Sunday, March 21, 2010

Making A Real Connection To Setting

            I am often asked what's the meaning behind the nom de plume, 'Charlie Courtland.'  Recently, I've given some silly answers crediting the hit 70's TV show, 'Charlie's Angels,' and my first pet, an orange and white tabby.  Coincidentally, he was also named Charlie.  Although it is true my father was a fan of Jacqueline Smith (angel 'Kelly') and I did own a male cat, my name choice has a deeper, more self-examining meaning that makes an interesting topic and deserves further explanation.
            I got to thinking, as we grow up our personal identities are influenced by a number of things including experiences, people, place, race and gender.  However, I believe each influence does not contribute equally.  Some certainly carry more weight.  For example, Barry Sanders did an exhaustive search to trace his roots back to Africa.  He claims that not knowing the history of his ancestors created a hole he felt compelled to fill.  During my brief reflection, I've noted that some individuals attach to family or people, while others embrace their culture and race, or even see a gender group as empowering. 
            I've always been curious about personal relationships and envious of the strong bond that many of my friends have formed over the years.  Looking in from the outside, I admit at times I've been jealous because I don't readily identify.  Instead, what I've come to realize is I naturally form attachments to places rather than people.  Breaking from people, or enduring long separations does not pain me as much as leaving a place I love or seeing it change. 
            My childhood home was a two-story house on Courtland Drive.  My recollection does not leap from sunny memories of a carefree time, but frankly quite the opposite.  Trapped inside, as if permanently recorded on the walls, I recall the scenes.  The time my Dad left and never returned; the years when cancer hung in my mother's bedroom, or abuse seeped into mine.  I remember the amazing Christmas mornings, the terrible snowstorms and pool parties on my birthday.  I cannot forget my first boyfriend and heartbreak.  All of it woven into the setting and when I think of that house I feel an attraction as if the object is suddenly breathing with life, my life.  For many years it was too painful for me to visit because I knew it had changed.  A new family lived there, layering their stories over mine and covering my history with a fresh coat of paint. 
            However, as I've grown older I've come to realize that it is not just one place that evokes such strong emotions and memories, but several places that have played an important role in my life or held special meaning.  Often, when I recall a memory I notice I always describe it in reference to a place.  Courtland Drive was not just a street, but also an era much like my years at the 'Underground.'  Sure people moved through my life, like characters in a story, but for me it is the setting that carries all the thematic importance. 
            I believe it is this attachment to places that lends to my love of history and architecture.  I love old buildings and have so much respect for a structure that has endured.  When I enter a space I sense the lives that have walked the halls.  The walls are faithful witnesses unable to reveal a person's deepest secrets.  When I think of my own home, the house I now live in and built, I cannot image ever leaving it.  I joke that when I die I will haunt it, and a little bit of me believes that just might happen (future buyer beware!).  So much love and thought went into every detail and there is not a piece that I did not have a hand in making come alive.  It was my vision.  It is a symbolic form; it displays my need for symmetry and balance, and is the body that keeps my heart and soul safe from the outside world. 
            Courtland is the first place that nurtured my spirit and a part of me will always remain.  It symbolizes the core of who I am.  It is from this place that my sense of self emerged.  If asked to draw myself, I would sketch a picture of my childhood home on Courtland.  It is from this seemingly unimportant piece of scenery that my stories are born. 

P.S.  R.I.P. Charlie the cat 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Whale, It's What's For Dinner

