Thursday, November 26, 2015

Apples and Oranges, and You in between

At the risk of comparing apples to oranges, you are going to compare story to music, in large part because you find similarities in such matters as theme, timing, pacing, and the way each searches for some kind of outcome or resolution.

Timing, including pauses and space can and do transform both story and media. Your purpose for the comparison comes from the growing awareness that stories, in particular novels, may be abridged, entire passages, even scenes removed from them, more often than not in relation to a recorded performance.

While you were growing into your determination to become a storyteller, there was in fact an entire series devoted to the publication of abridged books, not surprisingly a product of The Readers' Digest. 

In the mistaken notion that sheer quantity could assist you in reaching the state you envied of being "well read," you gave yourself over to a summer of acquiring a library of such editions from various used book stores and thrift shops.

After an entire summer of such reading, the project began to turn sour. You recall complaining to your mother how such reading was like going to a restaurant thinking to sate a realistic hunger, but leaving the restaurant after reading the menu.

True enough, in later years, as a writer and a book editor, you understood how some narratives were overwritten to the point of being distractions rather than engaging reading experiences. You, who enjoy overwriting, learned a greater sense of balance as an editor.

From time to time, the classical music stations you listened to would play a segment of a larger work, which served to motivate you to listen with all deliberate speed to the entire work. There is a difference between cutting unnecessary material--often descriptions--and abridging.

Some of this explains your early fondness for Beethoven, who seemed to you quite aware of which note should follow its predecessor, at what length, and in what interval. Without articulating the matter then, Beethoven's compositions caused you to look for the same sense of inevitability--to say nothing of feeling--in your own.

All these years later, you thank him for that each time you listen to him, and each time you find yourself caught in the skillful verbal narrative of some writer who, by the mere act of you reading a page or two, transports you to the places you visit in your dreams.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


At one time in your life, when you lived with your parents and older sister in a modest, middle class four-plex at 6145 1/2 Orange Street in the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles, your bed time was proclaimed to be 8:30, a time you believed was much too early.

In consequence, you ;lay awake for some time, which in retrospect likely means at the most half an hour. During this time, you were aware of the conversation from down the long hallway separating the bedroom where you then fussed and fumed about the unfairness of things, listening to the conversation between your father, sister, and mother.

They always seemed to you to be saving the most delicious moments for those times where you were not in their midst. This caused you to vow a new word to you, revenge, although you were never quite sure how you would extract your imagined due.

Over the years, one by one, they were taken from you, your father first, then your mother, ultimately your sister. You have neither hope nor imagination of afterlife; dead is dead, gone, finished. 

Neverless, on occasion your dreams carry you back into the past in which you were resentful of being away, down that long hallway, separated from the conversation, the laughter, the occasional pauses, then the laughter again.

What once seemed an indignity, and in fact, it was. Now is another matter when you lapse into sleep with the memories of those silences punctuated by conversation and bursts of laughter.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bacon, But Not Francis, Accommodations, and Story

 Because of the  persistent and oppressive nature of your illness, composition has been a fool's errand.  Not that composition at other, healthier times, is not a fool's errand.  

Even reading, another great pleasure, has let you know it is temporarily off limits, wanting,needing more of you than you have to contribute, leaving you to spend the day exploring the dim sequesters of the past.

To keep yourself occupied, what the musicians would call keeping the chops up, you may have invented a new literary format which,you'll call The Poetic Mystery, well aware it may be one of those things that sound exciting when it is happening but less worthy of mention comes the dawn, which in this case, will be the dawn of recovery.

Your other wanderings in memory provided you a pleasing time when, most mornings in the week, you were invited to breakfast with Dr. Arnold Kegel.  Yes, that Dr. Arnold Kegel.  A bright, chipper man with an almost rascally sense of presence, he gave you a great many things to consider, one of which you recount here as a way of cooking bacon on a triangle-shaped device that resembled the insides of a toaster.

Your plate filled with these slow cooked arms of bacon, you were urged to rediscover the joys of a hard-cooked egg rather than such food for dude ranch sorts as poached, soft-boiled, or scrambled.  

The times you were there, you two appeared to be alone, no servant or housekeeper.  To this day you wonder, did he in fact concoct, make, and bake his own bread?  And those magnificent pots of apple butter.  Could they have been whipped up in the interstices of his already extensive daily routing.

Oh, yes.  Part two, because there is a part two to the many remarkable things you learned from him.  Now, today, these many years later, you make a connection with that second principal.  

Standing before a group of second-year medical students, years ago, the good doctor suggested, "Most knowledgeable fellows like to think their equipment is what we'd call the organ of accommodation.  Gentlemen, and ladies, by the time you'll have worked through your ob-gyn stations, you'll have had all the information you need to decide what the organ of accommodation is."  

His eyes twinkled.  "I'm not saying your equipment isn't an organ, you understand--or that it does;t want to be accommodating, but I think you get my point."

Today, thank you for this insight,  Story is an organ.  It is an organ of accommodation.  It must have enough detail to provide a sense of reality in which two or more contrary forces, starkly real in their appearance, meet to debate the matter at the most heartfelt and emblematic nature.  It must accommodate social, psychological, and mythic implication and influence.

