Writer’s Desk: Pull It All Apart

In his Essays in the Art of Writing, Robert Louis Stevenson—born on November 13, 1850—showed little patience with the idea that writing was some ineffable and inexplicable transmission from the Muses. But he was aware that showing people, particularly non-writers, how the sausage is made, seemed to dismay them:

There is nothing more disenchanting to man than to be shown the springs and mechanism of any art.  All our arts and occupations lie wholly on the surface; it is on the surface that we perceive their beauty, fitness, and significance; and to pry below is to be appalled by their emptiness and shocked by the coarseness of the strings and pulleys.

There’s nothing wrong with dealing with the mechanics, of course. Without the strings and pulleys, a character can never get from Point A to B without losing the reader’s interest.

Stevenson went on:

I must therefore warn that well-known character, the general reader, that I am here embarked upon a most distasteful business: taking down the picture from the wall and looking on the back; and, like the inquiring child, pulling the musical cart to pieces.

That’s what writers have to do: Pull the cart to pieces. How else can you be sure that it will run?

Reader’s Corner: These Cops Carry Books

The Minneapolis police department is starting something new with its community police efforts. According to the Star-Tribune:

In a partnership with Little Free Library, the department will turn a pair of its police cruisers into bookmobiles with the hope of teaching the importance of reading.

Community policing officers will carry books while they are making their rounds on the city’s North and South sides. They’ll still respond to certain emergencies, but won’t be dispatched to calls for help, freeing them up to visit neighborhoods without libraries and give away books to anyone who wants them.

But, discerning readers will ask, what kind of books will these officers be offering? A variety, it appears:

For now, available titles to be given away range from children’s books like “Camp Wildhog” and “The Box Car Children: The Yellow House Mystery” to more adult fare, including a well-thumbed unauthorized biography of Martha Stewart.

Screening Room: DOC NYC 2017

The eighth edition of the DOC NYC film festival starts tomorrow. Among the 250-odd movies screening over about a week and a half are movies about Dutch nationalists, the Russian athletic doping conspiracy, high school dance teams, a cult leader named Father Divine, and CIA experiments with LSD (the last is Errol Morris’ killer four-hour epic Wormwood, image at bottom).

Tomorrow’s opening night movie is The Final Year, a behind-the-scenes look at the last year in office of President Obama’s foreign policy team (that’s them, above) which plays out with unexpected drama against the darkening shroud of Trump’s rocketing rise to the presidency. It’s getting released either later this year or in January and will show up eventually on HBO.

My preview of the goodies on show at DOC NYC is at Film Journal‘s Screener blog:

Today there seems to be a film festival for almost every taste and locality. In addition to the grand dames of the festival circuit like Toronto, Venice, Cannes and Telluride, with their red-carpet premieres and B-list stars getting A-list attention, there are more tightly focused cinematic gatherings, from Los Angeles’ Screamfest to the Ottawa International Animation Festival (both just what they sound like). So it can be refreshing to find a festival that simply wants to show as many amazing movies as possible…

More to follow next week.

Writer’s Desk: Always Be Working

Writers write. That we know. But there’s a lot they have to do before writing. There’s research, for one, not to mention all those little procrastinations that they tell themselves are actually helping the creative process.

No less an authority than the great Lawrence Block said, “Writers work all the time.” But often that work doesn’t look like work.

Let Block explain:

Take the other day, for example. What did I do with myself? How did the busy little bee improve each hour? Just what action did I take to put words on the page and bring money into the house?

Well, let’s see. I read a couple of books and a magazine or two. I watched a ball game on television. I got wet in the Gulf and dried off in the sun.

What’s that? You say it doesn’t sound like work?

A lot you know.

Take the reading, for example. Now, a lot of reading is research. Sometimes it’s specific research, when I want to learn something that I need to know in order to write something I’m working on, or planning to work on. Sometimes it’s general research, like reading a book on precious and semiprecious gemstones because I frequently write books about people who steal such things. And sometimes it’s not exactly research, but it’s a matter of keeping up with what other people in my field are doing.

Mr. Block has published in excess of 100 books, so whatever he’s doing, it’s working.

Go on, keep up the “research.” You never know what will come in handy.

Screening Room: ’11/8/16′

Remember Election Day last year? Feel like living through it all again? If you have the constitution for it, check out the new documentary 11/8/16, opening this week in limited release.

My review is at Film Journal International:

The disputatious and fractured omnibus documentary 11/8/16 nibbles at too many stories in too short a time to make the one great American tale it seems to be aiming for. There are glimmers of larger import here, various signifiers of this or that impulse from a certain slice of the electorate. But much like the news media in its breathless coverage of the 2016 presidential election, its onslaught of 16 points of view creates more of a cacophony than anything else…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

So there’s another Thor movie out, and this one’s a blast.

Thor: Ragnarok opens tonight. My review is at PopMatters:

It says something when one of a movie’s main attractions is Cate Blanchett slinking around in a slinky black unitard and a halo of horns saying things such as “Kneel before me!” and it doesn’t quite capture your attention. That’s just the kind of ride that Thor: Ragnarok is. This is a “Damn the torpedoes!” operation. One imagines Marvel turning the keys of the studio over to director Taika Waititi, and saying to him, “There’s a couple hundred million on the kitchen counter, have fun. Oh, and make it seem like it’s the last movie we’re ever going to make”…

Here’s the trailer: