Friday, March 7, 2014

The Days of Whine and Ruses

The arrival in the mail of ARCs, advance reading copies, of the forthcoming collection of twelve of your short stories, as selected by your publisher, represents a pair of switches being engaged.

With the exception of a possible discovery of a typo to be corrected, the inside work on the collection is done.  The outside work begins, in which you appear, from time to time at various Internet sites for service as a guest blogger or as respondent in an interview.  You will also appear at signings, where you will read from your collection to an audience of as few as two or three to those intermediate book signings where there are twelve or so, perhaps as many as fifty in the audience.  You will attempt to connect with them; they with you.

Switch number two:  You will begin writing at and about the newest work, its tentative title, A Character Prepares,  its subtitle to be along the lines of, Using the Techniques of Actors as They Prepare for Roles to Help You Produce More Dimensional, Interesting, and Memorable Characters.

That project, due by Wednesday, October 1, will be your companion, waking, sleeping, and in-between.  You will have lover's quarrels with it.  It will stomp out of the house, refusing to speak to you ever again, perhaps even threatening to consult a divorce lawyer. For your part, you will tell it you are beginning to find it boring, citing the lack of interesting conversations, which is bad enough, but you will doubtless take it that one step farther by accusing it if being predictable.  "Where," you will ask it, "is the mystery and excitement of our earlier exchanges?"

It will surely accuse you of cheating on it, of looking at other book projects, possibly even to the point of making some notes or writing an occasional scene.

You will both sort things out along the way, finding your rhythm and that particular narrative voice to keep it recognizably you, yet notable in its difference from the past work.  This is a venture you fully expect to question from time to time, as in, Are you out of your fucking mind, taking on a project like this when you could be working on a novel you have been playing out in your spare dreams for nearly two years?

The answer to the question is yes.  Yes, you are out of your fucking mind, which is the reason for the book in the first place.  Being in your right mind has come to represent to you a number of things in direct conflict with the more formal aspects of your education, things, in fact, you are at great pains to unlearn.

For many years, at least since you were in your second year in high school, where you in effect tripped the switch that turned on the writer mechanisms within, you set about a course of study and practice of a piece with a beginning piano or trumpet or soprano saxophone student.  Learning the language of notes and, beyond their grammar, their syntax.  It was one thing for you to enjoy watching your sister practice Scott Joplin's memorable The Maple Leaf Rag, which you then mistakenly thought you should be able to play, even though you had not practiced it.  You could hear it internally, the way you felt it ought to be played.  For all she was a good player, your sister could not play The Maple Leaf Rag the way you thought it ought to be played.

Your sister was quick to remind you that if you wished to play The Maple Leaf Rag the way you heard it, you needed to forget this business of writing, instead devoting yourself to the study of music.  At the time, you also favored a work by Maurice Ravel, Alborado del Gracioso, which more or less translates as The Afternoon of a Troubadour.  There were certain passages you thrilled to hear but which caused you to realize you would be years, if ever, trying to achieve.  Your sister hinted that these arpeggiated passages needed to be played with finger tips, involving cross-overs, where the left hand played in the treble line above the treble line the right hand was playing.

"Years?"  you said.

"Years,"  your sister said.  "And even then--"

"--even then?"

"You might not get it the way you hear it.  But--"

"But?"

"You could buy the recording of someone who has already put in the necessary practice.  You could listen to it while you were practicing your writing."

She was right.  You could and did listen to copious things Ravel wrote for the piano, including Waltzes, Noble and Sentimental,  which you still hear in your sleep.  

Even though this seems like a digression or, if you will, a riff or a cadenza, it is relevant.  Why would anyone who wished to write stories want to read a book about using techniques actors use to get inside their roles?  Because the techniques overlap.  Acting techniques help you see your characters and the characters of other writers.  The comparison works wonders with many of your students.  Acting techniques force the writer--including you--to "hear" the inner character to the point where the writer--including you--can "see" the character as well.

Your vision has helped you get more interior, have more fun while writing, and a major amount of fun while rewriting or revising or improvising.

Why couldn't a skilled writer simply invent characters and not have to mess around with what could be a distraction and a waste of time?

Because a skilled writer already uses these techniques.  The difference is that the skilled writer may not have articulated these approaches in the same way.  Story is drama.  Why shouldn't the same techniques that work for actors help the writer distance from herself to absorb the presence of the character.

Did anyone ever tell you what a crazy fuck you were?

Your sister.  Only she used nicer words.  "You're a writer,"  she said.  We tended not to use profanity or language charged with colloquial energy.  She may have called you a crazy writer at that time.  Later, when she became a therapist, she embraced the opinion that persons such as you who used words often charged with colloquial energy were better positioned to embrace artistic risk.

You often use music as a backdrop when you write.  Music reminds you of the emotional tone you wish to set.  So this does converge as you thought.  Although you told you sister about Maurice Ravel and his compositions and shared many conversations about classical and jazz preferences, you never told her you had to stop listening to the opening of J.S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavichord or The Goldberg Variations, because they were too distracting and you couldn't work.

You know what she would have said.


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