The true wonder is not that stories of this nature have been written at all, but continue to be written, continue to rouse themselves in the imagination of one of the few pure art forms and there are neither political, gender, or social boundaries.  Did you say Katherine Mansfield had it? Did you say Deborah Eisenberg?  Did you say John O'Hara and John Cheever?

Monday, November 23, 2015


Then there are days like this/

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Earnings Report, Day Four

 The warmth of sunlight on your eyes reminds you of the resonant harmony of a brass choir.  You are less than harmonic as you lurch out to feteh The New York Times, maneuver it and yourself into your reading chair with a thump.  So far, so good for your uninvited guest, the flue virus.

As you most often do, you find the Sunday Crossword Puzzle, curious to see if your mood is a product of clearing or fuzzy mind.  Number one:  Big gasbag.  Five letters.  Before you are able to conduct a survey of gasbags you've known in various universities or publishing ventures, the five letters are shouting out at you b-l-i-m-p.

This leads you to assess 1 down.  Sons of, in Hebrew.  Four spaces.  Piece of cake b-n-a-i.  In about a half hour, you are spread throughout the puzzle, overcome by the activity to the point where you have the first paragrap;h pretty well stated for the next essay to go into the book project.

The day looks well.  You've taken a close enough look at yourself in the mirror to know that while you might not look all that chipper and alert, there are signs churning within you of alertness and chipperness.  Except that they arenbt'  You recognize the oncoming chill, which means you'd been running fever to burn off the bugs, and now you must cool down.

That was some time ago.  You can keep your hear up, but you'd rather not.  You can keep your eyes open, but, well, you'd rather not.  The lesson learned from this day of the flu is that every key stroke on your keyboard, every line and swirl when composing in pen and ink must be earned.  There is no way around it,

This is what you earned today.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Dreams of Vernor's Ginger Ale

So far as you're concerned, the most fun aspect of sleep is dreams.  You by no means put the knock on other aspects of sleep, not the least of which is providing you with a fresh take on the day ahead.  If there is anything to some of the studies you've been reading about, sleep appears to be offering the equivalent of a session with a shrink.

These past few days, your dreams have been wildly vivid, focusing more often than not on something you're writing or believe you should be, because others are waiting for it.  Wild and vivid to the contrary notwithstanding, your dreams tend to be about realistic things, which adds up to a satisfying sense.  

In one recent dream, you were making a getaway from some pursuer, driving what appeared to be a 1956 VW Beetle Sunroof with an FM radio a good friend of yours called decadent.ginger ale was, while wishing you had enough   The dream was going fine as you drove down a street that began to pinch in at the sides, leaving nothing but a single rail.  Unused to so much intervention in your dreams, you had no choice but to wake up.
The one notable feature you come across in your dreams is the dialogue, which is perhaps the weirdest aspect of all to your dreams.  Only last week, before you were hit with this despicable flu bug, you were in a restaurant, attempting to finish a meal.  The manager or owner, when presenting you with the bill, said, "Mr. Lowenkopf, you are the agenbite of inuit."  

You felt the response rising in you that asked "How the fuck do you come off talking to a patron that way?"  Whereupon, you woke, thinking how nice it was in a way for James Joyce to find his way into your dreams.  This example shows the extent to which your dream mechanism goes to represent people talking.

This introduces a dream-related quandary and perhaps more than anything illustrates how the flu bug has messed with your ordinary process, perhaps feeling the need to whisk you along your way to recovery.  In your dreams later this afternoon, you had the sudden awareness of how much good a glass or ginger ale would be for your battered carcass.  Not long thereafter, you believe you dreamed of your pal, Jim Alexander, calling through your window, checking to see how alive you still were, and did you need anything.

"Ginger ale,"  you said.  "Please."

"Anything else?"

"Ginger ale," spoken with the conviction of it having come from the deepest depths of you.

"On earth as it is in heaven,"  Alexander replied.  As you tossed and turned in bed, thinking of the curative potential of ginger ale, you were the more convinced you'd dreamed the first part.  Alexander does not talk like that.  You have never heard him say,"On earth as it is in heaven."

Back to some semblance of sleep then, all the while thinking what a splendid idea  ginger ale was, regretting your own wobbly condition which you knew would not let you venture out.  But wait, here it was, afternoon already turned to darkness, and here you were, stumbling to the refrigerator for a blast of ice water.  Sitting in plain site on your kitchen table was a box of soda crackers, in effect grinning at you in the haze of reality.

The soda crackers are important because you never once thought of them, awake or asleep.  The fact of their presence meant Jim Alexander had indeed come by to see if you were still alive.  You rushed to the refrigerator to confront a large bottle of Vernor's ginger ale.

The dance between dream and reality always fascinates you, but in these strange moments of you trying to cope with this invasion, odd dreams come through that more or less have ruled themselves out for relationship to anything of immediate concern.  Also arriving, a sudden, almost chilling suggestion related to a professional connection you've been trying to effect.  You couldn't read all the print on the document, but you knew its reference point.  Stamped in red stamp pad ink FORGET ABOUT IT.

