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Posts Tagged ‘William Faulkner’

”What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?”
—Ray Bradbury
Zen in the Art of Writing

”The act of writing shows movement, activity, life.”
—William Faulkner 

Last week, I came across a 2001 talk Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) gave titled “Telling the Truth.” Bradbury starting writing every day when he was 12, and by the time he died at age 91 he left behind of sea of work. And his inspiration and influence was vast—including his short story The Rocket Man laying the foundation for the Elton John & Bernie Taupin hit song Rocket Man.

In the 54 minute talk below Bradbury includes this simple to grasp—but hard to follow—advice for those who want to be better writers in one year. It basically boils down to just doing two things:

1) Read one short story every day. (Bonus points for adding an essay and a poem.)

2) Write one short story every week.

That’s it. There’s no guarantee you’ll be a rich and famous writer—or even a published one—after 52 weeks. But Bradbury thinks that after reading 365 short stories and writing 52 short stories that you will be a better writer. So if you’ve spent a year or more just trying to finish a novel or a screenplay, try Bradbury’s approach. Bradbury did not go to college—but to paraphrase Tarantino (who did not even finish high school)—he went to books. One could argue that the Achilles heel of academia and writing workshops is the overanalytical approach.

Stephen King in his book On Writing has a hilarious description of how advice from other writers can turn into a non-constructive feeding frenzy. King also has a quote in that book that fits in nicely to this post.

”If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
—Stephen King
On Writing, page 145

If you’re writing a short story every week, you are not really concerned what your professors and peers think. You’re just cranking out stories 2,000—5,000 words at a time. Maybe sneak in some 5-1,500 word flash fiction pieces to give yourself a break. Bradbury believed that beginning and intermediate writers benefited from writing short stories. And he wasn’t concerned with the quality of the writing at the start as much as he was just the practice of writing. And he added, “I defy you to write 52 bad ones.”

I don’t know how many bad short stories Bradbury wrote, but I do know it took him years to get the first one published. When the dust settled on his career he wrote screenplays, TV programs, and over 50 books.

P.S. I thankfully have close access to three libraries so I picked up the above books last week. I grabbed a bunch to immerse myself again in short stories, and I’ll write some reflections here from time to time. Neil Gaiman says, “Good stories should change you.” That’s asking a lot. But you probably have a few stories that you’ve read, heard, or saw that did in fact change you in some way. One that I recall was one I read when I was 19 years old. It was Irwin Shaw’s short story The Eighty-Yard Run. It’s why I dedicated my book to Annye Refoe, the professor who assigned that reading in class.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad—Read!”
William FaulknerOxford

Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning writer William Faulkner moved to Oxford, Mississippi when he was three and after a long life in literature, and a short career as a screenwriter in Hollywood, Faulkner died at age 64 and is buried in Oxford.

I had been to Oxford before, but never on a college football Saturday, so I’d never seen The Grove in all its glory. The Grove has been called “the Holy Grail of tailgating sites” on the campus of the University of Mississippi. One saying at Ole Miss is, “We may not win every game, but we never lose a party.” They, in fact, didn’t win the game against Texas A & M which was decided by a field goal as time ran out. But before the game I got to witness what sets The Grove apart from other pregame atmospheres. The China ware, the chandeliers, and some of the students wearing jackets and ties.

As people made their way into the stadium I headed over to The Square in Oxford where they have a statue of Faulkner. I stopped in Square Books where I took the above photo that is a parade photos of writers and their work. It seemed to me to a fitting postcard that represents Oxford at its best.

A darker chapter of Oxford can be found in the lyrics of the Bob Dylan song, Oxford Town surrounding the events that happened in 1962 when James Meredith, a black man,  enrolled at the University of Mississippi. But Oxford today is more than Faulkner and race relationships and is home to many artist and writers.  Author John Grisham went to law school at the University of Mississippi and he lived in Oxford for a decade before moving to Virginia. So if you’ve ever enjoyed one of Grisham’s books or movies from his books, you can thank Ole Miss and Oxford for shaping his legal and literary mind.

Over the years several movies have been made in Oxford including several based on Faulkner’s novels.

One more recent connection to Oxford and Hollywood was the movie The Blind Side (2009) for which Sandra Bullock won an Oscar.  That movie centers around the true story of Michael Oher and his transformation from a young homeless teenager to an NFL football player.  He attended Ole Miss. In the movie they handle his steep educational learning curve in a kind of Rocky running up the steps montage. But in the book of the same name by Michael Lewis (which was the basis of the movie) you get a deeper grasp of what it took for Oher to raise his .09 GPA in high school to be eligible for college.  His story is an amazing one, but I think his graduating with a degree in criminal justice in 2009 was an even greater feat than playing football in the NFL.

Scott W. Smith

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“I won a competition with the first (short story) I ever wrote. Which gave me an unrealistic notion of how easy this was going to be.”
Daniel Woodrell

The movie Winter’s Bone is one of those movies that hits you in the mouth. And if you’ve ever been hit hard in the mouth, you recall that nothing really prepares you for the distinct bitter taste of your own blood.

Winter’s Bone is not a date movie. Nothing really prepares you for what you’re about to see—though a good start would be reading Flannery O’Conner’s short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. (Followed by reading Faulkner unpack the Snopes family and watching Deliverance.)

Before I actually talk about the finely crafted movie by director Debra Granik, I want to go back to the roots of the novel Winter’s Bone and its writer Daniel Woodrell. Because without those roots you could be tempted into thinking that Granik was just slumming. At first glance Granik, who was educated at Brandeis University and NYU film school, seems primed to look for art in the plight of the rural poor and downtrodden.

And that’s where Woodrell comes in. Woodrell was not only born and raised in Missouri, but today lives in the small town of West Plaines near the Missouri/Arkansas border. While I imagine the meth and poverty world depicted in Winter’s Bone is foreign to many (most?) people in Missouri, Woodrell in an interview with The Southeast Review said,  “I honestly live among some of the people I’ve written about… All of my research, as far as that goes, just comes from the world around me. I see people who live that kind of life every day.”

That’s what regional writing is all about.

Woodrell, like Flannery O’Conner, is a product of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Since receiving his MFA he has published eight novels—and gone through his share of hard times. But in 1999, his novel Tomato Red won the PEN USA award for fiction and his novel Woe to Live On became the Ang Lee film Ride with the Devil.

In an article titled The Least Governable Region of America you’ll find this exchange between Dustin Atkinson and Woodrell in regard to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop:

DA: Did Iowa prepare you well?

DW: “Yeah. Probably did. It’s a rough racket, trying to be a writer. I have a nephew who kind of wants to be a writer, but he’s heard the stories about me and my wife (writer Kate Estill) after we got our MFAs. We lived way below the poverty level for most of our years together. It didn’t bother me. I’ve never really had money, so life was normal. And my nephew, who’s grown up very comfortably, has said, “I want to be a writer, but I don’t want to make those sacrifices.” Well, for many writers, being willing to make the sacrifices is the first requirement.”

Tomorrow we’ll look at the film Winter’s Bone, based on Woodrell’s book and which was the winner of the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Prize.

P.S. If you’re curious, I didn’t even realize there was an Iowa connection to Winter’s Bone until after I saw the movie and thought to myself, “Who writes this stuff?”  I started digging around and discovered Woodrell. So as you can see from one of my earliest posts (over 750 posts ago) The Juno-Iowa Connection, I often haven’t had to travel very far for material.

Related posts: Screenwriting from Missouri

Scott W. Smith


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“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the masters Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.”
William Faulkner

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