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A Quick Note April 15, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in books compared to movies, books into movies, fusion jazz, historical fiction, Issa, Issa Legend, medieval period, movies based on books, music, music commentary, mystic jazz, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, the crusades, The Swords of Faith, third crusade, writers.
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This is a quick update for my blog followers (or any other interested visitors) who are accustomed to seeing more frequent posts from me. The posts will be a little less frequent for a few months. I am at work on getting The Sultan and the Khan ready for publication. This is the sequel to my award-winning novel The Swords of Faith. The Sultan and the Khan will also be published by Strider Nolan Media (the folks who brought you The Swords of Faith). I’m also at work on the third novel of his trilogy, The Ghosts of Baghdad, set around the time of the Fourteenth Century “Black Death.”

I am also recording tracks for my CD “The Richard Warren Field Songbook.”

The track list:

1 – Fishbowl 4:28 (original)
2 – Hotel California 6:23 (cover)
3 – Magic 6:20 (cover)
4 – Mystic Tide 4:17 (original)
5 – Up from the Skies 5:03 (cover)
6 – A Hundred Thousand Friends 5:35 (original)
7 – All Blues 9:48 (cover)
8 – Chase this Mood 4:22 (original)
9 – Black Hole Sun 5:47 (cover)
10 – Purple Haze 3:52 (cover)
11 – Shanghai Noodle Factory 6:01 (cover)
12 – Avalon 6:36 (cover)
13 – Live Your Dreams 4:14 (original)

I hope to have this ready for release later this year.

But this blog will not be without posts! Coming up during the first part of May will be my final post on the nature of music, concluding a series of posts that turned out to be a lot longer and more involved than I thought it would be. And, in mid-May, I will post a Books-Into-Movies on “The Great Gatsby”—I’ll compare the book to the new movie release and to the Robert Redford movie of 1974.

Thanks for stopping by. Drop me a line any time at rwfcom@wgn.net.

Previous “Personal Notes” Posts:

Book Commentary/Review – THE BURNING CANDLE by Lisa Yarde February 16, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, historical fiction, Lisa Yarde, medieval period.
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The Burning Candle by Lisa Yarde is a compelling historical novel recreating the life of Isabel de Vermandois, a young woman who finds herself thrust into the early days of Norman rule over newly conquered England—just before the era of Ken Follette’s Pillars of the Earth. Yarde brings accurate history and informed speculation together with a mastery of plot and dialogue to offer an entertaining and informative read.

The Burning Candle is historical fiction/biography. We follow Isabel de Vermandois’ life from pre-pubescence to middle age—every event is depicted from her point-of-view. This brings us deeply into her character. We feel her frustration with her parents’ abuse and her frustration as her life seems but a tool for others, with Isabel having no control over what her life will be. Here she is, with regal blood coursing through her veins, with talent and intelligence, but subject to the whims and desires of others, mainly older men. At first her marriage to a man her father’s age seems an improvement in her situation. But it is actually a descent into torment as her husband hides a life-affecting secret, and brutalizes her in ways that make her parents look benign in comparison.

Years later, after giving birth to a number of male heirs for older husband, she finds herself finally with a choice, a choice brought to her with a daring move made by a man she had reviled as nearly evil incarnate. Does Isabel finally make her own choice, or does she succumb to duty? This is the dramatic question at the climax of The Burning Candle.

Lisa Yarde demonstrates a command of her craft as she weaves an entertaining story out of a lesser-known bit of history. The depth of her research is evident in the detailed historical note at the end of The Burning Candle. If you are a reader looking for a slice of history presented in an entertaining way, every bit as worthy as a book by masters like Sharon Kay Penman or Elizabeth Chadwick, The Burning Candle will be a great choice for your next book to read.

Book Commentary/Review – THE CONTESSA’S VENDETTA by Mirella Patzer February 10, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, historical fiction, medieval period, Mirella Patzer.
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The Contessa’s Vendetta by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer is a well-crafted story of love-betrayed, revenge-realized, with twists and turns for readers who will know where they are going, but will not get there along the path they expect. The novel is great escapist entertainment, giving readers a completely convincing immersion into an exotic past time and place.

The main character is the good-hearted but also naïve and gullible Contessa Carlotta Mancini. She is sauntering through her comfortable life when she contracts the plague. In a matter of hours, she is given up for dead and buried in the family crypt. The only problem is—she is not dead! She extricates herself from her internment and returns to her home only to discover that her husband and best friend are not and never have been the loving companions she thought they were. In fact, both of these characters, the closest companions of her life, are quite despicable creatures, who have been betraying the contessa for years with casual malice. This allows readers to enjoy what the countess hatches to right the wrongs.

Two quirks of fate give Countess Carlotta her chance to take her time with her plot to carry out her vendetta. Her ordeal with the plague has changed her appearance enough to disguise her from those who knew her before, and she stumbles onto the resources needed to execute her plan. As Countess Carlotta’s plan evolves, readers will turn pages to find out exactly how she will enforce her revenge. And the unredeeming nature of the countess’s husband and best friend magnifies as the story unfolds, goading readers into wishing for the revenge to pay off. With the craft of a story-teller in command of her art, Patzer masterfully weaves the deeper discovery of the natures of these characters into the approaching moment of the contessa’s final justice.

The Contessa’s Vendetta climaxes with the full blossoming of Contessa Carlotta’s revenge. But the ending leaves us asking if anyone really won, or if Contessa Carlotta simply lost less severely. With this question reverberating, Patzer’s novel concludes with a deeper question—does revenge, even a just one, ever really balance the scales?

