Tuesday, May 13, 2014

From the Birds with Love

In its own, perverse way, the story idea that comes splattering down upon you is like an unwanted gift from a most unwanted bird.  Both are unexpected messes, wanting some sort of attention.

The story mess is of a more metaphorical nature, its presence more an occasion of an "oh," of an "okay," rather than the bird splatter evoking such responses as "gross," and "of all persons on earth, why me?"

In what is perhaps a serious indicator of where you are on the scale of persons you know, have known, or know of who have written short stories and continue to write them, you have cultivated rituals which you believe will assist you in dealing with the gifts of story that come to you.  You've even encouraged such appearances, even to the point of being a bit overeager, mistaking some signs of story for the actual presence of story.  In any and all cases within your experience, the appearance of story means significant work.

The short story writers you admire, those men and women who produced work you enjoyed and, in most cases upon rereading them, still admire, make the art seem easy.  This seeming easiness reflects to a degree on your case, where you were in fact able to tell Helen Meyer, the Publisher of the entire Dial, Dell, Delacorte empire, that she should hire you because you had good taste.  

Having the taste to admire a writer is one vector set in motion.  Having the ability to understand why you admired the writer and how the writer achieved her or his success is yet another vector set in motion.  Having the ability to look at a pre-editorial work, see what additional work from the author it needs, and how to suggest this to the author is even yet another.

One out of three at bats is okay in baseball, but having one out of three of these abilities in the kind of relationship you wish to have with story is an entire other matter.  You were in over your head before you realized it.  Even hitting the extreme depths of alcoholism or drug abuse plateau or rock bottom was not sufficient to stay you.  As you began to study writers whose work had at first caused you the false sense of comradeship with them, you began to understand the work necessary to remove obvious traces of work. 

 Some of these traces were a compelling style, other traces had to do with the use of vocabulary, while yet other traces were tendencies to go romping off on a metaphor, which required yet another metaphor as proof of the  cleverness that seemed to roll off your back like the water from a freshly bathed dog.

No wonder the years from about twenty to about thirty were so fraught with the growing sense you'd been caught out, attending a party to which you'd not been invited.

Your good fortune was the effect of the nineteen- and twenty-=year-old braggadocio you put on got you into and around enough places to last you for a few more years, wherein people thought you unusually precocious.  Neither they nor you were able to pin down with accuracy what you were precocious at:  confidence.

You naturally identified with men and women who were prolific, leading you to think you were prolific because you wrote a good deal as opposed to writers who not only wrote a good deal, they revised and reshaped the things they wrote.

The thundering convergence of technique, theme, voice, and attitude you were able to associate with other writers never quite came for you with the same sense of momentous arrival and presence as it seemed to have come for others.  Consideration of this led you to understand how it was that persons who wrote blurb copy for dust jackets and for publishers' catalogues were, in effect, skilled at advertising.  Their job was to make you think what you were reading was momentous and significant and talented.  What, after all, is relent but a gift from, if not the birds then surely the gods.  Which gods? 

At one point, you felt yourself in serious competition with such short story writers as John Cheever, Louise Erdrich, Irwin Shaw, Anton Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, Eudora Welty, James Joyce, and William Trevor.

That, too, missed the point.

Now that you are better able to appreciate what they do, these worthies and others like them are showing you how far you need to travel in your own quest to make it seem as easy as they do.

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