Writer’s Desk: Avoid Exclamation Marks!

Elmore Leonard said this about exclamation marks:

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

That worked for him. It should probably work for you as well.

But, as The Atlantic points out, while Leonard kept things pretty tight (only 49 exclamation marks per 100,000 words), other writers let fly and didn’t necessarily suffer for it. James Joyce, for instance, reveled in exclamation marks, averaging about 1 per every 100 words.

So listen to Leonard if you like. But then you’ll never write Finnegans Wake.

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Stop

The novelist Kazuo Ishiguro said that he’d always followed the rule that said after four hours of continuous writing, the rule of diminishing returns set in. But, with the willing cooperation of his wife Lorna, he decided to try something different. They called it a “Crash”:

During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.

Ishiguro didn’t let anything stop him, no matter how awful the material that he was producing. He just kept at it. Four weeks later, he basically had The Remains of the Day finished.

Listen to Ishiguro. After all, he did win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Screening Room: ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’

An intoxicating blend of Greek tragedy, Kubrickian creep, and suburban satire, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is playing now. This is priority viewing.

My review is at Film Journal International:

The setting for Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest absurdist take on the violence underpinning society’s placid surfaces couldn’t be more mundane and the stakes couldn’t be higher. It could be that the movie is trying to build on the tradition of cinematic shocks to the bourgeoisie. Behind every great McMansion there must be a great crime. But it’s just as possible that, even though there are some scenes that play like an Ionesco translation of American Beauty, Lanthimos just wanted his background to be as unspecific as possible, so as not to detract from the off-kilter and walloping doozy of a story he’s telling…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Snowman’

Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, the first of his Harry Hole detective novels to hit the big screen, comes to theaters this weekend.

My review is at Film Journal International:

Deep, deep inside The Snowman, between the permanent rictus of Michael Fassbender’s half-frown and the slow zooms of spooky snowmen, can be glimpsed the outlines of the passable mystery movie that might have been….

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: ‘A Legacy of Spies’

The new John le Carre novel, A Legacy of Spies, is out now. And yes, George Smiley is back.

My review is at PopMatters:

It’s been about a quarter century since John le Carré appeared to wrap up his cycle of stories about the tantalizingly inscrutable spymaster George Smiley and his cabal of British spooks locked in mortal struggle with Moscow Centre. The Secret Pilgrim (1990) in which the semi-retired Smiley waxed wise about the entanglements of espionage to spellbound recruits while their trainer reminisced to himself about dark deeds from the past, was a ripping good read but felt like an excuse for le Carré to clean out some unfinished drafts from the bottom of his drawer…

You can read an excerpt here.

Screening Room: ‘Baby Driver’

So here’s the pitch for the unlikely summer blockbuster Baby Driver: There’s this getaway driver who’s creepy good at his job. Only he has this thing where he listens to music all the time and doesn’t really talk to people. This annoys the bank robbers he works with. Sound good? Well, the soundtrack is, at least.

Baby Driver is out now on DVD. My review is at PopMatters:

In the desultory extras accompanying the DVD of Baby Driver, there isn’t much to explain the movie’s genesis besides the obvious. Writer/director Edgar Wright was obsessed with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” and thought it would be a great song for a car chase. So, like the eager fanboy that Wright is, he doesn’t wait any longer than the opening scene to drop that sequence…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Mudbound’

The historical melodrama Mudbound has been making the festival rounds, from Sundance to the New York Film Festival. It’s due on Netflix and in select theaters on November 17.

My review is at PopMatters:

A surprisingly assured big-canvas effort from director Dee Rees (PariahBessie), Mudbound is adapted from Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel about two families, one white and one black, who find themselves unwillingly bound by land, happenstance, poverty, and the persistence of persecution in the Jim Crow South. The Jacksons are a family of black sharecroppers who have to adjust to their new white landowners, an unsure bunch known as the McAllans whose various missteps (intentional and accidental) lead to bloody tragedy…

Here’s the trailer: