w/Campari & tonic
As recommended by my podcast-soulmate Backlisted, I’m reading Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer, which is a story collection and, at long last, In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes, the 1940s noir novel on which the film with Bogart and Grahame was based. The film is one of the handful that I can’t not watch whenever I see it’s coming on TCM. Reading the book afterwards is quite a lesson in how novels, when adapted for movies, can be changed, plot-wise, in big ways, often for the (cinematic at least) better. The simple switch — though so not simple! — from making the protagonist in the book, whom we know is a serial killer from the outset, into a man with anger issues who could be the killer, but we’re pretty sure isn’t, takes it to a higher orbit.
I’m also in the midst of Lauren Groff’s latest book, “Florida”, another story collection. Post writers conference, my interest in the short is resurging.
On audio I’ve got 1922: The Year That Changed Literature by Bill Goldstein, which is about how, in that year, four great writers made their great leaps forward: Woolf, Lawrence, Eliot, and Forster. It’s sending me to read some Lawrence, which I haven’t seen college.
You may well wonder how I get all this reading done — but in fact I usually feel I’m not getting enough reading done, as, come dusk, I turn to TV binge-watch mode.
“My” show of the moment, Claws, has been putting out a 2nd season even better than its stellar first. It hits my Buffy the Vampire Slayer and sleazy southern noir buttons, it’s hilarious and continually inventive, and also akin to Buffy, the characters are real people with backstories that are “surprising and inevitable,” as Flannery O’Connor says the ending of a short story must be.
In a similar vein, I saw the movie The Spy Who Dumped Me” this week, with expectations pretty low: killing an afternoon somewhere cool, seated comfortably, so as to avoid running into my cleaner. I’d read somewhere that the action sequences in it exceeded those of the latest Mission Impossible, and I like action — I also like movies that Tom Cruise is nowhere near. My expectations were large exceeded — this was a funny BFF comedy with Mila Kunis and Katherine McKinnon getting mixed up in a dangerous international caper. The plot was superfluous, the pleasure was in seeing a story about a pair of best friends who use their best-friendship to conquer all before them. Recommended, though maybe not for the $17.50 I had to pay when I wandered like a shorn lamb into the theater at 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. (I go to very few movies — the last one I saw was The Death of Stalin last winter.)
I went to the VQR Writers Conference to mix with a bunch of my fellow writers, and for a fiction workshop run by the novelist Bret Anthony Johnston.
Bret was funny, super-smart, friendly, focused on accentuating the positive in everyone’s writing. He also taught me things (see two random notebook pages) about story structure that I’ve struggled with for years in trying to do it intuitively — not only do I feel energized by spending the week with him and other workshoppers whose work filled me with an urge to make more of my own, but I’ve come away empowered with some tools I didn’t have before.
Got home on Saturday evening, and Chuffey just arrived, dropped off by his heroic dogsitter, Jason — also a fine poet.
My first such conf and a stellar experience. Spending a week with other serious and super creative, friendly, supportive writers, and workshopping with Bret Anthony Johnston, who enlightened me in a major way on structure and craft, has litt me up.
On the train home now, excited to get back to my writing desk.
Inspiration by Gucci