On Novels and Novelists

E. L. Doctorow, The Art of Fiction No. 94

Novelist E.L. Doctorow, who died recently, participated in this interview with George Plimpton that was published in the winter 1986 issue of The Paris Review.

Here’s a quotation from Doctorow that I particularly like:

One of the things I had to learn as a writer was to trust the act of writing. To put myself in the position of writing to find out what I was writing… . The inventions of the book come as discoveries. At a certain point, of course, you figure out what your premises are and what you’re doing. But certainly, with the beginnings of the work, you really don’t know what’s going to happen.

Read the interview to learn how the oral history movement influenced Doctorow’s presentation of the protagonist in World’s Fair, how staring at the wall of his study lead him to the topic of Ragtime, and how he feels about the sufferings of writers.

The interview was held in front of a live audience at the 92nd Street YMHA in New York City. This transcript ends with questions asked by members of the audience.

Portlander Ursula K. Le Guin is Breathing Fire to Save American Literature

For more than 50 years now, Le Guin has used incisive critical writing and visionary, psychologically rich fiction to challenge orthodox beliefs—about gender, politics, religion, art—and generally emerged victorious. Far from mellowing her, age has only deepened her willingness to angle after the biggest fish in the pond.

Taylor Clark piece for Portland Monthly magazine features Portland, OR, writer Ursula K. Le Guin, whom Taylor characterizes as “indisputably a Portland writer, perhaps the Portland writer.” Born in Berkeley, where she attended high school with Philip K. Dick, she moved to Portland with her husband in 1958 when he took a position at Portland State University. She wrote a lot while her children were small but without much success. But in the mid 1960s she began a career of publications that “radically broadened our conception of what science fiction could do.”

In works like her 1969 breakthrough novel The Left Hand of Darkness and the “great, transfixing masterpiece, 1974’s The Dispossessed,” Le Guin “relentlessly turned sci-fi’s trappings into innovative new avenues to plumb deeper human conflicts.” But she has written in many other genres as well: poetry, children’s books, mainstream fiction, criticism, translations, and essays.

Read the article to find out why, today, Le Guin’s main concern is the treatment of literature as a commodity rather than as a form of art.

The Strange, Unsettling Fiction of James Purdy

Unsparing, ambiguous, violent, and largely indifferent to the reader’s needs, Purdy’s fiction seems likely to remain an acquired taste. But it is a taste worth acquiring.

Writing in The New Yorker, Jon Michaud discusses the fiction of James Purdy (1914–2009). Here’s why Purdy’s fiction is an acquired taste:

In his novels and short fiction, possibility and potential are always compromised. There is neither transcendence nor transformation. His characters do not grow or develop; they dwindle and unravel. Purdy saw Hawthorne and Melville, “two other Calvinists,” as his literary antecedents, and it is not hard to interpret some of Purdy’s protagonists as latter-day incarnations of Billy Budd and Young Goodman Brown: guileless innocents abused by the world’s depraved sinners.

Nonetheless, publisher Liveright last year released a collection of Purdy’s short stories, and this year they are republishing three of his novels, including Eustace Chisholm [and the Works], which, according to Michaud, “is probably the peak of Purdy’s career, the book of his to read if you’re only going to read one.”

Jason Segel: Reading David Foster Wallace was ‘one of the best experiences of my life’

An interview with actor Jason Segel, who plays the late author David Foster Wallace in the movie “The End of the Tour.”

The film The End of the Tour is a dramatization of Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky’s five days spent with writer David Foster Wallace at the end of Wallace’s book tour promoting his novel Infinite Jest. Wallace, who struggled for many years with depression, took his own life at age 46.

When actor Jason Segel read the screenplay for the film, he thought he didn’t have a chance at getting the part. But director James Ponsoldt wanted an actor who could portray Wallace’s humor, and he found in Segel a “thoughtful actor who understood comedy.”

Segel then began his own tour of Wallace’s works. He watched the tapes of Lipsky’s interviews with Wallace and read Wallace’s essays. But for Wallace’s masterpiece, the tome Infinite Jest, Segel formed a book club:

“We did 100 pages a week,” Segel remembered, smiling. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.” The vast, experimental and thoroughly literary novel “is the most personal of [Wallace’s] works — he’s every one of the characters.” Segel described it as exploring themes of “pleasure, entertainment, achievement. It was David Foster Wallace trying to express a very fundamental crisis — we’ve been told that these things will satisfy us.”

