November 30th holds a special place in my heart for various reasons. Not only would today have been my father's 84th birthday, but it was also the day that my mother and I settled into Alabama after months of displacement five years ago as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Two years later, on this same date, my father would receive the ultimate birthday gift as I would reunite him with his wife, placing her ashes alongside his casket in his crypt in New Orleans.
On February 3rd, 2007, seven months before my mother's own passing, I had written a piece commemorating my father, Theodore Vincent Torres Sr., and with some slight modifications, what follows is that essay in its entirety:
Two years ago today, my father, Theodore Vincent Torres Sr., passed away after a mercilessly long and drawn-out battle with cancer. He was 79.
In remembering my father, I recall first and foremost his almost encyclopedic intelligence, which he applied to everything in his life. A natural and life-long outdoorsman, my father was unmatched in the ways of the old-school New Orleans men who made their living in the marsh. Whether it be as a fisherman, a hunter, a trawler, or a trapper, Teddy was the last of a master generation who passed his knowledge down to the next. Since his passing, I've been told story after story about my father's vast reservoir of knowledge on topics ranging from rope tying to aerodynamics, from carpentry to electrical engineering. Having had me rather late in life, I was not privileged enough to have been a part of that consecutive generation, a group of men and women alike, now well into middle-age, who hold my father in the highest of regards as both mentor, innovator (I have been told that the first airboat in St. Bernard Parish was not only owned by my father, but made of his own hands), and in most ways, a father figure.
I struggled for a while with the idea that my father and I were opposites. There was no doubt in my mind that he wanted me to be the natural heir to his knowledge and skills. I was of a different mindset, however, far removed from the world of the marsh and instead naturally rooted in the arts. A perfect example of such a juxtaposition would have to be the time that he took me on my first duck hunt and handed me his childhood 4-10 double barrel shotgun to use. According to him, within the hour, he had turned to see me playing air guitar with the weapon. For some reason, I don't recall this event, although I know damn good and well that I more than likely did just that. I did, however, come away with a life-long fascination with guns, an interest that we truly did share, but the hunting I'm afraid stayed in that duck blind.
Our passions would cross again years later as he would in fact be my first editor. Intrigued and relentlessly curious about language in general, my father loved to play with words. I remember playing word games and sharing riddles, telling stories and inventing acronyms. It was my father who meticulously read through and proofread my first draft of The Petrified Christ, in awe that his son had such a skill with words, a skill that he rightfully felt he had cultivated. One of the only surviving pictures I have of my father in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is one in which he's holding a copy of that book in Barnes & Noble, grinning in profile as he admired the cover.
And such, I feel, was my relationship with my father. As father and son we were indeed opposites, yet forever in admiration of each other's abilities and motivations. Many life lessons were learned during those final years, some deliberate, and some acquired unconsciously though his spirit and task driven focus on the necessity of day-to-day life. It is his strength that guides me to this very day, his focus on work, and his protective "us verses the world" philosophy of family that insured I would keep it together and provide after what will more than likely go down as the most tragic year of my life, 2005, the year I lost everything.
And so, Pop, I'm thinking of you today up there in the blue, no doubt watching the clouds shift and morph in and out from one another to form those cloud pictures that we'd lie on our backs and spot, the ones that only you and I were able to see.
Of the many friendly criticisms I've received of my two books over the years, the one that always rings true is that I don't need to be in such a hurry to end my stories ... and I'll be damned if I'm not guilty of just that this third time around.
After passing the new manuscript past some eyes other than my own, I've come to realize that my ending just doesn't quite cut it. And so the plan now is to retain as much of the original ending as possible -- with a few tweaks here and there -- while going back into the body of the piece to fatten up some spots that could make the whole thing work. I'm actually excited about the prospect of doing this as I head into the second draft process next week, which consists basically of incorporating some of the previously mentioned edits, with the third draft scheduled to begin as I take the manuscript with me to Key West, Florida during the second week in December.
I have noticed, however, that I have a natural order of things that I ease into when I'm finishing the actual writing of a book, and so far, it always leads to one of the characters having a conversation with the person at the center of the conflict, and then that character reflecting on the events of the big picture.
At the end of The Petrified Christ, Daniel Foster has his conversation with ... well ... someone ... and then reflects back on the entire story while in his office at Loyola, laying down some conclusions on his personal theology to the once abrasive graduate student Rodney, and then wandering out of the building into the night. Scenes from the Blanket has a similar ending, in which Blake Worthington, after having confronted the architect of the curse and the curse itself, takes his thoughts to paper as we're given one of many glimpses into his personal journal, and thus, a conclusive wrap-up of where his head is. And I'll just say that my third book has a similar ending, although I won't say who has the conversation and who does the reflecting.
It's the rhythms that fascinate me when it comes to writing, be they organic -- in which characters seem to take on lives of their own, doing and saying things that you never intended before you sat down to write them -- or constructed, as is the case with my current end trend. I'm content with it, though, and I figure that if these three books are going to make up some sort of Blanket Trilogy, then it feels right to have this common thread running through all three.
I love it when things are done for the right reasons, especially when it exposes things that are done to the contrary. There's a reason, for instance, why DreamWorks Animation's "Megamind" is still at the top of the box office this week: because it delivers what it promises -- an entertaining movie with brilliant 3-D effects put to use for the sake of the effect and not to fatten the wallets of the studio executives. I have to say that I was more than a little annoyed a few weeks ago when Warner Bros. announced that "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I" would not be released in 3-D due to the studio's inability to make the 3-D transfer in time. Were they implying that Warner Bros. was willing to stoop so low as to use one of its most beloved movie franchises to squeeze out a few more bucks at the ticket window when the movie could have in fact been released in 2-D all along?
I'm at the point now where I believe that 3-D technology should be reserved for CGI animation only, where the effect can be used to its maximum potential to create a true virtual world from scratch on the screen. Otherwise, with the exception of movies like James Cameron's "Avatar," where the live-action film is shot using 3-D technology, I can't help but feel like I'm being ripped off over and over again. I'm talking to you, "Clash of the Titans," and to you, "Alice in Wonderland," and to you, Wes Craven's "My Soul to Take," where I spent most of the movie with the glasses on top of the same bald head I was scratching.
Going to a movie is always a gamble as far as whether or not you're going to get your money's worth. So why should we now have to add the side bet of whether or not the 3-D we paid to see is going to be worth a shit? Kudos to DreamWorks for keeping up the good and honest work, and shame on Warner Bros. for contributing to the corrosion of my sense of wonder.