Archive for August, 2011

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

One of my favorite films from the 60’s is Tony Richardson’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner starring a very young Tom Courtenay.  The film is based on a short story by Alan Sillitoe who also wrote the screenplay.  It tells the story of a rebellious young man from England who is arrested for robbing a bakery and is sent to a boys reformatory or a borstal as the Brits call it. While there he discovers that he has a gift for long-distance running and much of the film is about how his lonely reveries while running mile after mile, ultimately shape and change his life.

In my view the film provides an excellent metaphor for the craft of writing.

Writing is a solitary, if not anti-social pursuit.  It’s something you must do alone. If the piece you’re writing happens to be a three or four hundred page novel you have to plan on being alone for incredibly long stretches of time.  If you crave or need constant or even frequent attention and interaction with other people, the best advice anyone can give you about writing a novel is don’t.

The single line I remember most clearly from Annie Dillard’s excellent memoir The Writing Life, (which I read several years ago) is her response to a reader’s question about what makes the ideal writing space.

Dillard, at the time, lived in a beautiful house overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Washington and this reader no doubt was expecting Dillard to describe a cozy, book-filled study with endless views of endless waves lapping against the magnificent coastline. Instead she said that the ideal writing room, at least for her, was a cinderblock cell devoid of books, telephone, television and even windows through which she could catch a glimpse of the outside world.

Like Dillard, I’m lucky enough to live in a beautiful house overlooking the ocean in Maine.  My designated writing room is a small, admittedly book-lined room on the second floor of my house and it boasts one of the prettiest views anyone could ever imagine of Casco Bay and the islands stretching out in the distance.  When I write I close the shades and shut it all out. I also turn off the telephone and disconnect myself from the Internet.

Even writers who prefer writing in crowded places, coffee shops for example, or libraries (where I often write) or while riding on trains or planes, essentially have to be alone inside their own minds and imaginations while they craft their pieces. Their only company are the characters who people their stories (whom I sometimes describe as my imaginary friends). The only interesting conversations they get to engage in are the dialogue exchanges they put in their characters’ mouths. The only beautiful views, or views of any sort, they can enjoy are the ones gazed on by the characters in their tales.

All of this makes me, if not other writers, something of a curmudgeon.  When my wife gently knocks on my door, usually to ask me a civil and often necessary question, my typical response is a low dangerous growl. Cujo in spectacles.

I am currently on deadline to finish my third novel and so I spend all my working time by myself. I’ll be happy when the book is finally finished.  So, I daresay, will my wife and any friends I still have left, those who I haven’t totally driven away.

Casting Aspersions: Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher????Yikes.

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Before I started writing novels, I wrote, produced and cast about a zillion TV commercials for clients like Ford, the US Army, Merrill Lynch and a bunch of other less glamorous clients including Tide detergent.  I always believed a lot of the success of an ad campaign depended on casting the right actor in the right role.  I’ve always believed the same thing about a movie or, for that matter, a TV series.

So when I read this morning that someone had decided to cast Tom Cruise in the Jack Reacher role in the movie version of Lee Child’s One Shot, I had a hard time believing it.

Reacher is everything Cruise isn’t. And vice versa.  In fact, I find it difficult to think of a an actor who would be a worse choice to play Jack Reacher than Tom Cruise with the only possible exception being Danny DeVito. And DeVito, at least, would be more fun to watch in the role.

I have to admit I like the Reacher books. I’ve read most, if not all of the fifteen or sixteen thrillers in the series, and while some are better than others, I almost always enjoy them. Over the years I think I’ve gotten to know the hero pretty well.

Here are some of the things all Lee Child fans know about Jack Reacher.

He’s tall.  Six-foot-five (Cruise is five-foot-seven).

He’s tough.  He can usually beat the crap out of half a dozen oversized baddies with one hand tied behind is back.

He’s taciturn. He doesn’t blather on for the sake of hearing himself talk. Nor does he constantly grin at the reader (or the camera).

Unlike Cruise, Reacher doesn’t give a damn about looking cool, chic or fashionable. He generally buys the cheapest possible clothes at someplace like Wal-Mart or Goodwill and then throws them away when they get dirty instead of washing them. (Obviously, casting Reacher as a spokesperson in a Tide commercial would be nearly as bad a choice as casting Cruise as Reacher).

On top of that Reacher can be a seriously nice guy who really wants to help those in trouble (a trait that usually gets him into even worse trouble , the getting out of which constitutes the main plot line of most of the books).

Tom Cruise is none of these things.

You may or may not like Tom Cruise as an actor. I have to admit he’s not one of my favorites.  In fact, the last Tom Cruise character I actually liked was Maverick in Tony Scott’s Top Gun and that movie was made twenty-five years ago back in 1986.

So far, nobody’s offered to make a movie of either of my books, so you may legitimately ask, who am I to judge? If they asked Tom Cruise to play the role of my hero, Mike McCabe, I’d probably just smile nicely and say, “Gee. What a great idea.”

Maybe I’m nuts. Maybe Tom Cruise will make a fabulous Jack Reacher.  But somehow I don’t think so. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments and perhaps suggestions on who should be playing the part.