Thursday, March 31, 2005

Wired for writing

As I've written before, author readings are one of the best things about Iowa City. Last night, George Pelecanos appeared at Prairie Lights Bookstore to promote his latest novel, Drama City. Pelecanos might be the best crime writer going right now. My frame of reference is smaller than it should be (I've only read two of his novels), but what I admire most about Pelecanos's work is its seeming authenticity. His dialogue, characters, settings all feel real on the page; nothing seems contrived or created. And judging from what Pelecanos said last night during his question-and-answer session, that is no accident.

I only caught the last half of the reading because of a night class, but it was worth the sprint across campus (okay, I don't sprint - but I was walking very fast). Not only do I enjoy Pelecanos as a novelist, but he also writes for one of my favorite TV shows, HBO's The Wire. And much to my surprise, many people in the audience admired Pelecanos for the same reason. I couldn't believe how many questions he was asked about his TV work. Whenever an author appears at a bookstore or on campus, there seems to be an unwritten rule that the discussion shouldn't touch on TV or film work. Maybe that's the influence of the Writers Workshop; we're here to write and talk about literature. Talking about scripts and adaptations - not to mention using cinematic techniques in our prose - is virtually frowned upon.

But Pelecanos was more than willing to talk about writing for The Wire, saying he probably wouldn't have written Drama City without the experience. His TV work has also allowed him access - such as riding with the Washington D.C. police - that he never would've received before. And he apparently isn't beholden to writing programs such as the Writers Workshop. One of the funnier moments of the evening was his sheepish admission that he'd never taken a writing class. "This is probably the one city in the country where I shouldn't say that," he chuckled. When asked what he thought of writing programs, Pelecanos artfully dodged the question and said he liked WordPerfect and Microsoft Word.

And I think that's consistent with Pelecanos's work - just create the characters, tell the story, delve into what's really going on, and above all, make it as real as possible. The process of writing and learning how to tell a story is important, of course, but eventually it comes down to sitting your ass down in front of that computer or notepad and pounding out what you want to say. I think that's something most aspiring writers need to hear regularly.