Pure dark drama, the gorgeous and intense Paint It Black Movie, directed by multi-talented Amber Tamblyn, cowritten by Tamblyn and Ed Dougherty and starring Alia Shawkat, Janet McTeer and Alfred Molina is coming to theaters in LA and New York on May 19. Mark your calendars, and take a peek here! More news when I get it.
After all these years living deep in the labyrinths of my imagination, The Revolution of Marina M. has a book cover and a publication date! It’s November 7. Set in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) Russia, the book follows the coming of age of Marina Makarova during the Russian Revolution. A young poet, we see her transformation from from idealistic daughter of the intellectual bourgeoisie to an independent, passionate woman navigating her course through some of the most extreme political changes of the twentieth Century. You saw it here first!
On Feb. 10, I was invited to speak on a panel about the Shape of the Novel with Christian Kiefer (The Animals), with whom I frequently teach at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, also Jeff Jackson (Mira Corpora) , Esme Weijun Wang (the Border of Paradise) and Kirsten Chen (Soy Sauce for Beginners).
Like most writers, I am fascinated by the shapes the novel can take. What a commodious form it is. It encompasses everything from straightforward chronological stories– from the 19th Century novel in third person, Anna Karenina say, to the more contemporary and voice driven version first person variety, like Sapphire’s Push, to braided narratives like Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible–where the story is handed off between stories or characters, each advancing the work further. It’s a shape popular among writers, because it’s so useful. It gives us somewhere to go when we’ve exhausted a certain narrative burst–we can hand it off to the next character’s story line.
There’s the retelling of a story from the point of view of a minor character (The Wind Done Gone, Grendel) and the Rashomon-style narrative, where the same territory is readdressed by a number of different points of view. A work like the Alexandria Quartet involves many of these shapes. The first book, Justine, is Darley’s story, but the second book, Balthazar, interlineates the first one, “here’s what you didn’t know at the time”–like Rashomon. The third book , Mountolive, goes back and describes how the situation came to be (prequel), and the fourth, Clea, moves the narrative forward again.
There are novels made up of single sentences, like Markson’s work–Readers Block is my favorite–and Carole Maso’s Ava, and novels that are one single sentence, like Marquez’s Autumn of the Patriarch. There are novels that are closed universes (Pynchon’s novels, especially Gravity’s Rainbow) where everything comes around again, and there is no ‘outside’ the system. There are epistolatory novels–novels in letters like Les Liaisons Dangereuses and The White Tiger, and novels in diary form, like Diary of a Madman and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and novels with framing devices (an older character thinking back in time, say, like Evening by Susan Minot) or a past story and a present story like A.S. Byatt’s Possession.
Then there are novels which begin with shape as a game. Mark Danielewski’s genre-breaking visual novels the multivolume The Familiar, House of Leaves and Only Revolutions all contain literary and visual games. Only Revolutions, for example, has 360 pages, 36 lines per page, and eliminates whole categories of vocabulary in support of its protagonists, young his-and-her gods in the making. So no religious words, no structural words, no interior words. I loved the way that the two narratives begin, his and hers, one at either end of the novel, and cross in the middle. You read through and then you flip the book over and start again.
The ultimate gamester is the Oulipo group’s Georges Perec, the one who eliminated the letter e from his novel A Void–which called for a tremendous discipline, as e is the most used letter in the French alphabet, and precludes the use of “the”(le) or “I” (Je.) The Void was not only the absence of ‘e’ but also the story of an absent person the others search for. The obstruction absolutely shaped the story. In his novel Life a User’s Manual, stories arise from the examination of the contents of a French apartment house, rooms visited on a grid via the knight’s move, with hundreds of obstructions–which he saw as “a machine for inspiration.”
So the shapes and obstructions and rules writers set themselves aren’t there to frustrate themselves but as challenges and prompts to the imagination. In Joyce’s Ulysses–very loosely based on the Odyssey–each chapter was written in an entirely different style. Rabih Alameddine’s I, The Divine is a novel comprised all of opening chapters as a woman tries and fails to tell her story in various ways. On the flip side, John Fowles’ French Lieutenant’s Woman gives us three different endings.
