Thursday, November 13, 2014

You People

You've written a few books in your time, read quite a few more.  While you were doing these things, you were also reviewing books, designing their physical appearance, and editing their content.  When you weren't doing these things, you were teaching courses in which you exposed students for approaches to all these activities.

All of this makes a sense grounded in the basic logic of spending time involved with the things in life you hope to remain involved with at a high level of intimacy.  No hobby stuff here, although a good deal of experiment, risk, wrong turns, and outright failures along the way.  With the possible exception of teaching, you are doing things now you'd daydreamed about, imagining yourself doing since you were in your teens.  While it is true you did not see yourself as an editor until circumstances more or less forced your hand, you nevertheless became an editor because of writing.

While of equal truth that you had no thought whatsoever of teaching, that activity also came as a result of you being a writer and in addition, your students all wished to be writers.  In the forty years you have taught, at least ninety percent of your students nourished the goal of being a writer or editor.  

You cannot tick off the numbers of students who have become writers of one sort or another because there are so many, but there are at lease five or six who have gone on to become editors, and so far as you know, two have become publishers, one of whom is now your publisher, of whom your literary agent, who was editorial director of two major New York publishing ventures, says he has the instincts of few other publishers she has seen.

There is, among these individuals who have gone on to become professionals, the common thread of your thematic intent here.  You are not at all surprised at the range and intensity of this thread, in fact, you take it for granted.  On a tangential level, you're aware of a significant number of individuals who comprise a broad demographic of age, ethnicity, and employment, all having a common link with this thread.

You join these individuals in your absolute, undiminished appetite for reading.  Given the option of a meal of your choice when you were hungry or a book of your choice, you would without hesitation opt for the book.  Much as you value the pleasures of the table, so much more do you enjoy books as a main course.  Here's where the matter becomes dramatic and interesting rather than descriptive and matter of fact.

If you had not become a teacher, thus spending your working life as a writer, an editor, and possibly a publisher, you would not have come across a group of individuals who appear to you so dedicated in their lack of interest in writing.  

Let that sentence remain its own paragraph as well, for greater emphasis.  In your experience, beginning and intermediate-level writers comprise a significant, ironic demographic as men and women who appear to have stopped most reading at about the time they left the formal aspects of their education.  In consequence, when these individuals undertake a short story, novella, or the longform work, their experiences and perceptions are rooted back in previous generations of thematic and narrative conventions.

These individuals are often found lacking in the nuances of point of view, interior monologue, dialogue, and the inherent differences between description and evocation.  They are in fact bewildered when you liken the relative age level of their work to late nineteenth and early twentieth century fiction.  In analogy, they are like a nineteenth century chamber musician, which is not at all a bad thing, not while the analogy is at its present state.  Things grow wearisome when the nineteenth century musician thinks he or she is able to adapt to twentieth century hard bop or fusion.

With your exposure to attendees at writers' conferences--many of them--as well as university and adult education classes, plus workshops of your own, you have the additional reaction of being considered remarkable to the point of anomaly because of the depth of your reading.  In a scale of one to ten, you're at about the 7 or 7.5 level, with 5 being the average.  At times, in conversation with brother and sister writers, you find yourself shaking your head more often than you wish when questioned about your familiarity with a particular author or book.

In classrooms or in conversation with beginning- or intermediary-level writers, you find yourself being singled out for a quirky memory, as in "How do you remember all those books?" or "You must do nothing but read.  Where do you get all that time?"  Your answer to the first question often emphasizes the gap between you even more.  "I only remember the ones I like or get things from."  As to "all that time," you are quick to remind your inquisitors that your immersion in writing, reading, and editing has slowed down your performance in all three areas.

"So, then.  How do you people do it?"

To which our answer is the essence of simplicity.  "We do it one book at a time."



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