Monday, November 18, 2019

JP Gritton’s "Wyoming"

JP Gritton’s awards include a Cynthia Woods Mitchell fellowship, a DisQuiet fellowship and the Donald Barthelme prize in fiction. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, Southwest Review, Tin House and elsewhere. His translations of the fiction of Brazilian writer Cidinha da Silva are forthcoming in InTranslation.

Wyoming is his first novel.

Here Gritton reflects on adapting the novel for the big screen:
In high school I gravitated toward nerdy, artistically inclined types, and together we completed a slow orbit of the theater and film programs. Some of us were in set design, and some of us did lighting and sound, and some of us fretted and strutted (in minor roles, of course) upon the stage. Not so long ago, a film I co-wrote and starred in back in high school appeared on the local-access television channel.

It was baffling. Where had they found it, this thing I only half-remembered creating? Why were they running it now? Who had given them the say-so? Even when I made it, I’d had only a vague sense of the film's plot. I can say only that it featured a younger, huskier version of myself with a zip-lock bag of powdered sugar in his hand (its title, I should mention, was Colombian Blizzard). My best friend had recruited a beautiful crush to star opposite me. In one of the only scenes I remember, I wave Jenna into my mom’s house and explain: “Feel free to take your clothes off.” In the next scene I remember with any real clarity, my car gets stalled on some train tracks and then (get this) a train comes! That’s how the movie ends.

I think about this story often: it tells me something of how random, how chaotic artistic expression can truly be. I guess we made that movie in 1997 or ‘98—it was only a few years ago I saw it on local access. You never know who is going to pick up your TV script, or your demo tape, or your chapbook—what are the chances, after all, that I’d turn on local access and see my own pimply face on the screen?

Maybe as a consequence of this optimism, I’ve played the casting game at every stage of the writing process. The main character of my novel is a surly, misanthropic, drug-slinging construction worker named Shelley. My buddy Jon, who read the first complete draft, thought Josh Brolin would make a good leading man. My editor and girlfriend both suggested Joaquin Phoenix for Shelley’s role. I was never any good at the game—without fail, I’d suggest an actor, and my girlfriend would say, “But he’s dead now.” And I’d go, “Oh, yeah.”

Claiming some vague connection to VICE TV, a “Hollywood producer” contacted me a while back. He'd read an early review and thought my book had “narrative promise”—did I mind sending him a galley? So I put one in the mail the very next day. That was three months ago.

For the leading role, I’ve never been able to get the impossible options out of my head. The other Phoenix brother to play Shelley--or, if not him, Heath Ledger, or Lee Van Cleef ca. 1954. Probably I’ve known all along that nobody will be making a movie out of my book—or that, if they do, this film will only run on Channel 8.
Visit JP Gritton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue