Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Twee Grows in Brooklyn

On many occasions, you've set the writer in context with the actor, the musician, and the photographer.  Your linking, common denominator is time; each work uses time in some significant degree.  Time must be understood, manipulated, bent into an artistic submission.

Now you consider the connection between the writer and the travel agent, the individual who books the client on a journey to a specific destination.  Time is a factor in a number of ways.  How many days will be spent in travel?  How long will the reader or the traveler remain in the destination?  A fanciful-but-not-improbable follow-up for the writer:  In what historical or present-day time frame will the reader and characters experience the story?

Such questions and comparisons brim with appropriateness.  The reader is in fact embarking on a journey to a place, in a particular time frame.  The reader is saying with some measure of  determination, "Even if I believe I have been to this place before, I am booking with you because you know things about the place and its denizens I have not experienced in quite the same way."

You may have been to the India of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India, but you may be assured it is not the India of Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet, even though there might well emerge some duplication of themes.   One was written in the 1920s, the other some years later.  The characters and politics differ.  You differ.  Indeed, were you to read each, you would become even more different.

The notion of the writer and the travel agent having much in common encompasses your belief that when you read a story, you wish to be sent somewhere, to a locale of the inner self and the outer world, places where attitudes, conventions, and expectations mingle, but not always on the most friendly terms.

A slight digression here to bring forth the backstory of you having, over the years, read a good deal of early draft material, much of it from students but also from clients.  By its intrinsic nature, early draft material is the literary equivalent of bath towels made of sandpaper instead of deep-pile Turkish cotton.  Early draft material is abrasive, reminding you of the work necessary to perfect it, remind you of your own earlier drafts and, indeed, your current early drafts.  More work to be done.

You'd in many cases prefer to read in order to be transported instead of reading to diagnose where the work needs to be done and how to insert it or emend it or amend it.

You are always pleased to learn when writers you have less than cordial feelings for find it necessary to respond to copious editorial notes.  This helps you form a fantasy-type revenge fantasy in which the authors sense of self has been deflated, at least in your esteem if not actual fact.  You are aware of the degree to which this attitude brings your own sense of skill and competence down.

It is a mistake to think too highly or lowly of yourself in such matters.  Best to get the early drafts sending you surrender messages, appearing to you to behave as evocative writing should, neither attempting to dazzle the reader with stylistic effects nor attach the handicap weights of too much explanation to the prose.

Enough is, after all, enough.

Effective stories are tours to places you've always intended to visit, consciously or through the half-opened gate of curiosity.  Many essays dealing with the question of whether writing should first entertain then instruct tend to forget how a novel, when composed with skill--Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot and Annie Proulx's The Shipping News come to mind as examples--can do both.  Simultaneously.

On occasion when you retreat to a novel as though it were comfort food, you are all for being pulled in by a promise of entertainment.  Even then, you are being seduced by the skills of the writer, who already has you packing your bags, wondering what to take along for the journey.  You have no idea where you are going.  The route may change at any moment.  But you'll be there, won't you?

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