Posted in Moments of Clarity with tags , , , , , , , on 04/27/2016 by Janet Fitch

YES, it’s a movie! The world premiere of Paint It Black the Movie has been announced, and at last, I’m allowed to talk about it!  It will debut at the Los Angeles Film Festival, held June 1-9, our screening on June 3, with individual tickets going on sale May 10. What a long strange trip it’s been. Amber (Tamblyn, the director) and her writing partner Ed Dougherty reminded me that they’d started writing their screenplay in 2009.  And now it’s set to see the light of day–or at least the projector–seven years later.

What a tumble of changes it–and we–have been through since I heard that Amber Tamblyn wanted to option my novel.  The actress?  Yes, and she was poet too, something I didn’t know about her.  I just remembered Joan of Arcadia.

That first night we sat down at a tiki bar in L.A., we’d been brought together by a mutual friend, the poet Derrick Brown. Over Scorpions, talked about what a Paint It Black movie would look like. Although she’d never written a screenplay, I was impressed by her passion–I’m still impressed by it.  The book had been optioned before, a terrible experience about which the less said the better.

At the time, she was planning to star in it, and bringing someone else on to direct. But as time and the  winnowing and changes of casting and personnel went on, the learning-as-you-go, discovery and the desire to protect the vision she’d created, she did something she had never imagined doing. She decided to direct the movie instead of starring in it. She cast the amazing Alia Shawkat to play Josie Tyrell, and prepared for her directorial debut.

I was able to go to the shoot whenever, as it was often right around the corner, a very different experience than I’d had with White Oleander, a big deal Hollywood movie. On Paint it Black, they sent me the daily schedule, the where and the when, the pages they would be shooting, and I just went over when I wanted to take a break from writing– slipped in among the lights and sound guys and gaffers, got a set of headphones and quietly stood by the monitor and out of the way as I watched Amber and the actors and cinematographer make the magic happen.

She really rode that horse all the way to the end.  I saw her skill with the actors, her leadership ability with the crew. I heard about the agonies of casting, and the horrors of having to cut beautiful beautiful scenes in the editing room.  I got to see it with her and Ed in her parents’ homey apartment in Ocean Park.  Now the premiere.  As the novelist, I have the best job of all– all of the fun and  none of the headaches.  Can’t wait to see it appear in the world.

PAINT IT BLACK, Directed by Amber Tamblyn, Starring Alia Shaukat, Janet McTeer, Alfred Molina, Emily Rios, Rhys Wakefield and Nancy Kwan, Screening: June 3, 7:30 p.m. Bing Auditorium. Tickets go on sale 10 a.m. May 10th at


Paint It Black THE MOVIE News, Panel

Posted in Moments of Clarity with tags , , , , , on 04/08/2016 by Janet Fitch

I’ve just heard some terrific news about the release of Paint It Black–written and directed by the indefatigable and multitalented Amber Tamblyn,  We can’t announce the details for a few weeks , but yes, it’s going to debut, and sooner rather than later. Stay on the line.


Recently  heard Amber speak about her experiences adapting the book on a panel at the big Associated Writing Programs Convention held this year in Los Angeles. She was great on the panel–with Graham Moore (The imitation Game), Robert Jacobs (Chocolat, Shipping News), Nick Kazan (Reversal of Fortune, for one).  She holds her own and then some.  While  Paint it Black is her first adaptation,  she alone on the panel had gone on to direct the adapted screenplay. Her perspective brought unique dimension–she’s so clear and warm and insightful.

It was downright surreal to sit in the audience listening to her talk about her experiences adapting my book!  Like being in a Charlie Kaufman movie. This is not my beautiful life…

I know what it was like for me to see the film adapted–an entire cycle of emotion–but a whole other trip to hear about Amber’s experience.  She talked about her approach to the adaptation, “It was about preserving the emotion I felt when I first read it. I knew I couldn’t do everything, I would have to pick what I wanted to emphasize, and for me, it was the relationship between the two women.  It was mesmerizing.  And how to give you that same feeling.”

