Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dude, The Goblin is Here!

One afternoon in Iowa, I was walking along the narrow hallway of my MFA program’s main building (head down, of course, nose buried into some book or other) when I suddenly crashed into someone coming from the opposite direction. There was a mess of excuse me’s, a few apologies tossed back and forth, and upon looking up I immediately noticed two things: first, while I had never known this person before, he looked oddly familiar, in a déjà vu kind of way; second—and this is complete, hands-down honesty, folks, and just take my word for it—the guy was freaking beautiful. I’m not talking attraction either, but sheer math. As in, his face was perfectly symmetrical, and his eyes—My God.

Minutes after this odd encounter, I was crossing campus when I happened to overhear a conversation between two undergrads in front of me. We’ll call them Chad and Tad:

CHAD: Dude, did you hear who’s on campus?
TAD: Huh?
CHAD: That one guy…from all those Spiderman movies.
TAD: Huh?
CHAD: You know—not Tobey Maguire, the other one. The bad one. I got it—the Green Goblin! That’s who it was! Dude, the Goblin is here!
TAD: Um…huh?

Of course, Chad was referring to the actor James Franco (and that would be Harry Osborn, Chad. The New Green Goblin. Sheesh!), and it was the same James Franco, I then realized, that I’d body-checked into a wall moments before. Soon after that, everyone and their grandma was abuzz that, yes, thee James Franco was visiting Iowa, checking out its MFA program, and that very evening, the Goblin himself sat in on one of my seminars, where, curiously enough, everyone in class—including the instructor—suddenly wanted to talk about that ol’ screenplay they had stashed away in a drawer somewhere. Franco didn’t say much. In fact, he didn’t say anything. And when the class took its break, he slipped out without so much as a, “This isn’t over, Spiderman!”

Oh well.

In the end, Franco settled for a program on the east coast. And now, not two years later, his first collection of stories will be released this fall by publishing Tyrannosaurus Scribner (not that anyone expected the profitable star’s fiction to be acquired by, oh I don’t know, The University of Timbuktu Press, or worse: a vanity outfit). Recently, one of Franco’s short stories appeared in Esquire magazine, and while it garnered all the wrath one might expect from grad students and the over-educated alike, it got me thinking not only of other movie stars who have tried their hand at fiction, but of those fiction writers who have left their respective caves and popped up on the big screen.

In regards to the former, I was only able to come up with one other: Ethan Hawke, whose first and second novels have suffered a similar damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t fate as to what Franco’s short story is no doubt experiencing as I type this sentence. And who knows—maybe the Goblin’s collection will blow our minds. A part of me hopes it does, even if that means the rest of us grunts have to now add “stunningly handsome and mega-succesful actor” to our cover letters if we expect to get a publisher’s attention.

As for the latter category—the writers turned, um, actors—this was a bit easier. There have been plenty (turns out us writers are a wee bit more vain than we might think), and I credit Robert McCrum of the Guardian for compiling most of these:

1.) Raymond Chandler – Double Indemnity (1944)
2.) Arthur C. Clarke – 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
3.) Graham Greene –Day for Night (1974)
4.) James Dickey – Deliverance (1972)
5.) Norman Mailer – Beyond the Law (1992); Wild 90 (1968); Maidstone (1970)
6.) Stephen King – (Seriously—what hasn’t he been in?)
7.) Peter Benchley – Jaws (1975)
8.) John Irving – The World According to Garp (1984); The Cider HouseRules (1999)
9.) Hunter S. Thompson – Fear and Loating in Las Vegas (1998)

And my favorite,

10.) Kurt Vonnegut – Back to School (1986)

There are more, of course. But using this list alone you’ll notice one thing (and here’s the major difference between James Franco providing a word count and Stephen King blocking lines): these writers aren’t going for legitimate thespian status, but merely making cameos in adaptations of their own work. That’s right: cameos. As in, playing themselves, having a little fun, giving the audience a giant wink, like, “Hey, check me out! Is this crazy or what?”

And yes, Mr. Vonnegut, that was pretty crazy. And we love you for it. But I have to wonder—and please, if I am making a glaring omission here, let me know—has a writer ever made a serious go as an actor? (Put your hand down, M. Night Shyamalan). And if so, was it met with the collective eye roll that fictioneers Ethan Hawke and James Franco can continue to expect from the critical masses?

Maybe, then, what these actors-turned-writers need in their quest for literary street cred is a new strategy. Or how about a really, really old one? I'm talking memoir. That’s right. Memoir. Everyone’s doing it, and these babies seem to fly under the critical radar, which is fine because in the end aren't they just really long US magazines—or at least, don't they satisfy the same fascinations? Yes, memoir: the exclusive genre reserved for the already-famous (put your hand down, James Frey) and why the hell not? These people have earned it, have lived their lives in the public eye, have been places, done things the rest of us aren’t nearly creative enough to imagine, so why hide behind a made-up cast of plots and characters. I mean, how boring is that?

So. Mr. Franco. I do wish your collection the best (and I actually enjoyed the short story, in a college workshop kinda way), but once that ship has sailed and your agent is begging for a memoir (because seriously—who wants to read about the empty exploits of troubled and aimless souls from someone who’s got Michael Bay on speed dial?) then you give me a call, for I can promise you , old friend with a surprisingly strong right shoulder, I have the perfect title.


Steve & Michelle said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing!

What about Steve Martin? Or Gene Wilder - I believe he started with the memoir route before diving into fiction.

Jennifer Ruden said...

Carrie Fischer? She's actually one of those damn good at everything (especially drinking) kind of people.

Enjoyed the post.

Anonymous said...

Steve Martin--of course! And I'm familiar with Carrie Fisher's memoir, but has she delved into fiction as well?

Oh, and I must admit another glaring ommission of mine: Lauren Conrad, aka L.C., aka that blonde girl from The Hills, published a novel this year: "Sweet Little Lies: An L.A. Candy Novel."

Here's to hoping this is one in a verrrry long series, L.C. (fingers crossed).