Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Pygmalion and I ( or I *heart* Ray DeLuca) #amwriting

Do you know the story of Pygmalion? The sculptor who falls in love with his sculpture? I don’t always talk about my current writing projects here; but I am nose-deep in finishing a murder mystery set in Edwardian Toronto. At the helm I have Jemima Watts and Merinda Herringford---two bachelor girls who try their hands at private investigation.

Sometimes, they assist their long-time friend Jasper Forth of the Toronto Police .  When a few girls are murdered in Corktown, Toronto’s Irish neighbourhood, they find themselves ditching the commonplace mysteries they usually solve for the really, truly criminal ….

 I have so much fun with them.   They’re two halves of the same coin, inverted parts of my strange little personality and all giggles and spark! 

(At least in my unbiased opinion)

a shoe-shiner in St John's Ward having a nap 
As much as I love Jem and Merinda, I love, love, love to distraction, Ray DeLuca.    Ray is my favourite play-thing these days. I have to actively reel him in and sometimes shove him so far stage left because if he pops out I cannot contain myself.  He’s just a really, really wonderful and unpredictable and surprising character to write.   I’ve been scribbling since I was a kid and honestly, with the exception of one other character borne of my hyper-sensationalized brain, I cannot think of anyone I have such  creative affinity with.   He just fits.  Ray’s a composite of a lot of things I wanted to draw into the story: the immigrant experience ( Toronto saw a massive influx of Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th Century), a firebrand voice ( Ray is a muckraker: an investigative journalist who uses his time on the beat to instill his articles and rallies with ideas for social reform and the uncovering of political corruption) and a writer.   I wanted a writer. A true blue, sensitive writer.   Ray is fun (and challenging ) because English isn’t his first language and one of the exciting adventures has been to learn enough passable Italian to infuse his voice with some authenticity as well as embrace the cadence of his speech.  He is, thanks to his profession ( and so easy for me ) quite fluent and proficient in English. A quick

study.  But his timbre and vocal mannerism is something I try to infer without falling desperately into complete dialect.  I try to see the stumbling blocks. I imagine his voice like a brook: trickling happily along and getting stuck on a few logs and rocks along the way.   His writing is of huge importance in the story ( and of very huge importance to my lovely Jem ) and I try to capture what stepping stones he might have to ford, what little barriers might catch him in his way.

The fun part about writing this book is that it has become a bit of an over-turned vessel. I cannot actively stop myself from ideas that just cascade out. I think this is largely due to my fascination and love for my characters ( they feel like friends) and because it is set in my city.   A love letter to my town.  Toronto has often, for me, been the greatest love affair of my life.  Ray reflects my love for the city and, like Velcro, picks up pieces of my fascination and historical and social curiosity.
Ray. Sigh. I turn into a giggly school girl:

Yonge Street, 1910 
He’s also snarky, romantic, quick, witty and has an abominable temper.      When I first started white-boarding and plotting the novel, I spent a ton of time going through archival photos of Toronto in the 1910s: the city has a great historical record and is well-documented in photograph. In ways it has changed drastically; in other ways it seems very much the same --- chugging along; spliced by street-car tracks, influenced by multi—culturalism; a patch-work quilt of neighbourhoods sewn into a sprawling urban entity.  Ray feels the city greatly and, as he says, it digs its way into his arteries, winnows itself into his valves and pulses through his blood.   For Jem, Ray emblematizes the best and the worst of the city: light and dark, somber and quick --- she first detects this when she smells his old trench coat.  Ray, to Jem, carries the snow and the smoke; the lake and the ink of the press, the fog and the sunshine all on his coat. Wherever he goes.  Why wouldn’t he? He’s a journalist on the beat.

immigrants in the tenement-like housing of St John's Ward 

I have been a bad little blogger of late because I have been trying to finish this novel.  It is, as Jem says of Ray, “my favourite weakness.”    And part of the weakness is encouraged by my penchant for a certain reporter who is never without his bowler hat, or ink around his cuticles, a snide half-smile or his notebook and pen poised at the ready…


Pepper said...

Will I ever find a reason NOT to like you more???
Loved this post.
Can't wait to meet Ray on the page.
There's just something about that time period

Sherry said...

Cary Grant, or maybe Ray Milland?