Mark of Satan to be short film, with your help.

A classic story by Joyce Carol Oates of a door-to-door evangelist, her young daughter, and the day they knocked on the wrong door.

Independent filmmakers Brandon Nease and Jackson Wickham plan to turn Joyce Carol Oates’s short story “Mark of Satan” into a short film, and you can help make this happen.

Jackson Wickham writes:

I believe it may interest your readers to know why we chose Mark of Satan, and how we obtained JCO’s permission to adapt it into a short film.

Brandon Nease, our director for this project, attended film school with me at Watkins College in Nashville, TN. In one of the classes, Daniel Halpern’s The Art of the Story is the required text, and Mark of Satan is one of the stories Halpern uses as an example of the form. Brandon was born and raised in Tennessee, as I was. For him the skeptical, incisive Mark of Satan threw his own thoughts about religion into sharp relief. He never forgot it.

Years later Mark of Satan came up again in conversation. We’d already made several films, so we felt comfortable emailing JCO to ask if the rights were available. We thought we’d found an email address for her representation and were surprised to find we’d emailed her directly. More surprised that she replied, “Yes.” I appreciate a “Yes” far more now that I’m a filmmaker, but getting it from Joyce Carol Oates made my year. Her only stipulation was that we not monetize it, which sounded fair to us. We just want to tell this story.

Many artists jealously guard their creations, and with good reason. Astoundingly, JCO just let us loose with it. This kind of support is vital to independent filmmaking. We’re proud and grateful to have the opportunity to make Mark of Satan.

Visit the Mark of Satan Kickstarter page for more information and an opportunity to contribute to the film.

“Mark of Satan” was originally published in Antaeus in 1994. It was reprinted in the JCO story collections Will You Always Love Me? And Other Stories; and High Lonesome: New and Selected Stories 1966-2006, and was included in the 1996 volume of Prize Stories: The O Henry Awards.

Tweeting Toward Sacrilege

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni interviews Joyce Carol Oates about the twitter-ruckus over JCO’s tweets asking if sexual harassment of women in Egypt was related to Islam.

“She just tweeted, and isn’t sure why a format seemingly designed for uncensored, spontaneous, imprecise musings, not nuanced manifestoes, should become grist for such outrage.”

It’s a little surprising to me that social media have turned out to be kind of prissy and prim and politically correct.

Read the full interview at the New York Times.

Matthew Surridge on The Accursed

Matthew Surridge, writing for, considered each book in Joyce Carol Oates’s “Gothic” series, in preparation for The Accursed, the final book of the series to be published. He now offers his take on The Accursed, as well as the series as a whole.

Here as in the other gothics, Oates is interrogating and implicating the racism, sexism, and classism of American history (and, implicitly, America present). But if this book feels like a fitting climax to the whole sequence, that may be because here it is clearest what her purpose is in doing so — how the obvious prejudices of times now long past can bear upon our own era, often subtler in its oppressions. We see in this book, when all’s said and done, how injustices long gone can have horrible consequences well after the fact. If they are not acknowledged. If they are not exorcised, by confession — not necessarily religious confession, but by putting crimes into words. The whole of the gothic sequence becomes an extended exercise in exhuming the rotting sins of the past, that they may begin to be laid properly to rest. Demons, some have suggested, can be controlled when their names are spoken.

. . .

Collectively,  [JCO's Gothic novels] present a nightmare vision of America in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The specificity of that national experience makes it universal: an examination of power and horror at a societal level. Now that they can be read all together, that can be appreciated perhaps as never before. Each takes a slightly different approach, a slightly different form and different tone, to the same basic problem. But they’re all unified by a set of similar images and by their complex dreamlike structures. Each of them is a strong book, and some are masterpieces. Together, they’re a tremendous achievement in American letters, and in American fantasy.

Read the complete, brilliant essay here.

The Great Gatsby: An Essay in Tweets

The Great GatsbyBy Joyce Carol Oates

Strange how a literary work evolves into something meta-literary & “mythical”: Frankenstein, Dracula, Huckleberry Finn, yes & “Gatsby.”

Hating “The Great Gatsby” (the novel) is like spitting into the Grand Canyon. It will not be going away anytime soon, but you will be.

Classics always have many things wrong with them, especially by contemporary standards. To enumerate defects is to miss the point –

like complaining that a painting isn’t clear & vivid to the eye because your own shadow has fallen over it.

Some UC-Berkeley undergraduates have read–have been assigned–“The Great Gatsby” four times, initially in high school. … … Absolutely brilliant! Here is criticism of the highest caliber. Most insightful remarks on “Gatsby” in memory.

