As you can tell if you regularly read this blog — and if you do, you have my undying gratitude! — I’ve been remiss in my posting. Vacation; a week of teaching; deadlines…and well, here we are in August.
I’m gearing up for my first Grotto class this weekend, What We Talk About When We Talk About Stealing. The name, of course, is stolen from Raymond Carver’s classic, and I’ve had such fun re-reading it (again) alongside Nathan Englander’s masterful “WWTAWWTA Anne Frank.” And revisiting gothic retellings of Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard in Joyce Carol Oates’ and Angela Carter’s stories.
What makes a successful steal in writing as well as on the infield, of course, involves stealth. Yes, the best examples make their homage clear—by title or obvious re-use of a line of dialogue or character situation. And then they move past mere stealing to make a new point of their own with resonance and originality. We’re not talking about plagiarism here.
It’s difficult to steal. I’ve tried, for years, to write a late-20th-century version of Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever.” How closely do I adhere to what transpired between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley? Or is just the situation–two women in a foreign city with a secret between them–rich enough? I made headway when I could use the “staging” of the original but infuse the friendship with a tension particularly to my characters and not Wharton’s.
What fun to plan a new class! And yes, how anxiety-making, too. But it’s the “good kind of anxiety,” as a therapist friend calls it. You know, where I wake up wondering if I’m trying to cram too much into a five-hour workshop, or not allowing enough time for students’ sharing their work aloud, or if I’ll have to face 12 faces staring at me blankly. Where I’m excited, too, hoping for the magic that can happen in the classroom. I’ve had some bad teaching days, but many more good ones, and as I pull my notes together this Friday morning, I’ve reminded of the joyful surprise I found in my first-ever class, all those years ago at UC Davis: I love teaching!
A short list of “steals”:
Blue Beard—”The Bloody Chamber” (Angela Carter)
Red Riding Hood — “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” (Joyce Carol Oates) & “Company of Wolves” (Angela Carter)
“The Overcoat” (Gogol) — “The Overcoat II” (T.C. Boyle)
“Hills Like White Elephants” (Hemingway) — “Good People” (David Foster Wallace)
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (Raymond Carver) — “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” (Nathan Englander)
“Parker’s Back” & “Everything That Rises Must Converge” (Flannery O’Connor) — “Idols” (Tim Gautreaux)
“Lady with a Pet Dog” (Chekhov) — “Lady with a Lap Dog” (Joyce Carol Oates)
And, of course, novel versions such as Wide Sargasso Sea, Ulysses, Grendel, East of Eden that make use of literary forerunners.
Please: Add to the list!