Screening Room: ‘Transit’

An adaptation by Christian Petzold (Barbara) of Anna Seghars’ novel about refugees fleeing the Nazis somewhat roughly and surreally adapted to modern times, the romantic, disturbing drama Transit opens this week in limited release.

My review is at PopMatters:

It’s a sign of the times, maybe, that when one of the characters says at the start of Christian Petzold’s Transit, “Paris is being sealed off,” the first thought is not of war but of terror…

TV Room: ‘Leaving Neverland’

The two-part, four-hour documentary Leaving Neverland premieres this weekend on HBO.

My review ran at Slant:

The only joy to be found in Leaving Neverland comes early, when director Dan Reed introduces Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck as children, before they met Michael Jackson, when the pop star was more dream than nightmare to them…

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Listen to Advice

When Roxane Gay set out to write a novel, at first she got tired up in logistical questions:

… Is it really true that every chapter should be self-contained and readable as its own thing? Do you have to write from beginning to end or is it acceptable to jump around the story and pull it all together at the end? How do you pace a novel? How explicit is too explicit? Is it okay to leave gaps in the narrative? There is lots of advice on novel writing out there but I struggled to find satisfying answers for my specific set of questions…

Not surprisingly, this tied her up in knots and didn’t produce much writing. So she chucked all those questions:

Finally, there came a time when I decided to ignore all the advice I had read and do the only thing I know how to do, which is write. I wrote what I felt like writing, when I felt like writing, how I felt like writing. I jumped all over the place. None of my chapters had numbers. I didn’t take notes, or create a timeline, or plot anything out.

Once she stopped worrying about how to write, she wrote.

Writer’s Desk: Give Yourself a Chance

According to a talk Colson Whitehead gave in Amsterdam in 2018, as a young boy he thought that writing would be a pretty cool gig because “you didn’t have to wear clothes or talk to people and could spend all day making stuff up.”

While that remains true, especially the not always having to talk to people thing, it turned out to be a little more complicated. So here are some of the hints for new writers that Whitehead provided:

  • Give yourself a chance to learn: “Write a crappy story and then the next one will be better.”
  • Write what scares you, but find a way to make it fun.
  • Learn how to deal with rejection: “It didn’t matter if no one liked what I was doing, I had no choice so I got back to work and it got better.”

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Worry About Being Original

All writers want to stand out. How do you make a name otherwise? But it’s also easy to tie yourself up in knots worrying about it.

Poet Derek Walcott, who was never anything but original, dismissed such worries in his essay “The Muse of History“:

We know that the great poets have no wish to be different, no time to be original, that their originality emerges only when they have absorbed all the poetry which they have read, entire, that their first work appears to be the accumulation of other people’s trash, but that they become bonfires, that it is only academics and frightened poets who talk of Beckett’s debt to Joyce… We are all influenced by what we have read…

Own it, but earn it.

Do as Walcott says, and make a bonfire from the trash of the greats.

Reader’s Corner: ‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf’

The latest novel from Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings), is the start of a planned fantasy trilogy set in a world of African-inspired mythology.

My review of Black Leopard, Red Wolf is at PopMatters:

Unless they’re killing or trying to avoid being killed, nobody in the otherworldly Africa of Black Leopard, Red Wolf knows how to stop talking. Part of this is because this fantasy is being told to us by a garrulous wordsmith, a trickster and fixer known as Tracker. He’s spinning a tale, certainly tall but shot through with memory pangs and bone ache, to an unspecified “inquisitor” and seems to have plenty of time on his hands…

Writer’s Desk: We Do Language

Toni Morrison in 2008 (Angela Radulescu)

For this week’s installment, we’re providing not so much advice as a reminder of what we do when we write.

In 1993, Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In her acceptance speech, she said this:

Word-work is sublime … because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference – the way in which we are like no other life. We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives…

We work in words. Sometimes, those words live on after us.

Do good work. Make Toni proud.