And she talked about the second ‘adaptation’ of the book as it moved from screenplay to film, something I hadn’t even thought about. “Often emotionally you can accomplish something in a gesture that needed a whole scene in the script,” she said. “And then editing  is like a third adaptation.” She talked about shooting a scene between Josie and the singer Lola Lola. “It was fantastic. But in the editing room, it just didn’t fit anymore.  I tried a million ways to get it in. The editor said, ‘you know, you’re just not going to be able to save it.’ I was sure I could, but eventually, he was right. It just didn’t work anywhere.”

I know exactly what that’s like. I remember writing Ingrid’s backstory in White Oleander–about six pages. I loved that piece, but wherever I put it in, it stopped the book cold.  In film that goes 100x, because it moves so fast, there’s no room for anything that stops it–a film like this is a freight train, you have to go with it.

You’ll see.


Story of a Book Cover

Posted in The Literateria with tags , , , on 12/24/2015 by Janet Fitch

Having a book translated into foreign languages is probably the most thrilling experience for a writer, the times that make me feel most like an “author”. What a privilege, to be read by people from cultures very different from my own–always tantalizing to imagine what they think of this world I’ve created, Los Angeles in 1980, the punk era, the sensibilities and values. And the book covers too reflect the flavor and taste  of those countries.

Paint it Black began almost simultaneously in English and Dutch. Here’s the big, beautiful American hardbound.

pib hbd US.jpegPublisher, Little Brown and Co.

This cover surprised me–I assumed it would be BLACK!. In the UK Virago published it in two smaller formats–the tiny mass market one is adorable.

The Dutch version is also a stunner– Portret in Zwart. Such a cool title — wish I’d thought of it.  The Dutch publisher, De Bezije Bij, is a venerable and interesting house, founded during the resistance in occupied Holland.

pib dutch portret in zwart.jpeg

Many of the foreign editions used the white cover.  Here, the German hardbound version flips the image to the left and uses a green spine is –publisher, Lubbe Bastei.

pib german.jpeg

The Italians go for modernist–the cover has  cutouts, which become the diagonal-cut flap. Publisher is Il Saggiatore, Milan.

italian pib.jpg

Sweden made this beautiful swath of black. “Saknaden”–it means “Missing.”

pib swedish.jpeg Bokförlaget Forum, publisher.

The Israelis used the leather door into the grandfather’s study for their moody book cover suggestive of the madness in that household. Publisher, Modan.

PIB israel.jpg

I love the Romanian punk cover, including the character of Ming, which features in the book.  A little reprise of the girl’s back from white Oleander…

pib romanian.jpg

The Lithuanians took it in a different direction–also the girl’s back… but a more 60s graphic look.

pib lithuanian.jpgpublisher, Versus Aureus.

The Polish Paint It Black has a flap that folds out to show the entire image. It also goes with blue instead of white.  Publisher, Bertelsmann, Warsaw.

pib poland.jpg

When the paperback came out in the US, I was happy when it was decided to use the photo from the Dutch version, lightened and reddened, melded to the text design of the white book.

pib pbk US.jpegBack Bay Books, publisher.

pib turkish.jpg The Turkish version uses the same cover. Pegasus Yayincilik, publisher.

The Serbian translation, publisher Laguna, used a similar type and tone in the photo, but did a back:


The Australian version keeps the art but turns the red type to white. (don’t know why WordPress keeps inking in weird black marks in the white, but you get the idea).

pib aus.gif

And the Dutch paperback went with a somber black and white:

pib dutch paper.jpg

What’s next?  A movie tie in cover? French? Russian?  Fingers crossed!

When I have more time, I’ll compile the White Oleanders and Kicks.

On Editing as Improvisation, a review

Posted in Moments of Clarity, The Literateria with tags , , , , , , , , , on 11/30/2015 by Janet Fitch

I can’t stop thinking about a book I read this summer, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch, especially the portion on revision. In honor of all the writers editing their work this winter, I wanted to share this wonderful book with you, specifically about its treatment of the revision process.  Good luck to all of you, I wish you good editing!

