Something of a lighthearted post. We have fun here as well. I don’t like always taking matters sooooo seriously. ;-)
Over the last few days, I’ve been writing several new characters. When you read novels, do you picture characters’ looks in your mind? I suspect most of us do; it’s a natural reflex.
As odd as this might read, I work hard at not describing my characters physical appearances in heavy handed doses. I prefer to drop their looks in throughout the text in piecemeal fashion. I use blurbs.
The other day, I’d been writing a scene where a vague (or, if you know it, not so vague) reference is made to a landmark 1941 “private eye” film. That I’d had been doing that is a large part of the reason the actor who’d starred in it was in my mind as I’d also written the other day about Kate Colby’s post. Yes, the jumble that often constitutes our human “thought processes.”
This morning I decided I’d have a quick look at YouTube to see what’s on there of that film. I couldn’t believe it. I found this gem: that Maltese Falcon film, cut to exactly 7 minutes’ length:
My uncle has been at me again. Out of the blue, he sent me a Facebook message early yesterday:
Obviously I’ve removed his name and replaced his photograph with a stock silhouette image. As you may know he’s a HarperCollins published novelist (his first books appeared in the 1980s) and also writes screenplays. As you probably also know if you stop by here regularly (Hello again!), he has no idea (yet) that I’ve taken up writing.
His message got me thinking about the process of turning novels into movies – helped along by the fact that currently we’re seeing lots about a newly released major film that’s based on a massively selling recent novel.
France’s classification president, Jean-Francois Mary, said that the movie, starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, “isn’t a film that… can shock a lot of people”.
He believes that the movie, which contains nudity and sadomasochism between an entrepreneur and a virginal student, is “a romance – you could even say schmaltz”.
The book was a huge seller in France as elsewhere, and the film will get a wide release there. However, while there have even been protests over the film in the U.S. and Britain about its portrayal of domestic violence, that rating in France is, one might say, a “Gallic shrug.” What Mr. Mary is essentially asserting there is that it’s not really a film that needs to be taken all that seriously by adults.
Thinking on after yesterday’s post about Muslims in France as part of the fabric of society now, and “jihadists” in their midst, I found myself considering the subject from this personal perch. It’s an imperfect comparison to be sure. But I don’t think it’s without important, relevant touch points.
Anyone with an Italian surname (as I have) in the U.S. has faced “the Godfather” reaction from the mass of Americans who have no Italian heritage.
One may reasonably equate terrorists like the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher killers to Mafia “hitmen” beholden to their “bosses.” Like mob “foot soldiers,” they spring up from among failures in their “community.” They often prey on their own – “protection” rackets, etc. – in doing their masters’ bidding. They make the mass of their law-abiding “community” look bad, and often terrify them, but are also perversely supported by elements within that same victimized “community” itself.
And, again, like the Mafia, their “bosses” have “big dreams” of seeing the world re-ordered to conform to their own agendas and fantasies.
I find nothing entertaining about the Mafia. Yes, The Godfather films are great filmmaking (I’ve never read the books), but I grew up loathing them. I despise the veneer of “romance” and “honor” those movies have thrown over what are in reality murderous thugs who couldn’t run a lemonade stand without beating someone over the head with a brick.
Meaning Al Pacino and Marlon Brando they are most definitely not. They aspired to that. Indeed after The Godfather film was released, mobsters headed to cinemas to try to learn how they were supposed to behave. Seriously.
It took decades to crush the worst of the Mafia in the U.S. The struggle was often spearheaded by determined Italian-American lawyers (like one Rudolph Giuliani) who had had enough. (The struggle in Italy continues.) But getting the mob under control never could have happened without all manner of lower-level law enforcement and “infiltration” that included, and required the participation of, and support of, ordinary Italian-Americans.
Yesterday, I was writing at one point while listening to the “Gladiator: More Music From The Motion Picture” CD I’d gotten for Christmas (along with, uh, Sara Bareilles – now, there’s a musical contrast):
At the outset “More Music’s” inner sleeve notes make clear that what’s heard on the CD are often “first drafts” of music from the film, or music that didn’t make it. So technically it isn’t from the released, final “Motion Picture.” (By the way, if you’ve never seen Gladiator, it is really something else. Superb.) Composer Hans Zimmer writes:
Musicians can get away with that, whereas a novelist would probably look ridiculous doing something similar.
Every draft I do is dated that one day. The next day is another draft, dated that day, and so on. If I make a subsequent change, I can always go back to an older iteration and re-use something. I never “obliterate” an eclipsed version so it’s lost forever.
I’m continuing in that “approach” with the brand new, third volume’s (very early) manuscript. Doing it that way, I’ve kept hundreds of Word drafts from the two now finished novels. The completed books unsurprisingly often ended up rather different when compared to what was in early drafts.
One example: Names. In Passports, initially “James” and “Béatrice” were known by other names. “James’s” earlier name just didn’t click for me, nor fit within his family scheme I was developing. In fact I now recall “Béatrice” actually had two earlier names. I went for “Béatrice” in the end owing to it having been a common name given to many Frenchwomen born from the 1960s until the mid-1970s. Both new names, to me, worked better in the stories. Now, I can’t imagine them called anything else.
