Monday, December 22, 2014

Naming Names

Naming Names

By Fred Owens
I got a message from Gewertz. He said that's my name don't wear it out.... You see, there is a real Gewertz and I borrowed his name to make a story last week Gewertz is such a good sturdy name and it sounds a little like Herzog, and if my character sounds like Herzog, maybe I can sound a little like Saul Bellow.
I walk in the shadow of Saul Bellow. O Divine Muse, if you might pour a little of that honey on my words too.

Imitation. I was imitating Bellow last week. I am a strong believer in imitation. That's how the Jesuits taught me to write in high school. We learned composition by imitating the style and structure of masterpieces, words from Steinbeck, Hemingway and others. Those were easy. Then we had Stephen Crane and the Red Badge of Courage which made no sense to me at all. And Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, but it was the Steinbeck and Hemingway I remember because they were easy.

Imitation is a good exercise in learning how to write. It is no different than how little babies learn how to speak -- by imitation,.

Do not be sidetracked by this silly talk of discovering originality and developing your own authentic voice. You already are who you are and nothing can change that. You can be better at who you are if you struggle a bit, but you can never be anybody else. Teenagers struggle with identity, grown men do not.
You Must Be Fred. This such an odd greeting. People say it upon meeting me for the first time. I take this literally. Yes, I must be Fred. I will always be Fred. Thanks for reminding me...... That's my identity and that's my name, Fred. Don't wear it out.
Fact and Fiction. The distinction between fact and fiction has become quite faint. This is a concern. People might worry. But I can assure you this is not a big problem. When you write factually, you must tell the truth. When you write fiction you must tell the truth. That's all you need to know. Just tell the truth. If you write less than the truth, you have written badly.
But I miss facts. We don't have as many as we used to have. We have data. We're drowning in data, but not so many facts. Facts take work. You need to make phone calls. You need to get confirmation. You need to double check. You need to clear your mind of conceit and prejudice. You need to rise above your circumstances. Facts are the homage we pay to truth. Facts are a dim approximation of truth. If you have not seen a fact lately, a good place to start is the obituary section of the newspaper.

You don't read newspapers and you're too young to look at obituaries, but take a look at the names. Scan the names quickly. Every name is spelled correctly. Just so. Because these are facts. An obituary is someone's life story, and because they are short and because they are so highly treasured by a small group of people, mistakes are uncommon.
The phone book is facts too. Burt you don't even have a phonebook. Neither do I.
So we don't have as many facts as we used to have, but we have more data than we can use. We'll survive. I like my laptop and my cell phone. I just don't trust these devices.
Absent facts, people are beginning to trust the camera on their smart phone. They take selfies to prove their existence. But the camera lies. It's easy to lie with a camera. I've done it. You've done it too. Let's be honest -- cameras lie. I mean they can lie, or they can tell the truth.
But truth and lies are not the same as fact and fiction, not at all. Here's an example -- Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien -- a more honest book was never written by a man walking this earth. Tolkien told the truth, to the best of his ability and that's why it's such a good story. He had talent and  energy and discipline and he told the truth. You cannot do any better.

Naming Names. I don't have much imagination, so when I write a story I need to start with a name, and I might borrow one. You take the name of a real person and de-factualize it, then turn it loose in the arena. See what happens. Often the new character dies a quick and pathetic death. Or should have. But sometimes they make it to the bell-ringing and shout for life, and more life, and more life, and then the character is beyond your control and gone round the world.
Here are some names of real people. Let's see what we can do with them. I mean, the names, not the people.

Ted Pietras. Ted is a strong name. One syllable. Three letters. You cannot move this name. You cannot spin it. You cannot color it. It is a mountain. And his last name is Pietras. What kind of name is that, Spanish, Italian, Greek? Something like a an olive tree. An olive tree that grows on the stony slope of a mountain, amid the rosemary and the ambling goats. You can run with a name like Ted Pietras if you're writing a story.

Harvey Blume.   Harvey Blume. Three syllables. Accent on the third syllable. Rolls off the tongue. Easy to say. Easy to remember. You meet Harvey Blume and it's like you already know him and you like him. The trouble will come later. The trouble always comes later -- and you're the writer.
Harvey had a small part in the Third Man, the Orson Wells movie. He just had a few lines. It was after they came out of the cafe, walking down the deserted street. He was an agent, but working for who? and with no possibility of moral clarity. You can't tell if Harvey is a good guy or a bad guy,
Bobby Vilinsky. You have to learn this name. You might need to practice saying it. Bobby doesn't go with Vilinsky. Lots of people, their first name clashes with their last name.  Bobby, what's your story? Tell us what happened, you know, that time when you .........It gets complicated, opaque......A dark cloud gathers and the music stops .... Bobby, what's wrong?  Images begin spinning in your mind -- a coffee shop in Somerville, an abandoned drive-in movie screen in Waltham, a pale horse in the Berkshire hills, the lower basement of a large office building, streetlights gleaming in the snow,  the beach in Revere strewn with empty  beer cans...... Thus the tale of Bobby Vilinsky begins.....Rhona looking more beautiful than ever..... Rhona screaming at Bobby, " me again...." and pulling at her hair and sobbing, out of breath.....
Bobby's story just takes off from here, all I have to do is type it.

Power in a Name. Adam and Eve named all the creatures of the earth and so gained dominion. Mothers and fathers name their children, searing their souls like a hot iron brand. Oppressed people take back their own names and change their lives. Names are powerful, and terrible in the wrong hands.
That's Enough for Now.
Merry Christmas,
Fred. That's my name. Don't wear it out.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

send mail to:

Fred Owens
35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001

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