Paris Between the Wars – “F” is for F. Scott Fitzgerald

A2Z-BADGE 2016-smaller_zpslstazvib

Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1896. He was named after his famous second cousin, the man who wrote the lyrics to our national anthem.

At a prestigious Catholic prep school in New Jersey, a priest noticed his talent with the written word and encouraged him to pursue his literary ambitions. Fitzgerald honed his craft as a writer while at Princeton, but his coursework suffered as a result, and he was placed on academic probation. In 1917, he dropped out of school to join the Army.

Fitzgerald was Camp Sheridan outside of Montgomery, Alabama, where he met Zelda Sayre, the “golden girl,” in Fitzgerald’s terms, of Montgomery society. When World War I ended in 1918, Fitzgerald moved to New York City, hoping to launch a career in advertising that would be lucrative enough to convince Zelda to marry him. His book, This Side of Paradise, was accepted by Scribner’s in 1919 and became an instant success, launching his career as a writer.

Paris in the 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald’s development. He traveled often to Europe, mostly Paris, and became friends with many members of the American expatriate community in Paris, especially with Ernest Hemingway. Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties and by his wife’s schizophrenia. Tender is the Night was finally published in 1934, but critics, who had waited nine years for the followup to The Great Gatsby, had mixed opinions about the novel. The novel did not sell well upon publication but, like the earlier Gatsby, the book’s reputation has since risen significantly.

An alcoholic since college, Fitzgerald became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, which had undermined his health by the late 1930s. He died of a heart attack in Hollywood on December 21, 1940. Fitzgerald was 44 years old.

It was written in a New York Times editorial after his death that Fitzgerald “was better than he knew, for in fact and in the literary sense he invented a generation…”

This Side of Paradise bookGatsby bookTender is the Night book

Great Character Names

This may become a series, since there are way too many great character names to post all at once.  And feel free to add yours!

I recently watched the series “Bleak House” on Netflix.  Do try to watch it if you can – a fantastic series based on the Dickens masterpiece.  It centers around Victorian London’s society and legal system, and features some marvelous characters:

Guppy, a lawyer’s clerk, prone to social awkwardness

Miss Flite, an eccentric who keeps birds – lots of birds

Smallweed, a greedy, disabled moneylender

Mr. Turveydrop – foppish owner of a dance academy

Now, here are photos of the characters in the series.  See how perfectly they fit!

Miss Flite
Mr. Turveydrop

What are some of your favorite literary characters?

Your Character has no Character

For over twenty years, I worked as a regulator and an investigator before deciding to write full-time.  Exposure to white-collar criminals certainly changed my naïve attitude that all charitable organizations are good, all investment advisors are thinking only what’s in their client’s best interest, and no one would think to steal from society’s most vulnerable citizens.  But that’s not true.  Fraud happens, a lot.

Dear friends recently were victimized by their tax preparer, a man they knew from church, well-respected in the community, who steered them into a Ponzi scheme he’d created.  This week, that person was arrested on a 35-count indictment charging securities fraud, grand larceny, and money laundering.  He’d gained my friends’ trust, as he had countless other victims.  By preparing their tax returns, he knew his clients, and he knew what kind of money they had.  In his press release announcing the arrest, the New York Attorney General said, “It’s unconscionable that many hard-working people put their futures in the hands of this defendant only to see their financial security destroyed by greed.  (He) stole his victims’ life savings, and forced some of them to re-enter the workplace or rely on government assistance to survive, while others face foreclosure on their homes or bankruptcy.”

If you’re looking to bring a despicable character such as this into your writing, remember the three elements of fraud: (1) the fraudster has an “unsharable financial need,” meaning he or she is under pressure to come up with money.  Gambling debts, drug addiction, credit card debt – any of these could contribute to that financial need.  (2) “Rationalization,” meaning that, in the fraudster’s mind, the perceived benefit of committing the fraud outweighs the perceived punishment if caught.  And finally (3) “opportunity,” a situation enabling the fraudster to commit fraud (lack of oversight, etc.).

White-collar criminals are big in books these days, thanks in part to Bernie Madoff.  And we can read about fraud and corruption every day.  The three elements described above will help you to create a believable character.  If only they were relegated to fiction.