“I hope the movie is an extension of the themes that he [Wallace] expressed,” Segel said. “It was approached with a lot of empathy and love.”

Lisbeth Salander is back: first plot details of The Girl in the Spider’s Web released

There’s good news for fans of Lisbeth Salander, the unstoppable hacker featured in the books known as Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. With the blessing of Larsson’s family, and despite criticism from his long-time partner Eva Gabrielsson, Swedish writer David Lagercrantz has finished the partial fourth novel in the series left on Larsson’s laptop at the time of his sudden death.

Scheduled to be released on August 27, the book’s title is The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Recently the book’s Swedish publisher, MacLehose Press, released what it called “key details” in the novel’s plot. It would be unfair of me to steal  The Guardian’s thunder, so I’ll only quote here that the book features a “criminal conspiracy [that] will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team – and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.”

Click that link and read the (little) further description of the book whose storyline has been a carefully guarded secret.

On Novels and Novelists

Harlan Coben: ’Every successful author still has to treat it as a job’

An informative article on one of my favorite writers of thrillers, Harlan Coben. And a very successful writer he is:

He’s written 27 novels, seven of them New York Times No 1 bestsellers. He has 60m books in print in 41 languages, and his advances are well into seven figures. He’s won the big three in mystery awards – the Edgar, the Shamus and the Anthony. The blockbuster French film based on his novel, Tell No One, was nominated for nine Cesars.

Coben lives with his family—a pediatrician wife and four children—in northern New Jersey, USA. He has set many of his popular books in places similar to his suburban home:

Coben says he intentionally draws upon life in his own town in northern New Jersey for his novels. “I like to set my novels in places that are seemingly placid, places that are the fruition of the American dream– house, 2.4 kids, two-car garage – and show how fragile that is.”

Relationships of all types figure strongly in his books: between friends, partners, spouses, parents and children.

For more information on Coben, see my post about his 2011 visit to the St. Louis County Library.

Novelist Pat Conroy starts new chapter with opening of fitness gym

Well known author Pat Conroy (The Great Santini, Prince of Tides) gave up drinking and began dieting about three years ago, at his doctor’s urging. Now he’s starting a fitness gym near his home in South Carolina. The 69-year-old writer explains why:

I’m doing it because there are four or five books I’d like to write before I meet with Jesus of Nazareth, as my mother promised me … and I can’t write them unless I’m healthy.”

How Has Publishing Changed in the Digital Age for Book Authors?

Writer Alan Cheuse declares that the “current situation for a writer appears quite distinct from any other moment since the birth of modern publishing in the early 19th century… . The link between writer and reader has morphed into a rapidly changing field of play.”

He says that marketing a book has now become as “complicated and problematic as the writing of the book itself.” He acknowledges that he has had to learn how to use social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, to spread the news of the publication of his latest novel, Prayers for the Living. He has also written for a blog he seldom used to visit in hopes of building name recognition for himself among readers.

Another difference between the current publishing process and the previous one that he lived with for decades involves getting his book reviewed:

As fewer and fewer reviews appear in newspapers and magazines, more and more come out online. But for the ordinary reader—let’s call her the civilian reader—most of the Internet reviews never cross her horizon.

Even many established writers feel bewildered in this brave new publishing world, Cheuse writes:

It takes as much work to promote a book as to write one, is what it feels like, as much work just to get a new book in this range of certainty as it does to have put in the years to compose it.

Novelist’s journey melds Zen Buddhism, storytelling

Terrence Petty reports on a presentation and interview by novelist Ruth Ozeki during a week she spent recently in Portland, Oregon, as artist-in-residence for Literary Arts. Ozeki’s spiritual companion is a Zen master named Dogen, who has been dead for nearly 800 years. Petty reports:

Dogen has a purpose: to get humans to slow down and think about their actions at every moment and not rush through the days. Be aware. Be alive.

Ozeki was raised in Connecticut by a Japanese mother and an American father. When she was three years old, her Japanese grandparents visited. She was surprised one day when she entered a room and found them sitting in Zen meditation. Interested to find out more about her Japanese heritage, she received a fellowship to study Japanese literature at Nara Women’s University in Japan after her 1980 graduation from Smith College. She later became more serious about meditation as her own parents aged and died.

