Friday, October 02, 2009

You Don't Have to Scream the "O"

more fun the gang at McSweeneys
(if you are offended by the setting here, keep reading)



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Thanks for having me over and listening to my movie pitches. When my fiction-writing classmates at the Iowa Writers' Workshop heard I was headed to Los Angeles to make it as a screenwriter, they called me a sellout. But if "selling out" implies meeting with the industry's most respected producer of hardcore pornography—well, then, quand même.

Is this your Adult Video News award for "Best All-Girl Feature"? I never realized how heavy these things were. And so accurate to scale! Some day, Lord willing . . . .

Sure, if it helps you focus, I don't mind if you pop Lolita 6 into the ol' DVD. I'm partial to the Kubrick original myself, but I can see where there might be room for character development. If you could just turn down the volume a splash, I'd appreciate it.

My first idea is based on a story that won honorable mention in the 2008 Omaha Review debut fiction contest. I envision shooting it with a Raymond Carver-esque minimalism. My God, can you imagine what that will look like? I actually can't, so I was hoping you or your Director of Photography would. You don't use a DP? But I see it listed on all your films. Double-what? Wow-wee.

Anyhow, Suburban Afternoon focuses on a stale marriage between a couple in their mid-fifties—maybe early fifties if you want to skew younger. The wife's quotidian routine is interrupted one afternoon by a succession of muscular young refrigerator repairmen, pool boys, and pizza deliverymen all gamely offering her their "services." But here's the twist! By the end, we find out that these young guys were indeed presenting commercial services and nothing more: the fridge really was broken, the pool desperately needed cleaning, and her husband had, indeed, ordered an extra-large pie with sausage—some nice metaphorical possibilities with that. And here's the "money shot": an extreme close-up of this woman's face as she has a Joycean epiphany remembering the first time she slept with her husband when they were young and reckless romantics. We don't see it in a flashback—kind of gimmicky—but it's etched across her features as surely as her crow's feet.

Come to think of it, that might be less Carver and more in the realm of Dick Yates. No, he was a writer.

Roxxxanne Bangs? As the female lead? But she's in her late thirties—a little young, right? And she's really a "porn star"—for this I see more of a "porn character actor." You mean she's coming in? Well, I don't see why not. Perhaps she'd be interested in the next pitch? Sure, I can film you while I talk. Now, this is what I call a detached third-person point of view! Yes, you're in frame.

In Locker Room Confidential, the star high school quarterback has a voice-over—I know that's a cardinal sin in film, but this would be a retrospective voice-over about his senior year, so the tension between his present and past selves will create a Barthesian seam of pleasure for the audience. Close, but more like a mental seam of pleasure. The quarterback—let's call him Nick, for the Gatsby-like unreliable narrator—has been flirting all year with the head cheerleader. We play against type here; Franny's sexy, of course, but her dialogue is loaded with wry observations reminiscent of the young Virginia Woolf. Virginia. There you go, like Dick Yates—you're catching on. After the team wins the championship game, Franny finds Nick alone in the locker room. What do you think happens next? Bow-chicka-bow-bow: She reveals she's lost faith in the spiritual world and he divulges his anxieties over having to live up to the masculine ideals of his horse-wrangler father. Hel-lo! Talk about your denial of character expectations!

Absolutely, the more the merrier—it's a free country and a spacious finished garage. Lisa Lipps and Hunter Pierce! Gosh, forgive me if I'm a little star-struck! That's all right, I'll just move back a few feet.

Can you hear me while you're upside down like that? Super. My last concept is kind of experimental: Lower Education. It's a campus satire in the Lucky Jim vein about a brilliant but unsung graduate student. Also, he's extremely well endowed—and, trust me, I'm not talking about his measly graduate stipend! The story is a frank look at his relationship with a beautiful undergraduate whose class he TAs. Uh, teaching assistant. The frisson between them is a literary dance of seduction whereby the undergrad writes a novella ostensibly about migrant laborers in the Depression, but which, to the astute reader, is subliminally packed with unquenched eroticism. And the grad student reciprocates desire through sexually charged line-edits—"Beautiful simile," "Elegant verb," "Never split an infinitive, unless you must."

