Terry and I went to a farewell reading by Beth Raymer at the Kerouac House. Beth had been working for the past month on a novel entitled Sweetheart Deals as a writer in residence. Her first book, Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling was a huge success and it is being made into a film directed by Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Grifters), starring Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Rebecca Hall who I assume is playing Beth. It is slated to open next year. The success of her first book meant Beth was inundated with interviews and appearances. She confided she wasn't much of a public figure and she found all the attention distracted from her continued desire to write. The Kerouac House writer in residence program came just when she needed a chance to get away and focus on her new novel.
She was charmingly nervous as she introduced her new book, speaking a mile a minute. She curled her hair with her index finger and delicately pointed her cowboy boot inward, twisting the curve of her leg. Having written a memoir, she was used to reporting facts and her new novel recreated her family dynamic when she was six years old. The story is largely about a man based on her father, a boisterous salesman who, as it turned out had a mistress. She described the mistress in loving detail, describing the diminutive qualities that attracted her father's attention. At one point he needed money so he set fire to his business. Beth consulted with local insurance agents to see if the facts of her story worked. The story is set in Florida, so Beth was glad to return to feel the humidity and see lizards dashing under foot. Vivid childhood memories surfaced. She liked to work at the kitchen table in the Kerouac House, often editing in the afternoons. Like Jack Kerouac she has lived a vibrant unconventional life. She is new to Facebook and on a dark evening she got a friend request from a mysterious Jack from beyond the grave.
Beth seemed to enjoy the sketch, although as usual the nose is a bit off. There were so many talented people in the house that evening. Kelly Medford who lives in Rome is a plein air painter who does a painting a day. Authors stood in the open kitchen doorway laughing about local characters. Patrick Greene told me about a harvest of sugar cane that would make a great, "Old Florida" sketch opportunity. Leaning against a stove, a young man in a baseball cap pulled a bright fire engine red flask from a hip pocket and the final drops were emptied into a drink.
Beth offered me some delicious fruit salad she had prepared. In the kitchen, she talked about how odd it was that so many British actors were in the movie version of her first book. The screenplay writer, DeVincentis, brought his background to the story and the director had his personal vision. It must have been hard to give up control especially when it is the story of her life. I told her how I felt I gave up my artistic identity when I worked for Disney Feature Animation, and how I'm just now rediscovering that inner voice. She raised her cup of wine and we toasted.