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Faux Faulkner on Writing

November 11, 2012

In the movie “Barton Fink, actor John Mahoney plays W.P. Mayhew, a writer who’s obviously portraying William Faulkner when Faulkner was working to earn money in Hollywood as a screenwriter. During a picnic with Barton, a playwright newly arrived in Tinsel Town for the same reason, and Mayhew’s “personal secretary,” played by Judy Davis portraying the real Faulkner’s mistress Meta Carpenter, W.P. leans back and says, “Ain’t writin’ peace?”

I don’t know how you feel, but writin’ sure is peace to me.

In the morning I take care of business: Marketing “The Champagne Ladies,” responding to e-mails from friends, paying bills, and other mundane tasks. That’s the troubling part of the day; I’m ill at ease, sometimes nervous and apprehensive. And then afternoon comes. I begin the daily task of working on “The Coffin Haulers,” my new novel, and I find peace among the nouns and pronouns, the characters and plot.

That feeling of peace probably comes from the belief that I’m accomplishing something worthwhile. I’m doing work that’s worth doing.

In reply to Mayhew’s comment about writing being peace, Barton Fink says he’s never felt that way. Writing to him stems from an inner turmoil, and that’s the only writing that has merit.

Mayhew’s response: “Me, I just like makin’ things up.”

So do I, and I always have when writing fiction. It’s dangerous to consciously inject your own views on race, politics, religion, society–you name it–into a novel or short-story. Readers don’t like that, especially if your views are different from theirs. Best to let the characters illuminate the themes you want express.

There’s no reason to impose an overt statement into the story. That will come naturally, subconsciously, through your characters and plot based on the beliefs, values, prejudices (good and bad) likes and dislikes that you’ve acquired during your life.



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