Ozeki’s latest novel, A Tale for the Time Being, takes its title from an essay by Dogen. The magic in the book expresses her spiritual beliefs:

Words vanish, ghosts appear, characters change shape, and time does weird things. These metaphysical elements come right out of the box of Buddhist principles, intended to convey messages that all things are interconnected, nothing is permanent, and there is no abiding self… . She uses literary techniques that seek to collapse time and space in the readers’ imagination. The effect on readers can be similar to what practitioners of Zen feel as they sit in meditation.

Ozeki was ordained a Zen priest in 2010. She and her husband live on an island off of British Columbia, and last year she completed two months of head monk training at a Zen community in Vancouver, BC.

Celebration of Southern Literature: Jill McCorkle on ‘Life After Life’ And Death

This page introduces the audio program of an interview with novelist Jill McCorkle. Her most recent novel, Life After Life (not to be confused with another recent novel of the same title by Kate Atkinson), deals with the often uncomfortable subject of talking about death.

Set in a North Carolina retirement home, Life After Life was inspired by her father’s death, and she spent more than 10 years working on it. The novel is narrated from multiple points of view and contrasts the way dying people view themselves with the observations of others.

Jill McCorkle lives with her husband in Hillsborouth, NC. She is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and has taught at UNC-Chapel Hill, Tufts, Brandeis, and Harvard. She currently teaches creative writing in the MFA program at North Carolina State University and at Bennington College Writing Seminars.

Kevin Macdonald to Direct Stephen King Mini-Series ’11/22/63’

Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 is a hefty tome: just under 850 pages in hardcover. It has been sitting on my TBR shelf since shortly after it came out, but I haven’t read it yet.

Now comes word that streaming subscription service Hulu is looking to get into the original content game, like Netflix and Amazon, with a nine-episode mini-series based on the book. King’s novel features a modern-day high school English teacher who travels back in time to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Actors currently signed up for the project are Chris Cooper, Lucy Fry, George MacKay, Leon Rippy, Cherry Jones, James Franco, Sarah Gadon, and Daniel Webber.

The article doesn’t state when the production is expected to air.

On Novels and Novelists

Julianne Moore on Forging a Bond With Alzheimer’s Patients

Cara Buckley reports on how Julianne Moore prepared for her role in the film of Still Alice, a performance that won her an Oscar for best actress. Moore played Alice Howland, a Harvard cognifive psychologist with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. (Early-onset Alzheimer’s is defined as onset before age 65.)

“Sill Alice” tells the story from Alice’s point of view. “This is very unusual,” Ms. Moore told the Bagger earlier this season in a phone interview, “because it’s from the inside out.” So, to know what having Alzheimer’s felt like, Ms. Moore said she dove into the world of people living with the disease.

With the help of Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns of the Alzheimer’s Association, Moore connected through Skype with women who had received diagnoses of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Moore also talked with a leading researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital and visited long-term-care facilities and support groups. One woman particularly affected Moore; although the woman could not speak, “she was beaming and clearly trying to connect”:

“That’s why it’s interesting that it’s called ‘Still Alice’ — this idea that your essential self does not disappear.”

Norman Mailer’s ‘Armies of the Night’ Set for Big Screen Adaptation

Norman Mailer‘s historical fact-based novel “The Armies of the Night” has been optioned for big screen adaptation by RadicalMedia.

Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger will direct a film based on Norman Mailer’s book The Armies of the Night, about the march from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, to the gates of the Pentagon in protest of the Vietnam War. Mailer’s book won both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

The film will be shot documentary style with actors performing scripted action interspersed with news footage from the event.

Producers also promise that the seminal rock and folk music from the era will play a significant role in the film.

“Today, as we find ourselves in a new time of protests on the streets, and tensions in the air, I couldn’t imagine a more relevant time to bring Mailer’s vision of civil disobedience to the big screen,” said Berlinger. “To achieve this in a style honoring the way Mailer put his story into words is an amazing opportunity for any filmmaker, and my own deep roots in the cinema-verite movement of the 1960’s makes this opportunity all the more exciting for me personally.”