Yes, quite wise.

A reminder that you need a dog.  A reminder of one of the hundred novels you were going to pitch from your work in progress in favor of a more significant one.

Things appear to be taking an upward turn.

Vernor's ginger ale.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Parallel Lines

Parallel lines were brought into your life to stay at about the midpoint of your venture into middle school.  You'd surely heard of parallel lines before that, what with your grammar school education being an evolutionary introductions to painting, drawing, and some hints at geometry.

But it remained for Marjorie Parcells to bring parallel lines him to stay with the announcement, on one Wednesday's art hours, that parallel lines meet in infinity.

You were already into reading novels that would be roughly classified as Boy's Adventure, from which you understood that parallel lines were just as often to meet in the penultimate or last chapter,  Marjorie Parcells seemed to understand that your boyish drawing skills had pretty well exhausted themselves, particularly since you already knew they were several generations from the process known as rendering, by which a more skilled drawer than you could cause things to resemble their actual counterparts.

"How about we just stick with parallel lines," she told you, indicating how those, when used with a certain attention to concept, could produce dimension of a significantly greater quality.  Much as you admired art and Marjorie Parcells, you were already setting off on your own mischievous ways. 

 "Some characters in books follow parallel lines," you said.  The look you got from her was one you still remember.  "Nicely done,Lowenkopf."  You like to nurse the belief that your observation to her was the main reason your grade in Art was a C+.  Most boys were lucky to get Cs in Art.

Some years later, when you were enrolled at the university, you began using the parallel lines approach whenever a paper was due, whenever a test asked for an essay, and whenever the muse appeared before you with news that she had bright a short story into your life, you relied on the parallel lines approach to composition.  The more you did it, the more you became aware it was being used in authors you enjoyed.

When you find yourself immersed in a novel where the first chapter has ended on a cliffhanger and the next chapter begins with a different point of view, perhaps even a different locale and time frame, you are on your way to becoming impressed with the skills and daring of the author; she or he means to bring this material together in one or more scenes where the reader will be able to see how the parallel lines jump over the art boundaries and into some serious dramatic interaction.

This brings you to your latest encounter with parallel lines.  As a general rule, you get forth most days with a cheerful, dare you even say chipper attitude, aware as you go that there are a number of slight distractions from the goal of getting your in-progress book finished.  Classes to prepare for, clients with work wanting editing, and the job you could not say no to, Editor of the Cafe Luna Literary Review.  This is a parallel line of some concern to you.

Set in motion against this parallel line, notwithstanding you had the super powerful flu shot, is a mean spirited strain of the influenza virus that beggars any past experiences with flu.  Some but by no means all symptoms are a woozy, light-headed feeling, balance difficulties, various internal throbbing pain, a serious, unrelenting thirst, and a need to make sure you can bridge the gap between bed and commode with all deliberate speed.  This last works in the face of you having been able to contemplate eating for the past two days.  

The battle lines have been drawn.  The battlefield is your body.  You are already reciting Harry's magnificent panegyric to his troops on the eve of the day of battle.  Of course, Shakespeare's poetry will work on these parallel lines.  But just in case, "Fuck you, Influenza."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Foggy Day

In the days before Internet and blogging, it was often your practice, as you lay abed awaiting sleep, to slip in a line or two of a poem, a paragraph of a short story, a line or two of an essay.  More often than not, when sleep arrived, the words vanished.  But even then, you did not mistake "thinking" for Composing.  For it to have been written, it had to have been set to paper or, as technology progressed, to screen.

Even then, composing meant getting the words down to the point where they could do something to you, embarrass, discourage, or somehow encourage you.  You were fast approaching the time and need to compose every day.  

On the rare days such as this one has turned out to be, when you find yourself invaded by a squatter virus who has in metaphor sprayed the interior of your skull with cloudy vapors, one of the few pleasures available is a return to thought composition.  But also, there is the primary bafflement then connection to a realization about your present murky condition and your overall intentions.

Being hit with what is probably a flu virus reminds you of the effect on you when your Inner Editor decides he want to have some fun, maybe throw a little party.  His goal, when he arrives, is clear.  He will be satisfied with nothing less than you pressing the delete key on your current work in progress.

Unlike you, your inner editor does not think things can be saved,  He has paid no attention to the things you've learned along the way, things which, now that you think of it, actually outpace him.  You have needed to retire to bed once in the setting down this statement of philosophy, in all possibility losing some of the narrative vector, but you note with some grim satisfaction that getting up the second time was easier, even seemed to carry with it the possibility of fun.

Having your mind clouded with flu and/or the internal editor is anything but fun, sends you reeling to a condition and place you have no wish to be.  The virus is the sort of alien you have no affection or use for, only a wary knowledge that enemies are slithering about.  

The interior editor is another matter.  He is a product of your cultural education, your awareness of standards to which you strive.but for many reasons you were led to believe were beyond you.  This is not you, in the throes of illness, blaming certain teachers because, in fact, there were other teachers no less encouraging.

