I watched Drake Doremus’ 2013 film Breath In last night. I always enjoy seeing Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones, both of whom seem to be everywhere these days. I wondered what would draw them both into what seemed to be a tiny film. I was not disappointed.
The story is essentially a British forbidden love novel with all the right beats and few of the traps that D. H. Lawrence would have merrily strewn through it. The actors were well chosen, and every effort was made to restrain what could easily have been a tawdry, melodramatic and self-righteous tale. Doremus, who also wrote the film, made sure that every character had a firm perspective and the romance was attributed at least in part to events in their lives at that moment. What happened could simply not have been avoided by real people, which should be said of all stories.
Everybody has an interesting story, but it’s generally not the one they’ll tell you first. How Bob kicked the winning field goal in the last high school game is interesting to Bob. It’s the story that makes Bob feel giddy as he anticipates excitement rising in your expression. To get a grand sense of this, read William Shatner’s or Donald Trump’s autobiographies. They’re stuffed with vignettes that portray them as brave, smart and very cool. (I actually enjoyed Shatner’s.) They’re the same stories you’ve been button-holed in the corner at a cocktail party to hear. There are one or two in this blog to be honest.
The good stories are the ones you pull out of yourself like arrowheads. They make you squirm. They’re embarrassing or shameful – so much so they’re likely to be embedded in fiction, or told as though they happened to someone else.
Those are the ones I want to hear, and write. Most of us, I suspect, have several. But, like I say, they’re hard to tell.
*The painting is Leonardo DaVinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci, c. 1474.
I would like to acknowledge the professional editing help of Los Angeles writer/editor Brooke Wolff. I sent Brooke the entire manuscript of my pirate novel a month ago. Two weeks later she had finished the edit and returned it to me with enough red marks to keep me from making a fool of myself when I send the manuscript out to agents and publishers. In addition we had a ninety minute phone call to discuss certain aspects of character development, continuity and most especially how to more finely tune the book to my audience. Brooke felt the two main characters need to be two years older.
She was absolutely right. The story began as a middle grade novel. As I wrote, however, it morphed toward being young adult. What had happened was the characters began to act more maturely due to the circumstances of being with two boys their age on a pirate ship 300 years from home. At this point I could have stopped my forward progress and gone back to the beginning. But on the advice of experience, I worried I would lose momentum and possibly even the heart to finish it. So I kept going.
Some years ago I wrote a film script that follows the shenanigans of a gang of men who steal an Apollo spacecraft from a display in a Vegas casino in broad daylight. Here’s a memory from my boyhood that says something about a guy who would write such a story three decades later.
As thirteen-years old Houstonians, my next door neighbor Ned and I built a piloted rocket ship. I use the word piloted loosely. Our astronaut had no control over his spacecraft, but then neither did Yuri Gagarin, who earlier that year became the first man to orbit Earth. Not being funded by a national space budget, we constructed our capsule from a shoe polishing kit and a three-foot mailing tube we filled with homemade gunpowder.
Yes, homemade gunpowder.
Last Monday night I saw the Seattle International Film Festival premier of B. F. E., a very good low budget film by actor-writer-director Shawn Telford. His first feature film, the move demonstrates Telford’s gift for direction and complex storytelling in the vein of Robert Altman. Shawn is particularly adept at casting and getting the most out of a string of talented young actors and several older ones as well. Ian Lerch and Kelsey Packwood performed beyond their years as the principal lovers. Both Hans Altwies and Abby Dylan were very credible as well.
As the essential element of music is rhythm, the essential element of the novel is yearning.