Still with me? So, the revision process rises to a frenzied climax until, thanks to all his hard work, "From My Dusty Hands to Your Chapped Lips" wins the grand prize in the 2008 Omaha Review debut fiction contest, she signs with some hotshot literary agent who just happens to know her aunt, and he realizes that publishing is all about nepotism and not the quality of the writing. And off he heads to La-La Land on a Greyhound with nothing but his wits and a dog-eared copy of How Hollywood Works. You're probably asking: Where's the sex? Well, there isn't any! Except for the off-screen sex the co-ed is probably having with that blond idiot communications major she always hangs out with in Der Rathskeller. That is, a porno not weighed down by pornographic content! I'm mostly interested in subverting genre here. But if we throw in some subtle allusions to Cleland's Fanny Hill: Or, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, the audience will definitely get what we're doing. No, not "off"—just "get."

Were those three consecutive shouts of "Yes!" in response to my ideas, or . . . okay, let me just set this camera and boom mic down and leave all four of you alone to mull it over. Make that five—didn't see you down there, Qarizma. It's funny, but all of this kind of reminds me of an ending to a Flannery O'Connor story! A sprinkle of sad, a dash of redemption, and a healthy dollop of messy.

"O'Connor." You don't have to scream the "O" part. She wrote "A Good Man is Hard"—never mind.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rick Moody Interview

Rick Moody is one of the most celebrated American writers of his generation. His work includes four novels; Garden State, The Ice Storm, Purple America, and The Diviners, as well as three collections of short fiction, The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven, Demonology, and Right Livelihoods. His first novel, Garden State, won the Pushcart Editor’s Choice award and his memoir, The Black Veil, won the PEN/Martha Albrand award for the Art of the Memoir. Moody’s 1994 novel, The Ice Storm, a bestseller, was made into a feature film of the same name that was directed by Ang Lee. His passion for writing fiction is equally matched by his passion for music. A founding member of The Wingdale Community Singers, Rick also writes about music as a regular contributor to Stephen Elliot’s online magazine, The Rumpus.

Rick Moody lives in Brooklyn, NY and on Fishers Island with his wife, Amy Osborn, and their newborn daughter, Hazel. After discussing the possibility of this interview for over two years, we finally got down to the business of it in early May of this year.

Meg White: Rick, thank you for taking the time to do this. I’d like to begin with your recently acquired status as a father. You have been one of the most prolific writers/artists on the NYC literary circuit for the last two decades; can you talk a little about how this new role has affected your creative life?

Rick Moody: In some ways, it remains to be seen how fatherhood has affected my creative life, because I haven't really had time for a creative life yet! I am finishing up a novel, it's true, and every non-baby-related second has been given over to that. But I will admit that this new book, mostly written a couple of years ago, feels very emotionally antique to me right now. Sometimes that just means that you are done, you know, which I am, very nearly. But in this case it could also mean that I have changed a little bit. I don't think I'm going to be all sentimental now, just because there's a little baby around, but maybe I am going to be more direct, less inclined to waste time. Since I have less time to waste. I have been writing an occasional music blog ( since January, and it is probably the most reliable example of my immediate pre- and post-labor writing. The music writing is, as I say, much quicker to the point, less comic, more philosophical. I am not going to change into an issue-oriented realistic writer, I don't think, nor one who avoids stylistic flights. But maybe I will be a writer, at least, who understands the sacrifices of family, and admires them.

Meg: I'm laughing because you just mentioned wasting less time and there are so many of us who envy the quality and volume of your work. We had no clue you were wasting any time. But, seriously, do you think understanding and admiring the sacrifices of family will mean writing a kinder, gentler, version of the dysfunctional families for which you are so well known?

Rick: I can't imagine that the families will be any less dysfunctional, but maybe I will be slightly less gleeful in the lancing of hypocrisies. It has occurred to me recently, for example, that it's possible my parents did the best job they could. And it's hard to imagine the author of The Ice Storm saying that, right? So who knows? Gentleness may be just around the corner. I am not going to become humorless, but I expect the humor is going to be more compassionate, less malevolent.

Meg: I want to talk more about music, but I feel compelled to ask about the new novel first. Your last one, The Diviners, was a delicious satire of the entertainment industry surrounded by roaming Huns and the founding of Las Vegas. How about the new one? Have you taken on another aspect of our poor, beleaguered, maladjusted society?

