My First Book Signing

Steven Deeble signing copies of 'Persistence of Vision'.Last night I had my first book signing at Timeless Pints Brewing Company in Lakewood, California. Two of the bartenders, Ken and Rae, had purchased my book on Amazon and when I was signing them, I got an idea.

“Do you think the owners would consider doing an author event here?”

They said they’d ask and the next day I had the green light.

Timeless Pints is my local. It is a community hub that is family-friendly (Dog-friendly, too). The minute I walked in the place Rae had me in the palm of her hand. I’ve met some cool people there. So when they agreed to host my first book signing, I was thrilled.

Tami Shaikh, an author I met through the Southern California Writer’s Association, gave me some tips on how to set up for Point of Sale transactions and what things I would need to have on hand. My friend Vanessa’s daughter, Judy, handled all my sales. Judy an enterprising, bright, and charming 11 year-old, I just sat next to her and signed books.

Oh, and people bought me beers. That was also pretty great. Lots of people from my high school graduating class came, which was nice. We gave away the first copy as a door prize at our reunion a couple of months ago. Some folks from work came and brought others. Even made a couple of sales to people I didn’t know. The place was packed and everyone had a blast.

As we were about to shut down they got a call from a woman who identified herself as an ex-girlfriend from high school who was on her way but had been stuck in traffic. She asked if I could stay a while. I hadn’t seen Rosella in 40 years. What a trip.

So now I’m working on the next event – a book signing fundraiser for the Historical Society of Long Beach, to be held at the cemetery where they do their annual Halloween tour. I have family buried in that cemetery so I’m really looking forward to it.

‘Persistence of Vision’ Book Signing at Timeless Pints Brewing Company

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be signing copies of my first novel, ‘Persistence of Vision’, at Timeless Pints Book Signing for 'Persistence of Vision' at Timeless Pints.Brewing Company in Lakewood, California, on Saturday, September 23rd, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Timeless became my local the minute I walked in the door. Bartenders Ken Jones and Rae Carreiro welcomed me, as did Stacy and Patti. When the book came out, Rae and Ken bought copies and I asked if the owners would consider doing an author event. They asked, and the owners agreed. I am so fortunate.

Rae has booked a Peruvian food truck for the afternoon. Timeless features 13 of their own craft beers that are brewed on-site. Books will be available for purchase and I will be there to sign them. Well, and to drink beer. It’s a brewery, after all.

So come on down and bring your friends and family. There are games for the kids. And beer for the grownups.

Did I mention there will be beer?

Literary Agents on Author Platform

Author PlatformA few years ago I was writing my first novel, Persistence of Vision’. I started thinking about what I was going to do with it once finished. A friend who’d taken a shot at publishing told me that if you can’t get one of the top-tier literary agents, it wasn’t worth it. I decided to do some research to see what agents wanted.

I pulled out my most-current copy of Writer’s Market (I have three at any point in time). There is an entire section on literary agents, including a detailed listing of agents and agencies. I marked that place in the book, thinking that with the advent of the Internet it had to be easier than going through a listing that looked like the white pages (Dating myself, I know). I went to bed that night resolved that I was going to learn what it takes to get a literary agent.

I had been doing video production on ‘Hollywood-style’ book trailers and writing screenplay treatments for vanity publishing house Author Solutions. The next day I was part of a video production team. I had taken the gig without knowing what it was, as a favor to a producing partner. What it was…we drove around Southern California interviewing LITERARY AGENTS about what they were looking for. Seriously, I couldn’t believe it. What I was hearing was from their own lips.

My friend’s comment about top-tier literary agents referred to the fact that it is their contacts in the publishing houses that make them valuable to authors. They know people, they have lunch with people, and that is how literary agents make their percentage.

At the time, they collectively downplayed self-publishing, which was in its infancy. I don’t think Amazon had CreateSpace yet. Of course self-publishing cuts agents out of their commission, along with the percentage taken by publishing houses. Circumventing the establishment in publishing was a one-way ticket to Remainderville, according to these literary agents.

And yet every one of those same agents explained in no uncertain terms how the changing economics of the publishing industry was putting more and more weight on the author for promoting their books. This was the first time I heard the term ‘author platform’ and I heard it all day long.

