Writer & Editor

A few weeks ago, I read Sean Penn may play Max Perkins in an upcoming movie. Perkins is the legendary literary editor who championed F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, encouraged Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to write the book about a childhood in Florida that became The Yearling, and discovered and nurtured many other American writers.

He may be most famous for helping Thomas Wolfe to shape the unwieldy draft Of Time and the River. Wolfe wrote one scene, for example, where four people talked to each other for four hours for a total of 80,000 words–200 printed pages for a minor scene. Perkins helped Wolfe see that while the writing was good, the scene was wrong for the book and had to go.

It will be a challenge for the filmmakers to bring the editor/writer relationship to the screen in an interesting way. Can scenes of writing and editing and conversations between an editor and writer be made dramatic without becoming goofy and unrealistic?

Meanwhile, I am re-reading the book the movie will be based on: Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg. I had forgotten how engrossing it is. Maybe Max’s story will make a good movie after all. I’ll suppress my cringe response for now, and hope the filmmakers do a decent job of casting Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wolfe.

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