An introduction to Mark L Arywitz, author of the novel The Legend of Little Great Grandfather (TheWriteDeal, 2012). Arywitz’s background in writing for the screen instilled in him that “it’s not only about good prose, I’m also going for a story that has some narrative drive.” His screenwriting credits include the feature film “Just Before Dawn,” the TV drama “Mozart’s Requiem,” and many commissioned screenplays, among them “Holier Than Thou.” Arywitz teaches in the Department of Film & Television in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. The Legend of Little Great Grandfather is his debut novel, and the first in a trilogy in progress.
Quick Facts on Mark L Arywitz
- Arywitz’s The Legend of Little Great Grandfather: http://www.thewritedeal.org/bookstore/182
- Home: New York City, the NYU/Washington Square Park area.
- Top reads: I could list Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Hemingway, Garcia Marquez, Flaubert, Joyce, Murakami, but I would still be leaving out other favorite novelists and novels (such as The Great Gatsby). I would also be leaving out Shakespeare, and other favorite playwrights like Beckett, as well as poets like Rimbaud or T S Eliot.
- Current reads: These days, I’m mostly reading and re-reading plays (for example, Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard, Tracy Letts). The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht is probably the last novel I read that kept me truly engaged from start to finish.
What are you working on at the moment?
The Legend of Little Great Grandfather is the first book in a trilogy, so work on the second and third books is on the agenda. I’m also developing a couple of screenplay ideas, as well as working on the first draft of a play (working title: Painting Heather).
Where did the idea come from for The Legend of Little Great Grandfather?
I can’t really say in any exact “eureka moment” sense. In a general way, it came from a strong curiosity about family history and a desire to fill in some of the many blanks, which sometimes amounted to reinventing that history. Research into the history of Eastern European Jewish immigration to the US played an important part, too. No matter how terrible things were, the idea of people uprooting from a place that had been home for so many generations and leaving so much behind, including family they might never see again, and dealing with all the hardships of the journey and then of trying to make a new home in a foreign country and culture—I find that story compelling.
“The idea of people uprooting from a place
that had been home for so many generations
and leaving so much behind.”
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope they find something compelling in it, too. Especially as experienced through the journey of the unusual hero, Memmel, whose adventures run the gamut from tragic to comic.
Whom do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?
Is there such a thing? If so, I didn’t write with one in mind. In the case of this particular novel, Jewish Americans of an Eastern European background might relate to certain aspects of the story more easily, but I would hope that the overall story has a more universal appeal.
Where and when do you prefer to write?
I write at home, of course. I teach screenwriting at NYU, which can call for a good deal of time and attention. So the “when” is sometimes a tricky proposition.
Where would you most want to live and write?
At one point Hemingway lived a pretty good answer to this—one home in the mountains in Idaho and one home by the ocean in Key West (and lots of travel too). I wouldn’t choose the same places, but in an ideal world, something along those lines could be very nice.
Do you listen to anything while you write?
Not as much as I used to. When I do, it’s classical music more often than not. But sometimes I just need silence.
“Sometimes I just need silence.”
Do you have a philosophy for, or an approach to, how and why you write?
Samuel Beckett once said something like this, “Fail. Fail again. Fail Better.” That may not exactly constitute a philosophy, but it does amount to a kind of approach. As to the why, it’s hard to say for sure, but a lot of the time it seems to be a need, a “have-to” kind of thing.
How has your background in film influenced your writing for this book?
Someone who read The Legend of Little Great Grandfather said, “You really keep up the dramatic tension.” That is one of the most important things I’ve taken from screenwriting and film. For me it’s not only about good prose, I’m also going for a story that has some narrative drive. And this carries over to character, too. Not just strong detailed portrayal, but also characters dealing with conflict, and changing. These elements are meaningful to me and I think they’re meaningful to many readers.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
That “Fail. Fail again. Fail better” process can be frustrating. And, then there’s the issue of over-thinking and not trusting your intuition. Sometimes I have to tell myself, “Don’t think—just write!”
“Don’t think—just write!”
How have your goals as a writer changed over time?
Can we always identify our goals? I think sometimes that is a goal in itself—identifying our goals, especially any long-term ones. I do know that my writing process has changed over time, which has probably affected my “goals,” but I’m not sure I can sum up exactly how.
Is there a quote about writing that motivates or inspires you?
I don’t know about quotes motivating or inspiring me, but I have a number of favorites, including the Beckett quote I mentioned earlier, and Picasso’s remark about art being a lie that reveals the truth. Another is Hemingway’s saying, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector.”
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
“A lot of the best writing is re-writing.”
Like I said, I teach. To me, that’s not so much about giving advice as it is about the process of writing and giving people feedback. A lot of the best writing is re-writing. It’s not a sprint—it’s a long distance race. You learn by doing, but it’s different for everyone. So make your own mistakes, not somebody else’s.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a writer?
There isn’t any particular piece of advice that I could single out as the best. It’s pretty much a repeat of what I said above. It has to do with process and the feedback I’ve been given on my work by insightful readers and writers along the way.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
I plead the 5th. I refuse to answer on the grounds that—well, you know the rest.
About Mark L Arywitz
Mark L Arywitz holds a BA from Antioch College, and an MA from SUNY Buffalo. His screenwriting credits include the feature “Just Before Dawn” (PictureMedia Ltd. NY), the TV drama “Mozart’s Requiem” (Kel-Ben Inc.), numerous commissioned screenplays, as well as collaborations on several adaptations for the screen, most recently the script “Angel Fire, N.M.” Has made and publicly screened a number of short films, written and published film criticism, served as a script/story consultant on other projects, and written short fiction as well. Arywitz teaches in the Department of Film & Television in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. The Legend of Little Great Grandfather is the first novel in a trilogy in progress.
[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer Mark L Arywitz.” Words With Writers (October 20, 2012), https://wordswithwriters.com/2012/10/20/mark-arywitz/.]