Thursday, July 2, 2015

Numbers Game

Some things you could do with some regularity back in the day:

1.  You could crank out twenty pages, a length existing in a parallel universe with the kind of structured short stories you were trying to write when you could write twenty pages a day.

2.  On the same day you could write the twenty pages, you could also read the twenty pages of the previous day, groan at your repetitions, habit words, and adverbs, whittle those down to ten or fifteen, then, before lunch, be ready to go for today's twenty pages.

3.  Invent more excuses for drinking coffee than you can today.

4.  Manage to read at least one short story, poem, or chapter from a novel.

5.  Out of necessity, keep a checkbook balanced to the point where you knew if you could afford a trip to the market or were going to have to get inventive with your crock-pot.

6.  Write at least one personal letter, an activity that appears to have been the kind of thing you bring up in a group when you want them to feel younger than you.

7.  Devise some game that would intrigue an otherwise blasé cat named Sam for at least a half hour.

8.  Slip in at least one game of cribbage with a cranky neighbor named Ray.

9.  Do something approximating exercise.

10.  Find significant loose change behind the cushions of a sofa given you by your Aunt Helen.

11,  Find the time at least twice a week to haunt used book stores, thinking therein to find the one book you'd neglected to read while you were at the university, thus making up for wasted time, and in the process discovering some hovering secret that would open the mysteries of writing to the point where you could live off the advances of the book you were at the moment working on.

12.  Write a novel in a month in pursuit of being able to have some extra time in which to write a novel you could not write in a month.

13.  Manage to be assigned a book to review.

14.  Find a barbecue joint in southeast Los Angeles with decent hot links.

15.  Get from where you lived in the Hollywood Hills to the Santa Monica Pier in less than half an hour.

16.  Stay up until the 2 a.m. closing time of cocktail lounges, listening to jazz, then manage to be at your red Olivetti portable typewriter by eight the next morning.

17.  Roll a decent Bull Durham cigarette.

18.  Write a twenty-five hundred-word essay on some aspect of Western American history for an editor/publisher named Charlie, who often paid you an extra five dollars for promptness.

19. Concoct the right balance of Korbell's California brandy and a second pouring of hot water through a previously used Chemex coffee filter to make the result taste worthwhile.

20.  Devise creative ways to feed aforementioned cat named Sam at times when financial necessity dictated drinking aforementioned coffee from #19 and using Bull Durham papers to re-roll cigarettes made from pre-smoked Camels.

While some of these activities were not in the best interests of your health, and others, such as writing twenty pages in a day, are not things you'd wish to attempt now, there seemed to be a splendid purpose behind them.  For the longest time, you've been trying to determine what that splendid purpose was, with varying and not completely satisfactory results.

Based on your current project, the matter appears to have been solved in the happiest way, which is not the way of being handed to you by an external benefactor but rather by your own doing, which is the doing of listening to some internal voice nudging at you to write down the names of a hundred novels that had the most influence on you.

There you were, for some weeks, the hundred novels written down in a pocket-sized notebook you carried about with you, expecting at any time to be thrust into the equivalent of a seance trance, heralding the way for further instructions.  Your list is over on the other side, telling you not to worry, soon a message will come.


There was no trance, but there was a voice from this side, telling you a list of the hundred most influential novels was a nice thing to have done, but don't expect anything more to come from it in this shape.  This was the voice of all you years in publishing and the added years of you wanting to be in publishing.

So what's next, the voice of you today, hunkered over two perfectly agreeable nonfiction projects you are keen to engage, asked you.

So what were you doing all those years in the 1-20 list, supra, as they would say in a bibliography?  What were you doing then that you are doing now?  And how might they come together.

Well, you said.  Well, well well.  You're doing at least one important thing.  You're reading.  True enough, the voice of you today said.  Reading and putting together things from then and now, things from first and second and third readings then and from first readings now.

Then the voice of the project grew brave enough to speak its name, One Hundred Novels You Should Read Before You Write Your Own.  And you listened

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