Ringing True Excerpt: Meeting Gwendolyn

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The long white limo dragged itself slowly up the hill and through the brown mist, bound for the Ventura Freeway. Matthias lounged comfortably in the center of the rear bench, legs spread wide, yelling at an accountant over his RAZR phone. Justin sat across the bar on the side bench, experiencing uselessness. Since this was his first trip to the Golden State, he looked forward to seeing something of it on the drive. After forty-five minutes on the 405, he realized his memories of the Golden State would be cars, cars and more cars, relieved occasionally by directional signs and construction cones. There seemed to be nothing for him to do but slide up and down his seat with every brake-and-start and listen to the hip-hop music Matthias had ordered the driver to pipe into the rear compartment.

Justin did not want to be here but once again he had worked himself into a position where there was no way out. After Emmy had miraculously set up the call with Gwendolyn Marks’ business manager, Matthias entered into a series of negotiations that ended with an agreement to meet at the actress’s retreat in a canyon north of L. A. The nonnegotiable condition was that Matthias bring with him the person who wrote The Numbers and that placed Justin firmly on the hook.

“I can’t go,” Justin protested.

“You’re going,” Matthias informed him.

“Look, dickhead, I’ve got a job—”

“Screw your job. This is important. You owe it to the rest of us,” added Matthias, reminding him of Responsibility Two.

“Why can’t Shelby go?” Justin threw out in desperation. “If it wasn’t for her, there wouldn’t be any Numbers. She knows this stuff as well as I do.”

“Because Ms. Marks specifically asked for the person who wrote The Numbers, not the muse who may have inspired The Numbers. It’s a deal-breaker and we need this woman to take us to the next level.”

“I don’t want to go to the next level. I didn’t want to go to this level.”

“Well, you’re here, we’re going, so get off your tight ass and start packing.”

To Justin’s dismay, they had flown first class and a stretch limo was waiting for them at LAX. Now imprisoned by the legendary traffic on the 405 and forced to watch Matthias play Donald Trump in the back of a limousine, Justin found himself stuck on a course that would lead to the home of an overpaid, overrated celebrity who discovered her latest plaything in the form of Ringing True, Inc.

Matthias snapped the cell phone shut and said to Justin, “Have you reviewed the portfolio?”

“Yes,” said Justin in a get-off-my-ass-dad tone of voice.

“Well, read it again. I need you on the top of your game,” said Matthias, tossing a document folder on the seat beside Justin.

Justin sighed and opened the folder to read the bio and background of Gwendolyn Marks for the second time. On top was her IMDb profile:

 

Date of Birth (location)

4 September 1974

Chelsea, London, England, UK

Mini-biography

Gwendolyn Marks has described her acting career (show more)

 

Birth name

Gwendolyn Edith Marks

Nickname

None

Height

5’ 6 1/2” (1.69 m)

Mini biography

 

Gwendolyn Marks has described her acting career as a “never-ending journey of personal discovery.” Daughter of the renowned British director, Peter Marks, she first appeared in a small role in her father’s adaptation of Bleak House at the age of eleven. Seeking to forge her own way, she left Britain at eighteen for New York, ostensibly to study with the avant-garde film actor and playwright Kieran McDougall. A brief courtship resulted in an even briefer marriage and subsequently the young actress found her way to Hollywood.

 

After three years of what Ms. Marks has referred to as her “cave period,” during which she studied film, dance and classical literature, she landed a meaty role as the deranged young housewife in the traditional thriller 229 Black . . .

 

Justin closed the portfolio, bored to tears. He could not have cared less about the history of Gwendolyn Marks or any other celebrity for that matter. He still considered the celebrity culture irrefutable evidence of human insanity and the participants on both sides of the screen distorted, shrunken people. To Justin, celebrity was the ultimate example of self-worship, producing nothing of value and nothing that remotely advanced the human condition. Like many people, he thought it sad that celebrities made obscene amounts of money while so many went hungry and poorly clothed, but thought it even sadder that so many people seemed willing to sacrifice any last scrap of human dignity for a shot at seeing their faces projected into the popular consciousness, if only for a moment.

Ringing True: The Characters

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64-Gwendolyn and Shelby No Makeup

Reviewers have said some nice things about the characters in Ringing True.

“The characters are diverse, rich and genuine and the dialogue in the book is truly OUTSTANDING.”

“Multifaceted characters with rich back-stories . . . you will find many places for your empathy to hook on to.”

So, I thought I’d take the opportunity of an open spot on the blog schedule to tell you about these people whom I came to know intimately during the writing of Ringing True.