Here Are The 10 Movies ‘Mad Men’ Cast & Crew Were Required To Watch

As the concluding season of Mad Men approaches, the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, prepares a showing in New York City of 10 films that were required viewing for everyone who worked on the show. These films all made a deep impression on Weiner and influenced the creation of Mad Men.

Read Weiner’s own descriptions of why these movies, some of which are available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, were seminal influences on Mad Men:

1. THE APARTMENT
Dir. Billy Wilder. 1960, 125 mins. 35mm print courtesy of the Packard Humanities Institute Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. With Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine.

2. NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. 1959, 136 mins. 35mm. With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint.

3. BLUE VELVET
Dir. David Lynch. 1987, 120 mins. 35mm. With Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper.

4. LES BONNES FEMMES
Dir. Claude Chabrol. 1960, 100 mins. 35mm. With Bernadette Lafont, Clotilde Joano, Stéphane Audran.

5. VERTIGO
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. 1958, 128 mins. 35mm IB Technicolor print! With James Stewart, Kim Novak.

6. PATTERNS
Dir. Fielder Cook. 1956, 83 mins. 35mm. With Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, Ed Begley.

7. DEAR HEART
Dir. Delbert Mann. 1964, 114 mins. 35mm print courtesy of the Packard Humanities Institute Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. With Glenn Ford, Geraldine Page, Angela Lansbury.

8. THE BACHELOR PARTY
Dir. Delbert Mann. 1957, 92 mins. Digital projection. With Don Murray, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden.

9. THE BEST OF EVERYTHING
Dir. Jean Negulesco. 1959, 121 mins. DCP. With Hope Lange, Stephen Boyd, Suzy Parker, Joan Crawford.

10. THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY
Dir. Arthur Hiller. 1964, 115 mins. 35mm. With James Garner, Julie Andrews, Melvyn Douglas.

Joanna Trollope: ’You cannot be great novelist until after 35’

At the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, Joanna Trollope, age 71, advised writers:

“But I think in order to write good fiction, I think you need to have got a lot of living under your belt,” she said. “And that includes the pain as well as the joy.

”It’s a rather unkind thing to have to say, and I don’t mean it unkindly, but I always say to people you will write much better fiction after the age of 35 than before. Merely because life will have knocked you about a bit by then.

”I don’t mean it unlikely, I only mean it in terms of don’t be in a hurry.”

In this article Hannah Furness points out that some well known novelists fit Trollope’s description:

  • Alexander McCall Smith, who published his first book at age 50
  • Richard Adams, who wrote Watership Down at age 53

However, Furness points out, many authors contradict Trollope’s description:

  • Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who each wrote his first novel in his early 20s
  • Charles Dickens, who wrote Pickwick Papers at 26
  • William Shakespeare, who is believed to have written his first play at about age 25
  • Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein at 20

Nonetheless, Trollope said that it is essential for writers to learn to understand other people’s motivations and to understand that “the suffering of other people is not negligible.”

“What I try to do is get inside head after head after head,” she said.

“Revolutionary Road”: The Film

In an earlier post I reviewed the novel Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, one of the books on my Classics Club list. The book contained some passages that presented Frank Wheeler as a melodramatically theatrical man always concerned about how he appears to others:

He let the fingers of one hand splay out across the pocket of his shirt to show what a simple, physical thing the heart was (p. 4).

all afternoon in the city, stultified at what he liked to call “the dullest job you can possibly imagine,” he had drawn strength from a mental projection of scenes to unfold tonight (p. 16).

Since these are examples of the author telling readers about a character, I wondered if this characteristic would come across in the 2008 film version of the novel, directed by Sam Mendes and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Frank and April Wheeler.

The film did not suggest this characteristic of Frank, but the visual nature of film did allow for some dramatic emphases of other themes in the novel. The book describes the Wheelers’ house on Revolutionary Road as on a hill. In the scene of the film in which the real estate agent, Mrs. Givings (played by Kathy Bates), first shows Frank and April the house, a low camera angle makes the house appear high on the hill. This visual effect presents the house as a castle high on a hill and suggests the Wheelers are a royal couple who will live there, an echo of the Wheelers’ feeling of their own superiority or specialness.

