Sunday, April 21, 2013

My Man Crush

I'm not normally prone to envy.  Oh, I might have my occasional I-wish-I-was-Tom-Brady moments.  But for the most part, I'm pretty much OK with the cards I've been dealt.  I'm not rich, I don't have matinee idol good looks, but in the grand scheme of things, life has been pretty good to me.

That said, I feel it's time for me to profess a "man crush" that I've been harboring for some time now.  This isn't someone I've ever met, nor am I even sure I'd recognize him if he were to walk into my kitchen.  But I know him.  And often wish I was him.  I'm talking about David Benioff.

If you don't know who David Benioff is, let me shed some light.  Benioff wrote the novel 25th Hour, which earned him much critical acclaim from the New York Times and just about every other major book reviewer when it was released in 2001.  That alone was a heady accomplishment for a first-time novelist, but it didn't end there.  The novel was then purchased by Disney/Touchstone and made into a film directed by Spike Lee, with Benioff writing the screenplay.  Off of that success, Benioff was soon in high demand and went on to write a number of big Hollywood movies, among them Troy, The Kite Runner and one of the X-Men films.

Normally, when a novelist strikes gold in Hollywood writing scripts, they often turn their backs on novels, the former being more lucrative and taking less time to complete.  Not Benioff.  In between those writing assignments, he went on to pen City of Thieves, one of the best novels I've read in the last ten years.

After reading Thieves, I became a one-man PR machine, recommending the book to just about everyone I know, and to a few hundred more folks I don't know.  It's a deceptively simple story about two young men trapped in Leningrad during the 1941 seige and sent on a mission to find something that's both ordinary and rare, given the war-time circumstances.  Oh, and they just happen to have to bring back this thing or they'll be killed by the rotten Soviet colonel who assigned them the task.  Not just a brilliant story, it also has one of the best opening lines of any novel in recent memory.  If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and head over to your nearest bookstore or click on to Amazon.  You'll thank me later.

If I were to have written only City of Thieves in my lifetime, I'd be thrilled to have that up on my tombstone all by its lonesome.  But no, that damn Benioff then went and helped to create what has become a phenomenon on HBO, a little something known as Game of Thrones, their stellar series based on the fantasy novels of George R. R. Martin.

Thrones may be a little hard to follow sometimes, what with a cast of thousands and accents that require a quick rewind thumb, but it's crack-level addictive and impossible not to watch once you start.  It even has dragons, for God's sake.  It features a crazy made-up world full of crazy unpredictable characters.  Just when you think you might have a handle on what's going on, something else happens, usually something both visually arresting and repulsive at the same time.  Damn it's good.

Have I mentioned that, in addition to all that, Benioff is married to the lovely actress Amanda Peet?  No offense to my own lovely wife, who is the Duke to my East Middle Tennessee State (for all you March Madness fans), but that just doesn't seem fair.  Is my envy showing yet?

So why do I confess all this?  Simple.  As writers, we should celebrate the success of other writers.  We should also hold them up as folks who show us what is possible.  I've had a number of writers about whom I've felt that in my life, William Goldman coming to mind, for one.  But these days it's that lucky bastard David Benioff.  Damn him.

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