Author, TV Writer Jonathan Ames to Speak at Stony Brook Southampton

“Bored to Death” creator is the first guest of fall at Writers Speak Wednesdays.

The next acclaimed author to visit Stony Brook Southampton for Writers Speak Wednesdays is "Bored to Death" creator Jonathan Ames, who is often compared to Woody Allen, but has a long list of literary influences.

Ames’ writing career is very diverse, from penning books and television scripts to a newspaper column and a graphic novel. He is also an essayist and edited an anthology of transsexuals' memoirs.

His big break came at age 25 with his first novel, “I Pass Like Night.”  He said he struggled for the next nine years, but found his way back and published his next book, “The Extra Man,” which was adapted in 2010 into a film starring Kevin Kline and Paul Dano.

The Brooklyn resident attributed the vast scope of his career to what motivates many people: “Like any writer, I’m trying to pay the rent. I just did what I could to make a living, always with the goal of entertaining people.”

He couldn’t pick one medium that he prefers. “I get a kick out of all of them,” he said, “and I struggle with all of them.”

What his writing has in common, is that it includes himself in some way.

“It’s fair to say that most of my work up until this time, age 48, has been of an autobiographic nature, whether in a fictionalized form, or in my nonfiction,  imagining myself in the manner of Hunter Thompson or George Plimpton. So even when I did reporting, I factored in as a character, and then in my fiction I used myself as a jumping off point.”

He is influenced by novelists Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others, and modeled himself after Charles Bukowski, he said. “I think the myth of the writer’s personality was important or interesting to me.”

In “Bored to Death,” a short story that Ames adapted into a television show for HBO, the protagonist is also named Jonathan Ames, but he said the similarities end there.

“The character has my name, but in some ways that was the most fictional thing I’ve ever done,” he said.

Other characters he has created have been more in line with his own life, or own personality, but he said he now aims to get away from that in his writing. “I’m sick of myself,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve done it enough.”

“Bored to Death” lasted for three seasons, and Ames confirmed he’s being commissioned to script a television movie to follow up the series.

He said that when he first wrote “Bored to Death,” he thought it had real cinematic possibilities. He shopped it around Hollywood, but then met television producer Sarah Condon. He reshaped it for TV, and Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson were cast to star.

“I had a hell of a great time writing for HBO,” Ames said. “There was a ton of stress, a lot of pressure on me; I was the showrunner.” He worked 70- to 80-hour weeks, and everything was reliant on his ideas, passion and energy, he said.

At his “Writers Speak” appearance, Ames expects to give a performance and a reading.

“When I’ve performed, I’ve been something of a storyteller, which bears some resemblance to a standup comedian, very much in the tradition of Spalding Gray," he said.

A Q&A with the aspiring writers in the audience is also planned.

“I always have the same piece of advice, which is: Write the kind of stories you love to read. And read — if you want to write you need to read.”

Ames’ Writers Speak Wednesdays visit begins at 7 p.m. on Oct. 3 in the Radio Lounge on the second floor of Chancellors Hall at Stony Brook Southampton.


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