Halftime at the Blazers' Game
(Photos by Dal Perry)
It is the nature of writing stories that you will enjoy telling some more than others. That some will be nearer and dearer to your heart, and others might be exercises in craft. They aren't your flesh and blood children, you don't really have to love them all equally, you do the best you can with what you have, whatever your connection to it.
When I first started, I used to try to work with certain tools. One story would be primarily action, another mostly dialog. I sold one piece that was probably 90% dialog just because I wanted to see if it could manage it in that form. Later sold to some German company that turned it into a radioplay.
Some of my favorite and most beloved books have done well, but some have not. Some things I dashed off without having to put much real effort into the work have sold much better than I would have believed.
As a writer, I think you have to start with the notion that you will try to serve them all equally. That you will work just as diligently on a shared-world, work-for-hire that you ghostwrite for no credit as you do an original tale to which you attach much love and affection. It's what keeps you from being a total hack, the determination to give it your best shot no matter what caliber and quantity of ammo you take into battle.
To change the metaphor: If you have a sow's ear, you can't make it silk, but you can make a good sow's ear purse.
I have always found something in every story I've written to like. Something upon which I can smile and feel proud of, and enjoy putting down on the page. Or, of late, the computer monitor.
If you can't do that, why bother? There are a lot of easier ways to make a living.
This doesn't mean that you need to produce something that is your favorite thing every time you sit down. I have written books that I probably wouldn't have bought had I seen them on the racks; scripts for shows I likely wouldn't have watched had I not been writing for them. (I have watched a lot of kidvid, and read a lot of comics, but I don't watch much or read many of those these days -- I don't have the time to keep up. But I know the forms well enough to work in them.)
You don't have to love everything about a project to write it, but you do have to find something about it that speaks to you. Keep that in mind -- it matters.
In this light, somebody asked me, which recent movie I've seen do I wish I'd written? Other than the obvious make-me-rich answer -- Avatar -- the one that I liked most was Crazy Heart.
Those of you who don't know it, it stars Jeff Bridges, in the role that won him an Oscar™. He plays a broken-down country singer who has fallen from the top of the charts to playing crummy bars and bowling alleys, with pick-up groups. He's fifty-seven, broke, and a drunk, and his only claim to anything is that he doesn't miss gigs. Even if he has to run off stage in the middle of one to puke. (There is a scene in which he does that. His sun glasses fall into the barrel as he is barfing. He fishes them out, shakes them off, and puts them back on. Yuck -- but great scene because of that.)
Bad Blake was somebody, but his sidemen have eclipsed him, he's divorced from four wives, and he has a grown son he hasn't seen since the child was four. He's going nowhere, and his wicked ways are apt to kill him pretty soon.
In country music, the love of a good woman is worth more than diamonds. (In the real world, too.) Maggie Gyllenhaal, as Jean, the niece of the piano player at another ratty venue, is a reporter for a local paper who comes to interview Bad Blake, and the onscreen chemistry starts bubbling and smoking right away.
There are some wonderful touches. A fan approaches Blake after a set and obviously wants to jump his bones. He puts her off, thinking that Jean is a more attractive prospect. The fan gives him her number. Later, when Jean has to go home to take care of her young son and leaves, Blake closes the motel room door after her, and within a couple of seconds, fishes the fan's number from his pocket and looks at it as he checks his watch.
You don't see them together, and you don't know if he calls her or not, but he didn't hesitate to think about it. That's the kind of guy he is.
Collin Ferrell plays Tommy, a former band member Blake mentored. Tommy's star has risen as Bad's fell, and much as Blake doesn't want to do it, he agrees to open a show for Tommy. There's a scene where they sing together onstage that is absolutely pregnant with undercurrents -- love, hate, admiration, lost hope -- and you can see it on their faces. It is as impressive a piece of acting as I've ever seen, and from both men.
There is a sequence in a liquor store that is sad enough to break your heart. Robert Duvall's turn as Wayne, Blake's friend, is a jewel. (Anything Duvall is in is always worth seeing for his part alone.)
The actors mostly sing their own songs, and some of them are pretty good.
Blake, with his new love, begins to find his songwriting abilities coming back. There is light at the end of what has been a long and dark tunnel.
Which light is, of course, an approaching train ...
If you haven't seen it, I won't detail the rest of the story, but it doesn't go exactly where most writers would have taken it, nor where most viewers would like to see it. Even so, it was a delight and it paid off, and those are more than enough reasons to have a look at it.
It's Bridges's movie. He's in nearly every scene and he's terrific, but the writing and the music are what allow him to shine as brightly as he does.
I'd be awfully pleased if I had written Crazy Heart. (Scott Cooper did the screenplay, based on the book by Thomas Cobb.)