Cinéma Vérité

It's all in the details ...

By Vanessa Cavendish

“It takes 500 small details to add up to one favorable impression.”  – Cary Grant

I remember everything, even the dates. But I don`t want others to remember the details, just the image.”  – Gloria Grahame

In her July 7 post, “Holistic Writing, Part 2,” Breanne posed a slew of questions to get us thinking about our own writing. I personally think each of those questions deserves a post unto itself. I’m working my way through them as best I can.

Question #4: Do you give lots of detail? Or do you leave it up to the reader?

All I do—and I mean, all I ever try to do when I write fiction, may God strike me dead—is to tell a story to the keyboard of my Dell Inspiron 1420 as near as I can to the way I’d tell it to you if you were riding shotgun with me in my beat-up, used-to-be-sky-blue 1949 GMC pickup truck with the ignition switch on the floorboard and no brakes to speak of, your fingers clawing for a non-existent seat belt as you try simultaneously to make sense of my eye-rolling, two-fisted, elbow-out-the-window way of talking a blue streak at you while I shift metaphors to point out whose curb that was we just rode up on. We got a concert to get to and we ain’t got time to smell the hibiscus. If the pedal don’t kiss the metal, we’re gonna be too late to tailgate!

What makes hard driving hard is what makes writing, writing.

I do wish you were here so I could see your face in my side view. Because if you yawn, if you scratch your nose or check your text messages, if you look bewildered by what I last said, or if the rumble strip gives you the jitters, I’m going to miss it.

I hate to break it to you, but writers are not rock stars. Guitar Hero doesn’t teach the chords you need to know. There’s no real-time feedback loop, no instant gratification when you nail it and none when your rhythm sucks ass. You (and if you have one, your crit group or your editor or your online beta-reader1) will have to anticipate from within your studio isolation booth whether the reader is more likely to get up and walk out versus get up and dance.

I used to dread it, in Mr. Faulkner’s2 class in tenth grade, when he pulled out his half dozen slide carousels to show us one or another of his family vacations—to Walla Walla, Washington (I shit you not), the Bavarian Alps, the Grand Canyon, the Alamo… The other kids encouraged him for no other reason than it wasn’t math. To me, you couldn’t get more irrational than the number of pictures that man took while he supposedly was having a good time.

Now, I dearly love the photographs in my own collection, but I do try to be selective about which ones I show you and which ones either didn’t develop or don’t relate or require too much in the way of an explanation. Because no, not every picture is worth a thousand words. Don’t keep showing me the same point-of-I-lost-interest from a different angle and, for godsakes, don’t get so fancy with your lenses and filters that you lose track of what’s important that for me to see and remember.

Here’s the kicker. If he had used just three of his seventeen views of the Matterhorn3  to illustrate a principle of geometry, as boring as that sounds, I might have paid attention. Done right, the visual might have made something abstract concrete. I might have learned something in spite of myself and not skipped his class so often to get high and to try to find a set of wheels to get to the city and rock out.

Let my truancy be a lesson to you. Your competition is so much more than other writers. Your competition is everything in the entire world that is not your novel.

If I don’t see a purpose unfolding in front of me—if I have to keep track, on my own, of my priorities, I’ll meet you in the parking lot with a full tank of gas. I’ll blow off the next chapter and the next and I will blame you for my lousy attitude.

Are we there yet?

As a passenger, I don’t think you want me under the hood in the middle of a major intersection, messing with your timing belt.

As an unlicensed driver under the influence of Melville and Hawthorne, with Gardner and King and Mary Shelley coursing through me, I’m one of those people, I think everybody else on this joyride needs an adrenaline drip just like me, and I mean to plump up that beautiful blue-green vein snaking up the inside of your elbow. Why else did you stick your thumb out when I rolled up on you with my door hanging open? Thing is, we’ll get there. But we’ll get there my way. Get in. I ain’t asking twice.

My way is the scenic route over rough terrain with a shaky camera. You can get out and walk if you want to, but don’t ask me to slow down.

1I’m mad about my own cohort. She rocks!