Author platform was taking up the slack in promoting books that publishing companies could (or would) no longer underwrite. So, instead of that glamorous ten-city book tour, you blog. You blog and post to social media. Maybe you’re on Facebook. Maybe Twitter. Maybe you do Skype readings. This is how authors can interact with their fans. Without the travel expenses.

So here’s the thing: Everything those literary agents told us authors need to be doing now that publishing companies have cut their marketing budgets? Well, those are the same things an author who self publishes needs to do to promote their book. So it only makes sense to build your platform, no matter whether you are seeking an agent or you are self-publishing. The fact you have a platform and that you understand how to use social media to interact with your readers is what they want to see.

There’s no excuse. Start building your author platform!

My Trip to South Central: Why Black Lives Matter to Me

Why Black Lives Matter to MeIt is 1976.

I am embarrassed to admit this. Mark Walker and I decide to go to a book signing by Alex Hailey, author of ‘Roots’, as a goof. It’s an excuse to ditch school. I never ditch.

Hailey is at the Sears on Crenshaw. We know Crenshaw – it’s right off the 405 freeway in Torrance. We picture some South Bay mall. We exit the 405 and the addresses are way off. We keep driving.

We leave the South Bay, cross Slauson and enter South Central. The Sears store has a line around it, black men and women laden with copies of Hailey’s book.

Did I mention that Mark and I are white? We are from a white neighborhood. The first black family moved in when I was in 6th or 7th grade. Dr. Ira Jones became president of the PTA.

A black colleague describes me as ‘the whitest white guy’ he’s ever met.

Mark and I purchase copies of ‘Roots’ in the store. Hailey sits at a table, takes his time with each person. No stamp. No sticker. He signs every single copy. We go outside and get in line.

The people around us all have plastic trash bags full of books. They average 20 copies. They are getting them signed for their children, for their husbands and wives, for their mothers and fathers, for family members and friends.

We are there all afternoon. We make it around one corner of the building. It is obvious that we are not going to get our copies signed. Then one of our teachers walks past. We aren’t the only ones who ditched school for this. She takes pity on us. Her position in line is now entering the store. She takes our copies, adding them to her own stack.

This past summer there was no ‘Roots’ for black people to embrace. They embraced Black Lives Matter. My white conservative friends point to Jason Riley’s piece in the Wall Street Journal calling it “The great lie of the summer” like they’ve discovered a secret of the Illuminati. He is perhaps the whitest black guy in the country.

He was five the summer of ‘Roots’. I wonder if his mother bought him a copy.

Black Lives Matter

Gained in Translation: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Stanislaw Lem and Umberto Eco

TranslationConsider The Bible.

The first list of books of The Bible was assembled at the Council of Rome in 382 CE. Saint Jerome was commissioned to produce translations of the original Greek and Hebrew texts into Latin, later known as the Latin Vulgate Bible.

I don’t read or write Latin. So I’m reading one of the English translations – The King James Bible, for example. There are approximately 7000 languages in the world today. The Bible has been translated into over 500 of them. According to Wikipedia, there are 120 complete translations in English alone.

That’s a Lot of Translation

According to Yardenne Greenspan, writing in Plowshares at Emerson College, the Hebrew language is profoundly steeped in biblical references, passages and turns of phrase. In her article ‘Out With the Old and in With the Ancient: The Bible as Literature in Translation’, she writes that no other language has so many such allusions.

“When translating Hebrew literature, these allusions would usually be transformed into an equivalent English phrase or slang, whether biblical itself or not. While ‘hoseh shivto sone bno’ would be translated into ‘spares the rod, hates his son’—an accurate translation of the same biblical quote, equal in meaning and awfulness—a phrase like ‘b’rachel bitha haktana’, which originates from the story of Jacob and Rachel and translates literally as ‘in exchange for Rachel, your youngest daughter’ (used in Hebrew as a metaphor for being painstakingly clear about one’s intentions), would probably be translated in the context of a non-biblical story as ‘explicitly’ or ‘no two ways about it’—leaving the matriarch entirely out of it.”

Translating Culture: The Advent of Translation Studies

The challenge of translation transcends merely finding words to replace words. The greatest challenges facing translators occur when language is being pushed to its limits, in poetry and word-play. Translators have been around for centuries, but translation studies as a formal pursuit is still relatively new. In translation studies they talk about the SC and the TC – Source Culture and Target Culture.

