I’ve been beavering away at revising them. But it was only when I watched Series 3 of Sherlock that I discovered a narrative device that would help cultivate the binge audience I craved.

What I especially liked about Sherlock Series 3 was that, while each episode had its own complete narrative, there was an overarching narrative connecting the three episodes (involving Charles August Magnussen, the king of blackmail). This overarching plot was only hinted at, really, in one previous episode (if memory serves it was the first one in the series, “The Empty Hearse”), and only took center stage in the third and final episode (“His Last Vow”). Still, I liked how the three episodes were, however loosely, dramatically linked instead of being merely, well, episodic. And it’s precisely that kind of linkage that I’ve been working to achieve in the revision of my three Gadfly stories.

Which linkage I’m betting will work on my readers like guacamole on a Frito. With each story being in one sense self-sufficient but in another sense incomplete, readers will not be able to resist proceeding on to the next story. And when the same principle is applied to the series as a whole, the binge-effect will be such as to cause the world economy to shut down as employees around the globe call in sick to work.

 

Photos reproduced courtesy of the BBC and 20th Century Fox Pictures, respectively.

“In the Kung-Fu Grip of the Invisible Hand”

“In the Kung-Fu Grip of the Invisible Hand”

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So, my friends, did you notice my new web banner?

Very much like my old web banner, of course. Same basic illustration and color scheme. But I asked Ted Schluenderfritz, who has illustrated the covers of all my books as well as done the illustrations for this site, to put my name in the banner. Part of the rebranding of the site, which I used to call The Comic Muse.

Anyway, let me know what you think about the banner.

And too, let me know if you can guess the identities of the famous writers depicted in the sidebar.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to announce that I finally got my hands on a copy of my short story, “In the King-Fu Grip of the Invisible Hand,” published in the Christmas issue of GILBERT, the magazine of the American Chesterton Society (that’s G.K. Chesterton). It’s a humorous tale about a young man torn between his business interests and his hankering for the virtues of a simpler life.

Ted Schluenderfritz also illustrates for GILBERT and here’s the illustration he did for my story:

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And here’s a screen shot of the first page of the story:

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The image above is of Adam Smith (1723-1790), theorist of the “invisible hand,” which is reproduced courtesy of the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

Mystery Writing and Paradox

Mystery Writing and Paradox

Last time I characterized mystery or crime writing as involving paradox. What does this mean?

In mystery stories, the moment of illumination takes the form of a paradox comprised of verbal and pictorial images. Two apparently contradictory elements, [a] the side of the character that cannot be connected with the crime; and [b] the crime itself, are “harmonized” in the detective’s solution.

Consider one of the best and most famous instances of paradox in mystery writing, the solution to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, “Silver Blaze.” (If you want the spoiler, click here.)

Or think of the climax to Christopher Nolan’s film, The Dark Knight. Batman realizes that in order to achieve his aim of protecting Gotham City he, paradoxically, has to be perceived as a villain.

“What good and bad paradoxes possess in common is the shock derived from contradiction: paradox is [apparent] contradiction, explicit or implied” (Hugh Kenner, Paradox in Chesterton, p. 15). Paradox is a strong version of Aristotle’s notion from the Poetics that the climax of a story should be a “marvelous inevitability.” In his book Heretics Chesterton defines paradox simply as mystery (Kenner, p. 14).

A paradox is no mere verbal pirouette; paradox is based upon the reality of things, and arises naturally when “the simplest truths” are put in “the simplest language” (Kenner, p. 15).

But there are two ways of understanding how paradox works in mystery stories. Not an either/or, more of a continuum. One, call it the “Sherlock Holmes approach,” is to see the paradox as a riddle or challenge resolvable by the “scientific” discovery of linkages of material causes. In this case, the paradox is merely mechanical.

But another way to understand the paradox of the detective-story or thriller, call it “the Father Brown approach,” is to see it as resolvable by the discovery of not only material causes, but also what we might call moral causes, in particular the paradox of Original Sin. In Chesterton’s story, “The Secret of Father Brown,” Father Brown confesses that he is a murderer–in the sense that his deep priestly knowledge of the workings of human frailty, most of all his own, allows him to detect causes at work that escape other inquirers.

As I mentioned in my last post, in The Gadfly series I am taking the Father Brown approach.

What are your favorite mystery/crime stories or films, and how do you see paradox functioning within them?