Rick: The new book is slightly futuristic and dystopian, like some novels that I loved as a kid: Cat’s Cradle, The Crying of Lot 49, Catch-22, Giles Goat-Boy, Another Roadside Attraction, etc. It's set in a future North America that is economically second-rate and sort of emotionally depressed as well. The story, such as it is, is lifted from a drive-in horror movie from 1963 called The Crawling Hand. There's also a talking chimpanzee in it, and a failed manned mission to Mars. I guess, therefore, that this is pretty much the same approach as in The Diviners, but even longer (the first draft was over 900 pages).

Meg: Does the chimp have much to say? The possibility of hearing our closest evolutionary cousin spout out commentary on its cousins' behavior, culture, hypocrisies, etc. is an interesting and potentially humorous one.

Rick: The chimp won't shut up! I read a Michael Crichton book a couple of years ago (I'm forgetting the name now, because it was a very forgettable book), and it had to do with gene transplant therapy, and stem cells, and there was a talking orangutan in it (if I'm remembering properly), and all the orangutan could do was squeak out a word or two. Not in my book! In my book, the chimp actually becomes irritating because he won't shut up and he thinks he's right about everything. And, for the record, he is very dismissive about us.
The humans.

Meg: He sounds like a lot of critics I know, Dale Peck for example. Would you classify this new one as science fiction?

Rick: I would not. That would seem to me to be a genre designation, and most genre designations come into play when a work is substandard in the literary department, plot-oriented, or, in the case of s/f, more interested in technology than character. This book, like others I have written, is concerned with psychology, character, and language. It just happens to be very imaginative. It's designed, I suppose, to irritate people like James Wood, who thinks there can only be the one kind of literary fiction, the rigidly naturalistic sort. I come from a different literary world, a more permissive one. And my more permissive literary world loves imagination, the freedom of imagination. Accordingly, the book is not against science fiction. I read from that section of the bookstore when I was young, and I loved some of it. I've taken that license, that permission, from speculative fiction and applied it to some of my usual themes: the high costs of capitalism, the anguish of mind-body dualism, and so on.

Meg: Would you tell us more about the music blog, your relationship to music and songwriting process? What's happening with The Wingdale Community Singers? Are you three still working together and if so, what do we have to look forward to?

Rick: After writing, just about all my time goes to music and thinking about music, so it was natural to try to get down some of the thoughts I have on that subject. I'm probably going to publish a volume of essays on music after I turn in the new novel. I was asked to contribute to The Rumpus on any subject that pleased me, and since I'm trying to assemble writing on music anyway it seemed natural to try to do some of that work there. The challenge for me is to try to write the blog-oriented work quickly, and without excessive punctiliousness. Most people don't like to read discursive stuff online. I’m trying to operate within the form. My results have been mixed, but I have enjoyed the experiment a lot. By the way, the subject of the blog is, specifically, unreleased, unsigned, or self-released bands and recordings, and it's meant to be very interactive. So if your readers have suggestions of new music I should hear, they can contact me there, and I will make every effort to listen to whatever they suggest. With the following caveat: I like really unusual stuff. Boys with big amps and double-kick drummers and mopey lyrics need not apply.

As far as my band goes, we are now four, not three (with the addition of excellent visual artist and singer/guitarist/accordionist Nina Katchadourian), and we have finished album number two, Spirit Duplicator, and it's due out in the fall from a very small label in New York City called Scarlet Shame. We like the name of our label a great deal.

Meg: I think we've covered a good deal of ground here but I have two final questions. Besides the new novel and essays, do you have any idea what we might expect from you in the next few years? And, is there anything else you think our readers would like to know about you?

Rick: Probably, after the music essays, a volume of stories, and then I have in mind a sort of a Washington romance. But who knows? Then we are talking five years out. And I assume your readers, having read this far into the piece, know more than enough!

Published in Identity Theory, July 20, 2009
Published in The Iowa Source August 2009

Posted by meg L white at 10:33 PM
Labels: Garden State, James Wood, Pen Award, Purple America, Pushcart Prize, Rick Moody, Right Livelihoods, Stephen Elliot, The Black Veils, The Ice Storm, The Rumpus, Wingdale Community Singers