Tag Archives: inspiration

Researching Characters- An Example of Diving into the Rabbit Hole

In 2011, I was in a writing program called the Athenaeum through The Attic, a writing school in Portland, Oregon. I focused on my novel Zizkov as my “opus” of the writing mastery program. (If you want to check it out you can go to the category labeled The Novel- Hello from Zizkov, and that will I give you a general idea of the style.) I remember one of my teachers telling me that he never published his first novel. He wrote it. Put it in a drawer, and basically never looked at it again. I had thought at the time, “oh no, that will not be me. This baby’s gonna see the world.” Yet, it turned out to be me, but I think today I understand his point. It’s the lesson of writing. So, why am I writing this now? Well, I have been going through many old blog postings and cleaning house. I came across a post on researching characters for my novel. Since, I have been spending tie here breaking down processes and techniques and methods for writing (particularly creative writing) it seemed that this was a perfect platform for that old post.

It follows many of the points I had made on my blog posts about character development. It’s very detailed, and if I may say, rather impressive. I was surprised with the research I had put into building backstory and characterizations. Admittedly, I do enjoy research, and as some writers have pointed out research can be a distraction or form of resistance to writing your story. So be aware. That said if you read Game of Thrones you know that George R. Martin puts some serious time and research into his characters. Epic amounts of time equals epic stories.

Asking the questions

In the first part of this old post I reflected on some questions I needed to answer about the time and place of the setting (Prague) and what it would have been like to be a young person during that period.

I know a lot about Americans living in Prague since I was one of them, but I have some Czech characters to write, and where do I get the perspective on them? This has posed a challenge in the sense that, sure it has been easy to find a lot of books on Prague, and the Czech Republic which gives one a basic understanding of what it was like to be there between the year’s of 1939 to 1989, but what if you were too young to really know what it was like to live under an oppressive regime? Your parents did; your grandparents did; you know your history; but by the time you became a young adult it had already been 10 years of a new democracy.  The main Czech character is 24, and would have been 13 when the Velvet Revolution took place. My huge question is: what was it like to be a teenager growing up in a new democracy with opportunities? Opportunities your parents and grandparents never had, yet at the same time, experiencing an overwhelming flood of consumerism, and influx of foreigners, and a struggling economy. What would that have been like? (2008)

The Character and the Research

Next I wrote about one of the characters for my book. A character based on a real person I had met the first time I had lived in Prague. This real person’s history gave me a starting place for my first round of research.

My story is fiction, as I mentioned before, but the characters are based on real people. I remembered a conversation with the woman that Zuzana is based on; she had told me that her father was a member of the Czech Philharmonic– this is a very different upbringing from someone whose father worked in an industrial plant (which is where many people worked). So I started with music. I went back through Czech History dating all the way back to the 5th century when Bohemia and Moravia were first formed through separate tribes. No, I do not expect my characters to know this far back into their own history, but I felt that if I wanted to avoid making stock characters of Czech people why not know the birth of those people? I skimmed of course until I got into the 20th century, and along my journey through Czech/Czechoslovakian history I found what I wanted to latch onto- it was called Charter 77 and then something called the Jazz Section. (2008)

Imagining the Characters

At this point I imagined a scene with this character and the history of her life. I even included a little quote from the book that I had written at the time.

As I would go for a walk, I would imagine the main character’s, Annabelle, conversation with Zuzana as they visited a small town outside of Prague. On these walks Zuzana would to speak in my head, and she would tell me the story of her family. As soon as I’d return home I’d sit down and hand write out Zuzana’s family history dating back to her grandparents on both sides: When they were born, how they met and married and the years Zuzana’s parents were born. From there I moved onto her siblings and so on. It was a lush history that took me through 6 decades of Czech History. Will I write any of this history down in my novel? Hardly, but without a doubt I know who Zuzana is and why she is the way she is, and although a small character in the book she is a rich and beautiful character. (2008)

When the women get off the train in the small neighboring town, Zuzana tells Annabelle that when she was a girl her mother moved her and her two brothers to live here.  It was after her father was arrested. She says: My family is of a long line of teachers and musicians. It is almost expected that myself and my brothers will also be teachers or musicians but now that Czech is open, my brothers do not agree. They both have left  the Czech Republic. Which no one has done since before 1930. Even before the war I don’t think anyone had wanted to leave. Not from my family. It is good in Czech to be a teacher or a musician, at least it was.” (2008)

The Music, The Books, and The Research Links

I ended with sharing what music I was listening to at the time to help influence my writing. I also wrote about who I was reading at the time, again to help influence and inspire my writing. Then I added many links to the research on the history of Czech jazz and music subversion during the communist era. If you have the time allow yourself to fall down the rabbit hole. There’s some fascinating stuff there. Maybe you’ll find yourself inspired to write your own story.

Since I was basing a lot of Zuzana’s family history around the music of Jazz, that was what I decided to listen to while I wrote- so once a again thanks to pandora.com, along with this line of incredible musicians; Charlie Parker, John Hendricks, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis, Lester Young, Shorty Rogers, Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, Al McKibbon, Thelonius Monk, Sonny Stitt, Kai Winding, Gerry Mulligan, Lucky Thompson, and  Joshua Redman.

And of course,  always following with Mr. Stephen King’s advice, I’ve been reading. My reading material has been of course from Czech writers. I just finished Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal- it is a perfect book for a lover of books. The main character/narrator compacts trash and has spent his 35 years saving books from the hydrolic press, he has been unwittingly educated. It is a beautifully written book and at some parts disturbing, I’ll leave you with this quote from the book:

“I can be by myself because I am never lonely, I’m simply alone, living in my heavily populated solitude, a harum-scarum of infinity and eternity, and Infinity and Eternity seem to take a liking to the likes of me.” Too Loud a Solitude, Bohumil Hrabal

Here is a link from the NYTimes about the Jazz Section.

