Monday, March 18, 2013


Years after the fact, you often have dreams (daydreams and longer, more sophisticated night ones) about them.  In a significant way, they remain as much with me as the images of my first crush, Rena Passacantando, and my second and third, not to forget her of the mellifluous name Helayne, leading the way to the likes of Barbara, then Pauline, the persistence of Ruth, and what about Lois?  Seems you had a great many crushes, growing up.  True enough.  And the literary equivalents were there as well, some of them not so remote in terms of their fame and effects.  Try Leigh Brackett, for instance, or Andre Norton.  Try Zenna Henderson.  Try Ursula K. (even back then, you knew what the K. stood for) Le Gunn.

Don't forget Albert Payson Terhune or Robert Heinlein, and there was a Howard Pease, and  a Joseph Altsheler, and C. S. Forester before we move back into the names from the old pulp magazines, names such as Manley Wade Wellman, Bram Stoker, Paul Cain, and one whose writings about a detective named Max Friday reminded you of the kinds of stuff you were writing.

Even into your twenties, when you were a temporary mail deliverer during the Christmas break and got to deliver envelopes stuffed with what you knew were galley proofs of forthcoming stories.  Ray something or other.  Ray Bradbury.

You were reading these ladies and gents because you had to, which is to say you were reading them because you were addicted to the magazines in which they were published, or because librarians suggested them to you as a means of feeding the roaring furnace that was you.

You think about these men and women and what they did to you.  They made what they did seem so easy.  They made you think you could do the same thing.  Never mind that part of their talent was to make what they did seem easy and believable.  Never mind that they were such professionals that you made the mistaken leap of learning to the plateau where you believed you had to have a story all plotted and ready before you could begin setting the words down.

You were well into the world of burned bridges before you realized, often in great heaves and gobs of frustration and despair, that "it" was not as easy as you'd been led to believe.  Who led you down this sinuous path?  They did.  Not in so many words, but rather from their very words.  The effect they were having on you was exactly the effect you'd hoped to have on readers of those same pulpy pages, those same "paperback" novels you were able at one time to buy from coin-operated machines for twenty-five cents a pop.

One of the many turns those early, bridge-burning, frustrating days took you was into the world of publishing, where you were dealing with some of the names you'd read with such fascination.  Bill S. Ballinger.  Tom Dewey.  Steve Fisher.  "Jeez, kid,"  Fisher once said, "don't go getting mushy on me."  But you did, and he gave you the book he'd said he always wanted to write.  Frank Gruber made it seem even easier than you'd thought.  He was under contract to give two mysteries a year to Dutton.  He was story editor of a TV series called Tales of Wells-Fargo," and he still gave you four books.

Another of the turns was meeting Gunnar Hjerstedt who, wanting something a bit more catchy, called himself Day Keene.  Watching him and another Floridian, Bob Turner, spin out story after story, the business of easy came forth again.  Nothing to it, Keene instructed you, or rather tossed it off one night at Slim Harrison's Bank Cafe on Gaffey Street in the waterfront slums of San Pedro.  "TFS,"  he said.  "All you have to do.  TFS."

"TFS?"  you said.

"Tell the fucking story."

You do, which is to say most of the time you do.  Most of the time, you're confident that you can go back, search and destroy the places where you don't.  But the sense of it, the import of it, they carry over into everything.

Nothing is easy.

Sometimes, getting out of bed in the morning is not easy, and when you've not long ago read some comment from a writer who says she bounds our of bed or he can't get up early enough to suit his writing Jones, you think you have a good deal to learn about such a simple thing as getting out of bed, thus how can you hope to get to the computer or a note pad and get things down.

Deadlines help.  You've put in enough time living with such things to have learned what great triggering devices they are to getting you focused on the story, the project, which, to your great relief, seems to be down there, swirling about somewhere, waiting for you to tell it.  You've come to a place where you enjoy deadlines for their part in helping you realize they help you meet them by forcing you to ignore potentials for digression.  They also help you realize there are times when you are well ahead of them and have listened to the material earlier.

Writing and getting out of bed are not the only difficult things, now that you think of it.  Everything is difficult because writing and getting out of bed have contributed, each in its own way, to helping you see how splendid the potential is for doing everything with a sort of elan or panache or both.  All about you, there are men and women doing difficult things, making them seem remarkable in their performance.

This business of difficulty, then; it has nothing to do with age.  Difficulty has to do with the integrity of events and your decisions to give them, whatever they might be, an inertia that is a combination of fun, enthusiasm, and a reach that takes you somewhere beyond ordinary.  Then you come face to face with the wonderful fear that the thing you've chosen to do--getting out of bed, say, or writing a paragraph, or making some coffee--is a thing you might botch.

Then you go forth and have at it.

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