Saturday, November 14, 2009

Juggling Full Plates

One afternoon at lunch, Fannie Flagg told you a story that stuck with you like a limpet on the piling of a pier.  After Fannie had published her first book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, and it had begun to sell, subsequently attracting audiences at book stores where she spoke, Fannie was in a small Southern bookstore, telling how things had begun for her.  While she spoke, she noticed a woman standing toward the rear of the seated listeners, seemingly clutching a glass that either had iced tea in it or not, which is to say bourbon if not iced tea.

After Fannie had finished her presentation, the woman in the rear stepped forward to greet her in a way greatly suggesting the contents of the glass were indeed bourbon.  She extended her hand.  "Harper Lee,"  she said, "I just want to tell you I enjoyed your book and hope it doesn't sell a million copies during its first year."

Harper Lee's first novel sold quite well the first year out and for forth-nine subsequent years.  Her heartfelt wish to Fannie was that, unlike her own career, Fannie's continued to multiply with new projects every year or so,

For reasons you connect with your own imp of the perverse, the chilling story came to you again this morning in such a way that you knew it was the core incident of the novel you'll want to write after you finish the current one, the one underway and now a scene or two into the sixth chapter.

Your protagonist will have been involved with a woman wound around the armature of Harper Lee, one to whom he suggests and encourages dreadful book projects to this character, which she publishes under a pseudonym but which keep her too busy and interested to succumb to her former serious drinking problem.

Having this insight when the current novel is not yet even close to completion is part of a lifelong process of yours, a process that at its worst has you spread as thin as the peanut butter in a cafeteria sandwich, and at best proves your own observation that there is nothing so fertile as work to produce the impetus for more work.

There is nothing quite so wonderful as to approach work with the fullness of having much of it before you, material you like and wish to pursue.  Nothing is as awful as having nothing before you but a yawning void.  Nearly as awful is thinking on a particular day, when the immediate work refuses to budge, that all you have to do is pursue one of those projects in a holding pattern, but alas, you've forgotten that when you are in such a mood, everything before you appears vanilla, bland, lacking traction.  If you are truly fortunate, some fresh thing will emerge, like a model striding down the runway, presenting itself to you, and you will throw yourself at it, once again saved from doldrums by the charismatic aura of work not yet performed.

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