Here is a link from the NYTimes about the Jazz Section.

Here is a link about the 1986 trial when seven people of the Jazz section were arrested.

An article on the Prague Spring of 1968

A blog with music info (among other things) in Prague specifically and the Provakator a webzine that the blog spot mentions in a post. And lastly an article about the The Plastic People of the Universe another dissident musical group out of the Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia

How ever you go about your writing, taking the time to do some serious development on your characters will make your characters more believable. The degree of that development is up to you, and as you can guess you can get lost in it, but don’t skip it.

Keep writing those stories.

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Journal Writings as A Resource for Inspiration

This is an old post from a blog I wrote back in 2008. It’s interesting to me because I have not been journaling as I had in the past, and only recently I had tried to return to the practice. I’ve been working through my old blogs, and deciding if I’ll keep them and what purpose they serve. This blog is of course all about writing. I decided to repost this one here because it is about an source of inspiration which can be yourself. It was many years ago, but some of the concepts and the feelings behind the post remain. My friend is still dead, the relationship is long over, my cat is long dead, and now I can add my mother to the list of losses, but that is life. These losses are our stories. Go journal. Collect your life. You don’t have to make a book of it, but perhaps you will inspire yourself to be the best of you.

(Originally written and posted, November 24th, 2008)

I’ve been journaling since I was 15. My first journal was given to me by a friend from high school. I’m sure I had “dear diaries” when I was younger, but honestly I doubt I wrote much in them aside from what I was going to name my latest cat. My journaling started with that 15 year old birthday present.

There have been a lot of losses for me lately, and after looking back on my life with a great deal of perspective, I have come to realize that these losses actually count and mean something to me. My friend died, I’d been tangled in a complicated and heartbreaking relationship, and my cat, thankfully still living and appearing comfortable, has been diagnosed with cancer, so although alive, she doesn’t have much time left. These things have weighed, and are weighing heavily on my mind. My sadness is real yet it’s refreshing. It’s something I can deal with: I’m alive.  I find that each thing, among with my general reflections on my life, so far, have given me a value that I had never before noticed. What has all this to do with writing? We’ll for me, everything. As a writer, a portion of my tools are the events that mold and aid to direct my life, they are the essence of where I begin to write. I don’t know why any of this is coming to light to me just now, and it certainly isn’t easy, O’god not easy at all, but I think it has had something to do with love.

Three days ago I awoke with a sense of anxiety and I couldn’t figure out why. I felt overwhelmed with the need to get rid of things, like photographs and more importantly journals. My nearly 20 years of journals, my purges of teenage angst, woes, and heartaches, my twenty’s failings, and my newly thirties confusions. I felt that I needed to go through them first to see if there was anything worth keeping. In the beginning my journals were very introspective, but as I grew and became more interested in writing and as I studied the craft of acting, which forced me to view the world more outside of myself, I found that every once in awhile my journals would reflect these changes and occasionally I would write something worth keeping- something to work on later. I threw away so many pages of my past. It wasn’t like a denial of who I was, but more of a conscious decision to not think and react to life the way I had and have in the past. There wasn’t much to save, and this is not to insult myself, this is fine, more to recycle, and less to carry, but there were a couple of meaty gems, and I was able to look at them through new eyes as if I was some random reader that came across some new sentence that I found interesting or powerful. This is a pretty exciting sensation it’s like stepping outside of your body to look at yourself and then to think, hey I’m not that bad, in fact I’m pretty interesting.

There are some journals I haven’t touched. Some are from when I traveled and I have plans for them so until that time they sleep quietly on a shelf. Then there are others that I am not ready to open and don’t know if I ever will. There will probably be new journals to fill. Notebooks to collect my ideas, random images and weird sentences, dialogues and gems from the past- already in three days I’ve gone back to these notebooks and scratched and re-wrote added and subtracted. I feel like I’m working. To me I imagine my notebooks to look like the pages of some artist’s sketch book except instead of lines making images I have words making images. I’m just there to enjoy the process. I wrote in a post, about the disillusionment of parents, that I just wanted to open myself up like a chest and carve all my insides out, or to scream so loud that I shatter my reality into tiny particles of dust, and I think in the past three days that is exactly what I have been doing. As a result, I think my writing has gotten better. When I look back on my posts and previous writings, I feel like my descriptions and voice have become stronger more direct, and it hasn’t mattered so much to me whether anyone reads them as much as whether I am clearly saying what is on my mind.

 

It seems as if I am always looking back with new eyes. Thankfully. 

Character Development 2

We are returning to some ways to build a great character, a believable character. In the last post I wrote about some ways to brainstorm for your characters. Questions to ask about your characters, and of course the always important, researching your characters.

Now what about the deep inner life of your characters? Do you really need that? Sure, you’re building human beings (and other creatures) out of words. You want your readers to be lost in a world that you created. You want them to put down your book, and forget where they are for a few seconds as they adjust back to their own reality. You want them to believe your characters. One way to do that is to give your characters inner life, dreams, a backstory, and supporting characters that are just as real.

The inner workings, relationships, supporting characters and backstory

The inner workings of your character

  1. Were there any traumatic incidents in your characters past that may affect their present behavior? Are there good influences from the past that may affect their present behavior?
  2. What are the unconscious forces that are driving your character? How do those forces affect their motivations, actions and goals?
  3. Is your character too nice, too bland, too normal, too bad? Is there anything abnormal about them? How do their abnormalities cause conflict with other characters?