Justin Raines grew up in the Chicago burbs, the only child of two workaholic parents. At the start of the book, he finds himself living in another burb outside of Seattle interning at the Mega Software Company. Good-looking, ex-barista, living a life according to expectations, naive about the real world and constantly surprised by it, but on the surface, a typical nice guy. But beneath that surface there is a deep and genuine concern about the hatred, violence and greed consuming the human race. This concern exists only in formless, disconnected thoughts that he keeps purely to himself until he meets Shelby Mirabeau, who opens up new possibilities for Justin . . . possibilities he is unsure he wants to face.

Shelby Mirabeau is a free spirit who ignored the chamomile influence of her New Age parents to become an insightful observer of the human species. Open-minded to a fault, improvisational and stunningly non-judgmental, she encourages Justin to open up and share his inner secrets. Through the all-encompassing magic of Shelby-logic, she manages to convince a reluctant Justin to work with her to create a new religion for modern times (a religion they later name Ringing True). As they move through failure and stunning success, Shelby changes in ways she could never have imagined, but without ever compromising her essence.

Matthias Bender: The poster-child for American techno-capitalism, Matthias is a thoroughly selfish, driven and devilishly charming individual. When their maiden attempts at launching their religion fail miserably, Shelby convinces the always-cautious Justin to enlist his help. Matthias takes over the launch and eventually positions himself as President and CEO of Ringing True, Inc, a position he intends to use for a completely different purpose than to spread the world-saving message embedded in the religion.

Theo is the roommate who shares an apartment with Justin and Matthias and seems very much the prototypical Seattle geek. An employee of a video game developer who lives and breathes technology, he is also a devotee of a talent-challenged Seattle band known as Acoustic Disturbance who seem unlikely to break into the charts any time in the near or distant future. It is this sense of loyalty that leads him to unquestionably support Justin and Shelby in their efforts to launch a new religion, and once the decision is made that cyberspace is the key to getting the word out, Theo and his girlfriend Emmy become the gurus of ringingtrue.com. Theo is an unusually nice person, a hopeless slob and a great friend.

Emmy: With her hair in a tight bun and her glasses melted into her face, Emmy could have been cast for walk-on roles in any film needing a librarian. Somewhat rusty when it comes to social skills (much like her partner Theo), her thoughts tend to spill out in tiny, seemingly unconnected snippets, placing a heavy demand on the patience of her listeners. She is in fact an organizational and technical wizard who shares Theo’s sense of loyalty while enhancing that loyalty with a passion for home and hearth. While the others act out from time to time, Emmy always remains Emmy.

Gwendolyn Marks: An enormously talented and successful film actress with two Oscar nominations under her belt, Gwendolyn has reached that point in life where the search for meaning begins. Part of that search involves retreats in faraway places, and part of it involves surfing the Web. Introduced to Ringing True by a film crew, she becomes a serious student of the new religion. A chance appearance on a popular talk show leads to a meeting with Justin and Matthias, leading to a transformation of Ringing True that will either open the door to great possibilities or open a Pandora’s box of power politics and intrigue (or both).

Dwayne Barker: The ultimate empty suit. Business manager for Gwendolyn Marks. Speaks in a monotone with an accent reminiscent of a crisp polo shirt.

Sidney: Matthias’ executive assistant. Sidney was manufactured for a future career as Chief of Staff in the Bush III administration. I hope people get the “Clear it with Sidney” reference.

Tommy:  Tommy is a graphic artist of the fantasy genre and the leader of Acoustic Disturbance.

Although I certainly didn’t think of it when writing the book, I have tried to guess what each character’s Myers-Briggs type would be. It’s difficult with twenty-somethings because they are so changeable and diverse (which is also why they are so fun to work with). My best guesses would be: Matthias, ENTJ; Shelby, ESFP; Theo, ISFP; Emmy, INTJ; and Justin: INFP (with the I oscillating to an E at times).

©2010 Robert Morrow. Ringing True is available in e-book, hardcover and paperback formats on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s and many other booksellers. Go to www.ringingtrue.com for a current listing of online retailers.

Ringing True Excerpt: The Great Idea

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Where Shelby First Proposed a New World Religion to a Flabbergasted Justin

They jumped into the Beetle and sputtered over to Capitol Hill. On the way Justin told Shelby more about life at Mega Software. She laughed in pain with him. “Jesus—that sounds awful. I wonder how those people got so damaged.”

“I don’t know and I really don’t care. Try to imagine living your whole life like that.”

“Sounds like S&M without the fun.”

“Yeah, but you wouldn’t want to see any of those people in leather.”

Shelby found a back-in spot on Tenth Avenue and they stumbled over to Caffé Vita. After waiting in line without complaint for two perfectly-executed cappuccinos, they decided to sit downstairs where their conversation wouldn’t disturb the laptop geeks who always seemed to fill the upstairs seating area.

Shelby picked up where she left off.

“It’s hard to describe—something was definitely going on inside. I knew only one thing for sure—I was finally done with learning mode, at least in the traditional sense. And I think the experience on the plane convinced me that what I’d learned in college had been pretty much a waste anyway, so to hell with learning. I wanted to do something!

