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Monday, April 28, 2008

A Vast Horde of Souls

Here is a (politically correct) excerpt from what the Wave-inatrix considers the best short story of all time. The Waver who can identity this writer gets a cupcake. I really mean it this time.

There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled into her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives and bands of blacks in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claude, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away....

Aside from the fact that the paragraph above is writing so good it hurts, what does a vast horde of souls, leaping and clapping have to do with screenwriting?

All weekend, The Wave-inatrix sat in my booth at the LA Times Festival of Books with my dear friend Jeff and watched the parade of humanity swirl and cluster into and out of booths. And Wavers, it was unparalleled people watching. The shufflers, the apple-grabbers, the twitchers and the quiet observers. The tall lady dressed in a mango-colored dress and hat with a foreign accent, a tongue piercing and dubious gender identification. The children with face paint, eager, bright-eyed and direct. The limping older guy with a desert hat, ZZ top beard and braces.

Jeff and I, both writers, when we weren't establishing what kind of facial hair would be best on Jeff or the writings of Trotsky and Freud, managed to beat out 85% of a great new action-adventure idea over that long, hot weekend. It's amazing what you discuss when you're bonding in a hot tent.

But in-between our brilliant ideas, we were transfixed by the way people wear their personalities on their exteriors. Baldly so. Their clothing, speech and posture spoke loud and clear. Probably because we are writers, we are more observant. Perhaps because we are writers we embellished with our imaginations.

It struck me that with the endless, infinite range of personalities, exteriors and back stories, no screenwriter ever has an excuse to write a two-dimensional, nondescript character. Take your cue from real life, Wavers. Today be observant of the vast horde of humanity that you co-exist with. Can you imagine back stories for who you see today based on their look and attitude? Can you try to guess what's going on in the life of the guy next to you at the red light? He may look normal, even bored in his car. But as I say to clients all the time - dig deeper.

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Geena in Midtown Atlanta said...

Flannery O'Connor well known southern writer, born in Savannah Georgia.

Cupcake please!

By the way three blocks from my home is "One South Prado" the building where Margaret Mitchell lived when she passed away and
Pat Conroy author - screenwriter wrote "The Prince Of Tides" when he lived in my building.

Sunny and 66 degrees outside today and I don't even live in LA.

Julie Gray said...

Geena, if you truly knew that excerpt because you're a fan of Flannery or otherwise a literary gadabout, you get more than a cupcake, you get a gin rickey. If you googled the excerpt, you get a faint smile for resourcefulness. P.S. you have to come to LA to collect your gin rickey :)

J.J. said...

It's from Every Thing That Rises Must Concerge--Flannery O'Connor--hard to believe she was only 39 when she died, I think. Published after her death in 1964.

I'm partial to, A Good Man is Hard to Find which was published in the fifties.

Three best modern "dark" writers:

Flannery O'connor
Joyce Carol Oates
Shirley Jackson

And no, I didn't have to look it up to know it was O'Connor--I've always been a big fan.

Julie Gray said...

You're a man after my own heart, J.J. Well done. I'm a fan of the writers you named and also of course, Capote and Tennessee Williams.

Christina said...

I didn't know it was Flannery O'Connor, but guessed it was her... You can just tell.

J.J. said...

Everything That Rises Must Converge--geez. How'd I'd make that typo?

Note to self: when hiring a proofreader make sure they can spell better than you can.

I'd agree with your choices except, that my three were specialist in the short story form and are female (well, okay, your two were on the fence). It's not likely that we'll ever see the likes of O'Connor, Jackson, or Oates (lucky for us in the latter case) in our lifetime.

And literature and humankind is the worse for it.

Julie Gray said...

Capote wrote tons of short stories and you know, what can I say, I'm a sucker for Southern Gothic writing. Carson McCullers is another great example.

J.J. said...

Capote as Southern Gothic?


(checks dictionary for Southern Gothic)

Ummmmm...Only if you include John Kennedy Toole (and we can't really do that) as a gothic writer...And besides, Capote's only truly Southern Gothic work was, Other Voices, Other Rooms, which was, of course, a novel

Of the newer era short story writers (though there are a host of great southern writers), I'd list these few as "gothic" and there are more who meet some of the criteria, but these guys will do for now:

Barry Hannah
William Gay
Harry Crews
Larry Brown.

I knew that degree in American Studies/American Lit degree would pay off sooner or later.

Julie Gray said...

Other Voices, Other Rooms is mos def Southern Gothic and I wasn't limiting my comment(s) to short fiction. But you know what, J.J.? I think we need to discuss this over a gin rickey.

J.J. said...

Now if I knew what the heck a gin rickey was, I'd be game.

Julie Gray said...

0.5 oz Lime juice
2.0 oz Sloe gin
4.0 oz Seltzer Water

Directions: Pour all ingredients except Seltzer into shaker. Fill a Collins glass almost full of ice cubes, and dump ice into shaker. Shake well and pour drink into Collins glass. Add Seltzer, stir well, garnish with a Lime Wedge,serve, be very witty.

J.J. said...

And now I know what a gin rickey is, the tricky part, of course, is being witty. Is that something you buy at a liquor store?

Julie Gray said...

J.J., somehow, I doubt you have a problem with that! Plus, we all know the more gin rickey's you have, the wittier you get. Until you go over the lip of witty and into needing coffee. :)

J.J. said...

In the days when I used to over indulge, being witty was clearly not the problem. Being able to articulate that wit certainly was--but I'm reformed now, even if my wit has failed me in my thinly veiled attempt at getting that gin rickey and meeting a pretty girl in the process.

Julie Gray said...

Any guy who knows his Southern Gothic has a pretty good shot, J.J., gin rickey or not.

J.J. said...

Sure, sure. They all say that. Then...

Anonymous said...

Isn't that from Flannery O'Connor?