Blame is a dismal thing, every bit as unfriendly as your current virus and your about-to-change relationship with your inner editor.  If you allow yourself the luxury of looking back on blame times, you may well find you pointing the finger at yourself.  There is and always has been time for growth.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Truth of the Matter

When the time arrives for you to self-edit and possibly revise any given manuscript you've produced, one of the first things you look for is the word "truth" and such of your favorite habit phrases as "Truth to tell--" "If the truth be known," or "The truth is--"

The habit word can range from the seemingly innocuous "and" to a word you hate with a passion, "that," and other uses you've picked up over your years, a memorable one being 'accordingly," which you tend to use at the beginning of a sentence, as in "Accordingly, there is no value in such rhetoric."  Why not get rid of the "accordingly" and get right to the point, "There is no value in such rhetoric."  

Not that you have anything against telling the truth.  You in fact learn intriguing bits of information to chew over later when, in the heat of composition passion, you reveal something about yourself you hadn't been all that aware of on a more direct level. For instance, there's the gray area around exaggerating and telling a known untruth.  

If you are reporting a thing you saw or voicing an opinion, you are giving your version and should only have to resort to exaggeration in the sense of how important the event was, to whom, and what your share of interest in it might be.

If there was any doubt in your mind before you began this platform of blogging in March of 2007,this exercise has made it clear that you are not averse to casting yourself in a positive light.  As many of the entries will show, you're pretty good about leaving in the twists and turns of detail that show you as bearing an occasional flaw.

You organize search and destroy missions against phrases with "truth" in them as well because such tropes are cliches, meaning if you did not catch the truth tropes in the specific for-truth pass, you'd likely find them in the cliche pass.This leaves you with the basic assumption that you are at all times telling the truth, even when you are writing fiction.  There are numerous times when "truth" is brought out of an abstract state and signifies what a specific character believes to be so.

You may doubt the veracity of what the character said.  So, indeed, may one or more of the other characters.  You, and the other characters, may reach the conclusion that the character who has strayed from the truth has done so with an agenda that will come forth in the story.  On the other side of the binary pathway, your dramatic purpose may be served if other characters suspect a specific character of bending the truth. 

 This gives us a mythic situation in which Cassandra, daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo.  Talk about gift horses in the teeth, Cassandra, either through prophetic vision or human psychology, believed the gift was offered to ease Apollo's way into her pants.  She said no to his overtures, which prompted him to exact his revenge.  Her gift of prophecy would be accurate, but no one would believe her visions.

Imagine what a dramatic character myth has given us, playing as it does on the woo-woo abilities of the gods to create cosmic mischief  and the simple binary of a woman who often knows what she is talking about, but her visions go unheeded. "Hey, Uncle Fred is going to stop by tonight on an unannounced visit."  "Uncle Fred would never so such a thing.  He's too considerate of politeness rituals."  Yeah, well, just you wait and see."

For you to say you will always attempt to tell the truth burdens you with the responsibility of investing characters who mean some harm or opposition to other of your characters with an imperative to "tell it as they see it," which is a rank cliche and will have to go in one of your many romps through the landscape of your imagination.

For you to say you will never exaggerate is another matter.  In all truth, there are times when you can't help yourself; you yield to the temptation with the clear conscience of a person who knows how story is by its intrinsic nature an exaggeration, those extra details added in the hope of making the story and its built-in fabric of exaggerations emerge as a relic of some useful value among individuals who strain to make a living in and of the world.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Character Study

 There are times such as when you are asked to provide a short bio or mini-CV where you need a few moments to consider the source of the request.  By the very use of "short bio," you feel yourself limited to a paragraph of two, perhaps three sentences.  The very abbreviation of biography into "short bio" is the major clue.

Same holds for "mini CV," by which is meant a curriculum vitae, one that can of necessity go on for pages.  "You're in academia now,"  the distinguished historian, Dwight Smith, told you as you'd progressed over a few plateaus in scholarly publishing.  "You could and should add even your short book reviews to your CV.  Mention the word length."

You wanted to know if that perhaps was going too far, but Smith nudged you.  "Keeps the door open for the reader thinking you can write abstracts of scholarly journals."

Once out of scholarly publishing, you believed you were back to the more traditional resume, but as your fortunes would have it, there were increasing needs for CVs, some of them so lofty in their direction that you began once again to despair of ever being what you'd hoped to be, wanted to be, considered yourself to be.

Whether CV, resume, or short bio, you need to look at the three most significant resting places in your career, writing, editing, and teaching.  Depending on who is asking, you have a pretty good idea of what to start with, arranging the other two to appear as though they were accidental happenstance.  

There is yet another aspect of your life, from about the age of twenty-five through present times ,you would like to use, but can find no way to do so.This is the frequency with which you are mistaken for someone else.

To be sure, you have no trouble being recognized, either, a fact that often clouds your memory of the times when you were recognized as someone you were not.  You are not, and have not been for some time, the sort who blends into the background, nor do you have any reason not to enjoy being recognized.  

You are, in fact, so fond of being recognized that you've developed over the years a form of response to not being recognized.  This is all long and deliberate prologue to being told by someone who is in a position to hire you to do things related to your editorial and teaching skills, quite possibly your writing skills as well.

