Thursday, August 16, 2007

The King Lives

I don't know about you, but Elvis Presley's death rocked my little 12-year-old world. At least for that one day, anyway. (Lots of other stuff going on then, too!)

Wait a minute! What does this have to do with children's writing? It is a stretch, but just watch me make a connection.

August 16, 1977: I remember that hot summer day. I'd just gotten home from swimming when I heard the news on the radio. Then I watched the story — and the spectacle — unfold on the evening news. True, the story really only began to unfold that night (and it still has legs).

Thirty is a big milestone, but the import attached always strikes me as odd when the anniversary marks a death. I guess we all like to look back, reminisce, place events in context, rewrite/reframe history . . .

Anyhoo, I remember being very upset — really sad — about not just Elvis's death, but also the way he died. (Who let him do that to himself?!) The details from the loo upset me, as did the corresponding jokes that took hold. And I could not abide Dr. Nick.

Let's see, what else. Oh, I very much wanted people to stop talking about Ginger Alden as though she was Elvis's "love," when clearly Priscilla was It. Like I said, I was 12.

August 16, 1978–2006: I'm no superfan. But I am a music, film, history, and pop culture lover, and the King of Rock and Roll fits into all those areas. As such, I've always paid some attention to the annual parade of Elvis Presley tributes and remembrances.

I enjoy his music and have seen MANY of his formula flicks MANY times. (Elvis movie marathon on AMC? I am there!) I absolutely love watching him in his prime, effortlessly banging out his performances in Same Movie, Different Title time after time after time. I'm in the camp that thinks he had great potential as an actor but forces outside his control (hello, Col. Tom!) sadly, somehow, for some reason, kept Elvis in a creatively unfulfilled place. Can't help drawing a line between whatever "that" was and his apparent need to medicate and self-destruct, either.

August 16, 2007: I'm 42 now. Guess that happened during those 30 years everyone has been counting since Elvis's sad demise. When the early-morning news said EAP would have been 72 today, I gasped a little at the math that makes me the same age he was in '77. To top it off, I see on Ginger Alden's wiki that she is only 50 right this very minute. Holy cow, she was just a girl herself back then.

Time to make that connection I promised.

It's easy, really. The life of any cultural phenomenon can provide countless avenues of inspiration for my own creative work. I don't even have to consciously look to or think about said phenomenon for that to be true. Anything I've read or seen or experienced is part of my makeup and, thus, potentially inspiring and part of my process.

If I wanted to specifically look to Elvis for inspiration, well, that would be easy too. Let's list some ways:
  • Research his life, work, and impact on history to help me write a children's biography, magazine article, piece of historical fiction, or contemporary story featuring an Elvis-esque character (or a fan character, or a young girl like Priscilla Presley who gets caught up in a the world of a megastar).
  • Use research — and either focus on a narrow portion of it or expand on it — to write about the greater history of rock and roll, teen idols, gospel, the Presleys, the Ed Sullivan Show, the story behind "Blue Suede Shoes," and so on. Any of that could show up in fiction or nonfiction.
  • Study the typical story structure of the typical Elvis movie and think of ways to apply elements of it to easy-reading adventure stories. Hey, some formulas work.
  • And my favorite: Use my own emotions, perceptions, impressions, and thought-processes from the era in which this event happened to inform my writing for children, whether I apply it to a specific character's actions, a story's tone, or the actual content of whatever I might be writing.
That's it, I think. My little Elvis tribute is over and out. Gotta go TCB!

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