In her paper ‘Translating Culture: Problems, Strategies and Practical Realities’, Ana Fernández Guerra wrote about the theory behind translation studies:

“One of the problems a translator can face arises from the fact that some words or phrases denoting objects, facts, phenomena, etc… are so deeply rooted in their source culture (SC) and so specific (and perhaps exclusive or unique) to the culture that produced them that they have no equivalent in the target culture (TC) be it because they are unknown, or because they are not yet codified in the target language (TL).”

Further, some theorists support untranslatability when terms are so culture-bound as to defy translation.

Translation practice and theory have been split. The study of translation (usually literary) saw its origins in comparative literature and has expanded greatly.

In ‘On linguistic aspects of translation’, Russo-American structuralist Roman Jakobson (1896–1982) described categories of translation: ‘The first, intralingual translation, is an interpretation of verbal signs in the same language’.

Consider this expressing a concept ‘in other words’. You are trying to express a concept within the same language, but seeking other words to express the same concept.

The second type is interlingual translation – translation proper. This is the focus of translation studies. The goal of interlingual translation is to achieve “close lexical fidelity” between the SL (Source Language) and the TL (Target Language).

Finally, intersemiotic translation, or ‘transmutation’ – ‘an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of non-verbal sign systems’.   Emphasis is on the overall message that needs to be conveyed rather than the ‘words’. Thus the translator, instead of paying attention to the verbal signs, concentrates more on the information that is to be delivered.

Translating Garcia Marquez and the Language of Magic Realism

Gregory Rabassa is referred to as ‘the translator’s translator’. He translated Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold”, and ‘Autumn of the Patriarch’.

The challenge he faced wasn’t so much translating the author’s work from Spanish to English. The challenge was translating the surreal sensibilities of ‘magic realism’. This is a genre in literature and art in which realistic narrative and naturalistic technique combine with fantastic elements of dream.

According to Rabassa, the translator is invisible. The translation never calls attention to itself.

“I am not sure that I have any technique. I certainly have no strategy (I am more of a tactician, if it comes to that) and I am not sure whether I have an approach or not. It is really very simple: I just sit down with paper and a dictionary handy and go to work. About the only preliminary effort expended was a reading of the book. Sometimes this had taken place a while back so that it is all a bit hazy. This might be to the good, if my experience is any example.”

While Rabassa has engaged in convoluted processes involving as many as five drafts back and forth between author and translator, he has also worked quickly and instinctively.

“I must confess, and I have confessed to Julio (Cortazar), that I translated Hopscotch as I read it. I did have to go back and change some things, but only a snippet here and there, nothing important. I think that this bears out my contention that a translation is nothing but a close reading, perhaps the closest reading possible. When I do a book I go along as fast as I can, trying to get the meaning down so that I can use this first draft with confidence. If a phrase resists me I put it down in some awkward but accurate form to be dealt with later. More to give myself a break in routine than anything else (although it enables me to ship chunks of translation off to the author periodically), I will stop after twenty or thirty pages of manuscript text and go back over it for the re-write.”

Translating the Poetic Science Fiction of Stanislaw Lem

Michael Kandel has translated the Polish author Stanislaw Lem’s work and has received accolades for his abilities with the difficult material.

Writer and Editor Franz Rottensteiner described Kandel’s work:

“The quality of his translations is considered to be excellent; his skill is especially notable in the case of Lem’s writing, which makes heavy use of wordplay and other difficult-to-translate devices.”

As with Rabassa struggling with Magic Realism, Kandel’s greatest challenge translating Lem’s writing was the totally original and complex universes Lem conceived and described.

Kandel, a fan of science fiction, explains how he approached this aspect of translating Lem, as well as the work of other authors.

“Well, if you know that this happens in science fiction, then it’s not so strange and you don’t have a problem with it at all—in fact, it’s almost easier to make up words because you know how to do that, to come up with something that corresponds to what the author’s made up.”

Kandel described the frustration of finding so many words he didn’t know when reading an early Lem novel.

“The first book I read in Polish that was SF was Lem’s The Invincible, and I really had a hard time getting through it. I thought it was a great book, but I spent a lot of time looking through the dictionary, and later someone told me, those words aren’t in any Polish dictionary!”

Relay Translation vs. Direct Translation

According to the blog ‘Life in Translation’, one of Lem’s most famous novels was once only available in poorly translated versions.

