Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Friends and Characters

You’ve had sufficient reasons to spend time these past few days looking at your short stories, the most dramatic one of all the prospect of a collection of them appearing in January or February of 2013 after ten or twelve of them will have been presented on your publisher’s website on a one-per-month basis.

Sorting through them, looking for themes, intentions, and related approaches to characters and conflict, you notice a tendency to use the names and qualities of certain of your friends, which is a habit you picked up to a slight degree while still in the university, but with increasing deliberation after you began the process of being paid to learn, which is to say writing at least a novel a month for a number of years, turning to your first love, the short story, if there was any time left in a given month.

There were such times, amazing as it seems now, because those years of twelve novels a year, while they may have done you some good, set up seemingly impenetrable barriers for fiction for the next four or five years, thus you solution to write a nonfiction work every month, to the point where you couldn’t do that, either.

The happy solution was that you needed to write or you would tend to become crabby, irritable, unsatisfied, haunting used bookstores and new ones, looking for the one book, old or new, that would transform your frustration, make everything clear to you, provide not only subject matter but voice.

Didn’t work.

For such a book to exist, you have to write it.  The rest of the knowledge attached to that information is not encouraging:  such a book can only exist for one time, then you have to find another or write another because you will have changed.  The message is the same with stories, too.  Even if you are wanting a bit of mischief and using real names or close approximations of real names.  A longtime associate of yours, for instance, is the science fiction writer, Charles E. Fritch, whom you happened on when a group of your friends were working in the aerospace industry as technical writers, Jerry Williams before he veered off to attend law school, Len Pruyn whose writing began to connect for a time, and Michael Hurley, the disturbed musician who left L.A. for San Francisco, where he began writing books for a series you edited, while drinking his way through sales jobs in San Francisco.  Thinking about Charles E. Fritch’s name, you invented a character, Chick Fitch, whom you brought out from time to time when you were bored.  Pruyn is Dutch for brown, thus Lennie Brown.  Jerry’s middle name was John, and so Jerry Johns.

A young lady you were enamored of at the time was reading a book co-written by Len Pruyn and Day Keene, in which a character named Lowenkopf appeared, causing her to laugh to the discovery by the professor, who brooked no reading of fiction in his classes.
Mischief is fun.  There is a rather malicious character named Shelly in your favorite Ray Bradbury story, “The Parrot Who Loved Papa,” the papa being Hemingway, the malicious Shelly understandable because your personal relationship with Bradbury was, until most recent years, a cantankerous one that had its origins when you were his substitute mail deliverer during Christmas vacations.

Inventing characters is as difficult as forming a good friendship, although there are differing goals and parameters.  You need to be more forgiving of a friend; characters must be in constant need to earn their keep in a story.  Sometimes you have to kill them off or transform them in ways you had not expected.  Different laws and reasons obtain.

Both will and do surprise you, which is why it is easy to feel devoted to them.  With enough surprise, you will not be allowed to rewrite a book you had already written nor retell a story you’d already discovered your way out of.  You have discovered in two stories the relevant fact of a character named Unkefer having lived in a 1963 AMC Pacer, a vehicle the actual Unkefer owned but did not, so far as you know, live in.

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