Character Relations

  1. Is there conflict between the characters? Is the conflict shown through the action, attitudes or values?
  2. Is there contrasts between the characters? What is different between them?
  3. Do they have the potential to transform each other?
  4. Will the reader understand why they would be together? Is the attraction clear? Is the impact they have on each other clear?

The Supporting Characters

  1. Do the characters have a function in the story? What is the function? What is the theme of the story? How do the supporting characters help the theme?
  2. How did I create my minor characters did I give them enough attention? If I used types did I avoid the stereotypes?
  3. Do I have contrasting characters? Do they add texture to the story?
  4. How have I defined the supporting characters and the minor characters?
  5. Do I have villains? What are their backstories? What drives them? Is there a good that they pursue but use evil actions to get that good?

Backstory

  1. Is my work with backstory a process of discovery?
  2. Does the backstory unfold in the story?
  3. When giving backstory am I only giving information that is relevant to the story?
  4. Am I writing the backstory in short sentences that can reveal within the action of the story or am I heading off into tangents?

 

That should give you enough to work with.

Cut-Up Method for Creating a Short Story

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William S. Burroughs was the first writer I had ever heard about that did something called “the cut-up method“. I think it is a well known practice by now, and in fact, many famous songwriters and modern writers follow the same example of writing or exercising of the writing mind.

I had tried it in the past, and never got too far, but looking back on the experience I think my obstacle had to do with control. I really wanted to craft the “perfect story”. A story that could be award winning, and because of this need of perfection when I wrote I could never really let go. This cannot work when doing a cut up. In the art of the cut up you must let go. The cut up can be likened to staring at clouds, only when you relax your eyes can you see the multitude of images and stories rapidly unfolding above you. 

I didn’t follow Burroughs guidelines exactly but I followed the basic idea which was to see what could be created out of what was already there. It isn’t plagiarism, the story is completely new, it’s just the words that are taken from a context or source and then put together like a puzzle.  The following short story is completely created from the cut up exercise I did recently using the same concept as the cut-up. I had taken and article from a magazine and I began placing words next teach other based on how they sounded in a sentence. Sense did not matter to me. In fact, the more illogical the more freedom I had in the creation. When I did I revision that is when I put in a little cohesiveness and order, but not much. I worked quickly, not allowing myself to “craft” a story and just allowed the words to find the best fit. It was the most fun I had writing in a long time.

As I had mentioned in the previous paragraph, the story posted below is a cut-up story.

Lessons From Hilla

Passing Hilla on a street in Potsdam, a visual figure came to the stages of my mind, and because of this image of a figure, I decided to follow her on her lifelong postwar journey.

You may ask me what war is she post of? She is post all wars. She is the story teller of struggles, she is the recorder of our destructions, and she holds the secret to our peace. Her oeuvre is inextricably fused to her backbone like a lamppost, and I walk secretly beneath her light. If she had been a photographer trained in the art of lighting she would have noticed my shadow as it swung beneath her feet or off to her side, but she was not, she had studied typography, and had no interest in looking at what blocked the light. If you are asking yourself with a snide sharp snuffing that comes from the top your nose, “how can a topographer have an oeuvre?” I say to you: ask yourself, if you can not see the subtle and sublime in the surface of the earth then how can you say you know what art is?”

Hilla hopped from one region to another like jumping puddles the primacy of which was to discover at what point of oppression does the artist reveal itself to a person if that person never believed they were an artist in the first place. Hilla believed great works of art came from the oppressed as a form of final expression of the human condition.

 

You may wonder how one can survive when they spend their life following in the shadows three to five feet from another human being in order to find the answer to the great questions because one, myself as the one, believed with reverent faith that no other than Hilla could carry those answers. It may seem an unusual occupation to you, but I had obtained labor in the business of carrying umbrellas on particularly bright days. I will admit that in the moment I had found the proposition unusual, but it payed me well enough to survive and it did nothing to interrupt my followings. All I had to do was await a call early in the dull light of the day that would inform me of what umbrella to carry, and where to procure the chosen umbrella of the said day. I had never thought, under my obligations of carrying umbrellas on days that it never rained, that is was Hilla who hired me to carry the umbrellas. I was under the impression that I was stealth and invisible. I often muttered thoughts out loud because  Hilla never listened to me because I was not really there. I was invisible and had always been so.

“All my future friends are artists who comprehend the complexity of a simplified map situated between historical contradictions of east and west,” Hilla was speaking her voice hard and Germanic in accent, “—notice how no one ever says North or South, other than the Americans of course because that was their only on-soil war. If you listen carefully you will hear people say that all the wicked witches are from the east.” Hilla was giving a lecture to the pigeons, and I was taking notes under my umbrella. Obviously, it was a bright and sunny day and my unknown employer had requested I carry the light coral satin umbrella which coincidentally matched Hilla’s shoes. Remember reader, I did not at this time know who my employer was and therefore still felt that I was a man hiding in the shadows inconspicuously holding a light coral umbrella on a sunny day.

I had just written down the words, all wicked witches are from the east, when I muttered to myself, “she wasn’t the most wicked; she was heartbroken, after all her sister had been murdered by a house.”

“Halt-“ Hilla barked. “Stop with the melancholia of cultural continuity and bring me some euphoria of resuscitation— you post-fascist cosmopolitan.”

 

I must clarify that at the times that Hilla did speak to me I only believed she was speaking toward me as if I were a photograph that she did not take. She spoke to the aspect of me which in her limitless archival of archetypes broke down to her speaking to herself or the pigeons or whatever she was standing beside. This is what I believed. Paradoxically, I was aware she was speaking to me by the architecture of her language, especially when she built sentences with words like post-fascist. I thought she had often mistook my compassion for misused communism commonly regarded as socialism and never looked at as pacifism, but truly was only compassion —wasn’t it compassionate to see the witch as mourning her sister’s death? The ruby slippers were only a side-note.

