The Paris Architect: A Review

One piece of writing advice offered by Stephen King tells us to combine two unexpected, seemingly unrelated, concepts. He did this in Carrie, when he paired up telekinesis with the hell that can be high school. Never mind that the manuscript was rejected 30 times…let’s focus on how that debut novel changed the way many of us view storytelling.

When Charles Belfoure built the foundation for The Paris Architect, he certainly followed this vein.

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As a person who knows little about architecture, I find it hard to imagine coupling it with anything other than perfunctory-type notions…after all, what conflicts with, and would therefore complement, the spatial elements of structural and artistic design? Well, I thought maybe I found the answer in Loving Frank, a novel based on the Frank Lloyd Wright’s long-time affair with his mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Architecture and romance: Unexpected, right? Yes, but not quite right.

Belfoure, however, got it oh-so-right.

His combo? Architecture and suspense.

Who knew?

For the love of all that is magnificent, who knew?

This novel, set in 1942 German-occupied Paris, follows a Parisian architect, Lucien Bernard, who is so flattered by the commissioning of his work during a time when most Parisians fear for their lives and subsist on bare rations that he agrees to design buildings for the manufacture of German armaments, despite accusations of being a conspirator.

This is only a slice of the story, though. What got him involved in this mess lies at the root of a tale filled with twists that captivate without confounding the plot. At first, he is reluctant to design hiding places for Jews in Paris homes and apartments, vowing over and over that each design will be his last; until he finds himself involved to the point that his fear for his own life becomes subordinate to other discoveries he makes about himself and what will become his mission.

The character development in The Paris Architect is superb. Not only do we get gratifying journeys through the minds and hearts of a number of characters, we see the real-time evolution of relationships and philosophical ideals. The emotional attachment developed with these characters is rich.

And I can’t forget the suspense. Belfoure knows how to keep you on edge, virtually experiencing the torture and death of so many innocents through your own mind’s eye.  You can’t help but transport yourself to war-time France, to ask yourself with the completion of every paragraph, with the anticipatory turn of every page…what would I do?

I celebrate the day I picked up this book at the suggestion of a librarian. Congratuations, Charles Belfoure. You have handily entertained and stirred the heart of a hard-to-please reader. You have not only packaged an unexpected combination into a brilliant demonstration of character development, pacing and setting, you have captured this historical fiction lover’s heart.

Penalty of an Artless Existence

Manipulating cold, steel-edged words for those who will pin them up for inquiring minds to digest and regurgitate as currency.

Singing metered phrases crafted by forlorn and joyous hearts, raped and robbed by my unknowing tongue.

Riding the lines of another’s hand, lost and drowning in a deeply hued sea of his existence—a magnificent, sultry pool, though not my own.

*****

How is an artist to survive? When the must-dos and must-have of this, our perfunctory existence, demand that we repress the artist within? How must we speak to the ingenuity that was not only gifted to us, but that has been welded to our humanity—to every interaction, to every emotion, to every lens through which we view the biosphere?

How are we to survive when we feel compelled to silence this artistry—like the mother who suffocates her child against her breast to spare the innocent from an acute and critical enemy—in a world that seems rigid, black, gray?

Your artistry is not unlike a splinter entrenched deep below the skin, festering within your flesh. It must come out, and if you do not consciously extract it, it will exhume itself. Your artistry will manifest as anger, your ingenuity as hatred. Your imagination will turn black, your vision a translucent view of spoiled shades. Your ear will pluck pretentiousness over rhyme. Your soul will spin a web around your gift, until it begins to pulsate like some sickening omen, and you will wish for another chance at plucking that tidy splinter.

Some of us must create. It is the bread and water of our existence. We must output, in order to balance the input…lest we suffer the penalty of an artless existence.

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Drink in the creations of others; it is necessary for the awakening of your own. But do not resolve this as your portion. You shall starve.

