Y’all will be happy to hear that I’ve given up attempting to analyze the greatest American short stories of the last century (according to John Updike). Apparently Americans were screwed up then and guess what? 2020 has proven that the first twenty years into a new century, we ain’t getting any better. What would Updike say? Do I care anymore? Nah.
And … with uncommonly good weather forecast for the remainder of the week, I’m off to the teahouse.
I am a mediocre artist who’s been awfully lucky. My husband, son, and father built this teahouse so that I would have a place to paint far from the house, the television, the telephone and the internet. It wasn’t a hurried project. I think it took them four years of working primarily on the weekends and holidays. For years it was their man time while I entertained my stepmother who loved to shop. Their reward would be a big meal and nice glass of wine in the evening. (my step mother also loved to dine out so a home cooked meal was a real treat for Dad)
Then I decided to write. Such a great idea, follow one mediocre career with another, hey? But I never totally give up painting. Every now and then, going down to the teahouse is like taking a sanity break.
Sometimes I’ve taken out my awe on the canvas. Sometimes my grief.
Today I decided to take on my view.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll be brave enough to add some color! What do you think – purple branches? A marmalade sky?
By pure coincidence, in the last couple of months I’ve seen two movies based on Truman Capote’s life at the time he wrote the book IN COLD BLOOD: Truman starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Infamous starring Toby Jones. Both excellent movies. Hoffman had the more difficult role because he had five or six inches on Capote and didn’t really look that much like him. However, he did an amazing job of capturing the angst of a writer trapped by his ambition.
The late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote agonizing over what he knows he must do to get the story.
Writing about an actual crime must always bring angst. Will you get the details accurately? How will the victims be affected by what you write? No doubt there are cold-blooded writers and journalists out there who put their own ambitions above the feelings of those affected by what they publish, but, both these movies suggest Truman Capote was not one of them. However, he was keenly aware that in order to finish his book (which he called a“nonfiction novel”) the killer he’d come to know would have to die. He also knew that his book would have more authenticity if he could pry the details of the Cutter family’s seemingly random slaughter out of a death row convict. Not an easy job. It would take Capote four years to cajole and dance his way into the man’s heart and soul until finally gaining his trust. His passion to create a masterpiece overrode any moral objections to duping someone into believing that you care about them when all you really care about is improving your story. Of course, there’s no way of knowing how Capote actually felt but as the appeals process dragged out the execution day, he was forced to face the ghoulishness of the situation and his own “cold-bloodedness.”
I know writers who believe that this sort of ambition, this willingness to sacrifice all – including one’s self-respect – is necessary to write great fiction. I must admit when I create a character based on a real person, I shudder and stammer and fall all over myself with dread. I don’t have it in me to befriend someone just so I could expose their story to the world, even for that coveted Best Seller status. What do you think? Are there limits beyond which you will refuse to go? Or, in the pursuit of art are there no limits?