"You are fast on your feet, aren't you?"  this individual asked recently, not really expecting an acknowledgment because you'd just given him one.  For a promotional video to be placed on the web site of an institution that pays you to teach courses, you were sat before a live camera operated by an earnest looking man in his early fifties who seemed to you the most uncomfortable gum chewer you'd ever seen.  

You were asked to identify yourself, name the courses you taught, throw in a short bio, then tell whoever should watch this video of you something they would remember whether they took courses from you or not.

"I'll be darned," the person who set up the video taping said when you were finished.  "You gave them two things."

"Three," you said, which was true, but in another sense demonstrated the effects of your work experience on you, and which may in some significant degree explain how it is that not only do people you know recognize you, persons who do not know you are tempted to conflate you with someone they do know. 

Within recent weeks you were approached by a man who detached himself from a group to address you.  When he said "McHenry,"  you supposed he was digging out a name of a rare and venerable single malt Scotch whisky, whereupon your communication problems began in earnest.  "Laphroaig,"  you said, already enjoying the exchange.  It has been some time since your admiration and drinking of single-malt Scotch whisky, but you were beginning to remember the smoky, hint of malt taste.

"Same old McHenry,"  the man said.  "I knew it was you, the moment I saw you.  Haven't changed a bit."

"The hair,"  you said, running a hand through a thatch of finger-width gray.

"Always were a kidder."

At which point, you regard this individual and realize he is so convinced that you are who he thinks you to be that you now have the opportunity to add yet another occupation to your CV, impostor.  You also know he will be embarrassed if you insist you are the you better known to you.  "Still see any of the old gang?" you ask.  "Miss those guys."

"Wait,"  he says.  "Wait till I tell them.  Same old McHenry."

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Long and Short of It: Buried Meanings and Revealed Truths

William of Occam, a fourteenth century English Franciscan author of philosophical tracts, is best known for his admonition of simplicity, "Universes must not be unnecessarily expanded."  His approach, often referred to as Occam's Razor, has been extended to mean the simplest solution is the best solution.

While not an engraved-in-stone, irrefutable thesis, nevertheless, simplicity does have an innate beauty.  This beauty challenges more elaborate, orotund detail to stand up and defend itself, perhaps even asking, "What are you trying to hide in all that detail? 

In the same investigative process, inherent truths may appear to emerge from simplicity that are not always so easy to find in vast networks of complex braiding.

You most often think of Occam's razor and of simplicity when looking at your desk and the floor surrounding it, even though much of the clutter did serve some welcomed purpose, a line from a poem, a memorable phrase from a story or essay, perhaps even the forgotten name of an antagonist in some eighteenth- or nineteenth-century novel.  

Your thoughts of the venerable monk often emerge when you are in the process of revising your own work or editing the work of another, causing you to depart from your natural tendency to add phrases and clauses to an already occupied sentence, which, in turn, cause you to recall the legions of freight trains you see, crossing the desert in parallel to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, where you venture at about this time of year to spend Thanksgiving with family.

To your way of thinking, there is an inherent challenge in extending a short, declarative sentence into something as extensive as those great, long, graffiti-splashed trains plying the desert with tons of cargo.  You want to see how many words you can attach, yet still deliver the emotion-laden punch of dramatic cargo.  

When you worked for the Associated Press, you were informed on some kind of regular basis of the results of expensive and expansive tests where a sentence with more than seventeen words was found to be, for want of a better word, clunky, leading to confuse rather than inform the reader.

When you first began to concern yourself with the kinds of short stories you wished to produce, a length of five thousand words was the standard length, which in fact allowed you even as you wrote to think about structure in four five-page segments.  This led you to avoiding such publications as you'd discovered in The Writers' Markets and Novel and Short Story Writers' Markets, where there were calls for stories of twenty-five hundred or three thousand words.

Your argument then was that you were scarcely out of the starting blocks at two thousand words.  Soon enough, you ran into an editor who had the effect on your sensitivities similar to a doctor, removing swaths of adhesive tape that had been applied to your chest.  While not as hairy as some chests, your chest has enough hair for the adhesive tape removal to leave you with a response. "Any long work can be shortened,"  the editor told you.  "All you have to do is start taking out words."

"But, but--" you said.

"The fact of you even thinking to protest,"  he said, "makes you a prime candidate for cutting.  Look up William of Occam."

"William of who?"

"You'll see."

You did.

In your reading of those contemporary writers you so much favor, you can't help noticing the remarkable effects of the apparent complexity of the simple nor indeed of the simple elegance resident within the complex.  Although far from the Hemingway fan you once were, you still carry the effect of simplicity in two of his stunning examples, "The Killers," and "Hills Like White Elephants."  And you can not stray from your fondness for William Faulkner's "Spotted Horses," which, only after you have finished reading through it, are you reminded of his sentence lengths and complexity.

And of course, there is this:


No answer.


No. Answer.

"What's gone with that boy, I wonder?  You TOM!"

No answer.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Games Your Characters Play--with Themselves and You

 Eric Berne's 1964 study, Games People Play, set your early mind into a whirl, offering as it did a magnifying glass enlargement of relationships with which you could eavesdrop in much the same way you did when attending a play or watching a feature film with some pretense at seriousness of intent. Berne spoke of transactions among and between people, some of which--people and transactions--were quite functional, others which were quite the opposite.

