The Wire is a sixty-segment novel-for-television, set in contemporary Baltimore, where it follows the lives and interactions of an ensemble cast. Noted for its gritty, well-written scenes and its characters, all of whom are memorable in their edgy plausibility, it takes on social issues such as drugs, education, corruption, and the politics of survival in such professions as government, law enforcement, working conditions, and journalism. Scarcely a week elapses when you do not think about it in some way, even if it is the unfortunate one in which you wonder if many of the excellent black actors who appeared in it will ever again have such opportunities to display their talents.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Ordinarily voice would mean to you the narrative tone residing in a story or essay, the genie of attitude in the bottle of the writer's intent and the characters' agendas. This time it means the voices the writer hears in his or her head after having let someone read a work.
Monday, March 29, 2010
The moment you are attracted to the notion of a particular story being something you could engage as it pulses just beyond your reach, it assumes power over you. Willingly, you grant this power. As you move to delineate, define, develop the story, the balance of energy tilts your way until, eventually, you have power over the story. This is an ongoing process where you are sometimes under the thumb of the story, other times its master.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
The past is a place you visit to see how much--if anything--you've learned since then. You use it to ratify or validate things you once or presently consider certainty, to confirm suspicions, and build precedent from which to make future decisions.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
You are indebted at the very least to the following writers:
1. Mark Twain--who got you started thinking you could, too.
2. Louise Erdrich--who made even the smallest walk-on seem gifted and magical.
3. Daniel Woodrell----who knows how to elegantly frustrate his characters.
4. John Steinbeck--for first causing you to feel the goddamned Salinas River.
5. Jane Austen--who did not always say what she meant nor mean what she said.
6. Grace Metalious--who showed you how even soap opera could be compelling.
7. Graham Greene--who show you where to put the humor.
8. Digby Wolfe--who showed you how what you considered humor wasn't.
9. Bobbie Ann Mason--who showed you what POV really means.
10. F. Scott Fitzgerald--for showing you how to use lyricism in the midst of a story.
11. Richard Price--for showing you how to listen.
12. Sarah Orne Jewett--for explaining regionalism to you.
13. Rachel Maddux--for showing you where care begins.
14. Mazo de la Roche--for hooking you early on people who were completely foreign to you.
15. Dorothy B. Hughes--for luring you into the Mystery Writers of America
16. Vera Casperay--for showing you what happens when your narrator falls for a dame.
17. Day Keene--for showing you there was nothing wrong with a novel a month.
18. Louis L'Amour--for nudging you into better ways to begin.
19.Lawrence Lipton--for showing you what professionalism meant.
20. Hilary Mantel--for showing you how to find the new buried within the old, old.
21. Sol Stein--for urging you to never take the reader where the reader wants to go.
22. Adela Rogers St. John--for failing to embarrass you.
23. Geoffrey Chaucer--for The Pardoner and The Wife of Bath: Middle-Ages Noir.
Individually and in the aggregate, these and a handful of others led you to see that any success you could ever hope to achieve would come from you being more you, in fact entirely you, and not them.
Friday, March 26, 2010
In a meeting with a student yesterday, you were handed your own reading copy of a manuscript that turned out to be exactly what you asked for: the first draft, the very first draft of the first scene of a short story. As you read through it, one minor suggestion quickly arose--reverse the order of the first two sentences. A mere editorial enhancement. Reading farther along, you felt yourself gripped by a growing sense of unease that had nothing whatsoever to do with the student, who after all truly did give you exactly what you'd asked. Rather the sense of discomfort spreading just below the enjoyment level of your medium latte was a strike of lightning hitting you, particularly the you of the past, directly in the middle of your attitude.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
You have a particular fondness for 7-11 stores and the various service station convenience stores, second only to the small neighborhood groceries on the fringes of the older parts of town here in Santa Barbara. Perhaps your favorite of all is The Italian Grocery on De La Guerra Street, which you patronized back in an earlier incarnation as well when it was on Olive Street. The moment you enter, you are overwhelmed by a cloud of ground coffee, olive oil, sliced deli meats, and the yeasty tang of fresh rolls. As if this were not enough, you are nearly assaulted by rows of canned and bottled groceries with the most colorful and evocative labels, labels that are so frankly ethnic that you find yourself sneering at the smug uniformity of the brands stocked by the chain supermarkets. Even the canned Heinz baked beans on sale at the chain supermarkets look different at the Italian Grocery.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Whatever it happens to be--idea, inanimate object, seed pod, or unfinished torpedo sandwich tossed at a waste can at a park and missed--you note it, take it in for a moment or two, then move on to another random assortment of things. Some things seem so hauntingly meaningful--a plush Donald Duck, say, sitting on a cushion of a cushion-sprung sofa discarded on a back street, that you grab a shot of it with your cellphone or Leica or perhaps make a note of it on the handful of three-by-five index cards you often carry.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Most of the early books you associate with your discovery that you, too, wished to spend your working life among them were fiction, many of them by Twain. Until you chanced upon one work of nonfiction in particular, during your junior year at the university, yiou were seeing books as bright, reflective surfaces, things that shined in the darkness of your ignorance about the world about you and the people and animals who inhabited it.