Even more dramatic is the visual effects early in the film to suggest the isolation and loneliness of the Wheelers’ current lives. Wide scenes show Frank dressed like all the other men waiting on the platform of the local station to take the train into the city for work. Then a shot of Frank inside the train isolates him among all the other similarly dressed men. The series culminates with another wide shot of a horde of suburban men in their suits and hats, all carrying their briefcases, pouring out of Grand Central Station and marching off to work. Even among such a crowd, Frank is isolated and alone.

Juxtaposed with that sequence is a scene of April, a suburban housewife in her apron, dragging her metal garbage can to the end of the driveway for pickup. She pauses to look around, and the camera reveals a road lined with identical driveways and garbage cans, but no other human being. Just as Frank is isolated among all his fellow workers who commute every day between their homes in the suburbs and their jobs in the city, April is also isolated in the suburbs. Several more scenes showing April peering outside from behind her living room picture window heighten her isolation into a feeling of entrapment.

Yates’s novel presents Mrs. Givings’s mentally ill son, John, as a kind of Greek chorus who comments on the action. Ironically, this disturbed character is the one who speaks the truth. Although the character’s role is clear in the novel, it stands out even more in the film thanks to the dramatic presence of veteran stage and film actor Michael Shannon.

In one of the bonus features on the film DVD, either director Mendes or screenplay writer Justin Haythe (I can’t remember which) calls Revolutionary Road “the grandfather of suburban novels.” The film version explores the layers of meaning that include not just the mundane realities of suburban existence but the tragic interlocking of a couple who use each other to explore their own individual pain and shortcomings. April says, “We thought we would be wonderful in the world.” But finally she has to admit, “We were never special.”

Ghosts and Other Literary Horrors

 

For weeks we’ve been building up to Halloween with lists and tales about the spookiest and scariest stories ever written. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is one of the best known ghost stories in the English language. Part of the reason this novella is so famous is that it leaves unspecified the exact nature of the horror it portrays.

critical museStudents and scholars alike continue to address the issue of what that horror is. This continued response to try to define the “portentous evil” at the center of his story is something James purposely engineered. Here’s how he described the task he faced in writing The Turn of the Screw:

What, in the last analysis, had I to give the sense of? Of their [characters Miss Jessel and Peter Quint] being, the haunting pair, capable, as the phrase is, of everything—-that is of exerting, in respect to the children, the very worst action small victims so conditioned might be conceived as subject to. What would be then, on reflexion, this utmost conceivability?—a question to which the answer all admirably came. There is for such a case no eligible absolute of the wrong; it remains relative to fifty other elements, a matter of appreciation, speculation, imagination—these things moreover quite exactly in the light of the spectator’s, the critic’s, the reader’s experience. Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough, I said to myself—and that already is a charming job—and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy (with the children) and horror (of their false friends) will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications. (p. 538)*

James knew that no evil he could specify would be as portentous as the personal notion of evil all readers harbor within their imaginations.

Kyle Fowle makes a similar point in his discussion of Why the horror of Stephen King’s words doesn’t translate well to film. Fowle says that King’s more dramatic works (e.g., Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile) make better films than do his horror novels because “Film is a visual medium, and the horror genre often demands a tangible menace”:

King’s horror fiction often focuses on internal threats, those that can’t be seen or predicted. His best novels explore very human fears and anxieties, elements that are difficult to bring to a visual medium. The novel isn’t inherently a superior storytelling medium (we’ve moved past that reductive argument long ago, especially with the second Golden Age of Television), but it does seem more suited to King’s particular take on horror, where the internal, human terrors are privileged over the external ones… . [film] demands an external, visible threat, one that can make an audience jump, shiver, or scream; such a necessity runs contrary to what makes King’s novels so poignant.

“King’s best horror books,” Fowle concludes, “… explore one of our most potent fears: the fear of ourselves.”

Yet popular culture continues to present us with all kinds of hideous creatures. In From Daleks to Zombies: What Monsters Mean to Us, Anna North talks with the authors of three recent books:

  • Justin Richards, author of Doctor Who: The Secret Lives of Monsters
  • David J. Skal, author of The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror
  • Stephen T. Asma, author of On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears

According to Skal, “we can read the dominant worries of an era in its monster stories” because “monsters recast collective anxiety in fictional form.” Asma offers some examples:

Christians in medieval Europe were “worried about temptation and pleasures of the flesh” and believed that “if you’re weak morally and impure, if you give in to your carnal desires, then that opens the door for the demon to enter and take you over,” he said. “If you let your guard down at all, this evil realm is just waiting.”

