Writer’s Desk: Something Every Day

The poet William Stafford (1914–1993) had a fairly disciplined four-part approach to his daily writing task.
But the key element to his process is the last, where he advises this:
For this day, again, you give yourself a chance to discover worthy things. Nothing stupendous may occur… but if you do not bring yourself to this point, nothing stupendous will happen for sure… and you will spend the balance of your day in blind reaction to the imperatives of the outer world — worn down, buffeted, diminished, martyred.
Get something down on paper each and every day. Leave yourself open to something wonderful. Or terrible.
You can edit later.

Screening Room: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

Eddie Redmayne in ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ (Warner Bros.)

The second entry in J.K. Rowling’s post-Harry Potter Wizarding World movies, the Newt Scamander series, is opening everywhere tomorrow.

My review is at Slant Magazine:

The fun but more predictable Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald moves the new series forward, but only incrementally—all the better to maximize the potential for six or seven more sequels to be strung out for Thanksgivings to come…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Widows’

Viola Davis in ‘Widows’ (20th Century Fox)

In Widows, the new Chicago-set thriller from Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) adapted from the series by British crime novelist Lynda La Plante, Viola Davis has to pay $2 million back to some gangsters her husband ripped off before being inconveniently shot dead.

Widows already toured the festival circuit and now opens wide this Friday. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

[Widows] is technically a crime story. But it’s also a smart character study of women thrown to the wolves by their criminal men. Behind all that, it’s the story of a great city being stripped down and sold for parts. This might be the greatest movie about an American city since John Sayles’ City of Hope and the best American heist flick since Spike Lee’s Inside Man. But those differing attentions sometimes work at cross purposes…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Ask the Questions

Unless you’re Karl Ove Knausgard, writing entails getting in touch with life outside of yourself. That can present problems in fiction. Why? Most writers’ lives just are not that exciting.
Lynda La Plante, the crime novelist responsible for the series Widows and Prime Suspect, has a simple solution for finding out what you need to know:
If you want to find out something you go to source. If you want to know what a man serving life for murder is like, call your nearest prison and register as a visitor … That’s what’s so exciting as a writer, if you put yourself out there, you come home with the goodies
So if you want to truly engage with your invented characters, go find their closest real-life corollaries and talk to them. That’s how you get the goodies.

Screening Room: ‘Boy Erased’

Theodore Pellerin and Lucas Hedges in ‘Boy Erased’ (Focus Features)

Joel Edgerton’s adaptation of Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir Boy Erased is likely going to bring the tragedy of Christian forced-conversion “therapy” of young gay women and men into the mainstream.

My review is at PopMatters:

It wouldn’t be fair to call Boy Erased an Afterschool Special. There’s a lot in here that ABC wouldn’t have touched in its run from 1972 to 1997. The true story of a young man sent by his religious parents to a conversion-therapy center that they hope will “cure” him of his homosexuality is presented in a forthright manner. There’s ugliness here that the mostly happy ending cannot wash away, and doesn’t try to…

Here’s the trailer:

Friday Music Break: Tom Waits and the Resistance

For his latest album, Songs of Resistance 1948-2018, guitarist Marc Ribot collaborated with other musicians on a numerous of old and new protest songs.

He enlisted Tom Waits to sing the old anti-fascist Italian folk ballad “Bella Ciao” (“Goodbye Beautiful”). You can hear it here, via the video directed by Jem Cohen (who also shot the classic Fugazi documentary Instrument) which collages footage from recent demonstrations in Washington, D.C. behind Waits’ growling protest lyrics.

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Be Literary

Georges Simenon , 1965 (Dutch National Archives)

When Georges Simenon was starting out as a newspaper writer and later a factory for churning out pulp fiction in Paris in the 1920s, he had higher ambitions. So he went to ask for advice from Colette, one of the reigning doyennes of French (and world) literature.

Colette, whose early writings had been produced under her husband’s name and had to fight for every scrap of financial and critical success she ultimately won, had some tart words for the young pulpist:

She told him to stop trying to be literary, and Mr. Simenon would later say it was the best piece of writing advice he ever got.

By the time Simenon passed away in 1989, he had produced 220 novels under his own name, plus another couple hundred under pseudonyms, and over a thousand short stories.

His method was monastic when required:

When he worked he hung a “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door and often wrote round-the-clock. Once finished, Mr. Simenon put his manuscript away for a few days, then took it out, revised it briefly and sent it to his editor. He never read any of his books once they had been published.

Also, Simenon wasn’t just prolific, he was wildly successful, selling something like half a billion copies worldwide.

Sometimes refusing to worry about how your work is perceived is the best thing you can do.