Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gathering Smoke

'This is the first important lesson that the writer must learn. Writing a novel is gathering smoke.'

For the rest of this quote by Walter Mosely go here. It is wonderfully argued and resonates with me today especially because last night I watched one of my favourite films (again): Smoke by Wayne Wang and Paul Auster (author of NY Trilogy, The Brooklyn Follies).

It is a little movie set in and around a tobacco store in New York. Harvey Keitel is the shop owner Auggie Wren and William Hurt is the author Paul Benjamin who has writer's block. There are, as you'd expect with an Auster creation, stories within stories within stories. Truth and lies and 'bullshitting'. Lots of lingering moments of telling and listening and waiting.


One of the first stories, told by Benjamin in the tobacco shop, is about how Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to weigh smoke. He says Raleigh weighed a cigar, then smoked it - keeping the ash and the butt - and then weighed those. The difference between the two weights was the weight of the smoke.

Interesting to know how that would apply with a novel ... I suppose you'd need to reverse that experiment, after all you start with the smoke and end with the cigar.


Keitel's character Auggie is full of stories too. His approach is simple:

'People say you have to travel to see the world. Sometimes I think that if you just stay in one place and keep your eyes open you're going to see just about all that you can handle.'


Here is one of Auggie's stories. We see it acted out like this only after he's told it to Benjamin - a stunning piece of cinema with the camera staying on Keitel's face for almost all of the ten minutes it takes. The music is by the inimitable Tom Waits. Sublime.

To end, here's a quote from Paul Auster who's interviewed in the collected scripts of Smoke and, the follow-up movie, Blue in the Face (Faber).

'Writing a novel is an organic process, and most of it happens unconsciously. It's long and slow and very gruelling. A screenplay is more like a jigsaw puzzle.'

3 comments:

Joanne Ganley said...

Another great post. Always interesting and informative. I've never seen that movie. Looks like another on my list when I find the time.

Kerre said...

Hi Mary

Have you read some of Walter's latest work? It appears he's going through the Menoporsche - all wild sex, fast cars and men bonking very young women. BTW, check out www.paperplus.co.nz, and go to the Book Club. A few very nice comments about The Blue.

Mary McCallum said...

Heh heh - love hearing about Walter's Menoporsche, Kerre. I've never read any of his work in fact and now don't want to! It was good of you to do it for me.

The Paper Plus Book Club comments - including yours - are great to see, thank you. And thanks for pointing me to the site - I think I'll find it a useful resource. Keep reading, Kerre!