“You are making excuses for pedophiles and murderers because you like their paintings.” Hilla shouted. “He makes great literature, he diddles children. It is yes indeed great literature, but he still diddles children there is no excuse to make for the behaviour of that madman or her cruelty accept that you love the work of a pedifile. The art and the deed have been done and neither can be changed regardless of how influenced and inspired they had at one time made you. Were you inspired by the crime or the art? Lines in the sand, lines in the dirt everyone drawing lines for others, for themselves and no one being honest.” Hilla threw a handful breadcrumbs to her rapt audience of pigeons each one flapping their wings in grand applause. They always gave her standing ovations.

I had supposed she may have been correct.

 

As I continued to follow Hilla through the industrial mapping of her language I noticed my own structure of vocabulary was beginning to breakdown or perhaps it was already broken and crumbled; washed away by a chromatic ocean searing tonal cliffs and swallowing too many sailors. It came over me like a prophetic revelation that Hilla was rigorously imposing enforced limitations to my thought patterns and therefore she was creating a little oppression in my mind, perhaps to test the capacity I had for finding expression under her personal regime. She could do all this without ever acknowledging my existence.

“You should learn to spell.” She said as she made drawings of bees gathering pollen. “Your writing looks like a holocaust of the English language; each misplaced vowel and consonant is a massacre of the alphabet. You should be accumulating languages not slaughtering your own.” Hilla was at the top of her game in the absence of humans and often criticized the pigeons and bees of their misuse of the English language. I had always thought this was a little insensitive since english was not their first language.

 

I have yet to describe Hilla. What could be so compelling in a woman that one would follow her across a post war world while suffering at an angle her slings of insults and accusations of post-fascist beliefs. Physically she was a goddess of imagery. She was built like a water tower and had hard nipples the color of coal that you could see through her light colored and often times white linen blouses. Her nipples may have been pink and soft at one time only darkening when touched by the cold or excited fingers, but she dyed them black so many times they stained and eventually hardened. I had heard her say that it gave her great pleasure to watch the leering faces rotating in lust to get a better look at her breasts only to quickly dissolve in expression to that of horrored discomfort with the realization that there was something very unnatural about a pale white woman with onyx volcanic nipples. If those uncomfortable with the discovery didn’t quickly avert their faces with their potential quips stuck in their throats, but instead lingered on her appearance a little longer they would realize that she was really very white, but not that of a natural skin tone. She had painted her skin the color of canvas so that she was blank and new and always ready to create herself. The average man and woman did not understand this and you could see it written on their faces. Often times, since I was a few steps behind, carrying an umbrella of whatever color was requested for the day, I would quickly pass on the following comment, to a person who had completely taken in the look of Hilla, as I wanted to contribute to the novel on their face.

“You should see her vagina.”

It was a marvel to me as I think she would sometimes hear me, this was of course before the days that I had discovered my employer, and she would turn to the overly shocked and pre-disgusted person and say, “You should see my vagina. It is the most beautiful cerulean blue like a deep sea waiting to swallow too many sailors. I have a penis as well and it is as grey as a whale.”

She always used the words vagina and penis so that she could easily create the acronymic anagram VP for very perfect. It was a part of her architecture. No one knew what was true because her lovers never spoke about her they only blushed at the mention of her name.

 

“A minimalist in thought is a minimalist in the mind, but a minimalist in space is a purist of ambivalence.” She said tossing more crumbs to her loyal birds. I continued to copy word for word her lectures. It occurred to me that I was recording- in my own dystopian way, a catastrophe of enlightenment. I was on a mnemonic journey after a woman with nipples like coal and a vagina with a whale of a penis. Very pretty.

 

“It is no longer adequate for you to appear so uncannily close to my shadow.” She said. This time I knew she was addressing me, in fact I felt quite, certain as she turned to face me and looked directly into my face. It had been many years’ since I had passed her on a street in Potsdam, so many that I had forgotten how old I was and where we had traveled. I was struck with dumb sentiment when she had demanded me to hold her umbrella directly above her as she was tired of the sun. She was aware of me, so much so that she had been my benefactor. My keeper.

“Tell your own stories”, she said. “Mine are the literalization of my heart and mind. You may inquire clear-eyed with unrestrained curiosity to the sources and inspirations of my literature; you are even welcome to decode them, but don’t fool yourself into believing any of my thoughts are your achievements— after all is said and done, when everything’s right with your world you’ll uncover your authenticity of your fetishized trauma and lick the scabs of your wounds till they heal. I propose you find you your child-self.”

And with that, she knocked the umbrella out of my hand and left her puddles of regime for me to reflect. She turned on her heels like the Morton salt girl, my childhood crush, and faced the streets of music of which she followed all the way to Latin America where the colors are brighter, and left me on a monochrome street on a day of heavy rain in Stuttgart where the tanks had once rolled in and out.

 

“Don’t fool yourself about the tanks”, she had once said, “they are everywhere.”

 

I was wounded and plagued at her sudden parting. Assemblages of my twenties self that had shattered while I was attempting to tell my child self what to do, confettied the ground at my feet. I felt my fear of a million years flood my face in an ephemeral shower, and that’s when I saw it– my enlightenment- suspended between water and concrete; those were not regimes they were only puddles spinning out my illusions of desire.