“Now it turns out that the only available English version of Stanisław Lem’s 1961 Polish science fiction novel Solaris had been relay translated from a poor French version. The Guardian reports that a new direct translation by Bill Johnston has just been published which ‘removes a raft of unnecessary changes and restores the text much closer to its original state’.”

Umberto Eco Translates Himself

Umberto Eco’s work, both fiction and non-fiction, has been translated from Italian into many languages. In addition to writing extensively on semiotics, the language of symbols, he has written several novels, including ‘The Name of the Rose’ and ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’.

Eco has written extensively about his experiences with the translation of his work, and the phenomenon of translation in general. In his book ‘Experiences in Translation’, Eco expresses a similar notion to the one presented earlier by Michael Kandel.

Matteo Poles, writing about one of Eco’s speeches on the website Terminology Coordination, describes Eco’s observations about translations and translators:

“He (Eco) concludes that even though the Italian translator failed the translation, a reader, even though not so experienced and skilled, will always perceive the ‘world’ of the book. Eco states that in his search for the perfect translation he first tried to use images taken from his own cultural world and only afterwards he counted on his linguistic knowledge, in order to verify if the pun can have an equivalent in Italian.”

Eco enumerates his ‘commandments’ for translation:

“A translation, Eco states as a first commandment, is not simply the comprehension and an interpretation of a text. Second rule, an interpretation introduces us to multiple possible “worlds”: an idea that Eco, as semiotics professor, had always underlined in his essays. Third, in the translation of a book it seems legitimate to violate some rules in order to produce the same effect the original author intended.”

Eco provides an additional rule: the translation can be more complex than the original text.

He points out that in Italian there is only a word for the concept of nephew, while in English we could have niece, nephew, grandson or granddaughter, which define more precisely the family relationships and the sex of the person.

Tune in Tomorrow: How Authors of the Classics Built Platform Through Serialization

Vintage Magazine Cover

The Century Magazine published Jack London’s ‘The Sea Wolf’ in installments.

When we think of the literary works by the great authors of Western civilization, we usually think of them as novels born complete from the writer’s mind and pen, and then typeset into print as volumes adorning the shelves of bookstores. The fact is quite different. While some writers did publish their work as complete volumes (Often paying printing costs themselves), many of the novels we think of as ‘classics’ were, in fact, originally serialized in periodicals.

This practice had already been an accepted method for getting published for a century by the time Charles Dickens ‘‘The Pickwick Papers‘ began serialization in 1836. Over the course of its publication, circulation went from 1,000 to 40,000.

In 1851, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was serialized in an abolitionist magazine, ‘The National Era. Herman Melville‘s publishers refused his novel ‘Israel Potter’. It was serialized in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine in 1853. Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ appeared in installments in La Revue de Paris in 1856.
Alexandre Dumas ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov’ were also each serialized.

By 1878, publishing a novel in serialized form was not just the last resort of authors wishing to get their work before the public. According to an article in Scribner’s Monthly, “Now it is the second or third rate novelist who cannot get publication in a magazine, and is obliged to publish in a volume, and it is in the magazine that the best novelist always appears first.”

It is well known that the stories of Sherlock Holmes appeared in The Strand magazine. His first novel featuring the great detective, ‘A Study in Scarlet’, was published en toto in ‘Beeton’s Christmas Annual’ and met with a lackluster response. The follow-up novel, ‘The Sign of Four’, was also published complete in an installment of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine and did considerably better. Following the publication of many of the Holmes short stories, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ was serialized in ‘The Strand’ beginning in 1901. The first Holmes story to be published following the character’s death was so well-received that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to bring him back by publishing stories that had ostensibly taken place prior to Holmes’ demise at Reichenbach Falls.

Several notable 20th and 21st Century authors saw their work appear in magazines. Dashiell Hammett’s first novel, ‘Red Harvest’, was serialized beginning in 1927 in the pulp magazine ‘Black Mask’. After a long career as a journalist and author of non-fiction books like ‘The Electric Koolaid Acid Test’, Tom Wolfe’s first novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, ran in 27 parts in ‘Rolling Stone’ beginning in 1984. Michael Chabon had already published several novels (Including ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburg’ and ‘Wonder Boys’) when he serialized Gentlemen of the Road in The New York Times Magazine in 2007.

