He was your first creative writing teacher, who had not only admitted you to his class when you were a mere tenth grader, he habitually wore double-breasted suits. He took you across the street to the drug store lunch counter, expansively ordered a round of cherry Coke, and proclaimed with an emphasis that vibrates to this very day, "Formula. If you learn the formulas, you will have no trouble." He gave you his tattered copy of Stanley Vestal's Professional Writing, which, he assured you, would help you learn the formulas. For starters, he initiated you with the mantra, Shoot the sheriff in the first paragraph.
From that point and for some time to come, you developed a taste for Jameson's and for either Old Rarity or Chivas Regal. "Never," he warned, "let me catch you drinking Seagram's Seven or Johnny Walker." Frank Fowler was operating on the forged documents of a pseudonym, having decided to call himself Borden (after the milk of Elsie fame) Chase (after the bank of bailout fame). He actually took the time to read a few of your things, giving you such helpful advice as reframing classic stories as he had reframed his most durable work, Red River. "Where the fuck," he asked, "do you think I got the idea for this story?" You waited a beat too long, hopeful for an impressive answer, which meant in those days a show-off answer. "It's fucking Mutiny on the Bounty," he said with triumph, "set on horseback." You will not do well in Hollywood, he said, until you learn how to copy and disguise the traces. In later years, you came to realize, having read much of his work, that he did considerably more than copy and disguise, but then, as you'd taken to vodka collinses and Pimm's Cups, you were sure that the future was paved with formula. Even though you could recite many of them, such as the formula for confessions (sin, suffer, and repent), of the formula for general fiction (a likable character struggles against great odds to achieve a worthwhile goal), you had the same problems with them that you had with geometry, back in high school. It was only when you had a tangible, practical use for geometry, such as designing books, that it made sense, an extrapolation you eventually took to heart in the way you came at story.