The similarity pretty much begins and ends with the fact that both careers involve writing. But that’s about as far as it goes. As many other writers, I came to Los Angeles with the intention of making enough money to finance my lifestyle as a novelist. As it turned out, I found that television writing was not only lucrative but a good apprenticeship in the art of story-telling. You learn how to tell a story economically, which is an invaluable skill in fiction writing. And you learn how to write to a deadline. On the other hand, you soon learn that in Hollywood the writer is a fungible element in filmmaking, summarily replaced by another writer when he/she offers resistance to all the “creative” input from directors, studio execs, producers, and actors. You are, essentially, a hired gun, at the beck and call of others – a well-paid hired gun perhaps, to be sure, but one with very little control over the product.
Moreover, there is very little “voice” in screenwriting. In books it is often the way you tell a story and not the story itself that compels readers. I am drawn to language and voice; and with the possible exception of a facility for dialogue (a skill that is almost impossible to teach: I learned how people talk driving a cab in New York in the sixties – an education worth more, in my opinion, than a PHD in Creative Writing) -- these elements are not valued in screenwriting.
Nevertheless, Hollywood has allowed me the wherewithal to travel a great deal, to perfect the craft of story telling and, ultimately, to reinvent myself as a novelist and have both careers mutually reinforce each other. I’m not sure I would have succeeded in one without the other.
Excerpt from An American Family
Nathan got up from his desk to go out and give him hell, and as he did, one of the other cutters turned the sound up on his radio. A voice was barking in machine-gun Spanish. Everyone on the floor stopped to listen. The cutting machines ground to a halt. It was deathly silent, except for the repetitive Spanish phrases coming from the transistor.
Alquien tiró al presidente.
Nathan went out onto the floor and shouted, “What the hell’s going on?”
Nobody answered him.
In “The Isle of Capri,” the beauty parlor on Queens Blvd., in Jackson Heights, where she communted every day on the Long Island Railroad, Lillian Perl (neé Hirsch), was doing the nails of Vicky Boni, the girlfriend of Guiseppe Boni, who owned the place. Vicky sported a 21 carat ring and tipped big.
“Did you see what she was wearing this morning?” Vicky took a sip of her Tab, and shook her head to emphasize what she said.
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