Asma further believes that monsters can offer us catharsis:

Horror films, he explained, can give us a controllable way to experience “these deeper fears that we ordinarily repress.” We can “take our monsters off the chain, let him howl at the moon a little bit, and then you can put him back on the chain after the movie’s over,” he said. “I think monster culture has therapeutic aspects to it.”

Whereas Henry James and Stephen King may favor an indistinct evil, monsters such as Frankenstein, Godzilla, vampires, and zombies graphically present what society most fears. In the end, though, they serve the same function as the less directly represented:

“With all the best monsters,” [Richards] added, “you can see something of yourself in them.”


*From the Preface to The Aspern Papers; The Turn of the Screw; The Liar; The Two Faces. Reprinted in The Critical Muse: Selected Literary Criticism, ed. Roger Gard (New York: Penguin Books, 1987), pp. 537–539.

The Joan Didion Documentary by Griffin Dunne and Susanne Rostock — Kickstarter

We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live is the first and only documentary being made about Joan Didion. While her writing is fierce and exposed, Joan herself is an incredibly private person. We have the privilege to know Joan as a subject and also as a member of our family. Our director, Griffin Dunne, has known Joan his entire life. Joining Griffin as co-director is award-winning filmmaker, Susanne Rostock.

We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live traces the arc of Joan’s life through her own writings, and in her own voice. Our film will tell Joan’s story through passages she has chosen and will read aloud from her work, as her friends, family, colleagues and critics share their accounts of her remarkable life and writing.

via The Joan Didion Documentary by Griffin Dunne and Susanne Rostock — Kickstarter.

Monday Miscellany

Open Library

Open Library is an open, editable library catalog with an attractive facade and a lofty mission. The mission? To build an online catalog with a web page for every book ever published. The best part? You can help. From the homepage, click Sign Up, then create a free Open Library account in two simple steps. From there, add new books, write descriptions, manage lists, and generally enjoy contributing to one of the most exciting library projects on the web. Of course, you don’t need an account to browse the site, with its 20 million records (and counting). Simply click Authors, Subjects, Recently, or Lists to search the site by category, or type a keyword into the general search function.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994–2014. https://www.scout.wisc.edu

How Dennis Lehane’s ‘Drop’ screenplay became a novel

Cover: The Drop, Dennis LehandDennis Lehane, a master of the contemporary crime novel, has seen many of his books brought to the screen: “Mystic River,” “Shutter Island,” “Gone Baby Gone,” the upcoming “Live By Night.” But none have had such adventurous a transformation as “The Drop” (now in theaters), which began life as an opening chapter of a novel, then became a short story, then a screenplay … and now, finally, a novel.

Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald describes the strange story of how a group of characters continued to haunt writer Dennis Lehane until, in a reversal of the usual order of things, the film became a novel.

MURDER, THEY WROTE, USING THIS DOCTOR’S INGENIOUS IDEAS

From The Los Angeles Times, a look at cardiologist Douglas Lyle, who divides time between seeing patients in his cardiology clinic, writing crime novels, and answering “other crime writers’ questions about how to end their characters’ lives in weird — but scientifically plausible — ways.”

Tana French’s Favorite Books About Secrets

In her Dublin Murder Squad series, Irish writer Tana French reveals how secrets haunt the “the tumultuous inner lives of her characters, both cops and culprits.” Her latest novel, The Secret Place, is the fifth in the series.

“Big secrets transform everything and everyone around them—often in unpredictable, uncontrollable ways—and I’ve always been fascinated by books that explore that ripple effect,” French says. Here she recommends five novels that fit that description.

Finding our Literary Mothers and Sisters in Time

This post is from April 2014, but I just found it.

Sharan Newman, a medieval historian and author of both nonfiction and fiction, describes efforts to place women in their proper place in literary history and in the literary canon:

Today we might say that female authors have a secure place in literary history. But one thing I know as an historian is that the pendulum always swings. We need to leave a legacy not only as skilled writers but as accurate observers of aspects of life that are too often ignored. Looking back at my own long and somewhat checkered career, I realize that the desire to return women to their rightful place in history was what impelled both my fiction and non-fiction. Oddly, perhaps, I’ve found that a more honest portrayal can be created through fiction. This is due to the lack of solid information on the lives of ordinary women and men throughout time.

