Thursday, October 23, 2014


You shouldn't be doing this, but here it is.  The "this" you shouldn't be doing is in effect showing favoritism, allowing someone in a line that is by its real nature, growing long and impatient.  You reach "this" point with some regularity, when you are in the helpless deliciousness position of being about a third of the way into a new project.

The position is helpless because you cannot go any faster.  Sometimes, you cannot go at all, and so, instead of going forward, writing ahead, you write about the project, what you hope to learn from it, what you hope to put into it, perhaps even how this will help you move a plateau or two above where you are at the moment.

The position is delicious because, seeming sadist that you might well be, you are pappy to be a third into the present idea, so rooted in it that you find yourself having dreams about it in which you are solving problems you were not aware of in waking time.  

There is additional deliciousness in knowing the project will be useful to at least this audience of one which is you.  Yes, it is delicious because you are writing it for yourself, hopeful of being able to vault up a plateau or two toward having better control over the conversational sense of ease you hope to have with future projects.

By a mixture of accident and purpose, you've become yet another thing you'd never thought to become, a historian.  In similar ways to the other important accidents in your life, you had no idea that your eclectic tastes in fiction would take you anywhere close to being an historian.

Even when you were an English major, reading assignments off the course syllabi, you were keeping up with contemporary as well as becoming distracted by some of the non-assigned works from the assigned authors

Thus you real all of Tobias Smollet you could get your hands on, curious to see if you could learn something of the more conventional ways of narrative that you'd learned from reading an epistolary novel of his that, in effect, opened you to the exciting possibilities of multiple point of view (which well prepared you for Wilkie Collins's stunning The Moonstone to the point where you recognized him as a forerunner of a favored twentieth century mystery writer, Salvadore Lambino, aka Ed McBain).

All this one-step-forward, two or three to the sides approach caught up with you and you were not only able to understand point of view and the men and women who pioneered its evolution, you were able to see steps along the way, shifts, as it were, from Neanderthal to Cro-Magnon to Homo Habilus, and so it goes.  Or went.

Here comes a digression in the form of Fowler's Modern English Usage, a comprehensive and witty guide to the use of words, tropes, memes, punctuation, and convention, a guide you were well aware of even before you became aware of the famed, iconic CMOS or Chicago Manual of Style, the preferential usage guide for most of the general trade books published in the U.S.

Somewhere along the way, you'd come across an Americanized version of the Fowler, edited by Margaret Nicholson.  Wonder of wonders, you still have it.  You not only used it to get you in and out of issues of clarity and meaning with your writing, you admired its dictionary-like format.  "Someday," you told yourself, when thinking how you'd like to write what was essentially a series of alphabetized essays, some quite long, some made even more witty by their brevity and edginess.  "Someday."  

In time, someday became today; you began writing such a book, which became The Fiction Writers' Handbook, a nonfiction format you admire because the segments are as long as you were able to make them, no longer nor shorter.  To be sure, your editor suggested deleting the occasional paragraph here, or adding one or two there.  The publisher went so far as to suggest at least two additional essays.

Now, there is this, wishing to gain admittance into the line of things already waiting to be done.  "This" is a list of one hundred novels which you believe most writers ought to have read.  Using them, you will demonstrate scenes, tools, techniques by which their remarkable authors achieved remarkable effects, causing them to be one hundred novels to be read, reread, and studied for hints of how they grew from notions and ideas such as "this" one, into the trustworthy treasure they have made themselves over the years since their appearance.

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