With many of the more innovative shapes of novel, the reader has to learn how to read the novel as they go. That is certainly the case with Danielewski’s typographically intricate works, and notoriously with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, where the reader must decide whether to read the text and the footnotes concurrently, or get to the end of a chapter and go back for the footnote, or read all the way through, and then go back and read the footnotes all the way through.
There’s the nested novel, like Cloud Atlas, stories within stories–I call this the Sargasso Manuscript novel, from the movie where each character tells a story, and then that story is interrupted by the tale of a character within that story–going down seven layers and coming back out. Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days was an interesting example of the same-ish story being told three times, in three different genres–ghost story, noir thriller and sci fi. His novel The Hours was more a braided story, but elements of each story bleed into the others.
And don’t forget the novel in verse, which I think is enjoying a comeback due to the openness of young adult fiction to new genres and mashups–many popular young adult novels are written in verse such as Ellen Hopkins’ Crank which will result in an adult audience which isn’t as doctrinaire about genre as past generations. In the adult category, novels in verse can be anything from the tight meter and rhyme of Vikram Seth’s San Francisco novel Golden Gate–Onegin stanzas they’re called, in homage to the greatest of all novels in verse, Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin–but there’s also the looser, more narrative free-verse werewolf novel Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow.
And I’m reaching to describe the brilliant motival technique of Malcolm Lowry’s masterpiece Under the Volcano, which I’ve always called the Spiral Novel. This novel is shaped by the buildup of images (motifs), like a Beethoven concerto–you get the image or phrase once, then it comes around again and gains power with each repetition, as more emotion and resonance adheres to it. (Like the first time Oaxaca is mentioned, it’s just a place. Then 40 pages later, he says, “Oaxaca meant divorce.” after which every time it’s mentioned, it gains more gravity.) There are hundreds of images and phrases like this whirling around in the book–the feral dogs, the barranca or crevasse which runs unpredictably through the landscape, the Peter Lorre movie Los Manos d’Orlac ) repeating and repeating as it whirls tighter and the images grow ever more dense with meaning until the whole thing explodes inside your head.
For myself, I’m working to shape the reader’s emotional experience. So I work mostly on what I call the symphonic level–like a longer piece of music, or an opera. I want to have big thunderous moments and quiet ones. I want to have the full chorus singing their lungs out, and then a solo, a duet, a trio. Then chorus again. I like to follow an interior scene with an exterior one, day with night, active with meditative-and keep changing it up. I’m mostly thinking, how is the reader experiencing this?
Wish you good writing!
After many ups and downs, and a successful tour of film festivals last winter, Paint It Black the Movie will at last be coming to a theater near you! It was picked up for distribution by Imagination Worldwide. after the Houston Film Festival, and it’s going to get the royal treatment, the whole nine yards–theatrical, streaming, you name it.
Though it seems like movies take less time to shoot than novels take to write, Paint It Black was a four-year novel, while Amber Tamblyn has been working almost ten on this project–first trying to get the rights from me (sorry!) then writing the script with her writing partner, Ed Daugherty, the long road to casting–like herding kittens. This one was on, then that one fell out. Her decision to direct the film herself. Then the final casting, the securing the locations–all within ten minutes of my house–getting the money together, that girl is a powerhouse. The shooting only took 20 days, but it looks like it was 40.
She’s expecting a baby this month, and I’m putting finishing touches on my Russian novel, due out in November–and we’re going to celebrate the release of the movie this April! Nice to have some good things to look forward to.
Said the female CEO of Imagination Worldwide, Michelle Mower: “IWW could not be more excited to be working with Amber Tamblyn on the release of her directorial debut feature Paint It Black. Amber’s approach to the Janet Fitch novel is both visually poetic and features strong female characters in complex relationships. It’s the perfect film for relaunching our company in 2017.”
It sure is poetic and gorgeous and a touch surrealistic… Hope you enjoy it!
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 http://www.filmindependent.org/la-film-festival
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.
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.
Publisher, 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.
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.
The Italians go for modernist–the cover has cutouts, which become the diagonal-cut flap. Publisher is Il Saggiatore, Milan.
Sweden made this beautiful swath of black. “Saknaden”–it means “Missing.”
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.
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…
The Lithuanians took it in a different direction–also the girl’s back… but a more 60s graphic look.
publisher, 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.
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.
Back Bay Books, publisher.
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).
And the Dutch paperback went with a somber black and white:
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.