Tuesday, August 7, 2012
L.A. WRITERS LAB
I have a JOB! A three-hour-a-week job (Saturday mornings 9 to noon) I agonized over taking as it will SEVERELY cut into my personal schedule.
The job is teaching three consecutive 13-week sessions of the Master Rewrite Class at the L.A. Writers Lab for novelist/screenwriter Al Watt. Al got a giant advance for his excellent first novel, Diamond Dogs.
He has laid out his ideas in The 90-Day Novel, The 90-Day Rewrite, and the upcoming The 90-Day Screenplay and The 90-Day Play.
Here's the Q and A Al posted n the L.A. Writers Lab website:
Your new book is entitled Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Can you give us a brief synopsis of the book?
Middle-aged ex-lawyer, sober drunk, Catholic convert, resident of 2009 Koreatown, Los Angeles, "walks" for a year with cloistered French Carmelite nun who died of TB in 1897, at the age of 24, with no pain medication, crying "I love Him!" In one way, truly, St. Thérèse and I were the odd couple. Outwardly, we’d led very different lives. But I was attracted to her Mary Magdalene bleeding heart—which she managed to channel into a white-hot flame in this outwardly completely unremarkable way. No-one thought there was anything remotely noteworthy about her during her life. That alone is a theme dear to the heart of a writer, or this writer…
What led you to become a Catholic?
A complete crisis of meaning. I was sober, married, and working as a Beverly Hills lawyer and I began to realize….this cannot be all there is. I cannot have gotten sober to argue motions for the rest of my life...I began to ask the deepest questions of our existence: Why am I here? What is my purpose on earth? What is the meaning of suffering? I think we all have a sense of mission; we sense that we were put here to complete some task that no-one else could. I began to ask what that might be, and to look for a companion—companion comes from the Latin: cum pane: with bread…I realized our journey on earth is a pilgrimage. And that the goal is to become fully human…to me, religion is a stance toward reality. It’s not something extra I tack on to life: it’s the ground of life…
Did you always want to be a writer?
Always. Writing had been the secret call of my heart since I’d first learned to read. I couldn’t get to it till I was 40, partly because of my drinking, partly out of terror. I viewed writers as akin to gods. In fact, my crisis of meaning was also a crisis of vocation. I quit my job as a lawyer, started to write, and became a Catholic almost at the same time.
Do you remember the first thing that you wrote?
The very first thing I remember writing was a story in seventh grade entitled “And Then—Darkness.” It’s about a princess who defies her father, falls deeply in love with the “lowly gardener,” and after her father has the gardener executed by drowning, rows out in her little boat and drowns herself in solidarity…Seventh grade! The template for my future was already in place. I truly believe we’re blueprinted with these shadows we’ll spend the rest of our lives working out.
What does your writing day look like?
I’m a New Englander by birth and an early riser. So my ideal writing day consists of getting up around 6, sitting with my coffee for an hour or so meditating, praying, as I call it, pondering. There’s a certain state I can access, or to which I’m given access, where—connections reveal themselves, is maybe the best way I can put. And then three or four hours of uninterrupted time…that to me is heaven. Not that it happens every day, especially the uninterrupted part. But through a combination of drivenness, guilt, and the fact that I would always rather be writing than anything else on earth, I usually get to my desk, even if it’s only for an hour, every day. And as we know, the rest of the day is, or can be, “writing,” too…I have a bunch of yellow legal pads—I did take away something from my days as an attorney—and I’m constantly jotting down ideas, book recommendations, insights, reflections, thoughts…
Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
I have a blog to which I devote a semi-ridiculous amount of time. I write of everyday mysticism, the utter weirdness of the leaf on the sidewalk, the face glimpsed fleetingly through a window, the cadmium red doorframe, my own ongoing triggers, annoyances, blocks, daily traumas and epiphanies, joys. The link between transcendence and art. I get to showcase everything from Joseph Cornell’s boxes to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins to the prose poems of Portland, Oregon writer Leanne Grabel who wrote a beautiful book called Badgirls about the creative writing class she taught at a juvenile facility…It’s a blog about the writing life, which is to say life, period. And L.A. is a city rich in paradox, and paradox, too, is life…
Beyond that, my agent has a ms. about my bout with cancer back in 2000, my decision to forego chemo and radiation, the whole brush with death, my deepening conversion and subsequent divorce. The Thin Place, it’s called. (I wanted to call it Stripped, but she thought that was too harsh, and/or would sound like I’d written a book about pole-dancing). I’m working on a proposal for a book about money weirdness—I come from Yankee, almost pathological “thrift”. So self-deprivation, compulsive under-earning, the perpetual dilemma of cash flow and the creative life.
What book is currently on your bedside table?
Oh man, I never have one book; I have a stack or two. The stack will always contain a few old favorites: e.g., a compendium of the food writer M.F.K, Fisher, Catherine de Hueck Doherty’s Strannik, the collected stories of Flannery O’Connor. In addition, right now I have Astonishments, by the Polish poet Anna Kamienska, Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, The Song of the Cold by Edith Sitwell (birthday gift). I just read Katherine Boo’s Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, about life in a Mumbai, airport-adjacent, sewage-lake slum that, by my lights, may be the book of the year.
If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?
Well it would be a dinner PARTY. One nice guest list would be St. Francis of Assisi, Kafka, Emily Dickinson, Caryll Houselander, Flannery O’Connor, Janis Joplin, Werner Herzog, Robert Bresson, and Beethoven.
Are you looking forward to teaching the 90-Day Rewrite workshop?
I really am. I love wrestling with the dynamics of story, plot, conflict, character. I’m happy to think of a fuller, richer writing community. And without doubt I’ll learn at least as much from my students and their mss. as they’ll learn from me…
What should writers be doing to prepare for the Rewrite Workshop?
Shave their heads, rend their garments, fast…no seriously, just rest up. Read. Go to the origami exhibit at the Japanese American museum. Their work will percolate below the level of consciousness. It’s summer.
What is the best advice you ever received?
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” [Matthew 6:19-21].