Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pace

Over the years, the term and concept of pace has meant a good deal to you, caused some dramatic changes within you, and in the process had an influence on you of which you were often unaware.

There was a time when you could not write fast enough.  You'd not yet heard the term "learning curve," but you were in fact on one because of the sense you got of learning so much from what you wrote.  At one point at about age eighteen, when you were in a creative writing class at L.A. City College, where the instructor had a teaching assistant who in effect filtered the student writing the instructor actually saw, you got a note on a submission that rankled you.  "This piece," the TA wrote, "is ready for publication."

What, you wondered, did she know?  You'd seen her writing, which was not, in your opinion, reflective enough of being publication ready that she could have any sense of your own readiness. You did not believe you were as ready as she thought, then told her so.  Things like this sometimes happen:  She submitted your piece to a local publication, where it was accepted, then published, allowing her to gloat, "see.  I told you so."  Even so, these were not words you wished to hear, a turn of events you had occasion to consider many times when you thought a particular piece was ready for publication, but no one else did.

You were setting a writing pace to teach yourself things, to see if you could get the effects you admired in the writing of others, to see if you could do the equivalent of painting yourself into a corner thereupon to see if you could extricate yourself.  This mattered to you because some of the individuals you'd met who were being published advised you that this was the approach.  Editors, they said, love stories where characters get trapped, then work their way out.  Part of your non-learning-curve learning curve saw you having a long fling with Erik Weisz, although by the time you became aware of him, he'd changed his name from Erik to Harry and from Weisz to Houdini.

As Houdini, Weisz, the son of a rabbi, was a noted illusionist and escape artist, two qualities you thought would fit well in a writer's tool kit.  Thus the years of trying to write your way into plausible real life circumstances of which you had no direct knowledge and from which you then with equal plausibility tried to extricate yourself.

You were amazingly prolific, your self-confidence growing at an even more amazing rate.  Somehow, you flew past the rites of passage in which your publication was school-paper related, although some of it was neighborhood newspaper related.  No, you were not paid, unless it was payment to see your name on the by-line.

Then came the point where you wrote to be paid.  There have been occasional bonanzas, but the normal pay rate during those days was at such a level that you needed to up your output to make anything resembling enough so that you did not have to work.  Thus the matter of pace, once again entering the picture.  In order to pay the rent, which was ninety or a hundred dollars a month, get by beyond the crock-pot cuisine level, and support some kind of slush fund to allow you to listen to jazz and/or frequent drinking venues where writers hung out, you had to write a novel a month.  Fifty thousand words.  More or less two hundred double-spaced pages with margins set at 10 and 75.  Twenty five lines of text a page.

Thus novels like the suspense novel, Deadly Dolly, which had a plausible enough conveyance for transporting heroin, the teddy bears and stuffed dogs from your days working for the carnival.  At the time and place, stuffed animals made a plausible conveyance.  You were off and running with a concept, a publisher, an advance of five hundred dollars, which was just enough to allow you to write a rent check without fear of its bouncing.

In those days, there was some room to manage a day or two of float on written checks.  Had you been insincere in your check writing, you'd have been indulging in a process known as "check kiting," wherein the face value of a given check did not necessarily agree with the actual balance in your bank account.

You write such ventures as Deadly Dolly at a rapid pace, to keep a step or two ahead of the stride various check took to clear when presented for transfer of funds.  You did not count on the effects this pace would have on your ability to write fiction, assuming instead of considering such effects how you could write even faster or employ greater efficiency in contriving new plots.  During such times of concern with pace, you had days in which you would finish a novel, separate the carbon sheets and with them the back-up copy of the manuscript, make a mad dash to the Hollywood Post Office, whence you would ship a novel off, pause either to pick up the laundry and/or have lunch, then get home in time to turn out the opening five or six pages of a new novel.

In all likelihood, it was you who observed to yourself that you could not keep this pace for ever, even though your poker=playing friend, Day Keene, seemed to do so.  You could not, and did not, in ironic fashion your various pseudonyms shutting down as each produced a novel.  When a new pseudonym could not bring himself to write a new novel after all the regulars had gone out on strike, you knew you were in trouble, doomed for a time to nonfiction, or doomed perhaps forever to nonfiction.

You in effect could not keep up with the pace even though, when you revisit those times, you were relatively happy, teaching yourself a number of things not to do, should you ever get your fiction-writing groove back.

There are elements to this story, but a moral is not such an element.  There is no moral.  There were a few terrible months when you were led to believe you could not write fiction, a condition not far from the reactions of some editors at times when you believed you could write fiction and indeed wished to write fiction.

You wept, got drunk, took long walks, took up the most pleasing exercise of running.  You read books, took copious notes, even played with the idea of an ironic riposte to a John Cheever short story, "Characters that will not appear in my next novel."  Nada.  No fiction.  Then, one night at a dinner party, you sat next to a man named John who was an editor, who suggested you send him something.  Thus you were in a position of wanting to send something you didn't have.  You did have a dog you loved named Molly.  You began wondering what it would be like if she belonged to someone else, and then you came upon her and discoverers your affinity for her.

In about a month, you had a short story called "Molly."  You were able to write a letter, "Dear John, Good meeting you and Dennis and Gayle's last month.

After a while, you were hard put to keep up the pace of getting ideas for short stories each time you and the real Molly strolled down to the beach.  You could barely keep pace with them.

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