Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Q&A with Michael Elias
Michael Elias is the author of the new novel You Can Go Home Now. An actor, screenwriter, and director, he also has written the novel The Last Conquistador.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for You Can Go Home Now, and for your character Nina?
A: The idea for You Can Go Home Now came out of discussions with a writer friend, Clancy Sigal (Going Away, The London Lover), about the notion of revenge and how we are raised on “getting even” in our popular culture while at the same time we are told it is anti-social behavior.
We celebrate revenge in our films and television, we cheer when the good guy/woman kills the villain, when Denzel Washington, Clint Eastwood, The Rock, and recently Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Moss, Lupita Nyong’o resort to vigilante justice.
At the same time, I started reading more and more about femicide; I wondered about the idea of women protecting each other from men who will harm them and their children. I did a lot of research and decided to write a novel that somehow connected femicide, revenge and women taking control of their own security.
Nina is a woman who wants revenge, to find the man who killed her father, destroyed her family. She became a cop to better find him. Along the way she finds herself investigating a series of murders of abusive men.
I wanted Nina to have to confront the violence against women she sees in the shelter and the violence she experienced in her own life. Why are her rules better than theirs?
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: Frankly, I don’t know if I knew the ending before I started writing. But once I had Nina enter the shelter I knew it would change her life.
Most writers make changes along the way. It’s like having a destination on a map. I can drive from LA to Denver but I don’t know where I will stop, what detours I will take, or who I will meet along the way, but no matter what, I know I will end up in Denver.
When my characters start talking, I let them take over, and they tell me their stories, introduce me to their friends, and surprise me.
Q: You're also an actor, director, and screenwriter. How do those creative forms coexist for you?
A: Screenwriters depend on images and action to propel the story. We can’t write what people are feeling, or even thinking (unless we do voice-over) so we have to find ways to tell that story, its past, present and future through pictures, body language, light, sound, and music.
Screenwriters are minimalists; less is more; less dialogue. I think Francois Truffaut said, “Don’t give your hero a best friend otherwise they will tell each other too much.”
Descriptions of place and décor, clothes, facial expressions, are mostly useless in a screenplay, at best they give guidelines to other artists: the costume designer, the production designer, the composer, or the cinematographer.
As for actors, try writing direction for an actor to “smile” on a line. Good luck.
Making the transition to writing a novel was daunting. All of a sudden I could write as much as I wanted, there were no limits, no boundaries, but in the end, I think my screenwriting training prevailed. I like to write scenes, keep the story moving, and I confess, avoiding a lot of inner psychology.
Having been an actor I like to read my character’s dialogue aloud, testing it. I think I have a pretty good ear. If it doesn’t sound right, I’ll fix it.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I don’t mean to be flip but readers can take away whatever they want. I hope readers will be entertained, enlightened, and enraged, but leave their real world for my imagined one. I also hope that my imagination projected through my characters will reflect the truth.
Here’s the truth that propelled me: Femicide in the United States account for the deaths of four women daily. More than 35 percent of women in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m finishing a novel: A Hollywood Love Story. It’s just that. Next is a historical novel about the Anti-Rent War in the Catskill Mountains. Armed farmers who fought sheriffs foreclosing their farms disguised themselves in their wives’ dresses, faces covered in Algonquin war paint – they were known as Calico Indians.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I wish my mother was still alive so she could read my novel. She would say, however, ”Michael, do you really need to write so many ‘f….s’?
--Interview with Deborah Kalb