Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Take the Reader Where?

The venue is the lower depths of San Pedro, in the Beacon Street/Gaffey Street area, known in unsentimental terms as a tenderloin, famous for two saloons for serious drinkers, merchant seamen, and sailors.  

The saloons are Shanghai Red's, which speaks to the sea, and long, hard drinking bouts, and to your own saloon of choice, Slim Harrison's Bank Cafe which, true to its name, is owned by a man named Siim Harrison, who wore frameless eyeglasses, parted his hair in the middle, and wore starched dress shirts, but no tie.  His bank cafe was in a former bank that he'd been able to purchase after it had failed as a business during the Great Depression.

At the moment you have in mind, you are well on your way to being drunk, thanks to several beers consumed earlier at the home of the man sitting at a table with you, where you are both working on boiler makers and a large bowl of pretzel sticks.  The man, Day Keene, is a writer you much admire, at the moment because he is prolific--a novel a month--and in the months and years to come because the source of his writing abilities, you discover, comes from his time as an actor in an acting troupe.

You are not close friends, but you see him at least once a month at the writer's poker game, which is held at his apartment in Palos Verdes, which is conveniently on the way to San Pedro, and he has introduced you to his agent, Donald MacCampbell, who will not only represent you and get your novels published, you will eventually publish his memoirs.  

Keene has also got his friend Bob Turner to start coming to the writer's poker games and Slim Harrison's.  You will, in the future, be the instrument of publishing Bob's memoir and causing him to be published by Maurice Girodias of the famed Olympia Press.

This is all backstory and future story to a conversation you and Keene are having, the focal exchange of which is you saying to him, "I don't see how getting drunk is any help to a writer," and his countering after a few thoughtful nibbles at some pretzels, "I don't see how getting drunk is any help to you in getting over a breakup with a girlfriend."

"A writer is like a cop who sees the worst side of the human condition more than he sees the bright side.  You have to do something to get all the dark stuff to pack up and go home when you finish a novel.  Getting drunk helps you clean the slate.  Here, you need another shot."

Because he was prolific and wrote for the burgeoning massmarket original novel market, there were those who called Keene a formula writer, but in the realest sense, he was more a dramatic writer than formula because his characters often wanted things they believed they knew better than to expect would be easy to come by.

If knowing character is being formula, you suppose you are, when all is said and done, every bit the formula writer you were at such pains to distance yourself from becoming.  More to the point, you believe, is the growing awareness that Keene was right.  Story that does not take us beyond the comfort zones, into those occasional temptations and actual trespasses into places we said we'd never go, things we said we'd rather die than do, and alliances we swore we'd never make become impossible to avoid.

Then the fun begins.

After we've gone where we said we wouldn't, note how eager we are to get back to that real estate we once considered the moral high ground.  But now, we're different.  We know we gave ground once.  What will that have done to us?

In order to take the reader where the reader does not want to go, the writer has to do some fancy footwork as well.

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