Friday, March 28, 2014


Ever since you first met her, during the throes of your university years as an undergraduate, you were fond of, but a bit impatient with Jane Austen.  You liked her work well enough, its tone and pacing almost polar to the noir of Dashiell Hammett, Horace McCoy, and Ernest Hemingway.  As you recall the matter at the time, you reasoned that if you could not only put up with but treasure F. Scott Fitzgerald, the least you could do was give Ms. Austen a close reading, thus to see which things you could take away from your reading.

Need you remind yourself your reasoning for attending the university in the first place was to take as many literature courses as you could, hopeful of learning from all those who came before you, so that you could synthesize, arrive at your own identity, then step forth to earn your keep as a storyteller.

There were so many among those you admired, who'd done more or less the same thing, seeming to have had success snatched from the jaws of defeat after enough time in the defeat green room to have had the sorts of writer jobs you were used to seeing on author biographies on the dust jackets of their various books.

We by now know how that scenario played out.  Suffice it to say you had no thoughts of going into publishing on the editorial side of the desk, nor had you thoughts of returning to a university campus for any purpose other than to return books to a library or attend the occasional reunion.

At about the time Brian Fagan was admonishing you, "Mind, you're stepping on Jane Austen," by which he meant you were indeed standing over the spot of her interment, you'd begun to put some useful observations about her into your toolkit.  You'd come to admire her skills in producing characters with tangible goals.  You'd begun to admire to the point of rereading and study her deft uses of subtextual reference in dialogue.  

In the bargain, you'd begun to see how she urged her characters toward a comedic ending, an "and they all lived happily ever after" resolution in which quite often there were happy "up" marriages, where a character from a lower station married into a higher class" and "down" marriages, in which our focus was directed to a character from a more privileged class who saw the values and virtues of an intended mate who happened to be from a lower station.

You saw also how subsequent generations of writers took on this form of dramatic closure.  In a week or so, you will be pursuing this train of evolution in at least one class, noir fiction.  You also saw how adept Ms. Austen was in maintaining close narrative ties to her characters, contributing to the sense of the story being filtered through them rather than from an authorial presence.

Short shrift herein to the you who had to come by this vision for his own work, as though you'd deliberately set out to set a functional path for yourself through your study of your esteemed predecessors, found it, then chose for some years to ignore it.  Such confessions can be detailed later.  The point here is the firmness with which you embrace your vision of effective storytelling, how your favored writers all seem to you willing to allow their characters the equivalent of the keys to the family car without so much as a word of caution.  

You rather expect--and hope--these writers will step aside while their characters get into difficulties, allowing you the chance to see them in action as they try to work themselves free of the complications they do not wish to be burdened with and how they deal with the complications they cannot avoid.

You are in relative states of acceptance with your vision to the point where you compose in it, editing and revising all deviations that appear to undercut the effect of immediacy, unfiltered, with no authorial intrusion.  You teach beginning and intermediate writers with this vision in mind, and you edit professional writers in accordance with the technique-related demands and conventions of this approach.

Tomorrow, in a lovely twist of fate, you are to interview a well-published writer whose vision of story is at least some ninety degrees away from yours, if not polar.  This is before a library group, who will have come out to hear him, billed as "a New York Times bestselling author," the better to feel in contact with reading, writing, libraries, and such idiosyncrasies as the evolution of storytelling techniques.

Your questions and observations should be made with this vision in mind.  You've put considerable time, effort, and that most idiosyncratic of all qualities, concern, into play, discovering some of the steps leading to the path you began to recognize, then began to follow.  Now, it us to you to get him to reveal his.

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