“Anyway, I don’t know if I ever told you, but when I’m ready to go through major changes, I get this incredible urge to sleep, like my dreams are pulling me inside, demanding that I pay attention. I had tons of dreams in BA. I don’t remember most of them, but there was one that finally cleared the fog from my head.

“It was you and me. We were out on the deck like we used to be but we were surrounded by a film crew—I don’t know why. We were just talking as always, and they’d move in for close-ups on our faces like what we were saying was like the most monumental pronouncements imaginable. Then somehow it became more of an interview format, and I was interviewing you. At first I didn’t know what I was interviewing you about, but I hung in there, confident and smiling, just like those bimbos on the morning shows.”

“How did I do?” Justin asked.

“You sucked,” Shelby laughed.

“Not surprised,” Justin smiled. “Couldn’t even imagine it in a dream.”

“But the dream got me thinking about seeing myself as someone who right now would be impossible for me or for anyone I know to imagine. I liked that.”

“So . . . you’re going to launch a career in broadcast journalism,” Justin snickered.

Years later he would still remember the look that appeared on her face when she looked up from her coffee. Only one word could describe that look: wicked.

“No. Something much better,” Shelby smiled. A wicked smile.

Justin felt himself getting curiously tense. “What?” he said.

“You’re part of it, too,” she smiled.

Justin was now even more uncomfortable, and said nothing.

“Ready?”

Justin took the plunge. “Okay—what?”

“You and I are going to be the founders of a new world religion.”

–From Ringing True

©2010 Robert Morrow. Ringing True is available in e-book, hardcover and paperback formats on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s and many other booksellers. Go to www.ringingtrue.com for a current listing of online retailers.

Author Q&A with Robert Morrow

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Seattle sunset

Q: Ringing True is both the title of the book and the name of the religion in the book. Was it your hope that the religion might take off and develop a following?

A: Not at all. It’s been interesting that some of the early readers have responded positively to what is called “The Numbers,” the name of the religion’s text. One reader remarked about its essential humanity being something people everywhere could agree on. It’s very validating, but if you read “The Numbers”, the religion isn’t about gaining followers. It’s about encouraging people to accept responsibility without having to follow anyone or anything. Ringing True is essentially an empowering religion, so my intention is to spread empowerment and encourage people to figure things out for themselves.

Q: Even though the religion is described as a “world religion,” most of the institutions and norms that are satirized in the book are American. Ringing True seems to be a very American novel.

A: Yes and no. America is so globally influential it’s hard to have a discussion about many parts of the world without also describing their relationship to America. For good and ill, our power and culture are omnipresent. One of the characters comes back from South America and says, “We are everywhere.” One thing you always hear from natives in other countries is how loud Americans are – and we are, in terms of both volume and in presence. The primary object of the satire is the American media, which is certainly loud enough to be heard around the globe. But, I also take on American corporations, religious zealots, Hollywood and other “American icons” that have a stunningly powerful influence the world over.

Q: You introduce a bisexual character into the mix. What was behind that?

A: The simple answer is that I lived in San Francisco for years and learned that loving relationships can come in many forms. Confronting the things that are uncomfortable is part of what gives satire its power. Many Americans are still uncomfortable with non-traditional relationships and, frankly, they need to get over it. Why worry about the ways adults can love each other when we have millions of them killing each other? That’s an example of seriously skewed priorities. 

Q: A lot of the book deals with fame. What was your purpose behind this theme?

A: Fame has to be the most overrated value in the world. With reality television, competition shows and programming like Jerry Springer, it’s stunning how many people are willing to humiliate themselves to have their faces on the TV screen. And as far as the truly famous are concerned, I think fame can have the debilitating effect of separating a person from the talent that made him or her famous in the first place. Fame is primarily based on the myth of the power of an individual – sort of a superhero characteristic. This is why actors get all the attention despite the fact that film is an incredibly collaborative enterprise.  No actor is going to be remembered for a great performance if the sound is mangled, the lighting wrong, the direction shabby, the make-up applied incorrectly. I think my basic message is similar to that of the religion in the book: let’s stop elevating and worshipping others and realize that we all have something valuable to contribute to each other and to our world.

Q: You certainly take capitalism to task in many ways – lay-offs, waste, politics, jobs without meaning. How would you fix it?

A: Well, you certainly won’t find the answer in more government regulation because all that does is drive the corruption underground and empower the rule-makers. Having been an executive, I can say that too many of my former executive colleagues lack a sense of responsibility to others – one of the three key responsibilities in the book’s religion. They can say they’re responsible to the shareholders, but that’s often a convenient mask for their own self-interests. You can’t legislate all irresponsible behavior out of existence; it is more of an issue of moral teaching and character. Maybe we should send a copy of Ringing True to all the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies – or just a copy of “The Numbers”.