Thursday, November 12, 2009

Yet another way of coming out--being a writer everywhere

One of your favorite authors to work with as an editor (and to read as a reader) is William F. Nolan, who in the course of your relationship wrote two biographies for you (John Huston and Dashiell Hammett), a private eye series, and a number of science fiction anthologies.  After carefully folding his advance check into his wallet and departing, you always knew where he would go (a cheap motel and a coffee shop such as a Denny's or Norm's or Carrow's) whence he would begin fleshing out the proposal he'd successfully pitched, invariably delivering (on time) a finished product that called for the merest of editorial notes from you.  He hit some big time with Logan's Run, bought a Porsche and, you believe, the proverbial home in the northern segment of the San Fernando Valley, whereupon he continued to produce but seemed to have hit a fork in the road that led away from cheap motels and coffee shops.

In recent months, you have come to think of WFN thanks in some measure to the amount of work you get done on three by five index cards and ruled note pads, sitting among the other coffee shop gypsies at Peet's, just a quarter of a block northwest of La Cumbre Road on State Street in that part of Santa Barbara the locals refer to as Northside.  Materials for the recent work of nonfiction came spilling forth in useful first draft, whereupon you took them home to enter them on various hard drives and backup systems.  There, among such wildly diverse groups as a Bible Study Class, students from City College and UCSB, teen-age girls trolling for dates, and grandparent types out for an afternoon tea, you set forth the basic events leading up to what you supposed would be a mystery novel, watching it grow from index cards to long pages of character biography to what you thought would be chapter one until you therein composed by hand chapter two, which you wisely decided to recast as chapter one, leaving the earlier chapter one to default as chapter two.  Indeed, it was at Peet's where you realized the simple switch in order allowed you the splendid luxury of multiple point of view, which you have put to advantage and which, only this morning in those early hours of Sally barking at some marauding menace, were you to envision once again as a solution to getting certain vital information on stage.

You are on occasion irritated at Peet's by the scratchy sound of a particular voice or by an encounter with someone you know, wanting conversation when you clearly (to you) want instead the joys of concentration.

At home, you have so few distractions that you are forced to invent them (Twitter, crossword puzzles, checking email, ordering compact discs or books from Amazon, downloading iTunes).  You have scattered about you your lares and penates, a photo of a much beloved blue-tick hound, a photo of your father feeding ducks, a photo of your parents at about mid-life, a pencil sharpener in the form of a Royal upright typewriter given you as a birthday present by a group of students some twenty-five years in the past, an onyx paperweight inscribed by friends who congratulated you on your hire as director of the Los Angeles office of Dell Books, a generous coffee mug from Usinger's Sausage in Milwaukee, a replica of the artwork for a box of Mark Twain brand cigars, given you by Liz Kuball, and an effulgent composition of castles rising in the air, undershot with text cut from Marta Pelrine-Bacon's own novel and which, to be seen at its best advantage, must be mounted on a window sill so that the sunlight shows through in a back-lit fashion, fountain pens everywhere, bottles of ink from everywhere, and at least thirty distinctively shaped ballpoint pens bearing the imprint of Renaud's Patisserie in Loreto Plaza (where you have yet to write a word)and above you, on a shelf to your right, a parade of kachina dolls, powering out animate forces you must only guess at because they are not native to your culture. Why would you want to abandon this for the idiosyncratic clatter of Peet's?

You think you have the answer, which is to take your process out into the world with you, to use it everywhere you go, to make it, books on writing to the contrary notwithstanding, something you can do where ever you might be and under any circumstances, not limited to this one spot, where you are protected and joined by your household gods and goddesses, working always working so that at length it is not possible to separate the dancer from the dance.

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