 

Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 6, pgs. 193-200

I walked through the double doors and headed toward a door that opened into the backyard that was built out of an old courtyard. It was bucolic in a druggy kind of Warholian fashion. Blankets were spread over the small grassy plot. To one side of the courtyard was an actual garden with leafy greens sprouting from the ground and thin tall sticks with twine to make tepees for beans and flowers. The remainder of the small yard was a hard patchwork of grass and dirt. I sat on an empty blanket and drank my wine looking at all the various people that were sitting, laying or milling about. There was a mellow bohemian air to the crowd. People spoke in quiet tones and intimate gestures. I didn’t know any of them. I adjusted my shirt a bit, sat crossed-legged and stared off into the garden. There was a scent of lilacs and cake in the air. Sandy had baked a traditional beranek cake for Easter. I was told it had looked like a lamb, but what I saw passing from hand to hand was more like a slaughtered ameba. A guy wearing a black top hat and stripped bell bottomed pants walked into the garden carrying a guitar and a folded wooden chair. He placed the chair at the edge of the garden, between tomato plants and dangling beans, and sat down. He strummed a few strings of his guitar before he began to play The Velvet Underground’s, What a Perfect Day. I felt suddenly like I was sitting in a photograph.

Sandy ran out giggling and holding up a bottle of white. “Hold yor glasses up if you want wine.” She yelled.

People cheered and held up their glasses. I held up my empty glass and Sandy poured it to the top then moved to the next group. Someone made a joke about her needing a wine skin. Jiri rushed out and grabbed Sandy around her waist and maneuvered her and the wine back into the hostel to the soft boos of those sitting outside. I took a large drink to keep my wine from spilling. A woman with glittery face paint held out her hands; she had a crayon in one palm and an egg in the other. I smiled but shook my head with an involuntary wrinkle of my nose.  I didn’t want to color on eggs. I was certain that this crayon coloring business was not a Czech tradition in the decorating of eggs. I was certain it was a “we don’t have any money for dye so let’s use crayons instead” tradition because other than Demitri not one person could color a decent egg, and he was Russian not Czech. I watched the guitarist’s fingers slowly strumming over the strings, his brush so light it seemed as if he wasn’t really touching them. I started to notice a heady feeling, like a contact high, from all the milky people clouding around me. Either that or I was already feeling drunk from the wine. I looked down into my overflowing glass that was more like a chalice by the abundant pour that Sandy offered in her short-lived role as Bacchus.

Endres stumbled through the door in his usual fashion. He wasn’t sober today. He noticed me, trip-walked his way over, and sat beside me on the blanket. He inhaled deeply and then exhaled with a hum.

“I had a nice picnic in the park Annnnnna.”

“Hmmm.” I said, not having any response. I took a gulp of wine and set my glass on the ground. I thought about getting up, but Endres stopped me by laying his head in my lap. I looked down at him, and held my arms up in question. I wasn’t sure what to do. I hadn’t expected to have Endres’ head in my lap. He had his eyes closed and a smile played over his lips. I looked to my wine glass then back to Endres.

“I need to be on drugs, Annnnnna, so I do not think of my first time in Prague.” He mumbled.

Endres’ eyes were almond shaped, and when they were closed they looked like smiles on a happy face. He was really very beautiful. His skin was smooth like porcelain, not a blemish. It was his coloring that was off sometimes, like he would appear blue-grey or with light plum circles under his eyes. But most of the time he was a soft ceramic white with just a faint dusting of blush. Something about his fine features, his sharp nose and chin reminded me of the feminine. I wondered what it would feel like to pull my fingers through his messy hair, and I moved a hand toward his forehead, but I stopped short and set both of my hands on the ground behind me. Now I had a male drug-addicted angel’s head in my lap. Seemed like a perfect scenario for Easter. I looked up at the sky. We stayed like this in silence for a moment until my leg began to get uncomfortable.

“Endres, I’m sorry but my legs are falling asleep. Here you can use my bag as a pillow.” He lifted his head as I removed my legs and placed my bag under him. I stretched my legs in front of me, massaging them for a bit. Endres kept his eyes closed. I wondered what time it was. How late had I slept this time? Endres had already had a picnic in the park. I had thought it was still early since the streets were so quiet, but maybe it was just that everyone was at home with their families. I flipped over onto my stomach beside Endres.

“How long were you in Thailand?” I asked pulling out a blade of grass and wrapping it around my finger.

“Mmm. Nearly a year.” His eyes were still closed.

“How long have you been traveling?”

“Nearly three years. But I do go home in between.”

“How old are you?”

“I am four and twenty.”

“Can you guess how old I am?” I asked still playing with the blade of grass. That was a stupid question; I wish I hadn’t asked it. I sounded juvenile. I realized I was flirting. This was my flirting. Terrible.

Endres turned to his side facing me and leaned his head on his palm. “It is hard to tell.”

I felt a blush wash over me as Endres examined my face looking for my age. I caught sight of Francisco from the corner of my eye as he walked from the door into the courtyard. I sat up in relief at the chance of breaking this awkward moment, and waved to him. He smiled at me, and tossed an orange in my direction. I caught it over Endres. Francisco turned back inside.

“It must be night.” I said looking up at the dusky sky. “How’d I not notice?” I began to peel the orange by first puncturing it with my nails then tearing back the skin. The rind perspired sweating drips of citrus odor onto my fingers.

Francisco returned holding two glasses of wine. He handed the white one to me.

“How’d you know?” I asked surprised.

He shrugged and set his wine down, then picked up an egg and a crayon. He sat behind me and leaned his back against mine. I could feel the heat from Francisco’s body beating against my back. Even with my initial apprehension on meeting Francisco I felt comfortable leaning up against him for support. I couldn’t figure it out. I had a sense that Francisco wasn’t to be trusted and yet he felt protective, like a guardian almost. I decided to stop fixating on it and just let it go.

I peeled off a part of the orange and handed it to Francisco. I fed a slice to Endres as he lay looking up at me. I was not the kind of woman to feed orange slices to a man, but this was not real life. This was an art film. His eyes were hard blue, striking and somewhat insane. His pupils dilated with a rapid pulse.

