Thursday, July 16, 2015

Recognition at the Class Reunion

At first, you were suspicious of driving force behind the notion.  You didn't think the notion would turn into a project you'd have to do anything about.  Notions are easily come by.  You well understand how you are not anything if not notional.  This would be a list to keep in a small, pocket notebook.  Nothing more.

You might from time to time, go back to look at this notebook, reaching back into earlier years for the first time you'd heard someone at an editorial level say, If you want to write a book in a genre, you should have read at least a hundred in that genre. 

You'd heard or read that somewhere.  The authority of it made sense.  Because the observation made such sense, you took it in as a part of experiential learning you hoped then and still hope to keep with you.  Start your reading with the building blocks, the Jane Eyre, the early Hammett, the early Chandlers, so complex in plot that Faulkner, assigned to turn one of them into a film script, shook his head, then went home.

You'd wanted to try your hand at every genre.  Although you'd read numerous fantasies, this was likely your weakest genre in terms of close connection.  In some ways, writing a particular genre after reading the obligatory hundred made you realize your personality did not jibe with the personality of the genre.  So you'd toss fifty, a hundred thousand words now and then.  No big deal.  You were drawing the lines between what you knew you'd only be able to do under the most extreme pressure and the possibilities still open to you.

There were times when this frightened you because you seemed to be writing yourself out of romances, historical, suspense thrillers.  How much more narrow was this going to get?  Props to your father, who, by this time, was into auctioning off the resources bankrupt businesses.  He was a great source of the printed stationary of the bankrupted ventures, great first-draft manuscript pages.  You could throw those pages away by the hundreds, teaching yourself what you could write by demonstrating to you the things you could not write.

This list of the hundred most influential novels seemed only another list of the many you make.  Then you began compiling the list, which reminded you how you'd been at writing and publishing novels well before your list of one hundred was compiled, much less contemplated.  You were having to go backward in time, but you were also aware of more recent things you'd read that stopped you cold, for long periods of contemplation and absorption.

The simple answer is the most assuring one: You're still in the learning process.  Some of the novels on your list were published in this century.  This fact alone puts a different emphasis on your list.  This is not a random list.  This is a most particular list.

Your plan is to write a brief entry covering what you learned from each, which means you will not be wasting precious space on plot summary unless some specific aspect of story was a contributing factor to the value you place on the novel.  You've already undertaken the first five of these mini-essays, using each to find and exploit the narrative voice that feels most apt for your approach.  As such, you've begun to have the feeling of being at some kind of reunion, tinged with braided aspects of dread, anticipation, curiosity, and that most portmanteau of feelings confidence.

Will these old friends be recognizable?  Will you find yourself as engaged and excited as you once were?  Is there some chance the opening pages will cause you the sort of embarrassment that comes from the awareness that you have nothing to say?  This is crucial because the hundred novels of your choice must all be specific instances about which you have more than mere platitude or Nice-to-see-you exchanges.

From the stated nature of the project, you expect there to be embarrassing surprises as well, moments when you see how much you missed in your earlier associations, things that might have had measurable effects on your writing, editing, and teaching, had you been aware sooner.  This aspect relates to keeping in touch, demonstrating through your actual behavior a significant follow-through that goes beyond promises to keep in touch. 

Here they are, waiting for you, and here you are, wondering, Are they still the same great pals they'd become after you first met?

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