How Writing is Like Acting

Writers and actors are a lot alike. Sure, the professions play different roles in the American imagination: actors are cast as sun-kissed faces of California dreams, and writers are portrayed as solitary, often curmudgeonly creatures; actors conjure ideas of red carpet wishes and designer-clad dreams, writers a wooly cardigan and a cozy cabin, or some similarly hermetic locale. But though actors peddle in scenes and writers work in syllables, the mechanics and business of these professions are very much the same.

And while the most obvious parallel is that actors and writers are both entertainers, which explains there are so many actors who are also writers — Tina Fey, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, and Jamie Lee Curtis, to name a few, there are more nuanced similarities, as well.

Preamble accomplished, here are 15.5 ways writers are like actors.

[Note, this is not an exhaustive list. If you have a suggestion, let me know in the comments.]

1. Proceed with Caution — There’s an old joke that every LA waiter has a headshot at the ready. The same could be said about New York baristas and novels. Yes, the waiter could have a novel and the barista a headshot, but you get the gist: Just as there are scads of young, bright-eyed ingenues vying for acting gigs, there are just as many young, bright-eyed literary types trying to get published – all absolutely sure they have “it.”

In other words, writing and acting are both crowded, competitive, and all together quixotic career paths. Success is rare, and so is financial payoff. Nantucket? More like a cramped apartment. Designer dreams? Try a thrift store knock-off.

Considering the odds of success or monetary security, it’s therefore best that aspiring writers, like their theatrical counterparts, find a plan B. Unless, of course, you want a lifetime of debt, deadlines, nary a retirement plan and, most terrifying of all, writer’s block!

2. Mission: Audition — The process is different, but actors and writers both audition for their roles/bylines, and I dare say writers’ pitches are more difficult. While actors must undergo the nerve-wracking experience of auditioning for a room full of strangers, they at least have outlets like Backstage or agents who can tell them more about the part, i.e. “Sally, a twenty-something waitress waiting for her big break after fleeing her alcoholic mother.”

Writers don’t have such luxuries. We do have Submittable, where editors post editorial asks, or maybe an outlet will announce a specific theme, but for the most part writers stumble around in the rhetorical dark, sending cold emails to editors and hoping against hope we get a reply — which is essentially an audition without the script, name recognition, or the benefit of a face-to-face meeting.

Even when you do have name recognition or a previous relationship with an editor, that’s no guarantee of publication — I was just rejected by two editors with whom I’ve worked for years.

On that note…

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Found in the LOC: Vintage Posters Celebrating Books

 

Tuesday is traditionally the day book publishers release their latest titles. No one knows why they do this on Tuesdays. Literally no one.  Some say believe it’s about optimizing best-seller results; some say that it’s to make life easy for distributors. But whatever the reason, I’m celebrating this week’s new book day with FIVE sets of vintage posters celebrating the written word, all sourced from the Library of Congress.

The first gallery is perhaps the most relevant to today: created between 1935 and 1942 by the government-backed Works Progress Administration, they urge patriotic Americans to embrace books as democratic tools. “To speak up for democracy, read up on democracy,” reads one, while another insists “Books are Weapons.”

In an era defined by a famously anti-intellectual president’s existential threat to our nation’s most storied institutions and norms, these are important reminders.

The second set of posters, born from a World War I collaboration between the Society of Illustrators and the Committee on Public Information, implores Americans to send books “over there” for our troops.

Third up: A circa 1936-1940 series of really fun WPA PSAs from the “Be Kind to Books Club.” One piece of advice: don’t gum it up!

Similarly, the fourth gallery celebrates Book Weeks from between 1949 and 1964. It’s fascinating to see the aesthetic shift over the years – and keep your eyes peeled for a piece by Maurice Sendak.

Meanwhile, the fifth and final collection, created by the National Association of Booksellers way back in the 1920s, suggests you buy books as gifts – advice I endorse any day of the week!

Read up on Democracy:

See the rest AFTER THE JUMP!

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Walking Paris in ‘What’s Left of the Night’

I’ve been slacking around these parts lately on account of a new job, but I aim to get back up to full speed ASAP. As I do, please ruminate on this stirring excerpt from What’s Left of the Night, Ersi Sotiropoulos’ soulful  and erotic account of C.P. Cavafy’s 1897 visit to Paris, when the Egyptiot Greek poet was 34,  still unknown, and finding his creative voice.

Exquisitely translated by Karen Emmerich, What’s Left of the Night delves into more than Cavafy’s personal experiences as a man struggling with his same-sex desires in restrictive era. It shines a light on far more universal debates about the nature of art in an ever-changing world. Does art bring people together or form a barrier? How is artistic success defined? And when does artistic desire become obsession?

These enthralling topics aside, I’d like to call out Sotiropoulos’ masterful description, and Emmerich’s resonant translation, of walking through the city.

As someone who spent 12 years in New York, where walking is a way of life, before moving three years ago to Atlanta, where the car is king, this passage sparked pangs of nostalgia for the biped life.