“Whoa.” I said, “Your eyes just did something freaky.” It was freaky like a snake’s or cat’s eye.

He smiled up at me. I fed him another orange as if pupils pulse into the size of a dime and then back to the size of a pinhole all the time. What kind of drug did that? Whatever it was it made him mellow. I took a drink of my wine. I felt Francisco move against my back as he scribbled with brisk jerks over his egg.

“I remember things I say Annnnna.” Endres said to me.

“That’s nice Endres.” I said feeling pretty warm from the wine.

“What I said to you the other night.”

“That you thought I was attractive?” I said.

I felt Francisco chuckle his back shaking mine. I felt a flush of embarrassment. I handed him another slice of orange from over my shoulder. He took it from my fingers. I took another drink of wine. I really felt like Francisco and I were bonding.

“Where’s Marco?” I felt Francisco shrug.

The sky was continuing to darken as people passed around ribbons to tie onto sticks. It was that perfect light — the magic time that photographers and filmmakers love when the light is bouncing off the spectrum and pulling out the deepest, sharpest colors.

I felt Francisco growl in frustration over his egg.

“You know I think it is going to be too dark for an Easter egg hunt.” I said.

Francisco tossed his egg and crayon into the grass and abruptly rose and headed into the bar.

It was now dark and starting to get chilly. I lay back down onto the blanket beside Endres. I felt fine being alone with him out in the Easter night. I was drunk on wine.

“I love Prague.” He said up to the sky. “Don’t you love Prague, Annnna?”

“I don’t know if I do.” I said.

“Really?” He sat up and looked at me, his expression hidden in the shadow. “You are the first person I have met that hasn’t loved Prague.”

“Well, I don’t know if I do or don’t yet. I mean, I guess it’s not what I expected. I mean my street is kinda trashy.” I said taking a drink. I was drunk and starting to feel a little cold. “Can I wear your shirt?” I asked.

“What? Are you cold Annnnna?”

“Yep.” I said feeling a shiver move up my back.

“I have a shirt you can borrow up in the room. You know Annna, a lot of beautiful art comes out of trash.”

“Yes. Yes it does.” I knew he was right.

Endres stood up and helped me to my feet and led me, wine glass in hand, into the hostel. He walked me up the first few steps into the hostel then asked me to wait for him for a second as he went to grab the shirt. I leaned on a window ledge and finished my wine. I set the glass down on the ledge beside me. I wondered where Marco was and why he wasn’t here. Endres returned. Handing me the shirt he sat next to me on the ledge. I drunkenly pulled it over my head.

“Would you like to share a splif with me Annnna?”

“Sure.” I said.

We sat on the staircase and shared the splif in silence. Once we finished Endres stood up and helped me to my feet.

“I think for tonight I am going to bed.” Endres’ said.

“Oh are you leaving?” I felt my weight sway back just slightly.

“Yes. Tonight I am tired.”

“Well, can I stay the night with you?” If I hadn’t felt so drunk and stoned I would have been surprised at my boldness. My sober side gave me a thumbs up on the forwardness- you go girl– it said.

“What Annnna? Oh no. It is not nice. It is not a private space. It is full of people.”

“I don’t care. It’s not like we’re going to do anything. I just want to sleep.” We were facing each other holding hands like we were about to play London Bridges.

“I don’t know Annnna. Why would you want to sleep there?”

I shrugged. I didn’t have a smooth answer or any answer.

He looked at me for a minute and then dropping one hand and grabbing the other tighter he led me up the stairs to the communal room.

It was a large room with multiple bunk beds and backpacks, sleeping bags strewn around. We stepped hand and hand over bags, and some people who were on floor cots. Endres let go of my hand and made up the bed as I swayed from one side to the other like a top winding down.

“I’m sorry Annnna,” he whispered, “I told you it wasn’t that nice.”

I shrugged and climbed onto the bottom bunk where Endres was assigned to sleep. I pulled up the covers and scooted in toward the wall. Endres got in after me and snuggled up behind me spooning me with his body. He pushed my hair aside and put his face into the back of my neck, and that is how we fell asleep with 25 strangers.

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Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 5, pgs. 181-187

We fought our way into the birth canal bar. I thought about calling it the fallopian tube, but it had a little more space than that. It was three in the morning, and the place showed no sign of emptying out. Sedik lead the way to a table that was occupied by a couple, and everyone squeezed in till the couple was nearly pushed out.

“Anna, Annabelle.” Ian was yelling into my face. “Yeh worked today r’oight?”

“Yes” I yelled back.

“Can yeh buy me a beer?”

“Christ, Ian. Sure.” I got up and pushed past him to the bar fighting to get attention from the bartender. I ordered a pivo, and a coke for me. I turned to hand the beer to Ian.

“Wot’s that?” He yelled at me.

“It’s a coke.” I yelled back.

“Just a cola?”

“I need caffeine.” I yelled.

“I ‘ave somefing bet’er for ya. Keep ya up all night.” He yelled.

“Not now.” I yelled back.  “But on second thought.” I turned back to the bartender and ordered a glass of wine. Then pushing Ian aside I fought my way back to the table. I sat across from Sedik. His eyes were dying coals — the burning veins showing even in the dark light. His head swung back and forth on a pendulum to the rhythm of the music. Sometimes in a sudden jerk he would pause and press the back of his head against the wall and close his eyes then open them again and sway his head back and forth. Everyone was dancing in whatever space they could find. Francisco was dancing with the two girls in between tables, Marco was dancing in the aisle between the bars and the rows of tables, and Endres was all over the place.

“Annabelle?” Sedik called across to me. I reached my hands over the scared and graffiti wooden table to touch his long black fingers. They were rough from age and hard work but they had a security to them. “You are not dancing tonight?”