“Use it or lose it” is what they tell the athletes. “Climb the ladder” is what they preach to the capitalist. And what is there for the artist? There are only two things: Self and Others Like Us. Never underestimate the power of these. Never suppress your need to create, your need to live as you were born.

Self-Editing, for Independent Excellence

No matter what you’ve written, hiring an editor is always a good investment; however, sometimes there’s just no wiggle room in the budget. So what’s a writer to do when there’s no one to turn to for criticism? He becomes self-reliant in the editing realm, with the help of some targeted recommendations.

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Here are some pieces of self-editing advice that I’ve gathered from other writers, as well as from experience:

  • If there’s enough time, put it away for at least a week. Don’t look at it. Don’t think about it. Don’t even entertain the idea of peeking at it. The idea here is to trick your brain into believing it’s someone else’s work. When you’re too close to the composition, you tend to read what you remember writing, not necessarily what’s on the page. How many times have I glossed over an “if” that was supposed to be an “it” or a “your” that was supposed to be a “you”? Too many to count. Why? Because I was reading what I thought I wrote, not what my eyes were telling me was there.
  • Read it out loud. Saying words aloud improves metacognition, or the process of understanding how we learn. For auditory learners, this is particularly helpful when attempting to remember something. For self-editors, it introduces another cognitive aspect, doubling the chances of those mistakes being caught. You might say that when you read aloud, your eyes and your ears are all on the job. Plus, you get the chance to determine if what you’ve written just sounds stupid.
  • Change the font. I have found that when I read what I’ve written in the same old font, I associate it with me, and it’s all-too familiar. If I change the font style, make it smaller, or make it larger, however, I see mistakes that had until then remained hidden.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat. This works especially well for shorter works, 500 words or less. Read your work with a critical eye. If you find at least one mistake, read the entire thing again. If you find another mistake, correct that error and read through again, from the beginning. Don’t stop until you find zero mistakes.
  • Give yourself an incentive. After you are certain that no mistakes remain, challenge yourself to find another one. Make a deal with yourself. You get a chocolate for every additional one you can find. If you can find five mistakes you get to schedule a massage for next week. The commodity is up to you – the point here is that if you offer yourself a tangible reward, it will act as a façade for the real reward: personal and professional excellence.

No matter your level of genius, editing your own work demands fastidiousness that transcends intelligence. Today, promise yourself that you will never again click on Send or Publish without knowing, to a high degree of certainty, that what you’re putting out there is your personal best.

Together, we can change writing for the better. I’d love for you to share your favorite self-editing practices here.

Need an editor? Contact me. I’ll put your writing through the wringer.

Copywriting: Selling Brands in the New Age

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Copywriting is, quite simply, the writing of copy. Great copywriting is much more. It’s about knowing your audience, intimately. It’s about showing them your empathy for their pain, your top-shelf solution, and spurring them to action. Superior copywriting doesn’t stop there: it reveals the real, living and breathing substance beneath your brand because…

…are you ready?…

copywriting doesn’t sell products and services. It sells people.

A proficient copywriter can sell work boots to Paris Hilton – as long as that writer makes it clear that he recognizes her problem and has a solution that will ultimately, on some level, change her life forever.

Persuasion is not the same animal it once was. It has evolved to become less like a wolverine and more like a golden retriever. In the past, product was king, outrageous claims were made about those products, and clever wit found its way into most copy. Now, business names, straplines, and sales copy work to dig up the emotions that companies know will grasp the attention of their ideal clients and to create memorable experiences for the people who matter the most.

One example of effective copywriting is found with the long-established brand, Lysol. I’ll bet they wouldn’t have much luck selling their no-touch hand soap system using the product features and benefits alone. Let’s think about this: the product is costly to purchase and requires batteries and unique refills. It claims that you’ll stay cleaner because you won’t have to touch the germy pump…wait a minute. How good is the soap in that refill? Should we even have to worry about the germs picked up from the pump when the antibacterial soap is the best on the market?