Monday, March 22, 2010
A significant feature of the free association techniques encouraged by analysts with a Freudian bent is the information deduced by the analyst and possibly the analysand as well. This aspect has long enthused you, taken as you are with the lightning-like static of seemingly free-floating ideas being related to others in ways you have just begun to understand. The possibilities yammer and cry out with the possibilities that you will learn more about your characters from this associative process as the story develops and the revision begins to provide you with yet greater results.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Thinking about characters who appeal to you on some deeper-than-ordinary level, you are more often than not drawn to outsiders, men or women of any age who neither arrived on schedule or took conventional evolution for granted. Most of these outsiders are moral enough--as moral as any of us--to inspire the trust a reader needs in order to sign on to one of their adventures; they have a more instinctive understanding of the use of the semi-colon rather than the more strictly grammatical approach. They are not angry persons bent on revenge or evening any particular score so much as they are enthusiastic about social justice in general, often arriving at that place from a situation in which they were shown the back of the hand of social justice.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
To hear something spoken of as the last word is to hear a prompt for filling in the implication that the subject under consideration is the latest most received wisdom on the matter. The last word, in that context, is a synonym for latest, recent, perhaps even newest. If, however, we were to apply just a tad more heat to the last word trope, we'd find ourselves in the midst of a squabble, one at first worth dropping some eaves upon.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Much of your writing life has been conducted in an uneasy relationship with metaphor, beginning with a distant memory of some teacher telling you you could never hope to understand romantic poetry, which of course you at the time wished to write, without some degree of intimacy with it. But with some notable exceptions in your reading, it became apparent to you that you'd have to find some other way in with romantic poetry because so much of it, metaphorical, allegorical, and simile-like, did not stand the test of time. This was about the time you discovered William Carlos Williams, but that is for another time, since this means to stay for at least a few paragraphs on the subject of metaphor.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
The spoken word in a dramatic narrative is a welcomed respite from the conversation of the workplace, school, home, and all those places in between where we attempt to convey our needs and dreams to others. Although these spoken words have subtext and make some attempt at nuance, they are not dialogue and they are precisely not dialogue because no matter how we yearn or try to be characters, we are merely ourselves. As ourselves, we speak conversational English, trying to enhance the result with wit, possibly even humor. We go about our daily routine approaching moments when we wish we had dialogue to offer but at the same time mindful that dialogue does not work in the quotidian any more than conversation works to any effect at all in fiction.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
A major book you have not read, regardless of your reason for not having read it, is a book that has gotten away from you. With the hundred thousand-odd books published every year, even two or three missed connections a month add up to at least thirty more quality books a year that have passed you by.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Last night I dreamed I went to UCLA again. It seemed to me I stood midway between Royce Hall and the Library, amazed at finding myself there. Unlike the protagonist's experience in Rebecca, I found no gates closed against me, no ominous chains or locks, only a mild and not unpleasant drizzle as I purposefully moved toward the library and the sprawl of steps leading to the main entrance. From that point, it was over to the western banister, a large concrete slab near which chums often met between classes and at which place many of us left books, notebooks, even temporarily unworn jackets or sweaters, a sort of large, informal substitute for a bank of hall lockers. There were present at the steps a group of younger men, all clad in suits and ties. They did not seem to know me nor I them, giving me the sense that some form of closure with them and the venue, itself, had been achieved, a closure that could not be sorted out at the moment because, approaching me was a young woman who apparently had been expecting me and although I did not recognize her as a specific individual I nevertheless felt pleased to see. I strode toward her and the dream ended.
