Writer’s Desk: What Dickens Said

As a belated seasonal homage to A Christmas Carol, this week’s writing advice comes courtesy of Charles Dickens, who never saw a narrative trick he didn’t like.

Per William Cane’s Fiction Writing Master Class, Dickens had a motto that went thus:

Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.

There’s fiction for you, in just nine words.

Writer’s Desk: Write About Cats

This one should speak for itself. Per the Times:

The author of the short story “Cat Person,” which became a viral phenomenon after appearing in The New Yorker this month, has received a seven-figure book deal, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.

A collection from Kristen Roupenian, whose debut story in The New Yorker became the magazine’s second most-read article of 2017 despite being published in the Dec. 11 issue, will be published by Scout Press in 2019.

Roupenian’s story hit just about every meme-worthy topic of the age: Cats, dating, creepy guys, social media, intellectual insecurity masked by blithe confidence. It’s all there.

This is what they call a teaching moment.

Reader’s Corner: Best Graphic Novel of the Year

Every year, the good folks at Publishers Weekly ask all of us lucky writers who review comics for them to put our votes in for what we thought were the best books of the year. The results came out this week in their Annual Graphic Novel Critics Poll.

The winner was Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters. Some of the runners-up were:

  • Everything is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell
  • The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
  • My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi

Screening Room: ‘Hostiles’

The latest movie from Scott Cooper (Black Mass) is a pitch-black, viciously violent Western starring Christian Bale as a cavalry officer nearing the end of his string and Wes Studi as the Indian chief who Bale has to partner with for survival.

Hostiles opens in limited release tomorrow and expands widely in January. My review is at Film Journal International:

Hostiles is a western that wants to encompass the entire moral history of the Indian Wars into one fell, vengeance-rattled saga. Of course, it doesn’t succeed—that is the fate of westerns that overextend themselves. It doesn’t completely fail, either. There are images here that will bang around in your head with a chilly echo for days afterward, not to mention a nagging sense that one has just witnessed a great and unsolvable crime…

Screening Room: ‘Molly’s Game’

West Wing and The Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut is a smart and fast-paced fact-based drama about an ex-Olympic skier who ends up running high-stakes poker games only to get taken down by the FBI.

Molly’s Game stars the incomparable pair of Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba (above) and opens on Christmas Day. My review is at PopMatters:

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly’s Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it’s almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it’s based on a true story…

Writer’s Desk: Forget Money

Some writers have to do it in order to keep a roof over their heads. It beats getting a real job, of course. But you have to be careful that paying the rent doesn’t influence what you write.

Philip K. Dick (born Dec. 16, 1928) wrote to put food on the table but never just for dollars or fame. In a letter to fellow pulp author Jim McKimmey, Dick opined:

My main reason for writing is basically simple. I want to react against society; I’m after impact, not money.

Screening Room: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

Since it’s almost Christmas, that must mean time for a new Star Wars movie. The latest one is directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) and features a grab-bag of characters newer (Poe, Rey) and older (Luke, Leia, Chewie), plus the odd adorable critter (see above).

My article on The Last Jedi and the whole dang Star Wars universe is over at The Playlist:

Back when George Lucas was that oddball car enthusiast and confederate of Francis Ford Coppola’s with two of the greatest and weirdest movies of the 1970s under his belt — “THX 1138” and “American Graffiti” — he really wanted to make a movie out of “Flash Gordon.” But that didn’t work out, so he moved on to cranking out his own rollicking space opera. Forty years after the first “Star Wars” movie, Lucas’s rag-and-bone shop of cribs from Kurosawa, John Ford, and Joseph Campbell has now turned into its own self-perpetuating universe with an annual haul that probably beats the GDP of some small nations. The latest installment, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” looks likely to keep that cycle going for the foreseeable future…