Novels already have full stops to the narrative and so naturally lend themselves to serialization. The return to the practice of serializing novels makes sense in a world of sound byte mentality, where we rely on infographics and factoids to give us information packaged for bite-sized consumption. It would provide print magazines with content that could potentially increase sales.

But beyond physical (And electronic) distribution of serialized novels in magazines, the web has a voracious appetite for content. A web site is a kind of ‘magazine’, if you will. The site Mousehold Words provides Dickens and others in serialized form. Amazon has a Kindle Serial program stocking a variety of titles. DailyLit e-mails installments of books on a daily or weekly schedule. They were bought in 2013 by the serialized-fiction outlet Plympton.

Five Films About Writers, Writing and Publishing

buster-keaton-396846_1280This list is by no means complete.  There are many other films about writing.  ‘The End of the Tour’ is a recent film about the late David Foster Wallace‘Adaptation’, written by Charlie Kaufman, portrays the process through which twin brothers adapt Susan Orleans‘ book ‘The Orchid Thief’ into a screenplay.  ‘Misery’, a film by Rob Reiner, is based on the novel by Stephen KingAlan Rudolph’s film ‘Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle’ is a feast of writers surrounding Dorothy Parker, from the golden age of acid wit.  ‘The Front’, and more recently ‘Trumbo’, confront the Hollywood blacklist, in which writers were identified by friends and colleagues as members of the Communist Party.  And there are many, many more..

If you haven’t seen the films in the following list, be advised that I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but there may be plot information revealed ahead..

 

The Shining

Stephen King didn’t care for the film that director Stanley Kubrick made from his book, ‘The Shining’ (1980).  The film stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as a wannabe writer and his put-upon spouse.  Danny Lloyd played their son, Danny, whose psychic ability the hotel’s cook (Scatman Crothers) shares.

Jack Torrance is King’s most autobiographical character.  So it makes sense he would be particularly sensitive to changes in this material.

Jack Torrance has ideas.  He just needs to sit down and write them out. So Jack gets a job as the winter caretaker at a remote mountain hotel, where he’ll be able to use the ample down time to work on a book. Little Danny quickly discovers he is able to see things he’d rather not see in a place that seems to be the nexus of some dark passage to the underworld.

In addition to ideas, Jack has demons.  He is a recovering alcoholic with at least on episode of physical abuse against Danny on the record.  He descends into madness as the hotel exerts its supernatural forces on him.

Kubrick co-wrote the screenplay with novelist Diane Johnson.  They did depart from the book, but in doing so created some of the most frightening moments in screen history, not to mention several nuggets of popular culture.

In their book ‘Stanley Kubrick, Director’, Alexander Walker, Sybil Taylor and Ulrich Ruchti quote Kubrick:

“The perfect novel from which to make a movie is one which is mainly concerned with the inner life of its characters.  It will give the adaptor an absolute compass on which a character is thinking or feeling at any given moment.”

They also discuss the role of the screenplay once production began.

“For all its author’s concern with ‘control’, a Kubrick shooting script is no cut-and-dried affair. With each successive film, it seems increasingly to resemble a talisman rather than a set of imperatives; a prompt copy, so to speak, for a collaborative effort between himself and his stars.  It is used to incite Kubrick and his actors to respond to the spontaneity of the creative moment, to the inspiration, discoveries, and inventions that their creative partnership is able to generate, rehearse, and catch on film.”

Laura Miller, writing in Salon, observed: “The two men (Kubrick and King) represent diametrically opposed approaches to creating narrative art.  One is an aesthete and the other is a humanist.”

During the first two weeks of the film’s release, Kubrick ordered that the final scene in which the hotel manager meets with Wendy in her hospital room be cut out of the prints and returned to Warner Brothers.  All subsequent prints were struck without that final scene.

Dr. Sleep’, the sequel to ‘The Shining’, was published in 2015.

Barton Fink

The Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarrentino are two sides of the same coin in a way.  They are both great lovers of film in all its forms, and the bodies of work they have created are as much about films as they are the characters and situations within them.  Of the two coin sides I have to express a preference for the brothers Coen.

Barton Fink’ (1991) takes this to the extreme.  Barton (John Turturro) is a playwright with a critical and popular Broadway success and a ticket to Hollywood to work for $1000 a week writing scripts.  He rooms next door to an insurance salesman (John Goodman) in a run-down hotel.  This is contrasted with the opulent lifestyle of his producer, Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner).

Fink makes the acquaintance of another writer, W. P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), a successful novelist drawn to Hollywood by the money.  His career is on the brink as he drinks himself into a downward slide.  Many people see the two characters as representing Clifford Odets and William Faulkner, who both spent time as script writers in Hollywood, Faulkner on ‘To Have and Have Not’, and the classic noir film ‘The Big Sleep’ and Odets on ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’, among many others.

‘Barton Fink’ comments on the low/highbrow comparison between motion pictures and more ‘serious’ entertainment, like the theater. Fink wants to write important stuff, but Lipnick has him working on a wrestling picture.  Fink wants to maintain touch with ‘the common man’.  He selected his hotel because it is ‘less Hollywood’.

Fink is blocked, distracted by all manner of strange sounds coming from the insurance agent’s room next door.  He is unable to write a single line.  He runs out of time and enlists the aid of Mayhew’s assistant (Judy Davis).  She confesses to Fink that she wrote all of Mayhew’s screenplays, and she helps Fink write his wrestling picture.

Those aforementioned nods to old Hollywood aside, the film defies categorization.  It seems noir.  But it also has surreal qualities.

The project came into being while the Coen brothers were writing something they called ‘The Bighead’, Like Fink, they were stuck.  They took some time away and when they came back, they’d written ‘Barton Fink’, using their writer’s block in the script.
‘The Bighead’ was revisited, retitled, and began production as ‘Miller’s Crossing’.

Ronald Bergan, in his book ‘The Coen Brothers’, quotes the brothers jointly:  “Perhaps it was a relief from ‘Miller’s Crossing’, it came easily. Certain films come entirely in one’s head.  You know how it will look.  Even if you don’t know the ending. You have an intuition about the conclusion.  In contrast, other scenarios are like a voyage where you don’t know exactly where you’re going. We just sort of burped out ‘Barton Fink’.”

The Player

Michael Tolkin adapted his own novel for Robert Altman’s film.  This satirical comedy skewers the film industry, particularly in their treatment of writers.

The Player’ (1992) lives mostly with the suits.  Studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) hears pitches from writers, deciding which projects get greenlighted.  The opening five minute shot roams around the studio offices as he hears pitches from a variety of writers, including Buck Henry, who wants to do a sequel to ‘The Graduate’.

Mill has been receiving threatening post cards from a writer he believes wrote a project he rejected.  Mill is convinced the writer is David Kahane (Vincent D’Onofrio) and seeks him out at a local art house theater.  After the movie (Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neo-realist masterpiece ‘Bicycle Thieves’), Mill and the writer go to a bar where Kahane gets drunk and berates Mill.

Mill follows the writer to the parking lot, where he knocks him down, and then kills him.  The next morning the head of studio security(Fred Ward) briefs Mill – the police know he was the last person to see Kahane alive.  And before Kahane’s body is cold Mill receives a FAX from the threatening writer, who is still very much alive.

Mill begins an affair with Kahane’s girlfriend, a frosty artist called June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi).

New exec Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) threatens Mill’s position at the studio.  Two writers pitch a project called Habeas Corpus to Mill, who sees an opportunity to kill Levy’s momentum by convincing him of the project’s merit and then having him shepherd the film into a mass career grave, with Mill showing up in the last reel to rescue the project.

A year after getting away with killing Kahane, Mill gets a call from Levy pitching a writer with a great idea.  Mill hears the pitch, from his old nemesis, about a studio exec who murders a writer and gets away with it. Mill agrees as long as the writer can guarantee a ‘happy ending’.

It’s a cynical film about a cynical business.  As Robert Altman described it, “It’s light satire.  Nobody gets hurt”.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times published in 1992, Tolkin knows the ‘business’. His mother was an entertainment lawyer at MGM and Paramount. His father was head writer on the old Sid Caesar TV shows–during the period when they boasted what many feel was TV’s all-time greatest writing staff. Among others, his father’s colleagues included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Lucille Kallen, Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner and, toward the end, the young Woody Allen.

The Wonder Boys

The Wonder Boys’ (2000) was Curtis Hanson’s follow up to ‘L.A. Confidential’Steve Kloves adapted Michael Chabon’s second novel, published in 1995.  I have to admit to being in Mr. Chabon’s thrall – I’ve read almost everything he’s written.