“Not yet. I’m a little tired.” I yelled back at him. “How about you Sedik?”

He slowly pulled a cigarette from a pack that had been lying on the table beside our hands and placed it between his lips. After what seemed an eternity to light he took a long and slow deliberate drag; he made smoking look desirable. As he blew the smoke out above his head he swayed it back and forth and looked back down at me. “Maybe later,” He yelled, and then he closed his eyes and nodded off with the lit cigarette between his lips. The room had gotten so crowded that people had spilled out into the space between the two bars. The strong scent of sage and hash filled the room. I turned to watch Francisco as he stomped and threw his arms up and down in a kind of punching action. It was hard to believe less than an hour earlier he had been knotted in a sick ball. Whatever was in Endres’ doctor’s pill revived him. He danced erratically about, his arms and legs stiff and straight like they were fused at the joints. I didn’t know if this was a result of the drugs or if he was really that bad of a dancer. This thought made me laugh at myself. He caught my smile and a grin tore over his face. It was kind and familiar like we had been friends since childhood. I could tell already that he had several personalities. There was a force in that body that couldn’t stay under the skin. I also could tell it was unpredictable, but that smile was overflowing with wicked charm. He came over and danced in front of me till the girls pulled him back into the crowed. Ian pulled a chair up directly in front of me, blocking my view of all the dancing. He started yelling something at me.  I scowled a bit at not being able to watch everybody, and attempted to look over his shoulder as he spoke.

“I ‘ope I didn’t insult ya the other night.” He said yelling into my ear.

I felt like getting a real drink. “Lets get a shot of Bechorovka!” I yelled back to him. “Watch my chair.” I yelled down to him as I forced my way into the crowd to the bar. A few minutes later I was back with two shots of Bechorovka and another glass of wine. “Salute!” I yelled and toasted him. Ian threw the shot back and slammed his glass down on the table, jolting Sedik awake. With a startled expression Sedik mumbled something about leaving, and he got up and rushed out the door. As soon as he moved people filled up the space where he had been sleeping.

“So Annabelle- like I was sayin.” Ian started yelling again.

“Annnnnnna!” Endres was dancing next to my chair. He was moving like a blouse in the dryer swaying dangerously close to people but somehow not making contact with anyone. He started dancing around me as I started laughing.

“Yeh look like a roight fool.” Ian growled.

I continued to laugh as Endres danced. He danced his way to a white wooden chair, pulled it up beside me, and sat down. But as he did it shattered and splintered under him tossing him to the ground in such a force that he slid under the table behind him. Everyone bent at the waist to get a look at the angel boy under the table.

“Are you okay?” I laughed as I got down to my knees to help pull him out.

Ian crossed his arms over his chest. “Wot a fuckin idjet.”

I pulled him to his feet.

“I’m okay Annnnnna.” He said looking around for another chair, which he found and pulled over, but before sitting, he pressed his hand to the seat to check for stability. “Hi Annnnnna”

“Hey Endres.” I yelled.

Marco danced over, grabbed my hand and pulled me to him in a dance. This was familiar. We used to dance together all the time, especially when we lived together in Paris. Anywhere there was dancing, even if it was playing from the window of a building, he would grab me and pull me into a dance and there we would dance on the street. It was a favorite thing to do together. I threw my arms over his shoulders as he wrapped his around my waist, and our legs slipped between each other’s. Marco shimmied me down to the floor and back up. Our hips pressed together as Marco moved me around the room then back to the table. As he dipped me, I dropped my arms over my head. Endres ran his fingers along the inside of my arm from the soft dent of my elbow to my wrist.

“Wot the fuck.” Ian yelled at Endres.

Marco pulled me back up to him and pressed me into his chest till we were nose to nose. We laughed into each other’s mouths, and he pushed me out into a spin, pulled me back into his arms, and dropped me into a final dip. We bowed to each other after we finished dancing. A girl ran up to Marco and begged him to dance with her. He grabbed her forcefully around the waist and pulled her tightly to him, turned to wink at me, then danced the girl onto the dance floor.

Endres had his hand on the chair where I had been sitting to save it. He beckoned me to sit back down.

“I think I want another drink,” I yelled.

“Are you and Marco lovers?” Endres yelled to me.

“No. Why do you ask?” I yelled back.

“Oh well, the way you dance together. It is so nice the way you move together. You look like lovers.” He yelled.

“No.” I yelled back, “We are best friends. We just happen to dance well together.”

He smiled. Then grabbing my arm he pulled himself to my ear and leaned in close enough that his lips brushed against my earlobe. “Annnnna, I think I am attracted to you. But I must go to the bar. I can no longer stand on my own.”

“Okay.” I yelled. He used my shoulder to help himself stand. “I’ll see you soon?”

He nodded and then stumbled to the bar.

Ian, with his arms still crossed, was scowling next to me. I jumped up from the table and danced over to Francisco and his two girls. Marco reappeared from the dance floor to join all of us. I felt a tug at my jeans and then one at the back of my shirt by the elbow. I turned to see Ian still sitting.

“I fink yer very beu’itful!” He yelled.

“What?” I yelled back. I had heard him, but wasn’t comfortable with the attention. I preferred to dance.

“Nofing,” he said turning away from me.

I returned to the music.

Once the lights came on people forced themselves through the double front doors like a flood rushing onto the morning streets of Žižkov.

“I’m too old for this shit!” Marco yelled, straining his neck and head back toward the morning sky.

Francisco, Marco, and I linked arms and walked home together.

“You and Marco perform well on the dance floor,” Francisco said, leaning into my ear. “I am an excellent dancer you know, but not so excellent when I have to share the dance floor with another body like you and Marco do. I have a great envy over it.” He paused and looked out over the buildings as they rose to greet us in our homeward stumble. “But I still get plenty of vagina.”

