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Saturday, November 12, 2011


I have the pleasure to have David Scott Milton the author of Iron City visit For The Love of Reading! today! Milton's agreed to bring with him a Guest Blog, so without more delay here it is!


I’ve had a fortunate career: I write plays, screenplays, and novels and have had some success in all of those areas. That’s unusual. Generally, novelists specialize in writing novels, playwrights write plays, screenwriters screenplays. Part of my talent has been a kind of literary shape-shifting: I get bored easily and after I would finish a novel, I would yearn to do a play, after a play, a screenplay.

Georges Simenon would write a novel in two weeks and over his lifetime—he lived into his eighties— wrote over 400 novels. He was an extraordinary force in world literature, a genius. Influenced by Simenon, as a young writer I vowed to write a novel, play, and screenplay a year. I never quite fulfilled that vow, but over the years I did turn out scores of novels, plays and screenplays. A good chunk was produced or published. And over the years, shape-shifting, I’ve managed to keep myself from being bored.

How do I approach the work? How do I deal with each form, and how do I decide whether or not a particular project will become a play, screenplay, or novel? Often the material immediately dictates the form: if the work is highly visual, it obviously will tend toward becoming a screenplay. If I hear my voice, the voice of the writer in my head, chances are it’ll be a novel. If the characters seem to speak out, proclaim, then it’s a play. Usually when the piece becomes a play, I see actors on a stage playing out what I’ve imagined. To me they’re real people, but somehow they’ve been set in a world that asks them to speak up. With film, the opposite is true:. I see and hear the characters, but they are talking very softly and they force me to lean forward to hear what they have to say. In plays, the characters go out to an audience. In film, the audience goes into the characters, eavesdrops on them.

The great Italian novelist, Alberto Moravia, (“The Conformist”, “Two Women”, “Contempt”) once said that he felt that the play form is most congenial for a writer, most helpful, most important: if you can master scenes and dialogue, which is what make up a play, then you can write novels and screenplays. He thought of his novels as, in a sense, stage plays put in novel form. And Simenon thought of his novels as films printed and put between book covers. He kept his novels under two hundred pages; he felt that one should be able to read them in the same time that it would take to view a movie.

There is the story of the great British novelist Graham Greene and the film and novel “The Third Man.” He was vacationing on a yacht in the Mediterranean. The film director Carol Reed was also a guest on the yacht. Greene told Reed a story he had heard about some particularly evil financial chicanery in Vienna just after the Second World War. A man had peddled defective antibiotics to a war ravaged, diseased population; thousands had died.

Reed was fascinated by the tale and told Graham Greene that if he wrote it as a screenplay he would produce and direct the film. Greene demurred: he had never written a screenplay, only novels. He had no idea how to write a screenplay. Carol Reed told him to write the story as a novel and he would shoot it exactly as Greene wrote it, which is what occurred. He wrote the novel, which is marvelous. The film is a masterpiece.

My new novel “Iron City,” started out as a play. Later, I decided it should be a screenplay. Eventually, I wrote it as a novel. My last novel, “The Fat Lady Sings”, was written originally as a screenplay. Since there was a great deal of autobiographical material in it, I felt constricted by the screenplay. There were things I wanted to talk about from my life, observations of the world I was involved in; I was teaching murderers in a maximum-security prison and there was much about that world that I could only get into through the medium of a novel, or a non-fiction book had I chosen to write it.

The “Fat Lady Sings” novel is good. The screenplay is good, also, but not as rich in personal detail, not as psychologically acute. It’s a difference in the two forms and I, as the writer, must choose the form that I feel will best serve the material and my vision of the material. I am lucky that I am a writing shape-shifter.

This is what is magical about writing. Writing is an extraordinary combination of reality, fantasy, and dreams. We have a choice of where to go with our material, of how to express it. Some years back I was hired to do a screenplay by Warner Brothers Studio with an Italian writer, Luciano Vincenzoni. Luciano is best known for having been the screenwriter on Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti westerns “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” He is colorful and wise and a writer to the core, a pro’s pro. The film was in English; we worked together on story, structure, and character, but I did the actual writing, getting it down on paper. Whenever we would hit a rough spot in the script and I would ask Luciano what I should do, his answer to me was always this: “David, you are God. You do whatever you want. That is what a writer is—we are God.”

True. True. And so, whether it’s writing plays or novels or screenplays, ultimately we create a world. We decide what will be in that world. And we also decide what form that world will take. Ah, it’s nice being, as Luciano says, God! If we are really God, we must respect the world we create and those for whom we create it. We must be humble in presenting this world, whether novel, play, or screenplay to our readers or audience. We strive to entertain, stimulate, and enlighten. This is what the best writers have always done. And this is what, with varying success, I always try to do.

About the Author:

David Scott Milton (born September 15, 1934) is an American author, playwright, screenwriter, and actor. His plays are known for their theatricality, wild humor, and poetic realism, while his novels and films are darker and more naturalistic. As a novelist, he has been compared to Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, and Nelson Algren. Ben Gazzara’s performance in Milton’s play, Duet, received a Tony nomination. Another play, Skin, won the Neil Simon Playwrights Award. His theater piece, Murderers Are My Life, was nominated as best one-man show by the Valley Theater League of Los Angeles. His second novel, Paradise Road, was given the Mark Twain Journal award “for significant contribution to American literature.
Learn more about David at
You Tube Video of David reading from Iron City 


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