2013 – What I’ll Be Offering This Year at this Blog January 7, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in books compared to movies, books into movies, fusion jazz, historical fiction, Issa, Issa Legend, medieval period, movies based on books, music, music commentary, mystic jazz, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, the crusades, The Swords of Faith, third crusade, writers.
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2012 was a year of many posts here at CreativeEccentric, living up to the impulsive name I gave to my blog in 2010. My 820th Anniversary “Third Crusade” series, pertaining to my award-winning novel The Swords of Faith, came to its conclusion, followed by a bonus Christmas post. (There will be two more intriguing bonus 820th Anniversary posts coming up early in 2013—stay tuned.) My monthly posts on the selections from my “Issa Music” CD also concluded with my recent January 1st post on Track 13, “West Meets East” (the final track on the CD). My series on the nature of music and music’s possible link between to physics and metaphysics is coming to its conclusion—I ended up with a lot more posts on this that I had foreseen. (Here’s a link to the most recent post on this subject, which has links to all the previous posts.) 2013, I suspect, will be a year of fewer posts. But with traffic multiplying as the posts multiply, readers can be assured I will continue posting on popular topics for the foreseeable future:

  1. Books-Into-Movies posts will continue—they are among the most popular pages here. There are two coming up in January—on “Anna Karenina” and on “Lincoln.” I will pick and choose these as they strike me. They may pertain to upcoming movies (and television miniseries), or to past classic movies. They will usually have a historical aspect to them.
  2. I will be posting commentaries about books written by authors I know. This will expose my readers to books they may not have heard of anywhere else, but may very well enjoy.
  3. I will be producing one, maybe two CDs in 2013. This will lead to posts about music (in addition to my concluding posts on the nature of music).

Beyond that, there is always the unexpected. Anyone who has been with me over the last the 2½ years of this blog will attest to that!

I hope everyone has a happy and productive new year and enjoys what I have to offer here, and through other creative outlets.


Previous “Personal Notes” Posts:

CADD™: A Personal Confession August 24, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in creativity, historical fiction, Issa, Issa Legend, music, mystic jazz, The Swords of Faith, writers, writing.
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The Diagnosis: Creative Attention Deficit Disorder 

The Prescription: Focus™ 

Yes, I have been struggling with CADD™ for most of my life, from the time I realized I am a creative person, maybe ten years after I was born. I am pleased to have identified this condition after all this time. There is little doubt this condition has shaped who I am, how my life is gone, and most importantly, what I offer to the public. All right, so what does that mean? Let’s take a look at it.

What is CADD™?
Creative Attention Deficit Disorder refers to bouncing from one creative interest to another, splitting attention between very different creative projects. In an age of genre-fication and specialization, those with this CADD™ condition can find carving out a life in the creative spheres to be difficult. We are supposed to seek out niches, and build audiences in those niches. For example, historical fiction as a specialty for a writer is no longer enough. Historical romance or historical mystery is even better, and historical romance or mystery set during a specific period, a whole series of books, is best of all. But we CADD™ people are niche jumpers—we’re easily bored with a narrow set of interests and are impulsively drawn to where our curiosity and inspiration take us.

What is the Treatment for the CADD™ Condition?
The medicine we are told to take is called Focus™ (generic substitute -“stay on one thing, stupid”). I’ve tried taking Focus™.  I just don’t tolerate it well. Because to “focus,” I need to choose. Even now, I wouldn’t know what choice to make even if I decided to take Focus™. Do I set aside my writing? My recent novel, The Swords of Faith, won three awards, and I have completed a follow-up novel (set six years later) with clear ideas for a third, and other follow-ups. Or do I set aside my music?  My CD “Issa Music” has over 300 fans around the world on internet radio, fans on every continent except Antarctica. This fan list is growing. 

So Will I Take the Medicine Now, At Long Last, Now that I Have a Diagnosis?
You can probably tell from the previous section—I’m not going to take this medicine. As I said, I have tried it before, and it hasn’t worked for me. I am now embracing my CADD™ condition. I will work with all the energy life grants me to go in every creative direction that feels right to me. My blog reflects this—my posts are all over the place here. I am not going to beat myself up over this anymore. I ask people only to consider what I have to offer without taking into consideration my CADD™ condition, that I am not a genre-fied specialist. If my writing works for you, enjoy it. If my music works for you, enjoy it. If you like it all, that’s fantastic. (And why not?) You may come to see connections. I am one person, so connections are bound to be there. Podcast interviewer Ron Hood, of Ron’s Amazing Stories, spotted a connection and we spoke about it during his interview with me. (Ron Hood was the best-prepared, most insightful interviewer I have ever had the pleasure to encounter—check out “Ron’s Amazing Stories” for his work with me and with others.) But it is still a broad connection, not an obvious one like those who have the skill to genre-fy/specialize.

The Consequences of Untreated CADD™
So for me, CADD™ is terminal. I will never cure it; I will never recover from it; I don’t want to. What has this meant? When you won’t grab that niche and stay there, it is harder to find success in the marketplace. We live in an increasingly cluttered and decentralized world of multiple communications channels. Specialization/genre-fication allows people focused on your interest to find you through those channels. But the generalist, the “Renaissance man” (or woman), has a lot harder time reaching an audience under these circumstances.

