Watching films is an addiction, consumed one by one, regardless of story or value, but for how they are shot – the lights, shots and edits, watching as as alien, trying to understand the language of this world through Annaud’s The Bear, Zemekis’ Castaway and Luketic’s Paranoia. Finding the moments, beautifully or ridiculously rendered: Redford’s Ordinary People, Hiller’s Silver Streak, NIchols’ Catch-22 (Mike Nichols, 1970). And then the day is gone, lost in the confusion of make belief, and you are an alien no longer, just tired.
When I presented my first novel, The Sacred Whore, to my mother, she grimaced. “Where am I in there?”
My family is certainly a grow-op of raw material but it lacks the dynamics needed for a good story. One of my earliest, and clunkiest attempts – Fashion for the Apocalypse – an awkward thing that must stay buried in the backyard, is exhaustive in meandering ruminations and presents family in a tedious and pointless light.
“How’s your dinner?” My mother peered over at me. “I made two extra vegetables for you. We’re having chicken.”
I looked at my broccoli, beans, tomatoes and potatoes on my plate. “It”s delicious.”
While I’ve stuck with writing what I know, I’ve learned to tighten and hone. From Black Ice:
My mother grabbed the arm of my shirt. “What happened? What were you thinking of?”
“I didn’t do anything! He just stopped breathing.”
“How, Cameron?” My father was across the room, holding my dead brother’s jacket. “How did he stop breathing?”
“I don’t know. He just…stopped.”
“You suffocated him!?” My mother wrenched my arm up. “Did you suffocate him?!”
My father rolled the jacket under his arm. “Michelle…”
I was surprised how calm he was, how slowly he took my mother’s arm and pulled her back.
“We have to stay calm.”
It’s a balancing act, finding those moments, making them into something that is true, just not too true, because that can be really boring.