Deconstructing Davies

By Megan McDonald July 13, 2011

At 39, Adam Davies already has quite the resume: His first novel, The Frog King, has been adapted for film with a screenplay by Bret Easton Ellis; his second, Goodbye, Lemon, received  critical praise and is currently with Gerard Butler’s production company; and he’s penning the screenplay for his third, a crime caper called Mine All Mine.

But Davies comes across as a likeable Southern boy just as much as he does a literary star. He still retains traces of his Kentucky accent, dropping the g’s on his words and talking like he’s known you for years—even if “you” is a large audience at one of his readings. He laughs like he means it. He tells great stories. You want to be his friend.

In May, Davies, completed his tenure as New College of Florida’s writer-in-residence, where he also taught creative writing to NCF students. Although he’s currently based in Savannah, Ga., Davies says he loved his time in Sarasota and hopes to come back soon. And until he does, you can read his work in our summer issue, where he writes about his friendship with the legendary Katharine Hepburn in “The Kate I Knew.”

We wanted the scoop on Davies’ Sarasota experience and his trajectory as a writer, so we asked him some questions. Here are his answers.

Did you always know you’d be a writer? I have always been fatally allergic to anything in the nut family—peanuts, peas, chickpeas, lentils, etc. One bite of one of those suckers and boom, down, dead. So when I was still a kid I had to learn how to read lists of ingredients on things, which means that instead of reading Dick and Jane stories I was reading exhausting lists of ingredients with things like "polyglucosaturate-9" or whatever it is.

That is to say: to me, literacy was, um, literally a matter of life and death.

So yes, I had always wanted to be a writer. It took me a long time to work up the guts to try, though. It wasn't until I was 25 or so that I was finally able to quit my job and sit down to write my first novel.

All three of your books have been adapted for film—as a writer, how do you adjust to the film industry and everything (professionally, emotionally) that comes with it? It's not easy. Novel writing occurs in basements, hunched over a desk, late at night, with the lights off and no one home—which is the same way that bombs are made. It requires Gollumish solitude, and the author is essentially in charge of everything.

Film, on the other hand, is a very communal project. The writer has a vision, surely, but so do the producer and director and actors. So you feel much less proprietary about the story, which is sort of deflating, but it's also pretty exciting to have a team of other highly creative people laboring over something that is the product of your own imagination.

Books are a medium that are for your brain—you imagine yourself into a book—whereas film is a medium that is for your eyeballs. So the exigencies of screenwriting dictate that you find a way to make external what would have been—in a book—internal.

What’s your writing process like? Every writer has to figure out what the muse wants, and then it must be given to her, no matter what. Author Michael Chabon once told me, for example, that he writes from midnight to 5 a.m. or thereabouts because when he was still a fledgling author he worked at a video store and this was the only time he ever had to himself. And now that he is one of this country's greatest living writers, he still sticks to that routine because that is simply what his muse wants.

Alas, my muse wants me to wake up at about 4:30 a.m. and write until noon or so, with no interruptions and no intrusions from real life. Sometimes I think it's because at that time my brain is closer to the dream state, and I can more easily access my imaginative self, but when I'm feeling ungenerous I think it's because my muse has a sick sense of humor, because there is nothing—correction: almost nothing—I'd rather do between 4 a.m. and noon than sleep.

What do you like to do for fun outside of writing? I'm very boyish. I like cars—I recently had to sell my roadster, which I had modified to the tune of 500 horsepower, because it kept exploding; I like anything sporty, and I spend a few months every year training young fighters for the [now 60-year-old] man who trained me when I was young; I shoot pool; I play jai alai; I also spend a lot of time on eBay following auctions on which I have no intention of making a bid. I just like the small, encapsulated drama of it. "Good luck, derbygirl9!" I say to myself in the morning as I warm up with a cup of coffee. "I hope you win the auction for that supercool IBM Selectric!"

And, thanks to my time in Sarasota, I have a new passion for kayaking, and by "kayaking" I mean "paddling out into the bay and floating there, spread out comfortably, feet and legs dipped in the water, as the sun goes down."

Describe your experience at New College. The job at NCF was just great luck. I saw an ad for it, applied and was just lucky as hell to get it. I didn't know much about the college—preliminary research told me only that it was very small and chock full of bright, ambitious students—but it turned out to be the best teaching experience of my life. I don't want to be a dean's pet about it, but: I've never had more talented or imaginative students, nor colleagues as cool and accomplished, as I did while I was at New College. An example: on the third or fourth week of the term, one of my students told me that I had inspired him to write a book that semester, and that he was going to try to pursue publication. Now, the ambition of that statement is roughly akin to saying, "This weekend I think I will build my own city-state," but guess what? By the end of the term this young writer had written a book. All 240 pages of it. And he had also networked well enough to get the green light from one of the most important book agents in New York to give it a look.

In other words: he had done in 10 weeks what it takes most people 10 years to accomplish.

That's the kind of thing that happens at New College.

What advice do you give to young authors? Writing a book is a lot like training to be a fighter. It requires tremendous dedication, a refusal to quit, a near moronic ability to disregard hazard and hardship and failure. It also requires dailiness. And most people who are just starting out think that they will succeed immediately. "Oh yeah, I'll take eight weeks this summer and write my novel."

Well, that never works. Writing a book isn't really a task; it's more like a relationship. You have to invest in it; you have to nurture it; and you can't cheat on it. And what fuels this relationship—no matter what kind of writer you are—is reading, reading, reading and writing, writing, writing.

It's dull advice, and it looks grandfatherly even as I type it out, but there it is: You must read absolutely everything, and you must write all the time.

How would you describe our city to someone thinking about relocating here? If there were a high school yearbook for mid-sized U.S. cities, Sarasota would rank the most "most" of all the mosts: most naturally beautiful? Check. Most lively arts scene? Check. Most good restaurants and bars? Double check. Most healthy and friendly and pleasant and outdoorsy and sunset-drenched and plain old wonderful? Checkcheckcheckcheckcheckcheck.

You get the idea.

It is, in other words, almost exactly like New College: a miraculous little ecosystem of near-perfection.

What will you miss most about living here? The website won't have enough [insert computery term here] to accommodate the list of everything I will miss about Sarasota, but a random sampling includes:

Riding my bike along Bay Shore on my way to class as the sun is setting and people are constellated at Indian Beach with glasses of wine and kids and dogs; spending any kind of time whatsoever with my NCF students or colleagues; breakfasts at First Watch; drinks and flank steak at Selva; browsing the shelves and relying on the wisdom of the good folks at Bookstore1; the deviled eggs at Owen's Fish Camp; deep fried fare and pina coladas at O'Leary's; the sucrose beaches; the air that is so clean it feels as if it's been run through a filter of sea breezes and pure oxygen; the Broadway plays and book readings and Ringling Museum; the flamingos at Sarasota Gardens that can be tempted to pick food pellets out of your hand (or, if you can tolerate tickling: out of your hair); putt-putt golf at Smuggler's Cove; Yoder's pies; the farmer's market; Bistro du Monde; Pastry Art and its lovable, scurrilous old-timer regulars; Libby's; shooting pool and playing hook at Growler's; my landladies Jan and Barb; my neighbors; the car guys at Rennhaus; the Herald-Tribune and, yes, Sarasota Magazine and…well, as you can see: a lot.

What’s next for you? This summer I'm finishing revising a screenplay that I've been developing with some producers in L.A. and teaching one course at Georgia Southern. In the fall I'm serving as writer-in-residence at Lynchburg College in Virginia. After that? Why, I'm hatching a fiendishly clever plot to return me to Sarasota, of course.


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