Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Writer's Working Day: Promises to Keep

In some cultures, a promise can be a sacred pledge, valued over any other transactions,  When carried out according to pre-agreed terms, the fulfilled promise speaks volumes to the participant and to the culture in which it was forged.

Other cultures and their resident circumstances may produce a vision of promise as an inherent quality for growth into a meaningful maturity and, thus, an artistic, athletic, scientific, or intellectual benefit.  X shows great promise.  This becomes a statement indicating a capacity for even more extensive growth and many, if not all, the qualities associated with maturation.

The promise you think of most often in such circumstances is the one embedded in genre fiction, those special, idiosyncratic places in library or bookstore shelves where lines are drawn between such basic categories as literary and mainstream, and where the category "General" is more an outlier, buried among notional, individualistic tiers, bursting with promise and personality.

This causes you to think of the promises held out to you by libraries.  Before you thought to assemble your own collection of books, you saw the library as an infinity of promise, with books to fill every need, be the need curiosity, loneliness, information, adventure, or escape.  

You could not believe your good fortune when you found yourself hired as a page at the Beverly Hills Library, therein to replace books left out on the tables by browsers, or to return the books piling up at the check-in-stand, where customers returned books they'd checked out.

You were so impressed with the library that soon, your own books bore tags with the Dewey Decimal System Code.  Not that you had so many books at first, but still, you knew where they belonged and who their neighbors were.  The first book of yours to find its way into a library was a collection of poetry for which you'd written the introduction.  

Such was your nature at the time, your introduction began, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to introduce you to a book. "  The book got into the library in the first place, because you left it there, filed in its proper place in the Dewey spectrum.  A year later, when you went back to check, you found your book was not only there, it was listed in the card catalogue.

Not that many years later, when you were working for publishers, libraries held forth another form of promise.  A few decent orders form a library, say New York, or Brooklyn, or Los Angeles, and the book was no longer a foundling, it was a paid form entity, the costs recouped.  Now, it could start earning royalties for its author.  Since your job depended on books that earned their keep, you were alert to the promise of manuscripts from writers. 

Thanks to the promises inherent in libraries and bookstores, you had a job you could love rather than bear, a job that nourished you and had you yet another step closer to the job you wished even more, and which was approaching, although not at the speed you'd hoped.  Your pay grade was not bad, but you were still trying your hand at pulp novels, which you'd write in the evening, after coming home from publishing work.  

These after dark ventures written between the hours of nine and midnight or one, brought in enough to allow you to eat out rather than take the time to cook.  Although you misinterpreted the promise of these pulp novels, and short essays for a few Western historical magazines, you were at least doing what a writer should do, which is write.

Your favorite genre is the mystery, which has among its inherent promises the challenge of a puzzle.  Who killed X, and perhaps Y, then Z?  Followed by the motive and, of course one or more detectives who attempt to solve the crime.  You also enjoyed the Western, which promises to be a novel set in the era of the American West, and which so pleased you to be writing them that you actually learned from reviewing the inherent genre promises as set forth in a book you acquired as editor from an author who had written some fifty of them before turning his hand to being story editor of a famed TV series.

Writing is also a promise you make to yourself, which is the promise to cull material of little or no interest to you, send it off into the limbo of the delete key.  You promise to remind yourself at all times how difficult writing is, but to remind yourself, nevertheless, that it has the potential for fun.  You promise yourself to try.  Largely, your critical senses keep you honest.

Part of a day's work is sending eight or ten pages off to infinity it, on reflection, they bore you or you find yourself skimming more than reading,  Promise?  Yes.

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