For me, this has meant I’ve been unable to make a living with my creativity. I have perceived this in the past as the profound failure of my life. (I am not whining here—everyone has failures. My life is abundant with wonderful successes and I am fine where I am now.) This has reduced my time for creativity. But I read something recently that brought me a lot of comfort, even a smile, as I think about this. (This was in the comment section of an article on the whether social media will remain an effective marketing tool.) There are many creative people in the world. Society does not have the resources to provide a livelihood for every creative person. (In primitive societies, story-telling and music-making were not specialties. They took place in a group setting with individuals contributing to the creative activities after their tasks to sustain the group were completed.) So, society arbitrarily supports some creative people over others. In our society, the marketplace generally decides who gets that support, though academia and government grants also play a limited role. And it is not necessarily the best who get the support! That is an important consideration in looking at all this. And looking back, this is true through history. Some creative people were paid—some had other occupations to sustain them. Some creative people whose work is now considered to have stood to test of time, achieving a consensus label of greatness, died destitute while others with lesser talents thrived. So as I have said before, I’m through beating myself up over this. I accept my CADD™ and its consequences.

Going Forward
As I said, I will indulge varied creative impulses with all the energy, talent and time I have available. My website displays what I have to offer. I invite people to enjoy whatever they find appealing. At this time, I still support myself with a “day job.” But that is even winding down—I can see ahead the day when I will “retire” from that. (I will never “retire” from creative projects—that’s impossible!) Now, if I hit the market right, I would love to make a living with music, or writing, or both! But, if that doesn’t happen, I’m still at peace with my CADD™ condition.

Do you have CADD™?
I do not believe I am alone, the only person “afflicted” with this CADD™ condition! If you see yourself in these words, in my story, I invite your comments. Share your own story. Share your thinking. We are being crowded out by the genre-fiers, by the specializers. Let’s speak out for ourselves, support each other, and continue to create. Over-specialization/over-genre-fication, narrows perspectives. The world needs CADD™  people because we are more likely to bring broad perspectives, big-picture, out-of-the-box thinking, to the world. We are important. CADD™ “sufferers” unite! We have nothing to lose but our apologies for our short creative attention spans!

Previous “Personal Notes” Posts:

Comments on Pierre’s Fate in THE SWORDS OF FAITH June 4, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in books, books into movies, crusades, historical fiction, medieval period, Middle Ages, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, the crusades, The Swords of Faith, third crusade.
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I have gotten some static from readers about the fate of Pierre in my novel, The Swords of Faith (2010; Bronze Medal, 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Finalist, USA Book News Award for Best Books of 2010/Historical Fiction Category; Finalist, International Book Awards, Best Books of 2011/Historical Fiction Category). Some readers have expressed annoyance with me as to why this likable character ended up the way he did. And since he is fictional, his fate was up to me, the creator of his story. Why did I have to subject him to the fate I chose for him? (How could I do such a thing!)

Before you read further, if you have not read The Swords of Faith, a caution—I’m going to try to be cagey about what actually happens to Pierre as I write this post, but, there will certainly be clues. So, this is a “spoiler alert”—if you think you will figure this out, read this post after you’ve finished reading The Swords of Faith.

So, on the fate of Pierre—a comment first. I waited until the epilogue. The events that got me in trouble with some readers take place, technically, after the main story is over. I give readers a chance to bask in the warmth of the ending they probably prefer before introducing the ending I believed was the only credible and honest ending possible. Pierre’s ultimate fate occurs in the epilogues (as well as the fates of Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, and Pierre’s son Dawud, setting up the sequel/follow-up, The Sultan and the Khan). So, please cut me a little slack, even if you remain upset with me after reading my justification.

Now, for the justification. The character of Pierre, and his interaction with Rashid, are a triumph of religious tolerance over religious fanaticism, a triumph of the idea that there is more than one path to God for people of good will. In their micro-story, Pierre and Rashid triumph and prosper because of their acceptance of these ideas. But their micro-story happens within the macro-story of the Crusades, a time of religious intolerance and fanaticism. Pierre’s fate—not just the event itself, but the full circumstances surrounding, including the person responsible for what happens to him—is an acknowledgment that though these men have become enlightened with ideas that could lead us all to spiritual harmony and peace, in their time and as well as ours, the world at large had not adopted these ideas. Even today, we still struggle with the forces of religious fanaticism opposing the dream of religious tolerance, though as a species, I would argue humanity has progressed. For me to allow Pierre to flourish in the glow of his relationship with Rashid without any apparent consideration of the swirling turbulence around them would be naïve, and would turn The Swords of Faith into a fairy tale. The Swords of Faith also ends with a truce between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin (true to history). But it was only a truce, and the bloody clashes of the Crusades were destined to go on for another century. Worse religious-based atrocities came after the Crusades. Religious clashes go on today. The story of Pierre and Rashid is a hope of what can be achieved when humans of good will, of different faiths, accept each other and their differing approaches to God. It is a story still waiting to be told everywhere, for all of us.

Other posts about The Swords of Faith:

March 7, 2012- Eight Reasons Why THE SWORDS OF FAITH Will Make a Great Movie (or Miniseries) 

July 2, 2011- “Blog Tour” for THE SWORDS OF FAITH

July 2, 2010- Final Thoughts Before THE SWORDS OF FAITH Release

June 16, 2010- What THE SWORDS OF FAITH Says About Our Times

(There is also the entire 820th anniversary series on the “Third Crusade.” The most recent post in this series was on May 23, 2012.)

Books-Into-Film Commentary – Birdsong (Part Two) May 2, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Birdsong, book synopsis, books, books compared to film, books compared to television, films based on books, historical fiction, movies based on books, Sebastian Faulks, television based on books, television commentary, World War I.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

This is part of two of my “Books-into-Film/Books-into-Television” post on “Birdsong,” based on the Sebastian Faulks novel, Birdsong(Part One was posted a week ago.) My comments here will address events from the second half of the production, and end with a synopsis of the book.