None of this matters to Lysol’s ideal clients, who are, by definition, germ-phobes. They have come to trust Lysol as a market leader because its brand was built, largely by clever copywriting, to signify safety and cleanliness for self and family. And yes, the emotions they have tapped trump common sense. This is the power of solid, branded copywriting.

More than ever, this is the age of emotional purchasing. The economy has affected most of us, and one might think that would make price point a deciding factor. Think again. More than clamping our wallets closed, years of floundering economic status has made many of us emotionally raw, looking for security, a good investment, and something that just makes us feel good.

A great copywriter harnesses the power of emotion. He or she reveals you, your values, and the essence of your brand to the world so that people can make those emotionally driven decisions that have become all-too common in this, a new purchasing age.

Is your copy working for your brand? It is reaching the right people – and then touching them with words that grasp mind share and become ultimately unforgettable? Contact me today at jacindalittle@gmail.com for a free analysis of your current copy or to learn more about what a professional copywriter could do for your business. You may also like my Facebook page for writing news and tips.

Food for Fiction: Newspaper Funnies

Where do you get your short story and novel ideas? No matter your chosen genre, you might look to authentic life for subject matter…and where better to find real life than in the newspaper? There, you’ll find the best, and most often the worst, of this pack we call humanity. When I have the occasion to generate a short story (the bills aren’t stopping, and therefore neither is my ghostwriting), I like to consult local and national newspapers for help with sparking story ideas.  Today, I stumbled across some funny headlines and couldn’t help searching for some of their twisted cousins. Here are my favorites:

  • One-armed man applauds the kindness of strangers
  • Caskets found as workers demolish mausoleum
  • Alton attorney accidentally sues himself
  • Condom truck tips, spills load
  • Man eats underwear to beat breathalyzer
  • Sewage spill kills fish, but water safe to drink
  • Panda mating fails; veterinarian takes over
  • Marijuana issue sent to joint committee
  • Students cook & serve grandparents
  • Hippo eats dwarf
  • Lost:  African elephant
  • Topeka cemetery clean-up in need of volunteers:  A light lunch to follow provided by Waste Management of Kansas
  • Tight end returns after colon surgery
  • Miracle cure kills fifth patient
  • All you need to know about Obama’s package
  • A-Rod goes deep, Wang hurt
  • Hooker named lay person of the year
  • Blind man denied Minn. gun permit
  • Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25

Deeper probing took me to the police blotters:

  • A deputy responds to a report of a vehicle stopping at mail boxes. It was the mailman.
  • Wal-Mart: Police receive a report of a newborn infant found in a trash can. Upon investigation, officers discover it was only a burrito.
  • The Learning Center on Hanson Street reports a man across the way stands at his window for hours watching the center, making parents nervous. Police ID the subject as a cardboard cutout of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And I have to give proper credit to the classifieds:

  • Human skull, used once only. Not plastic. $200 OBO
  • Full size mattress, Royal Tonic, 20 year warranty. Like new. Slight urine smell. $40
  • Potty chair, solid oak, light brown stain

Quick — grab a pen. By the time your diaphragm stops cramping, you’ll have come up with a storyline involving a Hannibal-Lecter-wanna-be mailman who delivers special-recipe burritos, or a veterinarian who learns to embrace both the yin and the yang. Come on — if you write it, I’ll read it.

Should you Lie or Lay?

The decision to use lie or lay can bring my editing to an abrupt halt. Which one is it? They both sound right. Should I refer to song lyrics for the answer? Once I learned the present-tense usage for each, I was then faced with the hurdle of transporting each into the past. I added Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips Lay versus Lie page to my […]

Wanted: Fiction Ghostwriter

I’ve been contacted by a few people recently about ghostwriting their novels.  I’d like to take this opportunity to give a loud and collective, “No, thank you,” to anyone who is looking to have this type of work done, and if you read on, you’ll learn why. It has been assumed that I won’t ghostwrite […]