I am in literary love with this man I know little about. I still haven’t read any of his books, although I intend to. He’s also making a movie, or so I’ve surmised from his “overly personal” emails (see below). I know he’s a bit (or more than a bit) irreverent and I like that about him. His name is Stephen Elliott and he’s the editor of The Rumpus, which is one of my favorite places to visit on my net meanderings.
If you go to the Rumpus website, you can subscribe to his emails which are often staggeringly beautiful and always rambling bits of wonderful musing. The website is a veritable treasure chest of great writing.
He writes about writing in a way I’ve never seen before (and reading about writing instead of writing has become quite a passion of mine), raw and often brutally honest. He wrote a biographical piece a couple of years ago called “Why I Write” which is equally raw and brutally honest yet like all his writing has moments of simply ineffable beauty. He talks a lot at the end of it about writing.
This is from his “letter” from today, an interesting take on the differences he finds between breaking into film vs. breaking into publishing…
Last night a friend asked about breaking into film vs. breaking into publishing. Publishing, he thought, was more white shoe, more closed. I wasn’t sure. It was true that there was more agreement on whether a movie worked than a book, and if you could make a movie that worked you were already ahead, even if it wasn’t perfect. And if your book wasn’t someone’s version of perfect, even in a broken, imperfect way, then you didn’t have much to offer. But it takes money to make a movie. Glass ceilings are made of money. People don’t give money easily to first time directors. You have to have connections, or bring something else to the table, like a famous actor. You certainly need more than pluck and a good script. And I still believe that a really good book can always find a publisher. It might take longer than it should, and you might not get any money for the book, but a transcendent text will find its way in the world. Films are filled with permissions, first because you need the permission of people with money, and then because they’re so collaborative, which is what makes them so wonderful and so full of hazards. A book is an author alone in a room multiplied by a passage of time. A book isn’t set on permission, a book is grounded on faith.
And while I’m at it, here are more of his musings. You want more still (which you should) you know where to find him.
Which was something we were talking about the other night, on the edge of the bed, with the view of the city west of downtown. Motivations. I talked about wanting to take part in the cultural conversation, which might not be any different than just wanting attention, which might be closely linked to wanting to make a positive impact for mankind. She talked about ego. I said I wasn’t much of an academic. I said, You’re beautiful and you smell nice. I said I admired the artist who continued to struggle, even the ones without a chance, but I wasn’t sure of a chance for what. We weren’t talking about art, we were talking about building an audience, or I was. I don’t deal in the shoulds and shouldn’ts of artistic motivations, except in regards to money. Because if money is your motivation for art then you’re already a miserable person. And if it isn’t the odds are still against you, but you have a chance and at least you’ll experience periods of happiness. But to want attention, to bend to the whim of your ego, those are not problems of art. To want to write and to want to be read are, for many people, the same thing. They are for me. The creation happens within some abstract conversation with a specific audience. An audience better looking and slightly smarter, but not too much smarter, than myself.