2Not his real name. What gave it away?

3I know, I know, the Matterhorn is between Switzerland and Italy, not in Bavaria. Work with me!

Stop! … Trailer Time

OK … bad 90s reference, I know. I’m just excited over these two teaser trailers. Watch them first, then we’ll talk about them.


Pretty awesome, huh? I thought so too. Of course, I might be a tad bias … I did have them made and they are for my books. Still, the music is righteous and the timing rocks. Best of all, it didn’t cost me much. But, that’s a secret for another day entirely.

What’s more important here is … I don’t hate trailers anymore. And I didn’t think it was possible to convert me. Ever. I loathed the very idea. But, these are short and sweet and to the point. No messing around. No funky crap. So, my question … or rather, what I’d like to discuss, is: what do you think works in a trailer and why? What do you hate in a trailer?


This Great Love

“I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.”  ~Richard Wright

There is an eerie feeling that follows reading about our favorite authors and the hardships they endured while writing our beloved favorites. It’s a piercing of that veil between our secret hope and the violent realization that all we have created cannot save us from the darkness and the pain of being such fragile, finite, ephemeral creatures.

It’s in times of trouble and hardship that our writing returns to us. It’s no longer just a passion, or a thing to be spoken of enthusiastically, but to be done in quiet and in the solitude of our own hearts, because nothing is what it once was. Public reception means nothing. Critics, editorial quirks and publishing woes are struck like weeds from the garden—uprooted and tossed aside. They have been seen for what they really are. Details. Nothing more and nothing less.

I spoke of writing evergreen once, in this post. In a way, this relates, though it’s a far deeper kind of purity that I’ve now come to know in my own writing process. It isn’t merely writing for the self—it’s writing with no concept of self. When my fingers touch the keyboard, nothing else in that moment exists beyond the story. It’s a sad kind of desperation really. A longing to find some solid ground to plant my feet on. And, amazingly, the world goes on around me like nothing has changed. And I suppose, for everyone else, it hasn’t. But, for me, nothing will ever be the same.

I’ve often mused through the years, ‘Is my life really a literary novel—stark and cold and brutal, full of vividly described scenes of crisp realism and tragic endings?’ In the early hours of the morning, awake in my bed and staring at the ceiling, I’ve secretly feared it was so. I’ve feared that a life spent dreaming of fantasy (and even romantic comedy) is in actuality like some sterile work of fiction where the sounds of nasal wheezing have taken center stage in chapter one because it represents the running down of the human body and the steady erosion of the human spirit over a lifetime of religious doubting and questioning.

I hear it … the dripping in the kitchen, the splash of water as it hits the cheap metal pot and chipped coffee cup in the sink. I feel the ache of joints and bones in ways that could only be described using words that no one uses in regular conversation. Words like, ineluctable and eructation.

It’s moments like this one … crickets chirping outside of my window, stars winking at me from the swath of velvety night sky … that I think perhaps it’s a bit of both. Perhaps even a little choice. Mostly perception. And as long as I’m still breathing, I’ll always believe a little in the impossible.

Certainly explains why I consider myself a holistic writer, doesn’t it?

We’ve walked the paths of sickness and health, death and dying, love and loss, with countless characters. We’ve loved with them. We’ve laughed with them. We’ve found and lost the meaning of life with them. We’ve grieved and feared and screamed and wept with them.

But there comes a time, in every author’s life, where they take our hand and hold our hearts. They breathe for us because we cannot breathe on our own. They love with us because we suddenly fear to and forget how. They laugh with us because we can no longer see the light or dream of the coming dawn. They find and lose the meaning of life with us because the life we knew no longer exists. They grieve and fear and scream and weep with us … because we created them, and they are the very best of who we are, who we have been and who we will become.

They walk through this present darkness with us, because of all paths, it’s the single one we cannot tread alone.

When there’s nothing left to grasp, when there are no more assurances left to ease our fears, when the dawn feels too far away to see, they are there. And how blessed are we, because it is in a way that no flesh and blood being ever could be. I dare say more so than any god because unlike faith, this great love, can never be lost.