Even without the emergence of a psychological firestorm of discovery, you knew you wished for functional transactions with others, understood how the success of these transactions, in particular those you initiated or wished to initiate, began somewhere within terrain you wished to explore as one of your childhood heroes, Admiral Richard Byrd, explored the South Pole

You could--and did--look at your own relationships with those about you.  You were at an age where you were still afflicted with a symptom you liked to think of as psychological hypochondria, from whose murky depths you sought and often found evidences of trespass into terrains from which you hoped to retire.

This brought you into contact with other works, often shelved in bookstores as Self-Help, such as I'm Okay--You"re Okay, Men Are from Mars--Women from Venus, and the more humorous than psychological works of Stephen Potter such as Gamesmanship and a work you wished you'd had when your university minor subject was political science, One-Upsmanship.  

For at least a semester in political science, you were determined to be first in your non-English-major classes, actually were, and found a temporary regime of faith in the notion that political science was the art of getting what you wanted from people and making them like it.

You read all these titles, took copious notes on and in them, and, as a result of a conversation between you and a potential editorial client, folded into the mix the sense of martial arts being a form of political science.  You were encouraged to see martial arts as a means of having your opponent perform in the courses of action you dictated.  

Well, you were tall, well-built, and young.  You actually had a job that resulted in you being requested to give speeches of one sort or another to individuals with whom you had the fondness of reading and of writing in common.  In the interests of brevity, you'll leave those times with the awareness that you felt they--and you--were somehow manipulative, a thing you did not wish to be.

"There is a difference,"  an associate told you, "between being charismatic and being manipulative."  You agreed with his thesis, but in the interest of distancing yourself from being manipulative and connecting charisma with the kinds of ego you did not have nor wish to acquire, you moved away and onward to a point where you wished to establish a healthy and cordial relationship with characters.  

You wished that relationship to apply with the characters about whom you read, the ones you encountered in manuscripts you were called upon to evaluate as an editor, and most important of all, the characters you hoped to bring to your life in works you hoped to bring to life.  

In effect, you've begun to essay your own parallel study to Dr. Berne's, thinking of yours as The Games Characters Play:  Partners in Dramatic Confrontation.  This is not so much a book as a philosophy, where you enter with as complete an articulation of your personal narrative as possible.  

The next step is to bring characters into your terrain who may not be well prepared for it or you.  They should have their own agendas, their own Grail to seek, their own inner gasp of despair at the discovery that some apparently safe platform has given way under their weight.

The toxicity or health of your characters goals are not yours to decide, rather their actions in pursuing or avoiding them become the determining factors.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Travel Writing or Writing about Travel

Travel, whether it is your own or the kinds of travel you read about in magazines and journals, has always represented incipient adventure for you, destinations of places you longed to see for the first time or places you'd want to revisit because of previous pleasant experiences.

There is the freeing sense of leaving a place behind, either for good or for considerable time, perhaps even leaving old habits or arrangements at a distance.  Travel also brings with it the tingle of uncertainty and anticipation.  Will the destination be as you hoped?  Will you in effect find some or any of the things you'd undertaken travel to discover in the first place?

Your experience with travel also includes the kinds of reading you found in novels rather than the travel articles of newspapers or magazines.  These destinations were undertaken in a feeling most sympathetic to Ishmael, who knew a thing or two about travel when he experienced those moments so well presented by William Wordsworth and his observation:  "The world is too much with us--"

You wanted to get away from things you were more likely to find boring, rather than Ishmael's greater tendency to depression.  Although there were times you might have welcomed an encounter with the likes of Captain Ahab, you did well enough with your encounters involving eccentrics, so much so that, like it or not at the time of encountering the eccentrics, you're aware that your fiction, indeed, any fiction, comes to life for you only if the individual you meet burrow into your awareness, to come out on request, as fully formed and passionate near-lunatics.

As a traveler, you've pretty much reached the stage where you wear everything you packed, doing so without the need to buy something you already have enough of at home and neglected to include this time.  

For some years, your travel mate, your late wife, had her own plan for travel packing.  Her approach, markedly different than yours, added a note of adventure to your travels together, she packing for every contingency, but wearing almost none of it.  

A travel venture of a week or more involves some approach to baggage and to the apparel and related items that go into the baggage.  Over the years, beginning with a Greyhound bus trip from Los Angeles to Mexico City, and concluding with the more recent ventures to Santa Fe and the New Mexico high country, you've managed, no pun intended here, to come to grips with what and how much to take.  

This metric includes considerations of things you might have taken, things you ought to have taken and did not, and things you considered important but realized you had no use for them on your trip. In this vital sense, travel played a part in helping you improve your abilities at improvisation.  If you were away from home and lacking something that might have been at home or might not have existed at all, you could--and did--learn to improvise it.

There is always the possibility of other, more emotional baggage, and its effect on the traveler.  This baggage also relies on the informed balance of what to bring along and what to leave behind.  Most of your travels have been because you wished to go to a particular destination, looked forward to your arrival there, and seemed to have a built-in sense of abandon to the Fates of Good Times.

