Writer’s Desk: Love Your Characters and Other Rules

Etgar Keret, brilliant creator of collections like The Nimrod Flipout, is one of the greatest living practitioners of the dry, droll, and surreal black comic story.

Interestingly, when he gave Rookie his 10 rules for writing, though, they were quite joyful and optimistic:

  1. Make sure you enjoy writing.
  2. Love your characters.
  3. When you’re writing, you don’t owe anything to anyone.
  4. Always start from the middle.
  5. Try not to know how it ends.
  6. Don’t use anything just because “that’s how it always is.”
  7. Write like yourself.
  8. Make sure you’re all alone in the room when you write.
  9. Let people who like what you write encourage you.
  10. Hear what everyone has to say but don’t listen to anyone (except me).

Screening Room: ‘The American Meme’

Paris Hilton and Josh Ostrovsky (aka @thefatjewish) in ‘The American Meme’ (© Bert Marcus Productions)

The new documentary The American Meme isn’t really about memes, it’s about people who either make their living on social media or just spend far too much time there (Paris Hilton, DJ Khaled, etc.). It’s available on Netflix this Friday.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

[Marcus] mixes big sprays of social media content, from jabbing comedy videos to jealousy-inducing lifestyle-porn stills, with influencer interviews. The results cover the gamut from self-congratulatory spin (the social media-drenched DJ Khaled, who seems hell-bent on turning his existence into a bling-encrusted Truman Show) to self-immolating destructive toxicity (onetime photographer turned misogynistic party-dude troll Kirill Bichutsky, aka @slutwhisperer). It’s a glitzed-up ugly slew of fetishized consumerism and champagne-splashed Girls Gone Wildness, all captured in the hope that somebody out there will drop their thumb over the Like button before wandering deeper into the wilds of the Internet…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Start with a Severed Toe

The Coen brothers’ ‘The Big Lebowski’

The filmmakers and brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are productive as hell, but make a good game out of seeming lazy. In this interview from the book on the making of their 1998 faux-noir classic The Big Lebowski, they toss out a few notes about their collective writing process:

Trish and Fran [Ethan’s and Joel’s spouses, respectively], they’re both always saying, ‘I know you guys just go to the office and take naps.” Joel’s laughter implodes asthmatically. ‘It’s true – it’s actually really true. We deny it, but it’s true.’ His laughter fades. ‘But I wouldn’t want that in the book.’

Later on, they talk about how they work through the screenplays themselves. Mostly they go in order. Start at the beginning. But sometimes they have an idea or image they want to include and aren’t sure what to do with it. Like the severed toe that makes a fairly important appearance in The Big Lebowski:

‘You just come up with a bizarre image.’

‘Right. We want to goose it with a toe. And then you’re left with the problem of whose toe it is.’

‘You’re sort of deliberately setting up hurdles for yourself. Is that part of it, do you think?’ I say.

‘Well, yeah… I mean, that’s a way to work, painting yourself into a corner and then having to perform whatever contortions to get yourself out,’ Ethan says.

Painting yourself into a corner like that can be a challenge. But it’s one that can pay off.

Screening Room: ‘Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes’

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes

The scarifying new documentary Divide and Conquer tells the ugly and all-too-true story of the rapacious and predatory instinct that drove Roger Ailes from small-time TV producer to history-changing right-wing propagandist and serial predator.

My review is at Slant Magazine:

By the time Alexis Bloom’s Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes opens at the end of 2018, its subject will have been dead for over a year and a half. But the media colossus he willed into existence out of spite and rage continues to beam his message across the nation with as much dark vigor as ever. As such, Bloom’s keenly insightful and deeply depressing documentary about the mastermind behind the Fox News Channel and much of what passes for modern conservative discourse is probably best viewed not as a record of the past but a document of what’s to come…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Stuff Your Ears with Money

In 1965, Saul Bellow was rich. After the publication of his novel Herzog the previous year, the ornery and erudite Chicago-born writer was lavished with attention, praise, and (strangely, for a writer, even during those more literate times) money.

According to Zachary Leader, Bellow wasn’t crazy about all the hurly-burly that his suddenly discovered was raising around him.

In my simplicity I thought the noise of Herzog would presently die down, but it seems only to get louder. I can’t pretend it’s entirely unpleasant. After all, I wanted something to happen, and if I find now that I can’t control the volume I can always stuff my ears with money.

Success isn’t likely going to come your way. You chose to be a writer, after all, not a developer of addictive and utterly unnecessary aps. But should you be so lucky as to trip over attention and wealth after hacking out a book or three, enjoy the success.
And if not, stuff your ears with money.

Screening Room: ‘The Front Runner’

In Jason Reitman’s new political satire, Hugh Jackman plays Gary Hart on the verge of destroying his meteoric political ascent.

My review is at PopMatters:

Based on Matt Bai’s 2014 book All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went TabloidThe Front Runner starts off as a zippy election comedy about the undoing of Senator Gary Hart’s presidential ambitions, but collapses under the weight of its serious intent. When we first see Hart (Hugh Jackman), he’s lost the bid for the 1984 Democratic nomination. Director Jason Reitman shoots that opening scene and many others as if he’s been watching a lot of Nashville, tracking the casual chatters between reporters and campaign staffers as they wend through a crush of news vans and onlookers trying to get a glimpse of history…

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.