First, as I indicated in my post on Part One, the basic story of the novel, and the mood of the novel, are present. The two big conceptual changes I mentioned in my first post remain:

  • The television production focuses on the events of World War I period. The storyline set during the 1970s and involving Stephen Wraysford’s granddaughter Elizabeth Benson is not depicted at all.
  • The television production flashes back and forth constantly between Stephen’s experiences during World War I and his relationship with Isabelle. In the book, we do shift from period to period, but with much longer story sections between shifts. 

I’ll add to this a third larger conceptual variation between the book and the television production—Isabelle’s post Stephen-relationship story is seriously reduced and simplified. In the book, after the war begins (well after she leaves Stephen) she starts a relationship with a German officer during the German occupation of Amiens, and ends up moving to Germany with him (and with Stephen’s and her daughter). When Isabelle dies in the influenza epidemic just after the war, the German officer sends back Isabelle’s daughter to Jeanne, who marries Stephen. Another part of this is Stephen and Jeanne coming together, before the end of World War I, before Stephen’s final experiences in the tunnels. They get married, move to England, and raise Isabelle’s and Stephen’s daughter as their own. In the book, we meet a grown Francoise as part of the storyline involving Stephen Wraysford’s granddaughter (and get this story information as part of that storyline).

Other selected observations comparing the book to Part Two of the television production:

  • Stephen Wraysford’s decision to decline the opportunity to leave combat after he survives his time among corpses is directly from the book.
  • Jack Firebrace’s son dying of diphtheria back home is also from the book.
  • Stephen’s leave in Amiens, and his encounter with Jeanne, is from the book. But the story is slightly different. His meeting with Isabelle is slower to develop, and much less emotional. The chemistry between them seems obviously in the past. Also, Isabelle’s disfigurement as depicted in the book seemed to me to be more severe—showing this on-screen might have presented serious makeup challenges.
  • The story of the fate of René Azaire is brushed over in the television version. There is actually a twinge of nobility in the way he leaves the story. (See the synopsis later in this post for details.)
  • The overconfidence of Stephen’s superiors after the pre-assault bombardment, the confidence that the bombardment will have Germans coming out trying to surrender, is directly from the book. In fact, Stephen’s actions during this assault are largely consistent with the story told in the book.
  • There is a scene in the book when a horribly wounded soldier begs Stephen to kill him, as in the television production. In the book, Stephen steps on the poor man, partially buried in a trench, and in even grislier circumstances than in the television production. Stephen also kills the soldier in the book, an apparent act of mercy.
  • The final sequence of events in the tunnels toward the end of the war, when Stephen is at a listening post, is very close to events depicted in the book. Stephen is trapped in the tunnel with Jack Firebrace. In the book, they are trapped for days, with diminishing air pockets and a sense that they are doomed. Jack Firebrace has broken both his legs, and dies in the tunnel before it Stephen gets out—this is also in the book. There is one fairly significant variation. When Stephen sets off the charge in an attempt to break free, he kills some Germans nearby. The brother of one of those Germans helps dig him out. But, as in the television production, the war is virtually over, and the Germans embrace Stephen before letting him return to his own lines. 

“Birdsong” the television two-part miniseries adopts the main tone of the book. The war is the real enemy. The war diminishes Stephen. Contentiousness between enemies, between the English and the Germans, and the French and the Germans, seems minimal compared to the adversity created for the main characters by the war itself. I will add, however, that in the book, Stephen is hostile to Germans in his interior character passages. This finally fades at the end when the Germans rescue him and allow him to return to his unit. I am left to wonder whether or not the people living during that era held such magnanimity toward their enemies.

Birdsong synopsis (prepared before watching the mini-series):

Note: This synopsis summarizes the novel, but does not capture the atmosphere conveyed by Sebastian Faulks, and in the interests of time and space, leaves out all but the key events in the book, and key characters. Readers should NOT consider this to be anything but a reminder of the basic outline of the plot, and should not substitute this synopsis for the experience of reading Birdsong.

Part One – France 1910
Twenty year-old Stephen Wraysford visits France from England to learn the textile business in France. He stays with the Azaire family. They have two childre n, a young boy Gregoire and a sixteen-year-old daughter Lisette. But Stephen is attracted to Madame Isabele Azaire, about ten years older than he is, but considerably younger than Monsieur René Azaire. Madame Azaire is a younger daughter married by her family to Monsieur Azaire after his wife’s untimely death. Her parents are aloof; her older sister Jeanne is the closest to her from her immediate family. The Azaire marriage appears to be passionless, but Madame Azaire seems to accept her role, and offers little obvious encouragement to Stephen that she might return his infatuation, though Stephen suspects she does.

Stephen Wraysford witnesses labor strife, and himself becomes a target of some nationalistic hostility as tensions rise between Monsieur Azaire and his employees as a result of his reductions of compensation for them. Wraysford gets into an altercation with one of the laborers and injures his hand. Monsieur Azaire asks him to stay away from the production facility for a week. While staying at the Azaire house during working hours, Stephen makes his move toward Isabelle. After a little resistance, she gives into her own infatuation with Stephen and they start a passionate affair. We find out that René Azaire is largely impotent and unable to do much sexually with Isabelle. He strikes her out of frustration. (Stephen has heard the sounds of this during his stay.) We also find out Stephen Wraysford is from very humble origins, largely abandoned by his parents, but taken in by a benefactor who sees to his education and helps get him his opportunities. They carry out their affair in secret, using various stealthy schemes to find private time. No one suspects except Lisette, who during a family fishing trip that includes Stephen tells him what she knows and tries to get Stephen to do the same things with her that he does with Isabelle. Lisette has apparently developed feelings for Stephen and is a lot more adult at seventeen than anyone realizes.

