Chuck Plug

Right now, Chuck Palahniuk, along with the Minimalist school of writing he touts, casts the most influence over my writing. Used to be Mamet. Used to be Shepard and Guare. But, as my stuff is moving away from playwriting, and more toward fiction, Chuck’s got my full attention.

If you’re interested in learning a little about Chuck’s approach, or understanding why my platonic crush on him is so strong (and you’ve got a high-speed Internet connection), listen to the short (and very amusing) interview he gave to NPR’s Andrea Seabrook by going here:

Amy Hempel’s short fiction is one of Chuck’s biggest influences. Upon lending someone a copy of Hempel’s Animal Kingdom, Chuck said,
“If you don’t love this, we have nothing in common.”

Chuck’s said of Hempel’s writing: “Every sentence isn’t just crafted, it’s tortured over.”

At first, I didn’t get it. When I read her short story collections, I saw only the thinnest thread of a connection between her writing and Chuck’s. They are, in many ways, very different writers, with very distinctive voices.

I’ve read and re-read Hempel’s The Harvest a number of times over the past year, and never understood the Big Deal. That is, until several days ago, when I read it for, perhaps, the fifth or sixth time. Then it all came together why, as one will learn in Tom Spanbauer’s workshop: “You will never write this well.”

In his latest book, Stranger Than Fiction, Chuck revised a piece on Hempel and Minimalism he initially wrote for LA Weekly (called, She Breaks Your Heart). You can read the LA Weekly article by surfing on over to here (it’s not long):

Then, go here to read Hemple’s The Harvest (not long, either):

Then, go back and read the LA Weekly article again.

To truly enjoy and appreciate The Harvest, you’ve got to go slow. The key is to savor every sentence.

Also, having read the short, My Life As A Dog, contained within the Stranger Than Fiction collection, I’m asking myself everyday, “What would Chuck do?” Go to your local bookstore and read this hilarious and illuminating six page true story.

One reason, or, perhaps, the reason, I’m moving into fiction and away from playwriting has to do with the intimacy and emotional impact the Minimalist form can have on a reader.

A year ago, while watching a production of Anna In The Tropics, it dawned on me that a major reason film and literature are superior in the tasks of capturing and holding the imagination of an audience (or the imagination of a reader), compared with the result (or effect) of the same tasks put to a live play, has to do with The Theatre’s ubiquitous and deadly “Blackout” between scenes.

Every time, a Blackout will let the audience off the hook; the drive and intensity of the story being told completely halts.

These days, in film, in most cases, the only Blackout you’ll notice is the one that fades the projected image as the end credits roll. Likewise, with a book, the author can flash you forward, backward; can drive you right through the skull of any character to the inner workings of his or her mind in three paragraphs -- all without stopping to change the scenery or mark a passage of time.

Film, especially, has spoiled us. We know that a gun fired on stage is loaded with blanks. But when we see a homicide on film -- and the storytelling is effective -- our Suspension Of Disbelief holds firm. No well-choreographed battle in a staged production of King Henry The Fifth can hold a candle to Kenneth Branagh’s film version of the same battle.

All that said, I’d still rather act on stage than on film.
Film acting is too technically involved.
And truly great plays, the likes of Mamet’s Oleanna, Shaw’s Heartbreak House, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, or Greenberg’s The Dazzle will never play as well on projected celluloid, as they will live.

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Last night, Clinton kicked some Republican ass at the FleetCenter.
Tonight, Obama rocked the FleetCenter.
Let us all -- those of us who are Democrats -- pray that, come Thursday, Kerry doesn’t put the FleetCenter to sleep.

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