The right book at the right time saves lives, and man, you can say that about Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch

The thing about play in art, is it’s a sign of strength to spare, wind to spare, like someone running a marathon who breaks out into a pirouette. Sometimes working on a long project, the task just seems monstrous–like trying to build a gothic cathedral all by yourself. This book is a reminder, for a writer in long form, that it’s not stone on stone, a heavy, exhausting thing. That play, like the free jazz that the violinist author Nachmanovitch loves, makes heavy work light. That there are other ways to solve problems, other ways to approach the page, and that improvisation, the lightness of it, the in-the-momentness of its playfulness, IS the ‘air that falls through the net’ that Neruda describes.

Here’s my favorite part — on editing.

“In producing large works… we are perforce taking the results of many inspirations and melding them together into a flowing structure that has its own integrity and endures through time…. We arrange them, cook them, render them down,digest them. We add, subtract, reframe, shift, break part, melt together. The play of revision and editing transforms the raw into the cooked. This is a whole art unto itself, of vision and revision, playing again with the half-baked products of our prior play. …

“Editing must come from the same inspired joy and abandon as free improvisation…. There is a stereotyped belief that the muse in us acts from inspiration, while the editor in us acts from reason and judgment. But if we leave our imp or improviser out of the process, re-vision becomes impossible. If I see the paragraph I wrote last month as mere words on a page, they become dead and so do I…

“Some elements of artistic editing:1. deep feeling for the intentions beneath the surface; 2. sensual love of the language; 3. sense of elegance; and 4. ruthlessness. The first three can perhaps be summarized under the category of good taste, which involves sensation, sense of balance and knowledge of the medium, leavened with an appropriate sense of outrageousness….”

I will definitely put Free Play on the shelf right next to The Art Spirit within arm’s reach of my writing desk, to remind me about the air that falls through the net. I can’t be reminded of it enough.

 This review of Free Play  first appeared on my goodreads page. 

On “Aging Badly”

Posted in Moments of Clarity with tags , , , , on 11/23/2015 by Janet Fitch

I don’t normally click on tantalizing celebrity gossip presented by sites bearing the titles ‘BoredomRUs’ or ‘LookatME’, but I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and, recently having had a rather large birthday myself, I found myself entering a site portaled by a figure of a fleshy woman in a tiny red white and blue flag bikini. “Celebrities who have Aged Horribly.”

It wasn’t so much that I wanted to know who has aged horribly, so much as wanting to see what time has done with figures familiar to me from younger times in my own life, as a gauge to my own process. Probably that’s why most people want to see things like this–not to think, egad! What a mess!  (Although maybe some people do, schadenfreudenly.)

Most, I think want to simply explore the question–how do we age?

The funny thing about this photo essay,  is that the celebrities in question haven’t aged horribly at all. They have simply aged.

Gotten fatter, or smiled less. Some caught without makeup. All three is the best–like Kristie Alley,  shown flipping off a photographer in her stout fifties.

And I realized what I was seeing here wasn’t ‘celebrities aging horribly’, it was celebrity culture’s terror of time, horror of being part of a natural process. This used to be called narcissistic terror, but even the term narcissistic has gone into a new phase–like ‘privacy’, for the opposite reason–narcissism having become invisible because near universal.

Oh, the narcissistic terror of the people who put this little slideshow together!  ‘My god, she’s not as cute as she was at 20!’ How could she let herself go like that?

I must admit, I got a good long laugh, scrolling through these before and after pictures, hearing myself say, “Yep, she got older.”  “Yeah, he put on weight.”  “Even a good-looking seventy year old looks like seventy without makeup.” Keith Richards?  I mean, the  man’s a poster-boy for the fully-lived life. Kate Moss? Wrinkles when she smiles! Brigitte Bardot??  Give the woman a break. Kittens become cats.

You can’t freeze yourself like an embryo, kids.  I hate to scare anyone, but this is what happens if you’re lucky enough to stick around. You change. But change is not an emergency, it is not a failure.

One sub-theme did emerge though, perhaps the opposite one intended by these terrified narcissists. The harder certain of these celebrities tried to surgically stave off the effects of time in the body–which is life itself, after all–the stranger and more grotesque they looked.