What do two academy award-winning filmmakers, a sushi restaurant and a horse have in common?  Apparently dinner, or what the media has cleverly tagged the, 'sushi sting.'  The news reads like a pick from a story machine writing exercise, even the establishment's name, "The Hump," resonates creative genius, but sadly this stranger than fiction tale is true. 
Armed with a hidden camera, two women from the team who shot the recent award-winning film, "The Cove," ordered what Japanese consider a delicacy at a California sushi hot spot.  In addition to the whale, it was recommended that the ladies also try the horse to enhance their culinary adventure.  Even though whale is clearly illegal to serve in the United States because it is recognized as an endangered species, the receipt for the meal made no attempt to conceal the itemized 'whale' and 'horse' totaling $85 without tip.  Deeeelicious!
DNA tests on the sushi sample confirm the restaurant was serving sei whale meat.  However, the report makes no mention of what kind of horse was for dinner.  Hum...?
An Apology From The Hump -  Posted on their website
"We write to address the misdemeanor charge recently filed by the U.S. Attorney. The charge against the restaurant is true: The Hump served whale meat to customers looking to eat what in Japan is widely served as a delicacy. In serving this meat, The Hump ignored its responsibilities to help save endangered whales from extinction and failed to support the world community in its uphill fight to protect all endangered species. While The Hump cannot undo the damage it caused, it will put into place procedures to ensure that it strictly complies with the laws and becomes a good corporate citizen. We sincerely apologize. We pledge to work hard to re-earn the trust of the public and respect of our customers."
I don't know about you, but I'm not buying what they're selling!  The company admits they knew serving whale meat  in the U.S. was illegal, but did it anyways.  Perhaps it is because the penalty for getting caught is only a misdemeanor, thus not being a big enough deterrent.  The money the owner made serving whale far outweighs the fine.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Upside To Kidnapping a Corpse?

Tired of recycled plot lines?  Sure, as a writer you can manufacture a spectacular twist, but if too imaginative the audience probably won't buy it.  If kidnapping a living person has been overdone then why not take a page from recent headlines and base a tale on a true crime story!  

Today, this particular headline captured my attention:  Three months ago the body of deceased Cyprus ex-President, Tassos Papadopoulos, was snatched from a cemetery and held for ransom.  This got me thinking about what was going through the mind of the kidnappers and what the upside to stealing a corpse might be.  Here are a few things I came up with while brainstorming their ingenious plan.

Rule #1: 
Choose an important figure whose death and burial is highly publicized.  This way the location will be easy to find and most likely noticed if disturbed.  It's difficult to get money for a decaying body if no one reports it missing.

Listopia Advantages: 
There's no kicking, screaming, fighting or hair pulling and you don't need to worry about fancy or remote accommodations.  However, you may want to reserve a cool place, preferably somewhere refrigerated.
There's no extraneous expense such as feeding, or paying some mope to guard or transport the package. 
You don't have to worry about providing 'proof of life.'
If things go wrong, you won't have to make good on a threat to kill a loved one.   
Listopia Disadvantages:
Getting your hands dirty while working the graveyard shift.
The smell.
Dragging around a bunch of dead weight.
Figuring out what the opposite of 'proof of life' is?
Making sure the family gets the ransom demand.
Is there some way to make a person more dead if the family refuses to pay?
Apparently, non-payment was the end result to this true crime story.  The family claims they never received a ransom demand and therefore, never paid.  For three months the thieves were stuck with a rotting corpse and no cash.  When their ingenious plan was thwarted, they did the only thing they could – rebury the ex-President and leave an anonymous tip.  Acting upon the information, the police discovered the stolen body inside another grave beneath a thin layer of soil.  A DNA test confirmed it was indeed the late Mr. Papadopoulos.

Although death may not be funny, stupid criminals and botched schemes can be!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Story Behind The Book

Get the Buzz on Dandelions In The Garden by Charlie Courtland, this week's featured author at fReado.

Learn more about the historical facts behind the real life infamous heroine, Elizabeth Bathory.

Free preview of Dandelions In The Garden.  Look before you buy!

Become a fan!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Venus de Milo In Bikini?

You Be The Judge:  Ice Sculpture or Snow Porn? 

It appears that a creative and obviously talented New Jersey resident is making the most of the snow in Rutherford.  Proudly displayed on the front lawn is an interpretive rendition of the Venus de Milo in Rahway.  However, some neighbors are not enjoying the artistic wonder, but rather are bee-lining it to the police station to complain about the pervert with the porn.  New to violations of snowpeople, the local police weren't sure how to handle the complaint or what citation to issue.  So, to keep the peace, they asked the offending family to please cloth their snowwoman.  In this case, a carrot, some coal and a top hat just wouldn't do!  Reluctantly, the resident slapped on a bikini top and a sarong and called it 'objectified.' 

