I’ve been getting a little help lately on some revisions from someone new. She’s a pretty fast typer, but a not very good speller.
Something quite remarkable happened this week—my dream agent, Deidre Knight, offered to represent me!
It’s an accomplishment that has taken me back a few years to a day when I was driving home in the rain close to the anniversary of my father’s passing, over a decade earlier. I wondered how he was, where he was, what he would think of me. I wasn’t in a particularly good place in my life, and I would have given anything to see him one more time. As memories came to me, of playing the piano while he sang “Sorrento,” of him asking me to “photograph” a document with a photocopier, of trying to synchronize my stair climbing to his snoring when I came home late as a teenager, a story began to come to me—it was just a quick sequence at first: of a young man stepping through time, into a 1940’s film noir world, and being swept into a mystery involving the disappearance of his father… over the following weeks and months I began to develop what would eventually become Mantis.
To think back on that moment when it all began, to relive it so clearly, and to flash through the long journey of bringing the story to life, and to see now that the story has resonated with an agent I’ve long dreamed of signing with… well….the elation will linger for a long, long time.
The Sting was on the other night and I felt like I was catching glimpses of scenes from Mantis. What a gorgeous set—the dark alleys and walk-ups, the milk bars, the steam trains, the El. It’s Depression-era Chicago (1936) but it would work just as well for Manhattan 1940… even with the elevated train, which ran through the Lower East Side, where Lucas makes his home soon after travelling back in time.
And sure, no doubt I had The Sting lurking in the back of my mind while writing Mantis. When I was about nine, the local cinema was rerunning the film and my parents took me to it. The plot totally bamboozled me. I didn’t understand the whole con thing—good guys who were also bad guys pretending to be good guys trying to take down worse guys. I kept elbowing my mom and asking her what the hell was going on. But still, I loved the movie, mostly because of Redford. For a couple of years afterward I kept asking barbers to cut my hair just like his. Never quite got the look I wanted. And hey, I’d still give the cut a shot if my hair would cooperate.
If you’d like a peek at what Mantis will look like when it hits the big screen (fingers crossed!) check out these short clips and stills from The Sting.
There’s a scene in Mantis where Lucas and his partner Olivia meet in a milk bar just like one:
No cell phones! It’s over rotary phones in booths like these where Lucas exchanges crucial information.
Love these hump-shaped cars. Makes for a slower chase scene, but no less dramatic.
Something melts inside me when I look at these photos. It’s hard to explain. I want to be there, inside the photos, inside the moment they were taken. To me, they are works of art, the seizing of some perfect second in time. The thing is, these are just ordinary photos—family photos my grandmother collected and saved in a box, one my younger brother inherited years ago.
He brought the box with him when our family got together a few weeks ago to celebrate my mom’s birthday. Many of the photos were from the ’30s and ’40s and were probably taken in Scotland, and as I looked at them while we passed them around the dinner table, I was immediately pulled by these images into a magical place. A history that I admittedly romanticize. It’s almost impossible for me to imagine the reality that informed these pictures—to see the colors. The world in these photos is sepia-toned and exists beyond history. I know that the fear of the Depression or the terror of the war must have been there in these scenes, in the minds of the figures, the person—maybe my own grandmother—taking the photo. But still, it seems better there. There’s beauty in the simplicity of the machinery, the ship’s hull, the tackle and the cables, the physicality of the world—the absence of the digital, the abstract. Just hard steel and people.
Below, my grandfather sits by a kettle on a stove, reading a paper.
I have no idea who the man in the hat is in the picture below, nor the woman overlooking the railing of the steamship. But it’s hard for me to believe that it’s a random family photo and not a stunning art photo intended to tell some deep story of the human experience—of separation, adventure, loneliness.
Or that this photo, of my grandfather and someone else in the doorway of what I believe to be his Depression-era shop, is just a random moment, and not an emblem of fortitude.
I grew up listening to stories of this time from my father. No doubt this lies behind my writing of a book about a man who lost his father to another time.