In Frontiers, “Rita” is first mentioned while James’s parents – Jim and Joanne – and grandmother are chatting about his upbringing (while he is safely well out of hearing a continent away):
“Hmm, not high school. They were in junior high. He was fourteen. Ninth grade,” Joanne corrected herself slightly.
“Rita was his first real girlfriend,” Jim turned to Lucy and recalled fondly. “In some class she passed him a note with her phone number. At first, he didn’t want his mother to know.”
“Hiding things from his mother began pretty young with him,” Joanne declared.
She had a different name too, which I changed only about a month before publication. Her previous name was, to me, just too similar to another character’s name. It was as simple as that: I didn’t want any reader confusion.
Understand, though, I won’t reveal here what their earlier names were because I don’t want anyone thinking about any of them, “Hey, Rob, I liked that other name better.” ;-)
Another example. I must have made at least two dozen major changes to the opening chapter of Frontiers. By that I don’t mean stuff here and there. I mean I shredded and re-shredded the entire thing – background, location, happenings, nearly all of it – repeatedly until I was satisfied with it.
I did that because several times after I’d re-read it, I still didn’t like it. “It doesn’t convey what I want,” my shoulders slumped again and again. “And it’s the first chapter!”
I can’t see myself as a writer ever releasing the whole “first draft” of a finished book to show readers “the process.” The “sneak peeks” I had shared into Frontiers over the year were just that – and largely finalized. The final version is THE STORY. Looking back on them now, the earlier drafts, frankly, often make me cringe.
Anne stepped up to him. “Oh, yes, of course.” She added, “You’re turning into a silly old Frenchman. Do me a favor, if you’re looking to make a fool of yourself with a girl fifty years younger than you, at least wait until after I’m dead.”
My books and “papers” will be left first to my wife. I suppose she’d leave them to my niece and nephews. Unless of course Oxford wants them. (Hey, my nephew goes there. ;-) )
What they do with them after I’m gone someday is entirely their call. In that, I suppose I see things a bit like Isabelle’s mother, ripping good-naturedly into Isabelle’s father in Frontiers. What happens after I’m dead, well, happens.
You may have seen something on the massive Sony Pictures hack. Films, emails and all sorts of data have been dropped into the “public space.” Buzzfeed shares some “juicy” bits of several emails, including how, in one, a prominent producer wrote a Sony executive what he thought about actor Angelina Jolie:
Reading the piece, my reaction is those film people spout privately like many of us do of course. They certainly also write like my crime novelist uncle has emailed, and speaks privately with me – “God, she’s younger than my daughter!” Even his semi-public posts on Facebook can include choice harsh words, as several did the other day when he was debating U.S. policing and got into a dust up with a film guy he knows well: he called him, among other things, essentially, a “space cadet.”
So is it actually any shock that those execs “rant” too? Do you? I admit I have at times, because to me emails and private exchanges are often simply chatter – “informal conversation.”
What those Sony execs and producers were doing was “thinking out loud” privately while working in an environment in which hundreds of millions of dollars may be at stake in any given project, and they need to be sure those they green light are going to make the company a profit, not bankrupt it. They likely don’t see each other face to face across a table often, and phone calls are not always convenient. They do their jobs often by “firing off” emails to each other.
Gee, that said, I’d hate to think what some people may have written privately about, uh, me? (“You see that recent book he wrote? Who the hell does he think he is? God, he’s so tiresome.”) ;-)
On that optimistic note, have a good day, wherever you happen to be reading this in the world. :-)
Here’s a UK TV listing for a showing of The Longest Day. I screen grabbed it back on Saturday. Why? Because it made me chuckle:
You gotta love it. The British do “subtle” like almost no one else. Notice that the British cast – despite John Wayne’s photo – get first national mention. And also note which country gets last mention…. after even…. the Germans.
I love stumbling on stuff such as that. We all seem hard wired to have a bit of a dig at each other. A couple of decades of encountering the likes of that has helped provide me with material in two novels so far. ;-)
Happy Monday [grumble, grumble], wherever you are in the world. :-)
Yesterday, while I was doing more unpacking (after that heavy post), I had my iPhone playing background music. Mostly, I was conscious of it only occasionally. In fact, at one point, I’m sure it must’ve repeated “No Reply” by the Beatles at least three times before I noticed.
I suppose I was just humming along. “Hmm reply! Hmm reply!” I usually write with music playing too – from classical to pop.
Some writers need SILENCE, but I don’t really require a library style hush. Mostly it has to be just consistent, reasonably volumed, sounds around me. Someone in an adjoining room with a TV blaring AND channel surfing totally wrecks my concentration. (And drives me nuts!)
In the novels I make veiled references to various 1980s and 1990s singers, but never mention any by name explicitly. Having thought about it this morning (Classic FM on, as I prepare to tackle some of the last post-move mess), I asked myself that if I wanted a “soundtrack” for the tale (in the same vein as the “Which actors?” for the film adaptation game), which songs would I think reasonably captured it? I created a quick iPad playlist of ten:
Some were hits, urr, way back when in ye olden days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Some were lesser known. There’s also a timeless one by Frank Sinatra, covering a Beatles song.
Those generally convey the spirit of the tale. They reflect tone pretty well too. It’s just interesting to think about that sort of thing. :-)