6 min read

May: Gorgeous

Raylan Givens Stories by Elmore Leonard, Justified Season 1 & 2, Chinatown Confidential, & Tower of Power
May: Gorgeous

"As full of spirit as the month of May, and as gorgeous as the sun in Midsummer." - Shakespeare

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The artist, Anni Albers, born in 1899, said in 1965, "How slow we will appear some day?"

A prophetic quote from a prolific artist. And scary, because it already takes an excessive amount of time for me to complete a few pages of fiction. And I'm certainly not a perfectionist. I seek progress, not perfection.

Brene Brown covered that waterfront when she said, "Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels the primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame."

I do try to write faster and get more on the page in a shorter amount of time, but I don't want to sacrifice quality for speed. I started writing by judging other writers and thinking, I could do better than that. It was never about just writing and publishing for me. It was always about writing well.

My other point about Albers's quote is this: the commercial publishing industry has destroyed more promising writers than it has nurtured. It is the harrowing question they ask: "When will you have the second book done?"

Agents and editors ask this of writers who just published their first book. They are waving it like an Alito flag at conferences, all innocent about it, suggesting things like, have the next book ready to go before you publish the first. Oh, okay.

What happens is, most second books are rushed. The sophomore book is panned, but more importantly: it disappoints readers.

What they should be asking is this: who are your readers and how are you going to keep them reading? And if that takes more time to write that kind of thing, do that.

As always, the art I review here keeps me going and I do keep going, maybe not as fast as I would like, but as fast as I am able.


BOOKS: The Raylan Givens stories by Elmore Leonard

Pronto (1993, novel), Riding the Rap (1995, novel), Fire in the Hole (2001, short story), and Raylan (2012, novel).

A great writer, and a not-so-great teacher, once told me, "You only need to know one novel well to learn how to write."

Well then, here is my writing workshop. Reread these four books every year or so.

These four novels are humbling for any writer paying attention. Elmore Leonard's technical skill is stunning. I have to stop and re-read entire sections asking myself, how is it that I know where all the characters are in this room? How is he doing this with dialogue primarily? How is he pulling me through this book with such smooth urgency?

It is a relief to know, frankly, that he did not always write this well. A few of his early westerns were good enough to sell to studios, but pretty much formulaic and often corny. He had a great agent, H. N. Swanson, one of the old-time Hollywood survivors who was a famous character in his own right. Even Leonard did not like most of his western novels, though he said that Valdez is Coming was a favorite of his.

Leonard's early contemporary novels were not as good as his later ones. But he kept getting better, and he never stopped his writing routine. Always at it. Simple, not rushed, he just kept going. I find this encouraging.

Great novels. Great characters. An education in crime and punishment.

SCREEN: "Justified" Season 1 & 2

Developed by Graham Yost and premiered in March 2010 on FX. Yes, fourteen years ago. I saw a few episodes back then, but was working on something and didn't want to be influenced by this darker version of Givens. It didn't help that FX marketed the series as a Neo-Western, which is idiotic, but whatever. It's hard to get stuff made.

Sure we have a Raylan Givens based on the Raylan Givens in the Elmore Leonard novels. Are they the same? Not really. The actor playing Givens, Timothy Olyphant, looks like the confident movie star he is and not the awkward, often dorky, sometimes playful, and seriously funny-not-on-purpose Givens of the novels. The actor has the gunslinger vibe down, but again, the firearm expertise that the character has in the novels is only a small facet of his character.

Is this a good series? Yes, mostly, but the demands of an episodic television series are such that it is required to torture source material to get anything that works. Season One has plenty of that torture for sure, but now I have to switch gears because, although the writing is top-notch and certainly inspired by the master Leonard, it is the way the actors work it that makes the series watchable.

It turns out that Olyphant is the perfect straight man for the talented and intense actor Walton Goggins to play off. In several interviews, Olyphant talks about Goggins with a sly smile and with respect. He has said that in the first scene they played together, though Goggins was on script, he wasn't working it in any way Olyphant had anticipated. The interplay between these two makes Season One exciting and worth watching.

The Season Two Raylan Givens still works for television. He's deeper, sexier, more compassionate, and basically, more Emmy. Bad guys show up sometimes randomly to keep the gunfire happening. It does finally settle down when Goggins is back in full. These two actors are gold together.

And by the way, Season Two is beautifully photographed. So there's also that. Not a waste of time. But, I have to say it, fan-boy style, and I feel guilty about it, because you know, different media, different standards, and all that, but damn it to hell, as my mother would say, the books are better. Way better.

DOCUMENTARY: The Motor Underground: Chinatown Confidential

The 1960s and 1970s in San Francisco. Great images that define the Nor-Cal cultural distinction. There was a loop of car enthusiasts that went from SF to Sacramento. Another loop went from Sacramento through Stockton and south deep into the San Joaquin Valley. There are still stories told about hand-built cars that defied physics.

This documentary is available in multiple short episodes for free. I could only paste in Episode 3 here. It doesn't shy away from the truth. The violent gangs and the resulting police crackdowns drove the car people underground. Good to see the history told.


Sometimes you need some TOP. If you don't smile watching and hearing this, please seek outside help.


Time takes time.

Have a great June. Love & Light always.

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