Here, for your enjoyment, is that excerpt. It takes place just as night falls across Paris and a young  Constantine Peter Cavafy takes a solo stroll. While the backdrop’s the City of Lights specifically, the vibe translates to any bustling urban environ:

“He soon began to feel better. The current of the crowd flowed in the direction of the grand boulevards, over wide sidewalks dotted with cafes, beneath awnings and into arcades where strangers’ silhouettes fleetingly took shape, then vanished again.

A blind river pulled him into its current. He inhaled deeply and followed that vibrant ripple in the hum and dust. Crowds overflowed the intersections, lingered at shop windows before indolently setting off again beside stylish coaches and one-horse buggies that clattered away into the lilac night. Newspaper boys on street corners bellowed out the latest news. Where the road met Rue des Pyramides he stopped and stood as if hypnotized. Faces rushed toward him, shattering as they passed. The traffic began an utter crush at Rue di Rivoli, where the arches of the Lourvre loomed like a domed seawall. Groups of friends disappeared down side streets. Their stroll would no doubt take them, later on, to more remote districts, off the beaten path. Secret, ill-famed neighborhoods. Shadowy doorways and basement rooms, he though, feeling a flutter within.

A mob of musicians was just ahead of him, lurching this way and that, laughing and shouting drunkenly. One of them was dragging a monkey by the hand, dressed like a soldier with a little cap. He increased his speed so as to overtake them. Light flooded the paving stones, spread over the facades of the buildings, trailed over the silvery roofs — a fluid, shadowless light. As he walked, the lines of a poem he was writing came to mind. Every so often he would pick it up, poke and prod, then let it be. He had looked back at it recently and had been satisfied. Very satisfied. It didn’t happen often. The musicality was flawless, the rhyme effective:

The city will follow you. The roads you wander will be

The same. And in the same quarters you’ll grow old, and see.”

What’s Left of the Night is out now from New Vessel Press, an independent publishing house devoted to translated literature and narrative nonfiction, and I’m happy to add it to All the LGBT Books Around My House.

Racial Injustice in ‘Heart’ and ‘Ragtime’

Two classic American novels, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Ragtime, expose an ongoing American tragedy.

The novels The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Ragtime appear as different as night and day. Carson McCullers’s Heart takes place in the post-war Georgia circa 1930, E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime the pre-war New York City of 1902-1912; Heart revolves around solitude among outcasts in a rural berg, Ragtime around glitzy dreams in a churning, syncopated metropolis. Yet both books’ plots are propelled by a black man’s thwarted quest for justice — a sad story that continues to be told today.

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Friday Mood Music: Chuck Berry


It’s Friday! It’s also the first day of Black History Month.

That said, there is no better fit for this week’s “Friday Mood Music” than Chuck Berry, the St. Louis-born musician whose regarded as the unofficial father of rock and roll. This here footage’s from a 1965 performance for the French program, Face au Public, and the tracks include “Promised Land” and, of course, “Johnny B. Goode.”

Have a great weekend!

Found in the LOC: 13 Woodcuts from 1720

For this week’s Found in the LOC, I present 13 gorgeous woodcuts by Tachibana Morikuni.

Information on Morikuni is few and far between, but I learned he was born in 1679 in Osaka, and was trained in the art of woodcutting by a man named Tsuruzawa Tanzan. I also discovered Morikuni published three books: 1714’s Ehon kojidan (Old Stories about Illustrated Picture Books), Ehon utsushi takarabukuro (A Treasure Pouch of Picture Book Sketches) in 1720, and Unpitsu soga (Strokes of the Brush and Rough Pictures), posthumously, in 1749, one year after his death.

His legacy, however, lived on his apprentice and son, Tachibana Yasukuni, whose work is also in the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress dates the Morikuni images here circa 1720. Featuring foxes, rams,  horses, cats, and even boars, Morkikuni’s art is quite the menagerie. Above you see “Domestic cat nursing kittens.” Some beauty never goes out of style.

And click here for more Found in the LOC.

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Found in the LOC: 13 Bill Perkins Costume Designs

For 2019’s first Found in the LOC, feast your eyes on these 13 thirties-era costume sketches by designer William Perkins.

I haven’t found too much  information about Perkins, but he clearly had a knack for the theatric and an eye for alluring style. Below, you’ll find costumes Perkins designed for a production of William Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, as well as some for Jack Erman’s  The Mystery of the Broadwalk Asylum, a sci-fi tale that, if the notes are correct, starred Martha Wright before she became Broadway sensation.

Most notable are Perkins’ designs for the 1938 premiere of activist Arthur Arent’s One-Third of A Nation.

Produced by the New Deal-era Federal Theater Project, One-Third condemned political leaders for the affordable housing crisis in New York City and other urban areas. The general message: slums and other dilapidated dehumanized and endangered innocent people for capitalist gain. It drew 270,000 viewers in the city alone, and even more once it toured across major urban areas.

You can imagine how this went over in DC: Conservative lawmakers were so incensed that they rallied their forces against the Federal Theater Project and forced its closure the next year.

Above, Perkins’ 1937 sketch of Winter’s Tale‘s Antigonus, the poor schmuck who gets eaten by a bear while abandoning a baby on the king’s orders. But at least he was wearing a gorgeous robe before becoming the beast’s dinner!

See more of Perkins’ mesmerizing sketches AFTER THE JUMP.

And click here for more Found in the LOC.

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