I never did see the chick in the red white and blue bikini, but she actually looked like she was having a good time.  Certainly better than the anorexic, anxious, age-shaming person who assembled this slideshow. When I was done scrolling, I felt surprisingly happy. ‘Aging Badly’ turns out to be just aging. You don’t have to fight it, you don’t have to do a thing about it. You want to feel good, keep calm and live your life. Nobody gets a  grade on this.

A Night with Patti Smith

Posted in Moments of Clarity, The Literateria with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 11/17/2015 by Janet Fitch

I can’t get enough of Patti Smith. Not since first seeing her in Portland Oregon in 1979, an artist I’d never heard of, but the ticket was $2, so why not? She took the stage, in an old theater–this skinny… boy? girl? in white shirt and necktie. She began, in a voice that was both gravelly and breathy, very very slowly: Jesus died… for Somebody’s sins… BUT– NOT –MINE! she screamed.  The audience went nuts. I went nuts.  My sins, they belong to me…. And then launched into the rock standard GLORIA–with the sexes remaining unchanged.  It was permanently mind-blowing.  My mind is still blown.  Like someone whacking the top of my head with a board.  Ever since, I’ve craved more–the music, the poetry,  the preacher-like gestures with those sensitive, little-tipped fingers–rising, hushing, reaching out. The power of her voice, her control of it, belting, murmuring. The rhythmic skeins of language–chants and incantations, true bardic rapture.  Her unabashed joy in art and in the things of the world, her sense of outrage, her sheer energy.

I have seen her turn gray, and sweeten with the years, a real surprise. Then her book, Just Kids, was published. It absolutely charmed me, a gorgeous recollection of how artists are made, that’s what got me about it, what commitment to art looks like,  the attitude of wonder and openness and goofiness and non-judgement–here’s my review of it on goodreads if you’re interested: Just Kids

A new book has now hit the bookstores, M Train, a dreamy memoir, and to celebrate, she came to LA and spoke at the Los Angeles Public Library Aloud series last night, in conversation with the novelist Jonathan Lethem. Of course I dumped everything to be there. I’d drive 100 miles just to hear how her mind works.  It’s so inspiring to see an artist who considers herself an artist. Who still has a creative vision as fresh as it had always been, whose layers of wisdom and experience manage not to rob her of her artistic vitality, her openness to the world–something I treasure more and more the older I get. How cheerful she is, unpretentious and direct, without any pose– unless naturalness itself is a pose, and if it is, it’s the best one to have.

The book sprang from a dream. She allowed one association to suggest the next, uninterrupted, and then explained that she edited it down and inserted small title heads so readers can rest and orient themselves, little ‘stations’ on the mental train… – Lots of pieces from her travels, photographs… I look forward to just spending time again inside her mind–that quick, broad, childlike, unjudgemental, alert, appreciative space.

Here are some notes from the evening I managed to jot down in the dark.

I learned that she works simultaneously on a number of books at once. “This was the first one to cross the finish line,” she joked.  She jokes a lot–I love the way she  takes her work very seriously, but not herself.  She spoke about her sense of responsibility to the reader, to the audience–“There was such responsibility in Just Kids–to chronology, and the people and the times.” To get it right. Where the new book is more a meditation, a dreamlike work.  She enjoyed writing M Train because it works associationally–didn’t have to be as responsible to truth and people in the outside world.

I liked hearing her talk about the difference between writing lyrics and writing poetry. She was talking about   a poem she wrote about Amy Winehouse and her death, which became a lyric to a song,  “This is the Girl.” She’d written it, and then her bass player shared a piece of music he’d written, and she realized that her poem would fit it perfectly. But the difference: “There’s a responsibility with a lyric, to others.” With a lyric, you have to think about the audience being able to understand you, follow you, it also has to not  violate the mood of the music.  “But with a poem, the responsibility is to the poem itself.  There are a lot of different sensations encoded in poetic language. Your blinders are on this way”–she held her hands up in front of her eyes–“in, towards the work.” The poet’s task is not to explain or make clear to the outside world, but to speak to the work, to deepen within the poem, a very intimate thing.

