Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

A writer’s commentary track

with 2 comments

As I’ve said before, I like commentary tracks. While some audio commentaries can be a waste of time, or worse, I’ve learned so much from the best of them, and derived such pleasure along the way, that a few have even supplanted the underlying movie itself in my affections. I still love The Usual Suspects, for instance, but at this point, I’d rather listen to Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie’s wonderful commentary, probably my personal favorite, than watch the movie again. Commentaries by the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Nicholas Meyer, David Mamet, and Steven Soderbergh (especially his famously prickly exchange with Lem Dobbs on The Limey) only get better with time. And in particular, the stunning commentary tracks for The Simpsons have been playing continuously in the background of my life for the better part of a decade now.

I’ve often wished that something similar existed for novels. There are, of course, annotated editions of classics ranging from Alice to Sherlock Holmes—the latter of which is my favorite book of all time—and several authors, notably Nabokov, have cooperated to some extent with annotated versions of their works. Other novelists have written in detail about the creation of particular books. The most comprehensive example I’ve seen is The Writing of One Novel by Irving Wallace, which I recommend with the caveat that Wallace was a pretty lousy writer—although quite readable on the subjects of research, revision, and publication. Similar accounts have evidently been written by Thomas Mann and Thomas Wolfe, although I haven’t read them, and I don’t think they’re quite what I have in mind when I envision a true author’s commentary: something that runs in parallel with the text, but chatty, digressive, and not particularly organized, like Paul Thomas Anderson talking about Boogie Nights.

This is all my roundabout way of announcing that starting on Monday, I’ll be writing an occasional author’s commentary, for lack of a better word, on The Icon Thief. I’m not precisely sure how this will work, since I haven’t done it before, but at the moment, I’m hoping to post one installment per week, taking one chapter at a time, and writing about whatever strikes my fancy. There won’t be a fixed format: I’ll just be talking about what I can remember of how each chapter written, explaining some of the references, throwaway details, and inside jokes, and giving whatever insight I can about the choices I made along the way. Behind every page lies a story, some more interesting than others, but since this is essentially a blog about writing, I figure that at this point I can afford to indulge myself. And my goal will be to write the kind of author commentary I’d like to read—light, heavy on the gossip, cheerfully candid about plot holes and mistakes, and generally as honest as possible.

Obviously, these posts will mean a lot more to those who have read the novel, so if you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet, you might want to swing by your local library, steal a copy from a friend, or even buy one. (You can also read the first three chapters, and bits and pieces of the rest, on Google Books.) While I can’t entirely avoid spoilers, I’ll do my best to tread carefully around certain plot points. And as much as I’m aware that it can be risky to pull back the curtain like this, I can’t resist showing you a few of my tricks. Every work of art has its own secret history, and the same part of me that is intrigued by commentary tracks, artists’ sketches, and storyboards is also fascinated by the process by which every novel is made—a story often as compelling, and surprising, as the plot itself. Ideally, the result will be of interest even to those who haven’t read the book, and won’t affect the enjoyment of those who have. So I hope you enjoy being part of my book club, because if you’re reading this, you’re already in it—and the discussion starts now.

Written by nevalalee

April 27, 2012 at 9:42 am

Posted in Books, Writing

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. Your author’s commentary sounds great! I’ll be following it closely. I’m not a profligate blogger and hardly ever post or comment, but for what it’s worth your take on literature, art, movies, television and culture inspires me.

    Catherine McCallum

    April 28, 2012 at 5:39 am

  2. Thanks so much! I’m glad you found the blog, and I’m very pleased that you’ve chosen to stick around—I’m looking forward to seeing more of you.


    April 28, 2012 at 9:38 am

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