The eponymous wonder boys are Michael Douglas and Tobey McGuire, teacher and student at a small eastern college.  McGuire is the young rising star, mentored by Douglas, whose own wildly successful and award-winning first novel is still awaiting it’s follow up years later.

The characters gather for the college’s annual writer’s conference.  ‘The Wonder Boys’ is about the whole magilla – the dream of getting published and the fear, once published, of having to do it all over again.  It’s an ensemble cast without peer.  Robert Downey Jr. steals this one, but he has to fight McGuire for it. Douglas plays the novelist whose new book has been years in the making, leaving his agent the laughing stock of the publishing industry.  His marriage is over and his affair with the college chancellor, Frances McDormand, just took a turn as she informs him of her pregnancy by him.  Richard Thomas, the dean of the English department, is the engine behind the conference.

Also, Rip Torn is fantastic as the acerbic Quentin ‘Q’ Morewood.

In his article ‘Screenwriters Find it Hard to Adapt’, Sean Mitchell, writing in the Chicago Tribune, quotes screenwriter Kloves on adapting Chabon’s book into a screenplay.

“I think it’s fair to say that no one at Paramount was overjoyed to be buying the book in the first place and certainly not overjoyed to learn that I would be the one adapting it,” says Kloves, the humorous, self-deprecating writer-director of ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’ and ‘Flesh and Bone’.”

“The danger of a good book is that it is the voice of the author, and the language and his or her craft is what’s making it evocative, and, absent that, when you put it on the screen it just won’t work. So you have to find a way to bring that voice into the screenplay and onto the screen.”

Sunset Boulevard

Billy Wilder wanted to do a movie about Hollywood.  In Cameron Crowe’s excellent book ‘Conversations with Wilder’, he describes his inspiration.

“I wanted to make things a little harder for myself, I wanted to do that thing which never quite works—a picture about Hollywood.  Originally it was a comedy.”

Former Life magazine writer D. W. Marshman Jr. came up with the idea of Joe Gillis (William Holden), an unsuccessful screenwriter, drawn into the fantasy world of former silent star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).  Wilder and his writing partner, Charles Brackett, then wrote the screenplay.  ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950) skewers Hollywood in a manner not unlike ‘The Player’.

By casting Swanson, Wilder was able to make use of footage from an unseen silent film of hers that was produced by Joseph Kennedy Sr.

Norma plots her comeback.  Her faithful valet, Max (Eric Von Stroheim), basks in her light.  He was once her husband, and also the director who discovered her. The cast includes a number of actors and Hollywood notables playing themselves, including Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille, and columnist Hedda Hopper.

The film begins with the narrator floating face down in a swimming pool, dead.  He begins to explain how he got into this predicament.  He is Joe Gillis, who tries to write screenplays but is not successful.  He makes the acquaintance of Miss Desmond, who hires him as a script doctor on her comeback screenplay, Salome.  She convinces him to come live with her in her decaying mansion filled with the tattered ruins of her career. Gillis comes to find she is deluded in thinking she can resuscitate her career.  Her script for a new SALOME is awful.  She is also deluded into thinking he might be interested in her romantically, when he discovers he is the only guest at a party she’s thrown.

The more time Joe spends with her in her mansion, the more he comes to see that she has “slipped the slivery bonds”.  She watches prints of her old films screened by Max.  One of the benefits of using Swanson was that Von Stroheim, who played Max the valet and her former husband, had directed the film Kennedy Sr. produced and was, in fact, fired by Kennedy from the production.

Norma delivers a draft of the script to her former director, DeMille, who indulges her because of their shared history. She has been putting off a studio executive, thinking he is calling about her project.  When she finally takes his call she finds he is simply trying to rent her unusual Italian limousine for a film.

Joe meets and falls in love with the girlfriend of a friend.  They begin to collaborate in more ways than one.  When Norma finds a screenplay with both of their by-lines on it, she loses control and goes on a rampage.  Joe finally tells her the truth about everything and starts to walk out on her. Norma shoots him three times, sending him sprawling into the swimming pool where we met him.

Mae West supposedly turned the role of Norma Desmond down.  Wilder claims Mary Pickford did as well. It almost went to Pola Negri. And, as Cameron Crowe writes in his book, “Almost fifty years later, there are few stars as famous as Wilder’s fictional one”.