Monday, March 15, 2010
The process of writing, as you have come to understand and intend it, is a continuous and evolving pleasure, otherwise why, not being too much a masochist, would you persist in doing it, why would your files, such as they are, your hard drives, your shelves and notebooks be filled with it? At one time, it is true, you entered the process with a number of different purposes, not the least of which was to extract revenge upon reality for not having heeded your vision of how it ought to go, at other times to provide the equivalent of historical footnotes, citations drawing the readers' attentions to the ways in which plans laid by others in reality had failed to materialize or had produced such dismal results as to need some sort of scholarly rebuttal.
We'll get you a better one." You write to mourn losses, to temporarily replace them, to invent scenarios in which what was lost is found or realized as inevitable. You write to get on with life, which you do by observing it in ways that do not turn you away from wanting to observe. You thus write to immerse yourself with growth and evolution.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
There is something about traveling alone with a dog for a trip of two or three hundred or so miles that is at once energizing, affirming, and satisfying. Not by any means that lesser distances with the same dog are lacking in satisfaction; quite often a simpler trip, some ordinary chore or even a trip to swim laps at the Y pool is the better for her company. The longer the trip, you might say, the more different its rhythm and camaraderie. A simple trip to the bank, for instance, usually brings her a biscuit or, if the teller knows her, one for now, one for later.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
The fact of you agreeing to be one of the two judges in a fiction contest--short stories and stand-alone segments of novels--reminds you once again of the notional climate inherent in any contest and/or submissions landscape. There is, for instance, the fact of you with a work of your own in submission for two months with a publisher whose books you have published two reviews. Speaking of which, there is the persistent campaign being waged by the author of a self-published book to have you review his project, despite your assurances that anything you might think to say about the work would hardly encourage anyone to read it, much less to buy it. There is also the incest of you living in a city with a larger-than-median percentage of writers, both published and aspiring, and, speaking of the nooks and crannies of interconnectedness, the other judge in this latest writing contest is not only a friend but someone who became a friend as a direct consequence of a published review of his last major novel.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
You've been at some pains in your attempts to describe how to get "in" a particular narrative, experiencing greater degrees of the narrative's reality than you do the settings of the reality you just left. Most probably, you will never get the exact coordinates to your satisfaction; for one thing, when you're in, you're never sure quite how you got there, and for another, when you're out, you aren't entirely sure how or why it was you were evicted.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
There is a thin line between writing for yourself and writing for others. If you are sincere about writing for yourself, there is a sense of urgency straining to get the concept down in enough detail so that the material lives as a vibrant set of notes for you to reconsider at a later time. If you are writing for others there is more likely to be some rhetorical device such as irony or question, beckoning you and a potential reader into the labyrinth created by the collision of ideas. Worst of all, if you are writing to show off, there will be name dropping and stunning flights of vocabulary, each a testament to acquaintances. Thus this warning to yourself: You do not have to convince anyone how many persons or words you know, merely an eagerness to listen, to engage in conversation or argument. Or more briefly, ideas--not fustian.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Back in the days when you had shed your cocoon and had begun to become aware of the increasing number of outer things to study, things such as grass and flowers and trees, which could yield such succulent surprises as sour grass to chew, snapdragons to play with, and the Ceratonia siliqua tree which produced the remarkable snack of St. John's bread, you were increasingly aware of elders whose mission in life seemed to be intoning "Hey, kid, get away from that_____" filling the blank with an appropriate noun.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Then is a word to be taken seriously, but when?
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Of all the mischievous, intriguing, and pesky words in the English language, few are cantankerous as now. In some broad, dictionary sense, now means at the present moment. Yet there are other senses attaching themselves to now so that the word buzzes about you like a persistent housefly on a summery day, more attracted to you than you would want anything to be. You swat at it, hopeful of driving it away, and for a time you appear to have been successful, but then it returns wanting something from you, persisting until, at some length, you are driven away. It has won. You have moved on from now to then.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
There are any number of rules, edicts, and perorations relative to what is acceptable in written prose, but when you either write something egregious or read it in the work of another, you suspect there need to be even more cautions than there are.