There was a time in your life when much of your travel was by Greyhound bus, which to this day you associate with uniformed sailors, being sick in the rear seats or of babies, indulging  steady and mournful tears, but even that did not forestall the sense of adventure at the outset of the trip.

Through your longtime association with the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference, you began to enjoy the company of a fellow faculty member, who still practices the fine art of travel writing.  His verbal abilities, plus his talents as an amateur magician have helped you see yourself as a travel writer, not in the ordinary sense, rather of the sense of writing about known physical destinations but instead about the bargain rates, perfidious tour guides, and iffy meals available at emotional tourist traps.

Friday, November 13, 2015

How to Get a Character in Trouble on Page 1

To the extent that you know yourself, you know there are certain books, once you hear of them, you will have to read.  Such a title came to your attention in the form of John Clinch's recent (2007) novel, Finn.  

There is only one Finn for you, and since you have lazed hours away wondering what a meeting between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn would have been like as each turned from his third decade into his fourth, how could you avoid such a novel as Clinch's, which gets us into Huck's relationship with his father ?

The question, How could you not? is a quality you are at pains to build into a character who must bear the narrative weight of agenda in fictional projects you undertake.  The more hard wired the character's goal or quest, the greater the probability you will find early on the depth of commitment you seek, both for you as composer and the character as a dramatic entity.

You had the same braided sense of awe and inevitability when you learned of Senta Jeter Nasland, a writer previously unknown to you, and how she had found one memorable sentence in Herman Melville's sprawling epic, Moby-Dick, in which lay embedded what is arguably her most memorable novel, Ahab's Wife.  She'd found the one sentence in which the text revealed Capt. Ahab having a wife back home, on land.  

Among the many challenges such a work implied, you were immediately aware of the most lofty of all, the first sentence.  In order to write a book about Ahab's wife, you have to taunt the reader, who'll have already read Moby-Dick, and it's straightforward, "Call me Ishmael."  Nasaland was up to the task.  "Ahab," she wrote, "was not my first husband, nor my last."

You still sympathize with the hours she spent in pursuit of that line.  You also came to understand, early in your reading of Ahab's Wife, the imperative for the line, "Call me Ishmael" to be included, somewhere within the text.  The structure of past things often contains coded directions for present-day things.

Your own evolution for decoding such connections had not come into place when you were assigned the reading of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, but mere chance placed a used copy of The Viking Portable Chaucer in your hands, whereupon you discovered how Troilus and Cressyde was the forerunner, how Chaucer in some probable scenario, "got" the idea for The Canterbury Tales while on a trip to Italy, and how that trip could be made to provide the background for a historical mystery or espionage novel.

Before Chaucer's time and well into the present, two parallel lines of literary discourse were developing.  One of these was a process known as quiting or responding.  Our most likely awareness of the word and concept is in unrequited or unanswered love.  Through the millennia, writers have quited or answered one another.  The observant reader and the English major catch the nods, the insides of their literary furnaces lit up with discoveries and of topical similarities such as the parallel paths taken by The Odyssey and The Aeneid.

The other parallel line is a concept with the Greek name ekphrasis, or writing about an imaginary work of art within a narrative poem or story.  You were more than ready for ekphrasis when you saw it in "The Spouter Inn" chapter, where Ishmael sees a painting whose subject is not clear in the dim light, and which then, through his point of view, takes on a shape suggestive of many things to him until it becomes clear to him that the painting is of a huge whale.  

At about the time you were being pointed at Moby-Dick, you also came upon a novel in The Age of Victoria where Oscar Wilde put ekphrasis to work in The Picture of Dorian Gray.  These lines of building on a previous work, quiting, and ekphrasis come close to touching within your imagination, but you can see how you are less interested in connecting strands of logic.  Your interest lies in situations where characters find themselves in circumstances where they are not only taking on surface goals or desires, they are slogging through the mud of cultural conditions and morel quagmires.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Start Each Story with Spiders

One of the earliest conversations of significance you recall having with your mother came after you'd approached her, eager to tell her of an exciting dream you'd had.  The conversation lurched into one of the documents of evidence you would eventually use almost as though they were legal briefs in the inevitable battle between parents and children.

Your mother gained your attention by telling you she'd be happy to listen to your dream.  But then, before you could relate it, she went on to explain that grown-ups were likely to be interested in their own dreams but not the dreams of others, particularly those of young persons such as you. 

She was quite patient about leading you to see that it was one thing for a young person to tell an older person that he'd had a bad dream, and maybe one or two salient details.

"Like maybe being covered with spiders," you suggested, knowing most grown-ups had little regard for spiders.

"You didn't dream you were covered with spiders, did you?"

Although you weren't sure why, you knew you had her attention, which, after all was what you'd wanted in the first place.  This was indeed a learning experience.  Start with spiders, which, even then, you understood was code for something ominous, menacing, or discomforting.

As a young person, your relation with grown-ups was fraught with doubts, misgivings, and regrets.  Teachers were, for the most part, all right because they seemed to believe what they were telling you and the better ones had the kind tendency to speak of facts as "things most persons seem to agree upon." 

