August 31st, 2020 / 1:33 pm

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Dear Marge,

Sorry for not writing earlier, but I’ve joined Mors Tua Vita Mea, a writer’s colony outside of Rome. It’s run by Giancarlo Ditrapano, the editor of Tyrant Books, and Chelsea Hodson, a literary darling. Everyone is very grateful to be here, the way Americans are when they are not in the United States. They all look like they are in Joy Division or Counting Crows.

Workshops meet every morning for two hours. At first, Giancarlo used a small chalkboard panel to communicate, but often misplaced the eraser; by the end of the workshops, it looked like he was holding a Cy Twombly masterpiece. After some encouragement to jump forward a century, he bought a white board which, when we considered the subject matter of everyone’s manuscript, became known as the “white bored.” The only person of color there was Giancarlo’s personified member, whom he invoked incessantly. And the color is purple.

On most days, after two bottles of Sangiovese, Giancarlo was happy as a clam, add to that some calamari, prawns, and mussels with linguine in a white wine sauce, like due or tre plates, he was pretty much knocked out the entire time. Chelsea Hodson is most enigmatic. I rarely see her, except occasionally in her room doing something conceptual and tedious. Last week she wrote 1,000 fortune cookie messages from the perspective of a spiteful person who wanted everyone to fail. One of Chelsea’s lessons was how to deal with writer’s block. She sat quietly in a chair, meditated without closing her eyes, then texted her agent. The next day she had a book deal.

After morning sessions, we are basically free to roam the city or hang out by the pool. Giancarlo loves going into town for lunch, imagines himself with a per diem, though it’s just our tuition. When I asked if we could also workshop in the afternoon, he told me procrastination is the best editor. “If you don’t get around to writing it, it doesn’t have to be cut.” He then ashed his cigarette into my cacio e pepe.

A former student’s testimonial goes “it’s hard to put into words,” which one would hope wouldn’t be an issue after all those lessons. I fondly remember Gian’s first lesson, “show don’t tell,” for which he first introduced us to his person of color. He then tried to use it as an eraser on his chalkboard. His teaching methods are indeed unconventional, a breath of fresh air with some second hand smoke.

Mors Tue Vita Mea means “Your death, my life,” a medieval latin battle cry in which one’s defeat is necessary for one’s victory, which is an apt way to describe literature. With Faulkner and Woolf dead, anyone can ramble on for pages under the auspices of intention, which I’m also guilty of. My latest story is a stream-of-consciousness account of being bludgeoned to death on a boat by Tom Ripley. Odd fellow. My fellow students called it “unflinching,” which was the whole problem. If I flinched, I might not have gotten whacked straight in the head. As for their stories, most of them centered around life on the road with Joy Division and Counting Crows. My only comment was Lexapro and Febreze. So much for critique.

More later. Gian is introducing his third person. I can see it from here.

Forever yours,

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