The labor dispute finally comes to an end. Monsieur Azaire is pleased, but then confronts his wife with rumors she aided the strikers’ families with food. (Stephen has known about this activity.) She admits this. He then confronts her with the rumor that she has been unfaithful to him with a key labor leader, “little” Lucien Lebrun. Isabelle Azaire admits there has been an affair—with Stephen. Isabelle and Stephen leave the household and move fromAmiensto St.- Rèmy-de-Provence (a long distance away). Stephen gets a job as an assistant to a furniture maker. They live together in what seems to be a quiet tranquility. But Isabelle seems unsettled, maybe feeling guilty about what her actions have done to her family. She corresponds with her sister Jeanne. Her period stops and she believes she is pregnant. She almost loses the baby, but appears to pass through that crisis. At the end of this section, she leaves Stephen. Stephen believes: “She had returned because she felt she could save her soul. She had gone home because she was frightened of the future and felt sure a natural order could yet be resumed.” Stephen does not seem inclined to pursue her.

Part Two – France 1916
Stephen Wraysford serves as a lieutenant in the British army in a unit on the front lines of the trenches of World War I in France. He serves with tunnellers, men experienced with mining who dig tunnels under the trenches attempting to gain advantages on the battlefield. The Germans have their own tunnellers, and the tunnels sometimes cross. The section starts with Jack Firebrace, one of those tunnellers. He falls asleep on sentry duty, and fears he will be shot. He is brought before Wraysford who takes no action. Jack Firebrace is grateful for the reprieve.

We find out Stephen Wraysford has no new information about Isabelle Azaire. He did not decide to pursue her. He describes his loss of her as if “someone had died.” He also describes his move to Paris a year after Isabelle leaves, and his friendship with an eighteen-year-old girl, Mathilde. When the war breaks out, Stephen decides to join the British army to fight alongside Englishmen.

Stephen leads a fight in the tunnels. Stephen gets hit with an explosion that feels as if he has been “hit by a falling house.” His wounds, not severe on their own, result in a fever, and he is placed with corpses, given up for dead. Jack Firebrace spots him in a “row of dumped flesh” and extricates Stephen Wraysford who sees Firebrace and says “get me out.”

Wraysford recovers, and though he is offered the option of going home, he chooses to stay with his unit. Jack Firebrace gets word that his eight year old son back home has died from diphtheria. The Army prepares for a huge offensive against the Germans, an offensive that is supposed to end the war. The commanders are certain a huge bombardment, as well as a tunnel that will be exploded, will end German resistance before the attack. But the Germans seem barely phased, and the exploded tunnel simply opens up another battlefield obstacle. Soldiers are mowed down as the offensive seems nearly suicidal. Stephen Wraysford goes down—“some force had blown down.” He ends up in a shell-hole, then stands to walk again. He sees the German wire ahead that should have been cut by the bombardment but hasn’t been. Wraysford goes through a gap and ends up in an empty trench. Stephen and others who have advanced this far suspect they will be trapped when the counterattack occurs. Stephen kills a wounded soldier he steps on in the trench, after the soldier begs to be put out of his misery. Jack Firebrace looks on in horror at the slaughter, wondering if it can go on. In the confusion of the continued fighting, including grisly events of death and mutilation, Stephen races toward a nearby river and ends up carried by the river’s current. He is surrounded by Germans in the water. Stephen ends up on a bridge, then in “the marshy grass.” He is walking toward German lines when “an impact took his head as though a brick thrown at great speed had struck his temple, and he fell to the ground.” The next face he sees is one of the tunnellers he has been fighting with.

With the guns silent, Stephen hears a low sound of continuous moaning. The sound overcomes Michael Weir, one of the leaders of the tunnellers, and Stephen, with emotion.

Part Three – England 1978
Elizabeth Benson, Stephen Wraysford’s granddaughter (we do not learn this right away) becomes interested in researching her grandfather’s story. Elizabeth works for fashion designers in England. She’s the mistress of a man who lives in France, a man who is supposed to leave his wife but never can find the right time. Elizabeth seems to suspect that deep down he never will, and it appears she likes her independence. But also, Elizabeth is thirty-eight, and feels a strong drive to have children. Elizabeth visits a battle memorial were she’s astounded at how many names are listed who were “the lost, the ones they did not find.” She says “my God, nobody told me.” Elizabeth visits her mother were she finds some of Stephen Wraysford’s papers apparently written in Greek. Her mother seems to have kept only a small part of Wraysford’s papers, and also seems uninterested in them. One of her bosses, Bob, tells her the script is Greek, but the words are not Greek. It appears to be some sort of code. Bob agrees to help Elizabeth unravel the coded papers.

Part Four – France 1917
Stephen Wraysford gets reacquainted with Michael Weir, a commander of the tunneling soldiers. Weir has returned from a strange, emotionless leave with his parents inEngland. Stephen Wraysford and Michael Weir are trapped in a tunnel. Weir is disabled with a broken arm. Wraysford helps get him rescued.

Wraysford gets permission to take leave in Amiens, a city he knows well, a city where Isabelle could be. Wraysford goes with a man named Ellis, but tires of the bars were his fellow servicemen are going. He goes to an out of the way bar and runs into Isabelle’s sister, Jeanne. The contact is awkward at first, with Jeanne not pleased by the reunion and its potential to disrupt her family. Eventually, after contacting Isabelle, Jeanne agrees to take Stephen to meet with his pre-World War I lover. He learns she has given birth to a daughter he fathered. She has been disfigured by a shell. Isabelle had gone back with her husband, René, who took her back, and seemed surprisingly repentant himself as opposed to being angry with her, offering to change his ways. But Isabelle is still not happy going back. When Amiens is occupied by the Germans, René Azaire is taken as a hostage and eventually deported to Germany with other prisoners. German officers of the occupation are described as “punctilious and good-humored.” Isabelle falls in love with one of them, Max. Max is attentive to Isabelle’s daughter. Max is now posted elsewhere, but they maintain their contact, and their feelings for each other. Stephen also finds out out Lisette has married Lucien Lebrun. Stephen is satisfied with the update, content that any relationship with Isabelle is over.

When Wraysford returns from leave, he finds out he will be reassigned to a staff job. Colonel Gray remarks that he has looked into Wraysford’s eyes and has seen a “perfect blankness.” Wraysford has seen the same “great void” in Gray’s eyes.

Stephen and Isabelle’s older sister Jeanne begin a correspondence, and a growing mutual affection, though Stephen’s apparent disillusionment, his emptiness of soul, colors the relationship. Stephen goes on leave to England, but seems disconnected from anything there. And people seem disconnected from him—an incident of Stephen buying shirts implies someone sees the emptiness in him, finds him unsettling, and encourages him to move along. He goes back to France early and visits Jeanne in Amiens.

Stephen leads a reconnaissance raid before his new assignment. After nearly getting cut off by a German counterattack, reinforcements push the Germans back and Stephen is able to withdraw safely. He loses more of the soldiers he is familiar with, including Ellis, the man who had gone on leave with him toAmiens. Stephen writes the letter to Ellis’s family, a task he finds difficult, because he finds the action difficult to describe to non-soldiers. He ends up offering “only formal words of condolence.” Stephen gets word Michael Weir has been killed.  He sees Jeanne. She is “worried by his listlessness.”

Part Five – England 1978-79
Elizabeth’s boss Bob tells her he has still not figured out her grandfather’s notebooks. She tries to find living associates of her grandfather during World War I. She finds Colonel Gray, but he is grouchy about the contact, and offers little of use, just that her grandfather was a “strange man.” She makes contact with another man, Brennan, whom she visits more than once. She gets little real information from, but feels compassion for Brennan’s apparent sacrifice of his life as a result of World War I. Elizabeth’s mother finds twenty more of her grandfather’s notebooks. Elizabeth, preoccupied with research for information about her grandfather, forgets about what she thought of as a casual date with an associate from her work. He ends up making an awkward marriage proposal, which she turns down. Elizabeth then that discovers she’s pregnant. She tells her lover, who reacts tepidly, but says he is happy—for her. Bob, her boss, now has decoded Elizabeth’s grandfather’s notebooks. They offer a detailed journal of his World War I experience. She reads and begins to absorb what her grandfather went through.

Part Six – France 1918
Stephen is set to go back into the lines for another operation. He visits Jeanne before he goes. He finds out Isabelle has moved to Germany to join Max, who has been terribly wounded. It appears she will stay there for good. Jeanne and Stephen become intimate, though Stephen still seems distant, disconnected, disillusioned—and calls out Isabelle’s name as they embrace.

Stephen goes on the operation, another one in a tunnel. They go to a listening post and realize too late there is a German tunnel right near them. As they hear Germans running, Stephen realizes the Germans are about to blow their tunnel. The explosion closes off the tunnel, trapping and burying the men. Stephen is aware of only himself and badly injured Jack Firebrace (two broken legs) as possible survivors. They are trapped in the tunnel for days, trying to find a way out, and more and more certain they will not be able to. Stephen considers using his revolver to end his ordeal more quickly. He finds some explosives and tries to blow a hole in the tunnel to free them. Without knowing it, he kills some Germans in the vicinity. Jack Firebrace dies before rescue, but Stephen is eventually rescued by one of the dead German’s brothers. Though his rescuer knows Stephen was likely responsible for his brother’s death, he makes no issue of it, and the men embrace at Stephen’s rescue. Stephen leaves to join his battalion after helping with a joint grave for Jack Firebrace and his rescuer’s brother. The war ends, but Stephen Wraysford finds that “nothing could check the low exultation of his soul.”

Part Seven – England 1979
Elizabeth’s mother takes her pregnancy well, surprising Elizabeth. After all her mother says, her parents weren’t married either. Elizabeth discovers, almost casually from her mother, that the woman she knew her whole life as “Grand-mère Jeanne” was not her mother’s blood mother. Elizabeth had suspected something was wrong because the age numbers did not tally. Elizabeth’s mother was the daughter of Stephen Wraysford and Isabelle Azaire. Jeanne had adopted her and moved to England with Stephen where they married. Isabelle had been killed by the flu epidemic right after the war, and Max was in no position to care for a little girl he was not even related to. The book ends with Elizabeth’s baby coming a few days early, with her giving birth to her new son John—her lover Robert assists with the birth.

Books-Into-Film Commentary – Birdsong (Part One) April 25, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Birdsong, books, books compared to film, books compared to television, films based on books, historical fiction, movies based on books, Sebastian Faulks, television based on books, television commentary, World War I.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

Birdsong is Sebastian Faulks’ novel set during World War I. It is being offered as a two-part mini-series on “Masterpiece Theatre.” This struck me as an obvious opportunity for another “Books-into-Movies/Books-into-Film/Books-into-Television” post(s) here at my blog. With this post, I’ll address Part One, broadcast locally for me in southern California the evening of April 22nd. I’ll post on Part Two in a week, and offer a synopsis of the novel in that second post.

The basic tone and shape of the novel Birdsong is still recognizable in the miniseries “Birdsong,” but the story is presented with major conceptual adjustments, leading to many divergences between the book and the miniseries, at least at the halfway point. The two big conceptual changes?

  • The focus of the miniseries has been entirely on Part One, set in 1910, and Part Two set in 1916. These two parts make up just under half of the novel Birdsong, a seven part novel. And we are not near to the resolution points of Part One and Part Two of the novel. There has been no hint at all that the miniseries will include the 1970s parts of the novel involving Stephen Wraysford’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Benson.
  • The miniseries moves back and forth constantly between 1910 and 1916. The novel tells the 1910 story in an unbroken flow, then moves on to 1916 after the resolution of the events of 1910. Faulks uses flash-forward/flashbacks, but this is after much longer story sections, and runs between the 1910s and the 1970s.

These divergences allow the filmmakers to build the Part One/1910 and Part Two/1916 stories in parallel, simultaneously taking us to cliffhanger points in both stories at the end of Part One of the miniseries. We have Stephen Wraysford taking René Azaire’s wife away from him in 1910, with all the uncertainty that implies. And we have Stephen Wraysford found among corpses in 1916.

The filmmakers’ choice to approach the story this way has led to many discrepancies between the novel and the miniseries, some dictated by the changes in approach, and some changes less essential, selected for other aesthetic/creative reasons. Here is a list of observations of where the novel has been followed, and where it has not been followed:

  • The tunneling under enemy lines, under the trenches, is a key element of the novel Birdsong (as it is in the miniseries).
  • The novel starts in 1910. The miniseries starts with the quick look at World War I in 1916, then flashes back and forth from there.
  • Bérard’s obnoxious singing is directly from the book.
  • Stephen Wraysford hearing crying or pleading and walking to investigate, then hiding when René Azaire emerges from his bedroom and asks that if anyone is there, is directly from the book. Stephen also confronts Isabelle Azaire about what he has heard, and she shuts down his inquiry, asking him to respect her position.
  • The book depicts a lot more of the activities at the René Azaire textile production facility, including the issues of the labor strife.
  • Stephen Wraysford does see Isabel Azaire delivering food to children of laborers as in the book (and she offers Stephen her explanation).
  • The way Stephen and Isabelle come together is different in the book. Stephen gets involved in an altercation as a result of the labor unrest. He injures his hand. René Azaire suggests he stay away from the production facility, at the Azaire home, for a week. Stephen himself has become an issue for Azaire’s labor force, because he is from England. During that period, Stephen and Isabelle become intimate.
  • Stephen Wraysford uses cards, and rat guts, to predict the future of fellow soldiers in the novel.
  • Jeanne, Isabelle’s older sister, does not appear until later in the novel. She is mentioned early in the narrative, but does not participate in any 1910 scenes. There is no scene in the novel where Stephen mistakes Jeanne for Isabelle at the piano.
  • Stephen Wraysford is wounded during action in a tunnel, and mistaken for dead. He is put with the corpses, but this is not interspersed with scenes of Isabelle leaving René in the novel as it is in the miniseries.
  • Isabelle is more circumspect and careful in the novel, with elaborate precautions to hide their affair from everyone. Lisette does discover the affair, and does ask Stephen to do the same things with her that he’s doing with Isabelle, as in the miniseries. But Lisette’s discovery of the affair seems less likely in the book, and more surprising, with all the precautions taken by Isabelle.
  • And, Lisette’s actions do not trigger the breakup. The breakup in the novel occurs after the labor dispute is resolved, and René confronts Isabelle about rumors of her taking food to the families of workers—and rumors she has had an affair with one of the labor leaders. She admits to an affair—with Stephen.
  • “Forgive me,” followed by “I do forgive you as I ask you to forgive me” is directly from the novel. Stephen and Isabelle leave, as they are preparing to do at the end of Part One of the miniseries.


So Part One of the miniseries “Birdsong” leaves us with a double cliffhanger, at key dramatic points in Part One/1910 and Part Two/1916 of the novel. At this point, it does not appear to me the miniseries will address the 1970s storyline from the novel at all. There is still a significant amount of story in both Part One and Part Two, as well as in the rest of Birdsong. It will be interesting to see what the filmmakers choose to dramatize, and what they choose to leave out. It is clear to me they will have to leave out something.

At the end of my post next week, I will offer a synopsis of the novel, and readers of these blog posts have another way to compare the basic storyline of the book with the basic storyline of the miniseries. However, even that synopsis leaves out much of the detail in the novel, and at this point, the novel would still offer people interested in this story some surprises even if they have seen the miniseries. So we will pick up with Stephen on the run with Isabelle in 1910, and Stephen emerging from the dead in 1916, next week.

Eight Reasons Why THE SWORDS OF FAITH Will Make a Great Movie (or Miniseries) March 7, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Berengeria, books, books into movies, crusades, Guy of Lusignan, Henry of Champagne, historical fiction, Jerusalem, Kingdom of Jerusalem, medieval period, Middle Ages, movies, movies based on books, Outremer, Philip II of France, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, the crusades, The Swords of Faith, third crusade.
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(The Swords of Faith is my award-winning novel about what history now calls the “Third Crusade,” the military confrontation in the Eastern Mediterranean “Holy Land” between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin.) 

