Monday, February 28, 2011

Details

Based on your experience as editor in chief of four book publishing venues of enormous diversity as well as the head of the Los Angeles office of an enormous massmarket publisher with roots deep into the early days of the paperback so-called pocket book, you have a certain awareness of how books find their way into print and how books that may not in all honesty be books as much as they are compilations of authorial and editorial come into being.

Only yesterday a friend told you of the amazing coincidence of a Hungarian sausage maker facility next door to a veterinarian hospital in the small high desert community of Pear Blossom, California.  You are fond of sausages, look toward Hungary as a wellspring of your paternal heritage a few generations back, and have had some quality relationships with veterinarians from the time a certain black and white cat came into your life while you were furiously churning--for that is the word--pulp novels from your Hollywood Hills apartment to and including today's visit with Bonnie Franklin, the personal physician of your fourteen-year-old Sally.  Although the proximity of sausage factory and vet office did strike you as an interesting example of context, it did not make you cynical about, nor does your association with books.  As indeed the protagonist in the Brazilian writer, Machado de Assisi, realized about himself, you are a small winner for the connection, by which you mean you are more optimistic about things that get published than you are pessimistic about such things as The Da Vinci Code and The Ladies' Number One Detective Agency being published (and all of Tom Clancy).  For one thing, such books help finance books that have chances of lasting beyond any equivalent of a Use-by date.

All this is background, lead-up, perhaps even an apologia for the fact of not being so prolific as you once were.  This drop in prolificy--dare you even run it on to profligacy?--came about because you learned and are still learning to revise your own material (to the point where it sometimes becomes difficult to get a letter written) and because you have in one way or more, edited some five hundred booklength projects into publication.

It will take, you are now reckoning, a return to being prolific to answer the questions haunting you about how much of you gets into your work, with and without your volition.  At one point, even though you were studying the nuances of mystery writing with Dorothy B. Hughes and her good friend, Vera Caspary, nudged by both into the office politics of Mystery Writers of America, you were relieved to discover you no longer wished to write mysteries, only to read them.  Now, some years later, although you still read them to some degree, you are more interested in writing them to the point of having one worked out in some detail and near to seven chapters done, the second, involving the same character, who is not only you but the you you have been writing about since undergraduate years.

Reading Julian Barnes' estimable Flaubert's Parrot was like grabbing hold of an electric eel without the benefit of wearing gloves; the novel was meant to reveal to the reader that the narrator, a retired doctor and widower (whose widow in fact has the initials E.B.) is a stand in for Charles Bovary, but what some of us might infer as well is that Flaubert's Parrot is also an excuse for Barnes writing a fictionalized and well-layered biography of Flaubert.  You are a fond reader of Barnes, thus you notice certain of his themes and conceits, leading you into wondering what your own themes and conceits are.

While slipping in a well-deserved coffee and brioche at Renaud's Bakery today, making notes along these lines, you heard two elderly gentlemen at an adjacent table.  One of the men was noting in a rueful manner that it has become invariable for him to discover portions of his hearing aid in his fresh laundry.  Were you to need a hearing aid, you do not believe you would allow portions of it to stray so far as to find its way into your laundry.  This is, of course, your way of noticing materials that abound in the world about you, forgetting that at least two, sometimes as many as three times a week, you leave home without your cell telephone although you never seem to leave without your pocket knife or fountain pen.
If you are to discover revelatory things about yourself, you will have to find more relevant details to bring into the conversation.

Back in the earlier days of your writing, you'd have brought things around to conclude somehow, a coda recapitulation or modulating bridge that brought you back to the Hungarian Sausage Maker, located next to a veterinarian hospital in Pearblossom.  But you are no longer content to allow those kinds of resolutions, which may be the reason behind your wish to return to the mystery.

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