The highly personal ways in which people are responding to Gatsby suggests that “Jay Gatz” is our American tragic hero…

Gatsby is the quintessential American outsider yearning to be loved by the rich as one of them–not knowing that they are killers.

Melville’s Ahab (19th century), Fitzgerald’s Gatsby (20th century)–our tragic American heroes to set beside Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear.

(Jay Gatz is–Jewish? If so, interesting how Fitzgerald invests him, as Joyce invested Leopold Bloom, with such universal significance.)

Postcript on Ulysses:

Always fascinating that James Joyce, obsessive Roman Catholic Irish, deliberately looks past Stephan Dedalus to Leopold Bloom for his hero.

The humor of Bloom-as-hero is precisely that he is so quirkily individual, so non-representational of the Irish, yet the universal Odysseus.

Joyce is the audacious virtuoso among Modernists who (perversely) chooses an unlikely hero for his Odysseus as if to say, Watch me!

Virginia Woolf tries to devalue Joyce by sneering at his class–which is “lower” than hers. Yet a single page of Ulysses thrums with genius

beyond anything Woolf ever imagined, let alone executed. She was blind to Joyce’s greatness because as a contemporary, he was “too close.”

Ulysses is a great work of comic genius, though containing much sorrow & melancholy. Is there a moment of humor in all of Woolf’s fiction?

Tweeted by @JoyceCarolOates, May 7 – 24, 2013

Literary Structure: An Essay in Tweets

ImageBy Joyce Carol Oates

Assembling a story collection is very like structuring a novel: stories are “chapters” in a (subterranean? atmospheric? oblique) narrative.

As the first sentence or paragraph in a novel is a (hidden) signal of all that is to come, so the first story in a collection is crucial.

As the final scene, even the final words, in a novel are crucial to its meaning, so the final story in a collection is crucial.

Structuring a story collection you know that there is a “ideal” opening–but it is not easy to find it.  (All true for poetry books, too.)

Generally, a movement from “relatively simple/ clear” to increasing complexity & length; from “realism” to something like “surrealism”…

(The obsession of the writer with “structure” is ironic since many readers don’t read books in a linear fashion, even mysteries(!).)

John Updike once remarked that the writer’s effort to get words down in precisely the right way is ironic in that, for many readers, read-

ing is a losing proposition with sleep as in, for instance, reading in bed until the book slips from the reader’s hands.  Not flattering.

(Yes, there are “avid readers of mysteries” who will admit to reading the final chapter first.)

(Yes, I confess that often I have read story collections & poetry books in a haphazard fashion thus undercutting my own convictions.)

All works of art are assemblages of bits & pieces–memories & invention–“inspiration”–but their final structure is highly deliberated.

Books carefully constructed can’t be read but only reread–any more than one can see a Shakespearean tragedy just once & “experience” it….

…but apart from students, other writers, & isolated obsessives, few people reread books, & especially not line-by-line.

Tweeted by @JoyceCarolOates, May 24, 2013

Joyce Carol Oates to Retire—Reluctantly—from Princeton

Princeton UniversityThe New York Times reports that in 2015 Joyce Carol Oates will, reluctantly, retire from Princeton University, where she has taught creative writing for more than 35 years.

I can understand that any institution leans toward phasing out more senior faculty, so that younger faculty can be hired, usually at lower salaries. This is all very transparent and sensible and it would be very wrong of me to have a principled complaint about it, though naturally I feel sad, and will miss Princeton terribly.

One does have a sense of being ushered, not exactly forcibly, but firmly, in the direction of an exit door that, once you step through, will lock behind you as in a comical episode in “The Simpsons.”

More details in the full New York Times article.

The Accursed: Which Cover is Best?

The AccursedJoyce Carol Oates’s novel The Accursed has been published with two very different dust jacket illustrations. Ron Charles writes in the Washington Post that they provide “a surprising study in national tastes and publishers’ methods.”

“Oates says that she likes both dust jackets, though she had concerns about the British version. ‘I think that, initially, I’d been worried that the U.K. cover would seem too lewd, or too “horror”-genre,’ she wrote via email. ‘But I think it’s very striking and in its way quite beautiful. The U.S. jacket could be representative of a more traditional romance novel, though with a slight twist. Dust jackets are always something of an enigma to me,’ she says. ‘One can only imagine what the paperback cover might be….!’”

Read the full article, Joyce Carol Oates and the accursed tale of two dust jackets.