  1. Action and drama revolving around two of history’s most renowned and charismatic characters, battling each other over huge stakes. Richard the Lionheart and Saladin are still two names known throughout much of the world, giving a movie based on this novel an international profile.
  2. This story has been told many times, but almost always with major factual liberties. The Swords of Faith gives a film-maker the opportunity to tell the accurate story, a compelling story not in need of embellishment.
  3. The Swords of Faith ends with a just and fair peace settlement between these two iconic men of different faiths (the accurate historical outcome), men who come to respect and honor each other despite their religious differences. This allows for an uplifting ending.
  4. The clash of religions gives the story relevance today, allowing for controversial publicity angles sure to get people talking about The Swords of Faith in many different public venues.
  5. Fictional characters combine seamlessly into the story, without any adjustments to the accurate history, but bringing a prescient poignancy to the religious-clash aspect.
  6. The novel is laid out in scenes full of dramatic action with a limited amount of narrative exposition; lots of real-time dramatic action readily transferable to film/television. (Richard Warren Comments About His Writing Style – Richard Warren Field Guest Blog Post About Modern Novel Writing)
  7. Roles attractive to high profile actor/actresses, roles that could lead to Oscar-worthy/Emmy-worthy performances.
  8. Big action scenes alongside intimate dramatic scenes offering opportunities for all sorts of technical excellence, also with the potential for Oscar/Emmy recognition.

Book Commentary/Review – Conqueror: A Novel of Kublai Khan by Conn Iggulden February 25, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, Conn Iggulden, Conqueror: A Novel of Kublai Khan, historical fiction, Hulegu Khan, Mongols.
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Conqueror is the final novel of Conn Iggulden’s series about the Genghis Khan dynasty. As with the previous eight novels of the series, Iggulden delivers an energizing combination of history and entertainment as he takes us to the apex of Mongol domination of a huge portion of Eurasia during the 13th century. The title tells us the focus will be on Kublai as opposed to other members of the third generation of the Genghis Khan dynasty, and Kublai Khan definitely emerges as the protagonist in this book. But there is more to this book than the story of Kublai Khan.

Conqueror breaks out neatly into three parts, two succession controversies surrounding Kublai Khan’s fight against the Sung Dynasty in China. The first succession controversy involves Kublai Khan’s brother Mongke against his cousin Guyuk. Kublai is not the unambiguous protagonist at this point. He is the scholarly Genghis Khan grandson, under Chinese influence, with appreciation for cities and advanced civilization not within the understanding of his grandfather, and not shared by many in the ruling elite of his family. He seems a very unlikely warrior, or future Great Khan. His mother, Sorhatani, one of the truly remarkable women of the Middle Ages (Iggulden comments in his historical note at the end that she merits a book of her own—I would love to read that book), works in the background of events to involve the future Kublai Khan in a huge personal risk on behalf of his brother Mongke. He completes his arduous task, essential to the resolution of this succession conflict.

The second involves Kublai the scholar transitioning to Kublai the warrior. The new Great Khan undertakes unfinished business for the Genghis Khan dynasty. After all, they’re supposed to conquer the world. “All lands belong to us.” Kublai is sent to China to complete the conquest of millions of Chinese. At first, he seems uneasy in the role. He is tolerated by the generals assigned to him, but they show little apparent respect for the young man perceived as bookish, barely even Mongol. Through battles against larger armies, through adverse conditions, Kublai gradually earns the respect of his generals. But on the verge of victory over the Sung, news comes that the new Great Khan has died. Kublai declares himself Great Khan while on Chinese soil, believing he is next in line to be Great Khan, but not wanting to leave China on the verge of defeating the Sung. What Kublai does not know is that his brother Arik-Boke, in charge of the area around the Mongol capital, has declared himself Great Khan. This triggers a new succession battle, one Kublai is right in the middle of as the unambiguous protagonist.

The third part involves Kublai’s battle with Arik-Boke for the Great Khan position. Odds appear to be against Kublai. He has to return from China to take on a larger army. Kublai’s development as a warrior will be tested, but there’s no doubt that the Kublai returning home from China is a different person, still with the scholarly influence, but submerged within the warrior legacy of the Genghis Khan dynasty. Kublai the scholar becomes Kublai Khan at the end of this conflict, with a satisfying resolution to the conflict after a few suspense points.

Conn Iggulden has a talent for telling epic tales, for taking history and energizing it into compelling stories populated by characters we care about. This series-ending book maintains the quality of all the Genghis Khan novels.


Personal Note: As I mentioned, this is Kublai Khan’s novel. Hulegu Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson who becomes “Il-Khan” of the area around what is now Iran, is a supporting player with a minor role. Conqueror summarizes Hulegu’s activities during this period to simplify the story, focused on Kublai. Iggulden mentions Hulegu’s defeat by Muslims in the Middle East, the defeat of Hulegu’s Christian general. In my upcoming novel, The Sultan and the Khan, I tell the story of that conflict with the focus on Hulegu, his Christian general, and Baybars, the “mamluk”/slave-soldier who will later become a key sultan in the emerging Mamuk Dynasty, a dynasty that would rule huge areas of the Middle East from Egypt for over two hundred years. Christianity mixes in this conflict in strange and exotic ways as is dramatized throughout the story. The Sultan and the Khan involves a fictional Christian adventurer from Baghdad and a fictional Muslim scholar who confronts the changing circumstances at a nearly apocalyptic time for his faith and the world he has known. Anyone interested in The Sultan and the Khan should keep in touch—The Sultan and the Khan is completed and details will be provided about its availability as they develop.