Writing About Writers

Robin: I stumbled across the movie Midnight in Paris the other day and it got me thinking about the popularity of books about authors. Stephen King has written a number of stories with writers as protagonists like The Shining, The Dark Half, The Body (which became the movie Stand By Me), and my personal favorite, Misery. Last year’s Oscars included nods to the movie version of author Lee Israel’s true-life crime spree, based on her memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me. Even our own Cate notched a book about a writer, Lies She Told.

What are some of your favorite mysteries or thrillers that feature authors as the main character? Besides Cate’s 😉

Susan: My absolute favorite book with a writer protagonist is Sophie’s Choice, which is a sort of mystery. Although it’s more often associated with the Holocaust, and for good reason, it’s also the story of a young writer in Brooklyn trying to find his voice. William Styron writes with such purity and heart and his poor protagonist goes through any number of humiliations. I thought he got the whole thing exactly right. I also like Wonder Boys, which features several other dysfunctional writers.

Tracee: I’ll second you about Cate’s Lies She Told….. just shows what a writer can do! I had to take a moment to compose myself after you mentioned Misery. Too disturbing for me! However, the idea of Midnight in Paris revived me – one of my all time favorite movies – certainly one I wish I could see again for the first time. I’ll add to your list of books about authors – Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which I’ll slide in here even though Holly is the main character and the only mystery is her background….. Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground for the ‘back in the day’ category. I agree with The Wonder Boys (book and film versions) and add to that The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth. Finally, you say, one with a clear mystery… and a bit of a thrill as well!

Paula: I find films about writers very inspiring. Here is a (very incomplete) list of my favorites: Barton Fink, Adaptation, Cross Creek, Henry and June, Out of Africa, Shadowlands, Finding Forrester, Wonder Boys, Stranger than Fiction, My Brilliant Career, Dan in Real Life, Midnight in Paris…

Connie: I’ll share a new favorite, the Daniel Hawthorne mystery series by Anthony Horowitz. The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death star disgraced English detective inspector Daniel Hawthorne and the author himself (Horowitz) as the fictional Watson-like sidekick who never seems to get things quite right. Beautifully plotted and written.

Tracee: How did I leave them off my list!? I absolutely loved both books. The incorporation of Horowitz himself was brilliant, and plotted a fine line between fiction and reality very persuasively. Needless to say, I’ve been eagerly anticipating his latest book.

Connie: I love them, too. His writing always seems so fresh and new.

Laurie: Stranger Than Fiction was deeper than I ever expected a film with Will Ferrell in it. Certain scenes have been firmly cemented in my head for so long. Also, Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) and her memoir Out of Africa. I love her quote, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” My main character, Lane, reads her work in my next book. It was first published in 1937, Lane’s era, and she finds Blixen’s female adventurous and beautiful spirit very compelling.

Alison: I love Cate’s Lies She Told, but my other choices for books about writers are not exactly uplifting reads. A few years ago, I devoured The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch, an author who supports my pet theory that there’s just something in the water in Ireland that creates fertile ground for some of the best writing in the English language. That Booker Prize was well deserved. When I lived in Leningrad/St. Petersburg, I read Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground. Whether it’s the story itself or the fact that I curled up with this book in the darkness of a long Russian winter, just thinking about it makes me feel slightly sad and hopeless. I’m glad the rest of you have a few happier examples!

Cate: Thanks Alison!!! I like Misery because it was so clearly King’s actual fears on paper. I used to watch the show “Castle” on tv (my uncle was the director) and the fictional author would have books come out written by a ghostwriter that did better than my books. I can’t say I didn’t feel kind of bitter about that.

Robin: I loved Castle! I had no idea there were real books to tie into the show. That’s…interesting.

Alexia: Had to think about this one. Turns out, I’ve seen more movies/TV shows with writers as characters than I’ve read books with writers as characters. Some favorites, in no particular order: Misery (novel), 1408 (movie), Field of Dreams (movie–James Earl Jones character wasn’t the main character but he was one of my favorite characters), What About Bob? (movie), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (novel, movie, and TV series), Murder She Wrote (TV series), Atonement (movie). I don’t know if the Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe stories count–the narrators (Watson and Goodwin) are chronicling the detectives’ cases for the readers but they’re not officially authors. If they count, then I include their short stories and novels among my favorites. I also like the Ariadne Oliver character in the Poirot series (Zoe Wanamaker, I believe, in the David Suchet TV version). Again, not the protagonist, but an author-character.

Michele: I have enjoyed many of the books and movies mentioned, but honestly, as much as I loved Can You Ever Forgive Me, if I watched it right now I’d take to the drink right next to the protagonist. My favorite silly cheer up writing movie is American Dreamer from 1984 starring JoBeth Williams and Tom Conti, which features an aspiring mystery writer who wins a trip to Paris. As often as I’ve watched it, it never fails to put a smile back on my face. In fact, after a full day watching Congressional hearings, I may just go watch it now.

Robin: I’ll bring popcorn. Or wine. Maybe both.

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