Marco and I started laughing.

“I just do not want any tonight. I have that right.”

“Yes. Yes. You do.” I said still laughing.

“You a muthafucka.” Marco laughed.

I heard the sound of laughter fading behind us, and looked back to see through the morning haze. Ian and Endres had their arms draped over each other’s necks and shoulders as they stumbled and fell on their way to the nearest non-stop. At least they had each other.

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Hello From Žižkov-Chapter 5, pgs. 177-181

After washing my hands in the upstairs bathroom I headed to the lower level of the bar. I didn’t see anyone I knew in the DJ room. I peeked my head around the corner into a room lit by candles placed on a large table surrounded by people that looked like they were falling asleep in a business meeting. The room smelled of booze, beer, and smoke. Heads bobbed to music from the other room rising and falling in jerking motions like fishing flies nibbled by fish too small to catch.

“Yer just in time.” Ian was sitting in darkness at the far end of the table. “I’m rolling a splif right now.”

I found Marco at the end of the table, too, and I pulled a chair up in between them.

“How was work?” asked Marco, his words slurring.

“Fine. You know, it was beef stew, Guinness, and lesbian jokes all night.”

“Hmm. Nice.” He whispered.

I looked around the table. It was like joining the living dead after a feast. Sedik was sitting at the other end staring straight ahead at a blank wall as if he was waiting for something. His look was so intense I couldn’t help but look at the wall with the same anticipation. A dark-haired girl was sitting beside Sedik. She had her head down on the table with her arms draped over her head, and her long dark hair wrapped like a shawl over her shoulders that weaved through her fingers and spilled onto the table. The girl who had licked Francisco’s face had her head arched back over her chair with her mouth opened, and her eyes were closed like she was asleep. No one made any introductions. Marco was salivating as he stared at Ian’s fingers watching intently as he rolled the splif back and forth between his fingertips. The only one talking was some rotund sweaty dark-haired guy with a thinning comb over and wild darting eyes, and an Irish accent. He kept scratching at his double chin speckled with patches of grey and black whiskers at the top of his head. He was fidgety and kept squirming around in his seat like he was itchy. He was wearing a heavy wool overcoat that had what looked like animal hair covering it in large swaths like someone ran a cat over his body in long even strokes. It wasn’t exactly warm in Prague at the moment, but it wasn’t wool overcoat weather either. I watched his eyeballs dart back and forth in the sockets like black beta fish in round fish bowls. I was waiting to see if he would eventually go cross-eyed. He muttered to no one in particular.

“Did you see Francisco when you came in?” asked Marco without taking his eyes off Ian’s fingers.

“No.” I said still staring at the new guy in the overcoat.

Both the girls looked at me. The already silent room came to a stop, if that was possible, even the mutterer stopped talking and looked at me.

“He wasn’t outside?” Asked Marco. He was sitting up straight and alert.

“I didn’t see him.” There was a strange urgency and tension as all eyes, except Sedik’s who was still staring at the spot on the wall, were focused on me. “We’ll I did see some dark mass of a person folded over like a blob against the wall across the street. I guess that could have been him.”

Both of girls got up knocked into each other, and half pushed, half helped one another to their feet, and then they headed out. It was like I had just walked into a farce only I wasn’t written into the play.

“Is everybody fucking stoned or something?” I asked.

“Annnnnnnnnnna, where were you Annnnnnnnna?” Endres fell into the space between Ian and I.

“Bugger off.” Ian mumbled.

“I was at work.” I said, watching him swaying above me like his old self.

“Oh it was your first day, how was it?” Endres’ breath was labored and his words slurred.

“It was fine.”

Ian handed Marco the splif. He took a drag, handed it back to Ian, then jumped up. “Let’s go to the A-Krop.”

“Are you going to the A-Krop, Annnnnna?” asked Endres. His fingers wrapped around my wrist, that I had resting against my thigh.

“Apparently so.” I said.

“You bring us any gifts from the Joyce?” Ian asked inhaling his splif.

“No, Ian, I didn’t.”

“Bugger, bett’a luck next time, r’oight?”

“Right, right.” I said brushing him off.

Outside Seven Wolves, Francisco was crumpled in half and holding himself up with the building. His arms were like tangled ribbons knotted at his side. The dark-haired girl was helping to lift him to his feet as the other one stood swaying next to him. As soon as he was standing Endres walked to him and pressed himself to Francisco then whispered into his ear as he slipped something into his mouth. Francisco swallowed it with a shake of his head, and pushed Endres off, as he tried to regain stability. As he started to stumble forward, the two girls were lifting him under their arms and they dragged him along toward the A-Krop. Everyone, aside from me, walked in a cyclical weave or stumble. They were all so fucked up, and I couldn’t figure out what everyone was on. It didn’t seem like just alcohol. In a few short minutes Francisco stood up straight and disentangled himself from the girls. He started walking with a hop in his step till he was passing everyone and eventually leading the way to the bar.

“What the hell did Endres give him?” I asked Marco who just shrugged in response.

“Whatever you do.” He said with a sigh, “Don’t take any drugs from Irish Bill.”

“Who?”

“The sweaty fat guy scratching at himself at the table.” He said.

“The guy in the wool overcoat? He was sweating because he’s in a wool overcoat in springtime.” I said looking around for Irish Bill.

Endres who was walking on the other side of me smiled and kicked at a pebble then stumbled over his foot, but quickly righted himself.

“Endres?” I asked, “What did you give to Francisco?”

“Oh. It was from my doctor.” He said.

“You have quite the doctor.” Marco said.

Yes, yes, was Endres response before he skipped up ahead toward the rest of the group.

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