Friday, March 19, 2010

Behind the Story: "Sleeping with Smiley"

If you'll indulge me, I thought I might share the story behind some of the stories in my collection.

The first story, "Sleeping with Smiley," began its life as a screenplay, and I chose the setting and the sport for their cinematic possibilities.

Later "Smiley" turned into a novel, back into a screenplay, then a novel again, and finally a short story, which is how I like it best.

Here's a little glimpse of the screenplay:



All we see is the surface of the water, blue and calm, as the credits flash on and off the screen. Occasionally we hear the CRY of a seagull and see its shadow pass over the water. A fishing trawler CHUGGING out to sea can also be faintly heard.

As the last credit disappears there’s a brief silence, and then we see it: the narrow, pointed bow of a rowing shell glides into view, followed by the oars — two of them, close up, on the same side of the boat. They catch the water, not in unison but one slightly behind the other, and the boat lurches a bit.

The camera PULLS BACK and we stay with the boat as it moves along the river. The two scullers, the morning sun behind them now, are seen only in silhouette at first. The one nearer the bow is tall and lean; the other is several inches shorter but more muscular.

I remember the river and the way it looked at dawn,
the feel of my oars catching the water in time with
Curt’s. The muscles don’t forget. Though twelve years
have passed, I can feel the strain even now in my legs
and lower back, in my shoulders and in my arms. It
was that summer between the end of high school and
the start of something else. Curt and I were best friends.


Standing on the edge is a massive man, bald except for a short white fringe. His name is WARREN ALT and he is dressed more like a gym teacher than the wealthy easterner he is.

(hands cupped around mouth)
Now, give me a power twenty!


are seen from over their shoulders. They really start pulling now, putting their backs into it, but their strokes don’t quite match.

The tall sculler notices the difference and shortens his stroke. Now the angle of his oars matches that of his shorter partner, and they start to glide, swiftly and smoothly, for the first time.


We see the scullers faces as they continue to row in almost perfect synchronization. Setting the pace is 18-year-old CURT HUTTON, the shorter, more muscular one. When his face is not contorted with the strain of all-out rowing, he is exceptionally handsome.

Behind him is DEAN STOCKTON, who is also 18 and whose mature voice provides our narration. Although the muscles on his less-than-handsome face are slack, the pain still shows through.


Mr. Alt paces slowly, following the boys’ progress. He stops, folds his arms, and nod appreciatively, but says nothing.


continues to gain speed, and as it does, the expressions on the boys’ faces begin to change. We see a series of quick cuts — the bow cutting through the river ... the splash of the oars as they catch the glassy water and pull ... the boys’ seats sliding in the shell as they bend and straighten their knees — interspersed with close-ups of the boys as their eyes brighten, and smiles appear and grow on their faces.

When they finish the 20 power strokes, it’s as if they have crossed a finish line. Their oars come up and the shell continues to glide.


as he looks over his shoulder at Dean and lets out a whoop.

Rowing in harmony was an experience we would never
be able to describe. But then we wouldn’t really need to.
Not to each other.