The ‘sexiest meal’: what a character’s breakfast reveals about them

And this piece is from February 2013, but I just found it.

Seb Emina, coauthor with Malcolm Eggs, (yes, really) of The Breakfast Bible, discusses breakfast in literature:

breakfast is the ideal barometer of normalcy, the meal that tells us who a person really is. An example: in the fifth chapter of Moby Dick (simply called “Breakfast”), Melville offers a morning scene at a bar-room in a whaling town, as a way of painting us a picture of Queequeg, a Pacific islander who “eschewed coffee and hot rolls” – savagery! – and “applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks, done rare”. And in The Hobbit, Tolkein reveals much about the implicitly decadent nature of Hobbithood when he has Bilbo Baggins consume a second breakfast – an occurrence that has somehow become one of the most recounted parts of the entire book.

This article is worth reading just for the description of Hunter S. Thompson’s preferred meal.

“Before I Go to Sleep”: The Film

Before I Go To Sleep: Exclusive film stills show Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth in new psychological thriller

Related Posts:

These emotive images depict Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman as a woman who wakes up every morning remembering nothing in the forthcoming film Before I Go to Sleep.

Exclusively released to The Independent, the pictures feature Kidman as 40-year-old Christine Lucas, who believes she is just 27 following a traumatic accident that leaves her clawing for the truth – until one day she is forced to confront new and terrifying truths.

I am certainly looking forward to this movie, to see how it presents Christine’s plight.

Monday Miscellany

Reading Literature on Screen: A Price for Convenience?

Woman with KindleI love my Kindle because it allows me to carry a lot of books around without having to carry a lot of books around. And having recently downsized to a retirement home game me another reason: I no longer have room for enough bookcases to hold every book I read.

But the jury is still out on whether there are any disadvantages to using an e-reader rather than reading a printed book. Here’s a report on new research that found differences in comprehension between readers who read a story in a paperback book vs. Readers who read the same story on an Amazon Kindle DX:

the Kindle readers scored significantly lower on questions about when events in the story occurred. They also performed almost twice as poorly when asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct sequence.

The number of study participants was small (50), but the results suggest the need for more research.

Top 10 Books About Reading & Writing For Book Lovers

Here’s a good starter list of books about books.

If you have other similar books that you like, mention them in the comments.

10 Creepiest Books

And because we all love lists, here’s another one.

Stephanie Feldman is the author of The Angel of Losses, a novel that, according to Publishers Weekly, “features a wonderfully spooky atmosphere.” Check out her list of scary books:

Here are some books that are smart and scary—just frightening enough for catharsis, and just exotic enough in their trappings that you’ll probably still be able to sleep at night.

I had heard of many of these, but a few are new to me.

And if you’re looking for a REALLY SCARY BOOK, I recommend I Am the Cheese, a short gem by Robert Cormier.

10 Psychological Thrillers That Will Absolutely Terrify You

And here’s a similar list, this one from K.A. Harrington, author of the thriller Forget Me. Harrington writes, “I have always loved psychological thrillers – the plot twists, the stunning character reveals, the eerie settings.”

I’ve read all the books on Harrington’s list except one, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I’ve always resisted that one as too gory for me. But I second her recommendation of the other nine.

Wilder memoir to give gritty view of prairie life

“Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” – Wilder’s unedited draft that was written for an adult audience and eventually served as the foundation for the popular series – is slated to be released by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press nationwide this fall. The not-safe-for-children tales include stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey.

Lois Lowry says ‘The Giver’s’ movie cast elevated her original novel

now that the film version of her beloved book is (finally) arriving in theaters on Friday, Lowry says she would like to go back and make just one small revision.

“The movie made much more complex the character of the Chief Elder,” the head of the society, Lowry says. “And then once they cast Meryl Streep — who never would have taken the role the way I wrote it in the book — the quality of her acting, just the turn of her eyes or the way her mouth curves, it was astounding to watch her. Now I wish I could go back and write the book the way she performed it.”

I haven’t yet decided whether I want to see this movie, although Meryl Streep, and what Lowry says about her here, is a big draw.