Time Crime in the Movies

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Saturday, February 29, 2020. What’s it like to have indie-published a book? For that matter, what’s it like to try to be an author, indie or traditionally published, or to merely have written a novel, start to finish, with a proper beginning, middle and end? I would be interested in the answers to these questions even if I weren’t smack in the middle of the experience myself.

I can describe all of it in a word: fraught. Ceaselessly fraught. Also, occasionally, fulfilling. When you finally finish the last edit of your novel, for example (even though the thing always seems to be begging for one more edit). Once or twice, when I allow my aspirations to run away with me, it’s thrilling. Namely, when you finally manage to publish the thing. And you hold the hardcover or paperback in your hands. You can’t beat that. Well, in my case, because it may not be true for every newbie, perhaps the most thrilling part of the experience was seeing the book cover iterations or, more accurately, encountering the cover; that is to say, what I am convinced I will always regard as the took-my-breath-away visual embodiment of the book. There may never be a more perfect cover for TIME CRIME than the first one for the first book. It brought Vixy to life exactly as I’d envisioned her.

But mostly, the experience of being a writer and an author as a vocation seems to maintain two distinct aspects: (1) the vision of greatness in my head; the vision that, except on the worst days, continually swirls about me like a waking dream; an active, vigorous, thrilling fantasy of success in all senses of the word, and (2) the reality of the nothingness of it all; the relentless zero or less than zero result of the years and tears, as I like to refer to it. It’s an experience of paradox that would otherwise be unendurable – the paradox between the dream of being read and the reality of nagging, categorical obscurity – if it weren’t for the grounding nature of the writing itself, of journaling and living within the presence of the novel’s characters, all of whom I love in their way, I’d throw up my hands and throw in the towel. Otherwise, the incongruity between my sense of interior, inward-looking wealth and exterior, outward-looking penury is impossible.

I’ve been trying like hell to come up with a short, snappy, this-meets-that description of TIME CRIME, hereafter, TC1 in terms of convenient nomenclature (because the second and third books, TC2 and TC3, are in draft and the fourth, TC4, you get the idea, is fifty pages in) and it’s driving me batty that it hasn’t come to me. You know, The Great Gatsby meets The Moon is a Harsh Witness, kind of thing. I don’t think the book benefits at all from being confined to science fiction comparisons proper. Or even novel-to-novel comparisons. The Terminator meets Moby Dick. Not quite, I know. It sucks that I don’t read more science fiction, I guess, but then I’ve regarded my arm’s length from the genre as an advantage. I’m devoted to the idea of science fiction and to a limited extent so-called fantasy but mostly I’m keen to fuel my inspiration for the fiction by way of my non-fiction reading, my scholarship and my other vocations, namely, walking, cooking and music appreciation. My artist-craftsman creative energy is tied to all these activities.

Otherwise, I’m probably not unique in being a novelist that envisions his stories, literally. Which is to say I see the book as the movie. I’ve read somewhere that such a cinematic perspective is merely the reality of the modern experience: that of mostly images versus text. Our text has become truncated to texting, to messages whereas in previous ages, the written word and people’s facility with it seemed paramount. In the twentieth century and in particular, as far as I can tell, in the first half of the twentieth century, books and magazines and the reading of them were king. People read for their knowledge and entertainment. And, as a result, there is such a wealth of great writing to be read from 1900 to 1960 or perhaps to 1965 when I was born. So that my reading focuses on that which was written before I was born. So be it. Everything peaks (which is another journal topic).

TC1 as a film. What novelist doesn’t envision such a thing? For better or for worse, too, because we all know how often, how reliably, the film never measures up to the book. Hollywood’s golden age, of which I’m enamored – the period between 1935 and, say, 1955 in my opinion – seemed to base scripts on novels routinely but that’s not the case, correct me if I’m wrong, afterwards: films seem to have been written as films more often since. I’m not a film historian so all this is to be taken with a grain of salt. But TC1, in my mind, has had a cast and a soundtrack virtually since I started writing it; in many ways the envisioning  of the story as a film has been critical to the writing of it, to learning how to write a story in general, since I came at this by way of pure, overwhelming inspiration. That is to say, the story arrived, it was the proverbial call and ever since, barring my experiments with letting it all go, it’s been a seizure, an experienced of being gripped (another journal topic).

The actors and the music, then. As I said, they already exist by way of the known. But I’m not against an original soundtrack and the idea of casting unknown actors, of having TIME CRIME, the movie, be something new, back to front. Now I know exactly the risk of casting real people into the roles of characters in books, so that one’s vision, one’s intuitive image of, say, Mr. Z. or Vixy will fail to be properly rendered. My example would be my opinion of the first The Great Gatsby film, where Robert Redford made Gatsby too blonde and beautiful of a man, lacking the compelling paradoxes I imagined him to embody in the book. The film in general seems an exercise in terrible casting, though some mistakes seem understandable as, for instance, I always imagined Daisy as a blonde and in fact Fitzgerald wrote her as a brunette. Jordan seemed dead on in the film but I think she, too, was cast opposite in terms of hair color to her written iteration. Daisy’s husband, ugh, no. Even Nick was almost a misfire – too awkward and slightly out of period, somehow – but Sam Waterston managed to pull it off. Anyway, from very early on in the writing of TIME CRIME, cringe and lament my choices all you want, I envisioned the following folks:

  • Mr. Z.: A young Laurence Olivier, actor. (he may be a little too young, here, perhaps not).
  • Vixy: Laraine Day, actress. It ought to be obvious, then, why Robin Vuchnic’s cover took my breath away – it’s as if she’d referenced and projected and embodied these very images. And knowing the source image, which Robin sent me (and which I’ll get around to posting perhaps), doesn’t explain the striking synchronicity, either.
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    • Joel McCrea could be a damn suitable Neutic, too, but I’m not sure, yet.
  • Professor Wilhelm: Hannelore Elsner, actress, originally from Burghausen, Germany, she died in Munich, April, 2019.
  • Hesso: unknown, stock photo, a bit too old.
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  • Bab: unknown, stock photo.

Do you disagree with a few or perhaps all of them? One character that hasn’t presented me with a reliable, known image is Captain Chase – he remains as described in the book.

What about the music? I have a list which I’ll place within tomorrow’s post.