Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Advice from Papa Hemingway

Saw a good movie recently. No, not the latest mega-hit. We don't get out that often. But I have a library card, and we recently brought home Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."

Owen Wilson (actually acting instead of mugging for the camera) is a writer visiting Paris with his bitch of a fiancee in 2010. He ends up going back in time – don't worry about how – to Paris of the 1920s where he meets all kinds of famous literary figures, especially Hemingway who is portrayed brilliantly by an actor I've never heard of – Corey Stoll.

Hemingway in this movie is self-centered and obsessed, but it masks an inner insecurity. He pontificates, almost as if afraid that if he doesn't command attention, he won't exist. His lines are delivered in wonderful, staccato bursts of macho grandiloquence.

Wilson's character tells Hemingway how much he loved his book and Hemingway replies:

"You like my book. It was a good book because it was an honest book. War does that to a man. There's nothing fine or noble about dying in the mud, unless you do it gracefully and then it's not only noble but brave."

Hemingway demands to know what the book Wilson's writing is about and he stammers. Hemingway fires back, "You're too self-effacing. It's not manly! (Slams his fist on the table.) If you're a writer declare yourself the best writer! But you're not as long as I'm around, unless you want to put on the gloves and settle it."

That reads as arrogant, but in delivery it's not. Hemingway just accepts his brilliance as a matter of course and insists everyone else do likewise.

Wilson starts to explain his novel, but becomes self-conscious and says he guesses that sounds terrible. Hemingway fires back, "No subject is terrible if the story is true and the prose is clean and honest and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure." When Wilson asks if he'll read the manuscript, Hemingway says no.

"My opinion is I hate it ... If it's bad I'll hate, and if it's good I'll be envious and hate it all the more."

Hemingway is the only 1920s character who shows up repeatedly, and he's terrific and bombastic every time. Adrien Brody has a great scene as Dali – absolutely hilarious. Kathy Bates is surprisingly unmemorable as Gertrude Stein. Picasso doesn't say anything in English, but his reactions are great. Zelda is a far more interesting character than Scott Fitzgerald, but I suspect that was true in real life. And about halfway through you realize Owen Wilson is doing a spot-on Woody Allen.
In the midst of all the comedy and romance and satire, Hemingway actually says a couple of things that are good advice to writers. The biggest one is when he chides Fitzgerald for squandering his talent, partying and chasing after Zelda when he should be working.

"You're a writer. You need time to write. Not all this fooling around."

Okay, okay, I hear you, Papa. I'll get back to work.

WIP UPDATE – Monday was great, got 2,167 words down that introduced a key character and a little more mystery. Tuesday was slower, only 481 words (I had to work, ended up writing ficve short news items for the Source) but what I got done is good exposition. It's time to take all the threads I've been laying out and start pulling them together, or at least begin to show that at some point they will come together. I also realized last night that a couple of characters and a bit I put in to illustrate something about another character actually have a place later in the novel. Characters will do that. elbow their way in and demand more story time. The two young hoods I assumed I was done with just insisted they become more than background. They're now about to become integral parts of the plot. ALWAYS listen to your characters.

Total word count is now 6,127, not bad considering I'm still pretty early in the going.

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