Friday, December 5, 2014

How characters are born: making 'Lilian....' real with a pro's advice

QEII lecturer Josh Logan gave tips

A poster for "Annie Get Your Gun'' inspired
the creation of Lilian in "Lilian's Last Dance."

on making a character come alive

Click here ==> Lilian's Last Dance


CROSSING the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth II, in the summer of 1986, famed Broadway producer and director Josh Logan was one of the guest lecturers.
He was one of my idols, for I'd grown up with the music of "Annie Get Your Gun," and "South Pacific," both of which he directed. My late husband, Bruce Meyers, an accomplished actor and creative writing professor, encouraged me to approach Logan and express my interest in his legacy and his passion:  musical theater.
Writers Bill Jones and Cookie
were characters in a seafaring
"drama," crossing on the famed
Queen Elizabeth II, where earlier
Christene and Bruce Meyers
met, dined with and interviewed
brilliant Broadway director,
Josh Logan.

Famed Broadway director Josh Logan took time with
Christene Meyers years ago on an Atlantic crossing.
HE WAS GRACIOUS, and delighted to visit. Although he was elderly, and sometimes used a walker or wheelchair, he came alive when talking about theater. I took notes on his lively lectures and several private conversations during that crossing.  He died two years later, in 1988, leaving a legacy to the world -- and invaluable advice for this reporter!

Gertrude Stein and Alice
B. Toklas made many
Atlantic crossings,
and are cameos in
"Lilian's Last Dance." 

We studied their lives.

The iconic Eiffel Tower
plays a small part in "Lilian...." too.

LOGAN TOLD ME that research and "reinvention" are critical to making the characters come alive. "Know your characters' history, but make them your own," he said. Before "South Pacific" he studied James Michner's "Tales of the South Pacific," which inspired the musical. He also visited the islands many times.
The Paris cabaret scene inspired us to envision
what a show might have been like in Paris 100 years ago
TAKING a cue from that wonderful week on the ocean with a genius Broadway great, the creation of "Lilian's Last Dance" took me on many journeys. Bruce and I, then Billy and I, and later Keller and I, traveled to Hawaii,
England, France, Australia, Peru and many mainland North American states. The work survived both the death of Bruce and of my second husband and "Lilian" collaborator, Bill Jones. Before he passed, in 2005, we filled notebooks with useful detail.
 WE COLLECTED maps, visited museums and read a dozen books about silent movies, vintage travel, art and World War I. (Part of the action unfolds on the Front.)  We located Gertrude Stein's salon in Paris, 27 rue de Fleures, where she, Alice Toklas and brother Leo entertained. We loved people watching in the fabulous Musee d'Orsay, where several of the Steins' paintings now hang.
Paris and the Moulin Rouge attracted a return visit to Paris.
The shows and people there inspired Paris detail in the book.
We booked shows in the  much photographed Moulin Rouge, studying both audience and performers.  All helpful in making the characters come alive in believable settings.

Famous Parisian gardens, avenues and night clubs make appearances in "Lilian."
WE TRAMPED all over Paris -- from the Left Bank to Montmartre to the Jardin du Luxembourg, to the Tuileries Garden, all of which were frequented by Stein and her lover, muse and secretary. We set the scene for our character, Elfego Fuentes, to call on Stein, along with "real life" writers Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound.  By chance, Billy and I met an elderly woman whose aspiring painter grandmother was taken under Stein's generous wing. She provided marvelous detail.
PAINTER ELFEGO, one of the novel's major characters, is a South American born artist whom Stein befriends in our story. So we booked an Amazon cruise to find a village where Elfego might have grown up.  We flew to Quito, Peru, then cruised through the rain forests to Brazil. We were smudged by witch doctors and deep in the jungle located a village with structures built in the early 1900s.  This would be Elfego's birth place! More on that soon....

Julian, California, has apples aplenty.  We hope "Lilian's
Last Dance" is the apple of your eye!
WE'RE EXCITED about early reviews for "Lilian's Last Dance." Here's one from Elle Pieffe, of Rome, who liked the painter Elfego: "Lilian's daring, beautiful soul shines in the brush strokes of her Peruvian soul mate artist, in the sizzling shots of a western gunfire duel, in the silvery rain blessing Paris in winter. The mystery fades into a portrait of a person we'd love to have met.....and won't forget! You'll love this book, absolutely. (Find "Lilian's Last Dance" on Amazon eBooks.)

COMING SOON: Hitting the road in Europe was part of the research for the revisiting and rewriting of "Lilian's Last Dance."  But hitting the road in America provided fun, too.   Several times, we took a break to Julian, California, one of our favorite get-aways. We love the fine dining, restful settings, fun shopping, ice cream and delicious apples for the world's best pie.  Remember: carpe diem, so explore, learn and live and visit us Wednesdays and weekends at:

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