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Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems
I can't stop thinking about Uncut Gems. Here's how I described it to my parents over the phone: "I loved it! You would hate it! Don't see it!"

My parents love inspirational movies, about characters who overcome adversity. They want to see people change and grow. They want to watch heroes persevere in trying circumstances (The Darkest Hour, etc.)

What thrilled me about Uncut Gems was watching a hero make things worse for himself. No one is hurting Howard more than Howard is hurting himself. Every time I thought, "oh this time, he's going to learn something, he's going to make X decision," he made Y instead.

Howard is an addict. In real life, when we see the people around us making bad choices for themselves, we want to intervene. We want them to see what we see: that they are making a big mistake; that they need to turn the car around and go in another direction completely. But how often have you succeeded in convincing another person to change their life? 

When I was promoting my memoir Land of Enchantment, I often got asked the question, "Why didn't your mom stop you?" Why didn't my mother, a clinical psychologist, physically prevent me from moving to another state with my narcissistic boyfriend.

Because she couldn't have stopped me. My bad choices were my own to make.

I've written before in this newsletter about the line that divides memoirs of victimhood and memoirs of survival.

When it comes to plotting a novel (or a film like Uncut Gems), a similar principle is at play. You don't want to build your plot around all the bad things that happen TO your hero. Then all your hero is doing is reacting. Sure, your hero has ghosts in her past; something is haunting her that she'll uncover and overcome over the course of the story. But your forward-moving plot, your action, your A story, must be driven by your hero's actions, not the actions of others around her. You can't have your hero riding sidecar. Howard is in trouble at the beginning of the movie because of bad choices he's made offscreen. Whether or not he'll make amends to those he's hurt and realize how he's destroying his life is up to him. All the escalations in the plot of the movie come from choices he makes. And I thought it was fun/disturbing/realistic/anxiety-inducing that those choices became increasingly worse.

Maybe my taste in books and film isn't so different from my parents'. They also want to watch stories of heroes taking action—but at the end, they want to feel hope. And I'm skeptical of hope. Or at least I'm more comfortable with tragedy.

Josh Safdie, one fo the film's directors, says, "Once you're in the darkness, your eyes adjust."

What I'm reading

  • "When we open a book or click on an article, the first thing we want to know is which group the writer belongs to. The group might be a political faction, an ethnicity or a sexuality, a literary clique. The answer makes reading a lot simpler. It tells us what to expect from the writer’s work, and even what to think of it. Groups save us a lot of trouble by doing our thinking for us." George Packer on the enemies of writing
     
  • Try making yourself a more interesting person.
My galleys just arrived yesterday for Self Care! Don't you love the pink?! If you're a fan of this newsletter, a great way to support my work is to preorder my novel from your local bookstore, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon. Preorders signal to retailers that people care about this book!
I'm a writer interested in what the internet is doing to us. My fourth book, Self Care, a satire of the wellness industry and women behaving badly online, is available for preorder now. I send out a weekly newsletter about the creative process and the publishing industry. I'm also a book coach.
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