The artist is now claiming his work of art was transformed into porn by adding the bikini, claiming the clothing objectifies the model.  Apparently, the family can make a legal argument that their snowwoman was forcibly made into a beach babe worthy of Jersey Shore and because of this, sends a negative message about the female form and freedom of expression. 

I admit I have my own opinions about my neighbor's choices in lawn ornamentation including a bald eagle painted on the side of a fence, and the upside down (lower half only) of a manikin dressed in moss-covered jeans planted in the stump of a rotted tree with a skateboard nailed to the bottom of the feet.  However, bad taste is not against the law and I don't think it should be so easy to cry 'porn' just because of form.

The porn versus art debate is a hot topic in chilly town, and up for discussion. Grab a cup of cocoa and let me know what you think?  Is the snowwoman porn, or an expression and celebration of female form? 

Photos provide by Conneran Family

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Story Behind The Haunt

What is it that fascinates and makes people willing to visit haunted places?  Is it the anticipation of experiencing or gathering proof of the paranormal?  Perhaps, but I think what attracts the average tourist to ghost tours, houses and hotels is the story behind the haunt.  There is always a story, often one mingled with tragedy, mystery, injustice or murder.  It seems these agoraphobic specters spend all eternity roaming their place of death – or do they?  Maybe it is just the story that lingers, either way it is thrilling, intriguing and has many of us, including myself, asking for more and wanting to visit.  After all, who doesn't love a good ghost story, especially, haunts with this kind of setting!

Hotel ProvincialLocated in the New Orleans’ French Quarter and owned by the Dupepe family.  The "500 building," originally belonged to Ursuline Nuns and was the military hospital for American and British soldiers during the Battle of New Orleans, and during the Civil War.

Hotel La FondaHas a bloody history where gunfights frequently erupted and convicted killers swung from the gallows.  The current building was built in the 1920s, but its paranormal roots go back to the 1850's.  The story tells of a businessman who lost his fortune in the hotel's gambling hall.  Penniless and suicidal, he jumped to his death down a deep well.  This hole has since been covered by the hotel's colorful La Pazuela Restaurant.

Stanley Hotel: Built in 1909 by automaker F.O. Stanley.  However, the hotel sits on a former private hunting reserve owned by the Earl of Dunraven who was run out of town by irate locals and legal battles.  As for Stephen King, he claims he encountered the ghost of a hotel maid in room 217.

Hotel ChelseaWhere Dylan Thomas who drank away his final days and the Sex Pistol's, Sid Vicious, stabbed his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, to death in room 100.

Hotel Queen MaryReportedly two women drown in the pool (1930's & 1960's).  A young boy died when he fell overboard.  The Queen Mary sliced the British Light Cruiser Curacoa in half during World War II.  Because of her wartime sailing orders, the Queen Mary was not allowed to stop to rescue survivors, and 338 men perished in the cold ocean. Sixteen crewmembers, two G.I.s and 31 passengers have died on the ship.  In addition there was an accidental poisoning in 1949, when a worker drank tetrachloride that the staff captain kept in an old gin bottle.

Crescent HotelAn early account reports in 1885 an Irish stonemason who worked on the hotel fell from the roof and died on the second floor.  Later in the 1930's the building was used as a controversial hospital/health resort.  The notable, Dr. Baker, a well-known charlatan who ran the hospital appears as a confused ghost still roaming the place.

Myrtles PlantationIs built on an Indian burial ground.  The owner Judge Woodruffe began an intimate relationship with one of his slaves, Chloe.  In reaction to events, Chloe put a small amount of oleander leaves, similar to arsenic poison, into a birthday cake that was made for the birthday of the Judge's oldest daughter.  In just hours, they were all three dead.  The other slaves, afraid that the Judge would punish all of them, dragged Chloe outside and hanged her from a plantation tree.  In addition, four murders have taken place over the years in the gaming room.

Hotel Del CoronadoIn 1892, Kate Morgan checked in and waited to meet her estranged husband for the Thanksgiving holidays.  He never arrived. A few days later, Kate's body was found on the hotel steps leading out to the ocean.  Was it suicide or murder?

Have you had a personal experience at a haunted hotel?  What is your story?

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