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As I lay *&%!!*! dying? David Milch to do Faulkner for HBO

November 30, 2011 | 12:55 pm

What would William Faulkner think? David Milch, the writer-producer behind the brilliant and profane television series "Deadwood" has signed a deal to adapt the Nobel Prize-winner's works for HBO. The deal, made with Faulkner's estate, encompasses all nine of his novels and 125 short stories, as well as other works -- maybe letters? -- that are not already under contract with other parties.

Milch made his mark with tough urban cop shows: he won three Emmys as co-creator of the tough, long-running "NYPD Blue" and one for his writing on "Hill Street Blues." That may seem like an odd fit for an author who lived most of his life in Oxford, Miss., whose significant works were set in its fictional counterpart Yoknapatawpha County, something he imagined to be "a kind of keystone in the universe; that, small as that keystone is, if it were ever taken away the universe itself would collapse."

Yet Faulkner and Milch seem to share a certain take-no-prisoners sensibility. "An artist is a creature driven by demons," Faulkner told the Paris Review in 1956. "He doesn't know why they choose him and he's usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done."

That sounds like something a character on "Deadwood" might say, if you dropped in a few colorful swear words.

Faulkner himself tried writing for Hollywood, most successfully working on the screenplays of the classic noir films "To Have and Have Not," "The Big Sleep" and "Mildred Pierce." He was generally miserable in Los Angeles, however; according to legend, he left a meeting at his studio saying he was going home to write, and instead of heading to his apartment across town went all the way back to Mississippi. "I know now I will never be a good motion-picture writer," he said in 1956. "That work will never have the urgency my own medium has."

Milch, of course, has made television his medium. "I’m delighted to expand my longstanding relationship with HBO to encompass the adaptation of some of the most important literary works by any American writer into television films and series,” Milch said in a statement. "As we embark on this ambitious project, our first commitment is to serve the material, and we look forward to identifying and collaborating with the best screenwriters and filmmakers to help each of the pieces find its ideal form onscreen."

If they had met, Faulkner and Milch might have talked about Hollywood, but they might have found other topics to discuss.  "Good art can come out of thieves, bootleggers, or horse swipes," Faulkner said in 1956. "The best job that was ever offered to me was to become landlord in a brothel."


Even Faulkner had a day job

William Faulkner's Oxford, Mississippi

A new bar taps L.A.'s literary history

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Left, William Faulkner at home, working, 1950. Credit: Associated Press. Right: David Milch, working on the set of "Deadwood" in 2004. Credit: HBO