Tag Archives: storytelling
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Carry On the Story

1 Jul

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Road Trip Writing: On the Road and Through Painted Deserts

16 Jul

Donald Miller’s New York Times-bestselling book Blue Like Jazz recently was made into an indie film, and I had the opportunity to watch a screening in Times Square before the film was officially released on April 13.  I’ve had the immense pleasure of meeting and getting to know some of the “characters” in the book.  I was so proud of them!  Penny Carothers wrote a beautiful article about her experience going to the premier and seeing an actress play her on the silver screen.

The film was very different than the book.  I knew this going into it.  The story of this process of turning a collection of essays from Blue Like Jazz into an actual storyline is told in Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  There’s a scene in A Million Miles when Don is told that he essentially needs to change his life story for the movie.  He says:

“You think they might be bored if we just show my life the way it is,” I clarified. I guess I was asking for reassurance that my life was okay.

From the perspective of a fellow memoirist, I found the process fascinating.   I think memoirists, particularly those who are in the process of turning their book into a movie, should consider reading Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and then watching the film, just to get a sense of process.

After watching the film Blue Like Jazz, I can’t help but wonder what will happen with the film On the Road.  After all, both are fictional portrayals of real life.  If Blue Like Jazz is any indication, On the Road will be very different than the book.  A guy I interned with years ago at the Bowery Poetry Club left a comment recently in response to one of my Facebook posts, saying that Kerouac wasn’t a good storyteller.  In a way, I kind of agree with him.  On the Road would seemingly make a lot more sense if it was just one big road trip across the United States.  Instead, the protagonist, Sal Paradise, barely hits the road before he turns back around.  There are multiple trips across the country, and the story can get a bit confusing because of that.  Maybe Jack Kerouac was trying too hard to stick to the truth to combine all the trips into one.  Then again, maybe he knew what he was doing.  There’s something so much more telling about Sal Paradise failing his first attempt at road tripping and then frenetically ping-ponging between his mother’s house and the open road than if it had all happened easily, perfectly.  Can the film capture that?  Will it try?  Will gaining cohesive action and a clear plot lessen the reality, the rawness, the beat-ness of life?

While I do recommend Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years for an honest look at not just the writing process but the process of living life, the Donald Miller book I’d actually recommend as an example of beautiful storytelling and craft is his first book, which was republished as Through Painted Deserts.  This is the book that pays more attention to the way words sound as they roll of the page.  It inspires because of its beauty and simplicity, and not because of grand, sweeping gestures and actions.

Through Painted Deserts is Donald Miller’s road trip book.  Here’s how the overview reads:

This classic road trip tale will inspire readers of all ages.

Fueled by the belief that something better exists than the mundane life they’ve been living, free spirits Don and Paul set off on an adventure-filled road trip in search of deeper meaning, beauty, and an explanation for life. Many young men dream of such a trip, but few are brave enough to actually attempt it. Fewer still have the writing skills of Donald Miller, who records the trip with wide-eyed honesty in achingly beautiful prose. In this completely revised edition, he discusses everything from the nature of friendship, the reason for pain, and the origins of beauty.

As they travel from Texas to Oregon in Paul’s cantankerous Volkswagen van, the two friends encounter a variety of fascinating people, witness the fullness of nature’s splendor, and learn unexpected lessons about themselves, each other, and even God.

Through Painted Deserts is the modern-day, Protestant version of On the Road.  It’s about a young man looking for truth out on the open roads of America.

PS::: You may also like:

my article on Church Hopping with Donald Miller

my article on Church Hopping with Penny Carothers

Road Trip Writing: On the Road and The Canterbury Tales

18 Jun

Jack Kerouac once quipped back at a journalist, “I’m not a beatnik; I’m a Catholic.”  Despite the Beat Generation being associated with the countercultural movement—sex, drugs, and … jazz—Kerouac’s writing so often points toward the spiritual.

Visions of Gerard describes his saint-like brother who died at age nine and touches upon life in the Catholic church in Lowell, Massachusetts.  When he left home, Kerouac began exploring Buddhism.  Ultimately he grew disenchanted by it, though, an experience he describes in Desolation AngelsOn the Road is tinged with the idea of holiness.  Check out this quote:

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?  In some ways, Sal Paradise—what a name!—is on a pilgrimage.  The point of the trip itself isn’t religious, but along the way Sal sees God in nature and in the act of traveling.  Throughout On the Road, Kerouac writes about searching for the holy.  What he finds there on the open road is the beatific—the blessings that seem contradictory to what the world says are blessings.

If you think about it, one of the earliest road trip novels is about a pilgrimage: The Canterbury Tales.  Chaucer’s fourteenth-century tale has all the seedy characters one might find William S. Burroughs depicting.  The pilgrims are road tripping from Southwark to the Saint Thomas Becket shrine at Canterbury Cathedral.  Just like how Sal Paradise finds he has tell good stories to anyone who picks him up while hitchhiking, the cast of characters in The Canterbury Tales each tell a story along the journey.

To support the National Literacy Trust, a group of modern-day pilgrims recently reenacted The Canterbury Tales.  You can read about it, see photographs, and listen to portions at the Guardian.

 

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Don’t forget!

I’m reading tonight at 7:00 at The Penny Farthing (103 3rd Ave., downstairs in the speakeasy), here in New York City, as part of the Storytellers event, hosted by C3.

I’m Reading at The Penny Farthing 6/18/12

13 Jun

 

I’ll be reading one of my Greek American stories this Monday night, June 18, at The Penny Farthing!

The Storytellers event, hosted by C3, starts at 7 and will be in the super cool downstairs speakeasy of The Penny Farthing at 103 3rd Avenue (@ 13th Street) in New York City.

Hope to see you there!