Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Words to Live By

Authors have traditionally used epigraphs at the beginning of books or chapters to let the reader know what they had in mind while writing it. (There are exceptions. Max Shulman purposely misled his readers with his. In his book Barefoot Boy with Cheek, he gave a new epigraph for each chapter. The most memorable one is : “Mon oncle est mort.–Balzac.”) Well, I’ve finally dived in and joined the crowd.

Last week, while reading about the great dead French filmmaker, Jean Renoir, I came across the epigraph for my novel, Michael Drayton, Detective Guy. And I came across it with the posthumous help of Orson Welles. He had written an article for the Los Angeles Times back in 1979, right after Renoir died, and the one footnote in the Wikipedia article happened to link to Welles’s piece. I well remember when Renoir died. I watched his obituary on the evening news and was interested because he was the son of Pierre August Renoir, the Impressionist painter, and because Woody Allen kept mentioning him in his movies. (Grand Illusion is mentioned in Annie Hall in one of the scenes in LA and Renoir himself is mentioned in Manhattan. The look of both films is influenced heavily by Renoir.) A few months later, I took Film as Literature at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the professor screened Grand Illusion for us. It was brilliant. I was smitten.

So, there I was, reading Welles’s tribute to his friend and mentor, and suddenly Welles quotes a well-known line from Rules of the Game: “The terrible thing about life is this: Everyone has his reasons.” And an epigraph was born. Or, rather, nicked.

The rewriting of Drayton grinds on. I’m finishing up the next-to-last chapter and am preparing to begin the final installment. Only I realized today that this current chapter lays out some material that could be spun out even further. And yet, I need to finish this draft by April 2nd, just in case it gets picked as one of the ten finalists in a contest being sponsored by the Creative Writing department of the university I work at. And maybe it doesn’t need to be spun out any further at all anyway. But that’s how writing goes. You feel your way through.

(This is a mirror post from my main blog, Are You Happy Now, Norman Mailer?

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