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October Reviews: Golden

Issac Babel translated by Boris Dralyuk, Screenwriter Benjamin August, Songwriter Greg Gonzalez of "Cigarettes After Sex," and Best Story-Outlining Software.
October Reviews: Golden

“There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.” ― Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Reviews: Issac Babel translated by Boris Dralyuk, Screenwriter Benjamin August, Songwriter Greg Gonzalez of "Cigarettes After Sex," "Only Murders In The Building Season 2," and Best Story-Outlining Software.

Please donate to Doctors Without Borders at the website doctorswithoutborders.org. You can assign your donation to help the civilians of Ukraine.

BOOKS: "Red Calvary" and "Odessa Stories" by Isaac Babel translated by Boris Dralyuk

The image is a black and white close-up of Issac Babel's face.

The two new editions of Red Calvary and Odessa Stories, translated by Boris Dralyuk and published by Pushkin Press, offer a masterclass in writing.

Babel was a reporter, fiction writer, playwright, and screenwriter. He was, and is, an influential writer both for the content and for the music of his style. I cannot recommend him enough. His writing is impactful, funny, and unflinching.

Dralyuk is from Odessa and lives in Los Angeles. He is a critically praised poet and an accomplished translator of poetry and fiction.

Babel wrote, "My journalistic work gave me a lot...I managed to amass an incredible number of facts, which proved to be an invaluable creative tool. I struck up friendships with morgue attendants, criminal investigators, and government clerks. Later, when I began writing fiction, I found myself always returning to these 'subjects,' which were so close to me, in order to put character types, situations, and everyday life into perspective."

He read widely. His common-law wife, Antonina Pirozhkova, said that Babel gave her a list of books to read. "There were ancient writers on it, Greek and Roman—Homer, Herodotus, Lucretius, Suetonius—and also all the classics of later European literature, starting with Erasmus, Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, and Coster, and going on to 19th-century writers such as Stendhal, Mérimée, and Flaubert."

Red Calvary, based on his wartime diaries, was first published in Russian as a book in 1924. It was an immediate success. The first English translation was in 1929 by J. Harland.

I am not a scholar, but I have come across enough references to this heavily edited 1929 "London" translation to know that it influenced fiction writers worldwide.

Odessa Stories first appeared as a book in Russia in 1931. The stories were used as the basis for Babel's screenplay for the 1927 silent film Benya Krik and for Babel's play Sunset.

I began reading Babel in the '70s on the recommendation of Raymond Carver and encountered nearly every translation of Red Calvary and Odessa Stories as I reread Babel through the years. Why do I reread these two books and keep them close?

George Saunders answered that question when he said, "It's almost like if you were tuning a guitar and you heard a beautifully tuned one and you say, Yeah, that's what we want. We want something that perfect. When I read him, it recalibrates my ear. It reminds me of the difference between an okay sentence and a really masterful sentence. Babel does it for me."

As for these two translations by Boris Dralyuk, they are simply the best.

“Sparkling, wily and loose-tongued . . . Babel’s dialogue calls for a daring translator . . . Boris Dralyuk delivers brilliantly.”
—Times Literary Supplement

Babel was arrested on May 15, 1939, and was tortured until he "confessed," naming other writers as anti-revolutionary. He retracted his confession at his show trial and was executed by the firing squad on February 27, 1940.

SCREENWRITER: Benjamin August

"Sometimes it takes years for a person to become an overnight success." - Prince

From 2003 to 2007, Benjamin August worked in TV as a casting director, producer, and actor. In 2007, he moved to Vietnam to teach English as a second language. In simple terms, he was a struggling writer managing to support himself while writing spec screenplays.

August wrote a screenplay in Vietnam that generated interest. He flew to meetings in LA to polish the script while still living and working in Vietnam. That screenplay, "Remember," became the 2015 film produced by Robert and Ari Lantos and directed by Atom Egoyan.

This script won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Screenplay at the 4th Canadian Screen Awards in 2016.

August's script gave Christopher Plummer the opportunity to deliver one of the best performances of his career.

The image is of the actor Christopher Plummer in his role as a man suffering from dementia on a bus as he tracks down the man he believes killed his family in Auschwitz-Birkenau in the film "Remember".

It is a fascinating film with a cult following. Plummer was supported in his star turn by other great actors: Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz, Jürgen Prochnow, and Dean Norris.

August's screenplay adaption of the book "The Billion Dollar Spy" by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author David E. Hoffman is now in pre-production. This is the true story of the spy who cracked open the Soviet military research establishment in the last years of the Cold War.

There is no trailer as yet for the film, but I have included the book promotional trailer.

This much-anticipated film will star Mads Mikkelsen in the lead. Amma Asante directs. It is scheduled for release in 2023.

August is also developing a TV series with Gale Anne Hurd’s Valhalla Productions and writer Mark Rosenthal about the first woman to seize control of a Hassidic sect.

Benjamin August is an overnight success who worked decades to get there and that is how it is done.

SONGWRITER: Greg Gonzalez of "Cigarettes After Sex"

Songwriter Greg Gonzalez and longtime "Cigarettes After Sex" bandmate Phillip Tubbs play music in a cluttered office.

The best way I know to introduce anyone to the Texas songwriter Greg Gonzalez and his minimal compositions for his band Cigarettes After Sex is to share a video of one of his live performances.

If you go right to one of his studio albums, it can be too much. The albums can feel so personal and dreamy that they tend to take listeners off into their own worlds. Music journalists have labeled his music "dream pop," "shoegaze," or "slowcore." All ridiculous attempts to categorize a unique songwriter with a confident sound.

The music blog Eardrums Music describes the band as "slow, dreamy and beautiful with gorgeous, tender vocals and very good lyrics" and compares it to Mazzy Star.

Gonzalez says he was influenced by Cowboy Junkies and Miles Davis. I can hear those influences. Great writing, great music.


WRITING TOOLS: "The Outlining Your Novel Workbook Software by K.M. Weiland"

The image is a white background with the words "outling your novel workbook computer program" at top of the screen and "Program Tour" at the bottom.

I do not review any writing tools that I do not use and I am not part of any affiliate marketing program that pays me to review anything.

In previous reviews, I praised K. M. Weiland's books "Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success" and "Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story."

Weiland is a master at aggregating material from multiple sources. When I read her and listened to her books on Audible, I felt I was gathering the best information from countless other books on outlining and structuring.

All my life I have written short stories flying by the seat of my pants. I trusted my characters and their circumstances to work it all out for me on the page.

Lately, my short stories are not so short and my previous methods are no longer working as well.

Orham Pamuk, the Turkish novelist, screenwriter, academic, and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature wrote, "I’m a relatively disciplined writer... Lots of things come to your mind as you write a book, but again, I make a plan, chapter, know the plot."

I use Weiland's outlining software to develop my synopsis, deepen my characters, help make my settings more relevant to the story, and make sure minor characters are motivated and genuine.

I write out my character notes, scenes, and plot treatments in longhand and transfer them to this software. I do not use all the bells and whistles of the program, I do not follow all of Weiland's suggestions, and I do not answer all of the questions the software poses. I use the software to document notes and keep them organized.

For example, in the character list I use one of the fields available to describe the core motivation of each character. In short, I only use the parts of the program I need to help solidify characters, get a tight synopsis, and a plot that holds up.

There is something about putting my notes in this program that helps organize and test my story. I can look at it as if it were someone else's work and see flaws I did not notice before.

The cost of the software is $40.00 and is available on K.M. Weiland's site <helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com>.

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