James Sallis: Getting driven round the bend
Scribble. Scribble. I keep saying this. I never intended to write sequels. Never. Hey, I’m
an artist. Serious literary guy. Shelves full of poetry here, mon. The complete Shakespeare. Saddle-sprung copy of Ulysses. Chekhov and Chandler out the wazoo.
The Lew Griffin novels began as a short story. Is it my fault that they turned into six novels? (There were only six, right?) It’s these damned characters, I tell you. Won’t leave me alone. They keep sitting there beside me. I’m doing something else and they’re elbowing away at me, whispering in my ear, all wink-wink, nudge-nudge.
We’re not done with one another, they say. Their sweet smiles could sever the cables on the Brooklyn Bridge. So when my agent calls to tell me the producers of Drive are asking if I’m going to write a sequel, I chuckle wisely with a fine fillip of amusement and say: “Of course not, my dear.” (See first paragraph, above) Then I hang up the phone, swivel purposefully in my desk chair to watch pigeons finish off the morning ration of cat food outside, swivel purposefully back, and write the first page of Driven.
I am not alone here. Because Driver, having ridden his way right smack into myth in the final pages of Drive, still wanted to hang with mortal, mundane me. “You really want to know what went down in that Tijuana bar at 3am, don’t you?” he said. “You want to know, hell, you need to know, how I got from killing poor Bernie Rose to that. How it happened, what the road looked like.”
Yeah, okay. I guess I did. Just as I wanted to know more about Lew after living with him through four decades of his life in The Long-Legged Fly. Or how I knew Turner wasn’t going to let me get away with just Cypress Grove.
You don’t see Nabokov’s characters treating him like this, do you? But there it is. We work with the tools we’re given. Like education, as defined by Mark Twain, being a novelist is often – matter of fact, it’s always, day by day, sentence to sentence – following a crooked path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty. After 14 novels, I’m pretty much uncertain about anything.
Except, of course, there’ll be no more sequels. No Return of the Fly, no Turner Walks Among Us. Definitely no Drove. That’s all I have to say on the subject. Turning my chair away now. Looking out the window.
Students and friends kept wanting to know how I felt about my book getting turned into a movie. Generally I’d quote James Lee Burke. Asked how he felt about what had been done to his books, Jim pointed out that nothing had been done to them, that the books were still up there on the shelf. And that if he sold a used car to someone who then wrecked it, why should he care.
No wreckage here, my friends. They turned my little ride, my hooptie, into a muscle car. But for many months, as I sat watching the scuffle and skirl out Hollywood way, I had – I have to admit – my moments.
This was no blockbuster book, after all. This was a quirky, odd little thing, looking back fondly to those slim, urgent paperbacks, but also to European novels with which I had found immediate kinship: Camus’ L’Etranger, Marek Hlasko, Boris Vian. How on earth, I thought, can they turn this into a movie?
The answer was [the director] Nicolas Winding Refn. Talking about Drive, Nic Refn cites action-adventure movies from the ’80s, Michael Mann, John Carpenter, Walter Hill, films that charmed him – just as those paperbacks charmed me. And it’s here that a true meeting of minds occurs: Nic has taken the spirit of Drive and reimagined it, honouring his heritage in the same manner that I strove to honour mine.
He has breathed in my homage to writers who profoundly influenced me and breathed it out as an homage to the films and directors who gave him direction. This seems to me extraordinary.
Driven by James Sallis (No Exit Press, £7.99) is out now