A lot of her musical work is improvised, a process that fascinates me, part of that shamanic element of her poetry. It often starts with a riff from the musicians, like  in Radio Ethiopia, or that incredible run in Birdland, about Wilhelm Reich and his son Peter, one of my all-time favorites. The musician starts, and then she mprovises language out of that, around that, a real bardic trance.

Great questions from the audience. Here were a few of them:

An audience member, an actor and writer, asked her about how to find/define success.  She said, “My definition of success is doing something really good. That you can read again and know it’s good. even if it doesnt get published or anything, even if nobody else sees it, I’ll read it and go, man, that was good!”    Not numbers or sales or followers, image etc. Just to do good work. “How it transformed other people, that’s another way.” Its contribution to the conversation.   And simply accepting that she’s an artist who does work across genres–“I always wanted to be Joan Mitchell. I saw her sitting in front of a big canvas in a film once, and she’s smoking and she said, ‘I’m a painter. That’s what I do.'”  But Smith’s been a poet, writer, musician, performer, mother, wife, all of those creative parts.

There were lots of references to films and other poets and writers. She lives in a cultural world, everything from Funny Face–‘that’s who I wanted to be, Audrey Hepburn in her little beatnik pants, working in a bookstore.’ to Rimbaud, Nina Simone, Blake,  Moby Dick–“I read it when I was about 13–but I skipped the whaling chapter.  I was a good reader but I’m a girl, and I skipped the whaling.”

About gender: “I staked the right not to have to be fettered by gender.”

One audience member asked her what she would recommend for reading material for juvenile offenders who are looking at long sentences. She said, “Who’s to say.  Depends on their reading level. With one you could give them the Glass Bead Game, with another it’s comic books.  The one thing that can’t be incarcerated is your imagination.  Genet was in jail at 14, and read Proust. It changed his life.  Who’s to say that a little thug like that shouldn’t read Proust. I think we should widen the choices of prison libraries.”

On the subject of responsibility, an audience member asked about writing non-fiction, ‘what if you’re writing about someone very close to you, who would be hurt…’ a question frequently asked of memoir writers.  Smith surprised us by saying that you have a responsibility to the living breathing people around you… that in Just Kids–full of real people. She felt a responsibility not to hurt anybody, even the ones who–she didn’t even say hurt her, she looked for a kind way to say it ‘weren’t that careful with me.’ “Books last a long time.  I think you should be careful with people in print. It’s up to you, but that’s what I did.”

“I’m not afraid to look uncool.” What I like best about Patti Smith is her absolute lack of cynicism, of irony, of beentheredonethat.  Her direct apprehension of reality, her mixture of air and earth–her emergence as the quintessential American artist. I left there inspired in about nine different ways. THIS is how to be an artist. THIS is how to age–joyfully.

Three Readings, One Week

Posted in Moments of Clarity with tags , , , , , on 10/20/2015 by Janet Fitch

An embarrassment of riches– three readings this week!

Wednesday night, October 21st, at the LA Lit Crawl in North Hollywood.  I’ll be reading with ‘Literary Locavore’ in celebration of Literature for Life, where I’m going to read from my YA Novel KICKS for the first time in 20 years. Reading with Andrew John Nicholls, Susan Straight, Jervey Tervalon and six others, at Skynny Kitchen, 8 p.m. Lit Crawl NoHo is an incredible evening, forty events all in walking distance–we’ll be reading after the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. 

 Saturday Night, October 24th, I’ll be reading something dramatically different, with two remarkable poets, the mysterious Beau Sia and the charismatic Derrick Brown at The Best Poetry Hour, 8 p.m., Art Share LA (801 E.4th Street, Downtown LA)

 Sunday Evening, October 25th. An extremely rare appearance with ALL the members of my own writing group!  Yes, the dashing David Francis, the ferocious Rita Williams and the elusive Julianne Cohen, and me–on stage together.  Don’t miss it!  Certain family resemblances may become evident.  at Tongue & Groove, Hotel Cafe, Hollywood.