Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Clients

"You must admit," your client said, "that there were some pretty effective moments in those opening chapters."  He was a large frame of a man, his curly gray hair running in distinctive cowlicks on his proportionately large head.  Like many a person successful in a business or profession before turning his goals toward storytelling, he was used to being at a level where underlings reported to him with some degree of deference if not outright respect.

You admitted that the effective moments were, in effect, too far apart to warrant the client's offhanded admiration of them.  "Readers for agents and editors will see through them,"  you said.  "They're used to looking for holes and soft spots the same way a chiropractor is used to watching the way a patient moves when entering the examination room, headed toward the examination table."

"But surely you read all the way through,"  the client said. forcing you to remind him you'd been paid to do so.  Readers for literary agents and editors are frequently instructed to stop as soon as they can.

Your client proceeded to demonstrate his leadership qualities.  He wanted an answer leading to a tangible solution.  "What's the next step?"  he asked.  "And don't give me any of that Samuel Becket  fail again, but fail better crap."

Your nod was not a bobble-head nod, rather one of recognition that a point had been reached where you were about to become the target of the client's argumentative powers, then, when that failed, you were about to be offered at the least an equivalent of a month's income to "tight line edit" or "provide notes for a substantial restructure," either of which could be interpreted to mean that you would in essence write the first fifty or sixty pages.

What a pity things had to end on that note.  The client had an intriguing enough approach to a story, fueled by a protagonist who could, with some close attention, carry another novel or two.  The client also had an attitude and a quality you well recognize because you had it growing up, saw it morph to a more adult version of itself, then evolve into its middle-age and beyond aspect.  The quality is, of course, impatience.  Truth to tell, you are every bit as impatient now as your client, on whom you have in the neighborhood of a twenty-five year age advantage.

Your impatience is different than his.  You know this because you owned the kind of impatience he has.  His was the kind of impatience you began to see at work as you moved through the editorial ranks at your first significant publishing experience, acquiring the status of being able to contract a certain number of books a year without the need of getting approval from the editorial board.

One impatient author Scotch-taped gold dust to a query letter, another offered you a year's worth of spinal adjustments, yet another offered you a year's worth of deep-tissue scaling of your teeth, another still was convinced that if he could get you to your favorite restaurant, which at the time was a Sunset Strip venue called Scandia, after two or three martinis, you'd give up the secrets you and "the whole damned coterie of editors everywhere" kept from emerging writers, sharing them only with those "already in the club."

You were accused of taking on one author only because he was a doctor and medical thrillers were hot at the time, while in fact the accuser was an attorney who liked nothing better than to sue doctors.

There are explanations for such things; they are in effect all symptoms of impatience at work, impatience to be published, impatience to learn craft, impatience to find fresh ways of telling stories that could be cliches of they were not given the infusion of freshness.

Your impatience has always had to do with age, there is no gainsaying that, nor is there gainsaying your impatience is motivated by a different undercoating of fear than the impatience of your earlier years.

How fortunate you were able to come on John Keats when you did, in your early twenties, where he said it for you again and again as you moved through subsequent decades and subsequent varieties of impatience:


WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be  
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,  
Before high pil`d books, in charact'ry,  
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;  
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,         5
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,  
And feel that I may never live to trace  
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;  
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!  
That I shall never look upon thee more,  10
Never have relish in the faery power  
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore  
  Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,  
  Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.  

You were able to move beyond today's client, treat yourself to another coffee and almond croissant, then rush home to where your impatience waited for you, nagging.  You never write.  You never call.  What am I to do with you?

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