This gave you hope that there would be better answers to things other grownups told you and that more ordinary things would have the potential to end in adventure.  You were obviously bored much of the time or cynical when you were not bored. 

You'd already come to the refreshing conclusion that your parents were--to use your own, much favored word--crazy.  At the time, persons who did not respond in ways you found predictable to be either crazy or, to pick a term you stole from your father's attention to the radio broadcasts of on-site calling of horse races, "off and running."

You like the notion of a bell sounding and horses, bursting from starting gates and,of the right kinds of persons, crazy persons, to be sure, off and running after their own adventures, which is to say their dreams.

As your own dreams and goals became more articulate, school classes with the suspicious title of Creative Writing became places where you were presented with information you wished to take at face value even though you found some of the information difficult to assimilate.  You were willing then to accept the trope of Creative Writing because that was the label given by adults, who would tell you anything that seemed convenient, just to keep you from asking questions they considered impertinent.  

To this day, you substitute the term Inventive for Creative because you find it easier to get along with inventive.  Over the years, "Creative" has become one of your least favorite words, while such words as "inventive," "made-up," and "speculative" seem to cause that momentary lurch into a string of dramatic events when you hear them.

These are of themselves generalizations, but when you hear them, you begin to see specific individuals doing things, running from, running toward, attempting to gain entrance or exit from a building with a specific personality, skulking about in a hoodie or striding through a traffic stream on Lexington Avenue. 

You have no readily available definition for the word "creative," because it seems to you to have become the equivalent of a blob of dirt removed from an athlete's shoe, then tamped back into the sod from which it was extracted.  Classmates who were spoken of as having creative narrative styles seemed always to have been unfortunate young men and women who were better at describing things than you ever wished to be.

You have spent years being told by teachers and superiors in publishing that dreams ought to be mentioned as generalities.  Look, they'd say, at Gregor Samsa.  "After a night of uneasy dreams--"
Your response to this is simple.  Make a story of the entire dream.  Do not speak of it as a dream.  Allow the actual dream to stand as the code for the final events of a story.  There are enough grown-ups to listen to who qualify as crazy or off and running.  No surprise that most of them are writers or editors.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sentence Length or Length of Sentence

Your rationale for using long sentences has its origins in recognition of how many things in the present had their origins way back beyond simple past tenses and into compound tenses, with tendrils or webs reaching into the present moment.

Another considerable contribution to the force behind your fondness for long sentences has to do with the way a sentence begins to take on a cadence, suggesting a swirl of information as it is spilled out on some work area surface.  

You find the same kind of pleasure in long sentences that you experience when doing crossword puzzles, the clues for the definitions being at once ambiguous, sometimes a pun, causing you to lean forward in your seat, alert to challenge.

The longer the sentence, the greater the possibility to go skittering off on some syntactical detour, bringing the entire construction of words to a monstrous hash of circuitry.  In the throes of composition, you sometimes feel the tingle of excitement at the knowledge of getting on in length and of only getting a start in what could be an entire paragraph, contained in a single sentence.

There is also the pleasure of showing off, in effect announcing that you do not have to rely on simple, declarative sentences to carry the weight of your thoughts and narrative purpose.  At your stage of life, showing off should not mean that much to you; the sentences, regardless of length, should carry the ideas you seek to investigate and convey, should adhere to some sense of logic where the words may be read for their purpose, not for their flair.

But you have, in your time, read any number of works where you had to fight to stay awake, even to the point of taking notes or marking the text to make sure you knew what the author was going on about.  Worse yet, you've had to suffer through many of your own attempts at composition, either bored to an embarrassing degree, or impatient with yourself for not getting on with it.

You'd not considered narrative to be anything but immediate present time until you discovered the need to read and absorb the work of a writer you came to, with a few notable exceptions, relatively later on in your own process of discovery.  By the time you'd come to this writer, you'd already seen your early style and voice begin to emerge from the narrative tangle.  

You'd found yourself one afternoon in a high school class describing the prose of some author as having the same clattering sound of the schoolboy prank of tying strings of tin cans to the rear bumper of an auto.

Your metaphor won laughter from the teacher and students from whom you'd wished to evoke laughter, but with the reward of their laughter came your comparison of the sound of your own writing.  The more stern teacher who was your own judgment suggested that you might well have been describing yourself.

The writer with whom you've been on more increasingly friendly terms over the years is William Faulkner, whose work has begun to strike emotional recognition from you in addition to your earlier, more intellectually rooted reasons for appreciation.  You may read elitism and the kind of showing off you do not appreciate in others, thus why should you allow it in yourself.  

Liking Faulkner at first was liking him for his remoteness from the more accessible narration.  But once you admitted that he was not so easily come by for you, the game began to change.  You saw humor on several levels, enormous regret, complex feelings, wrapped in outlandish behavior, and, most important to the emerging you, compassion for individuals you'd once greeted with the sense of great relief that you were not so needy, ignorant, or self-centered.

For the moment, your solution seems to keep you happy.  First and early drafts often wander along into twenty-five word lengths and beyond, set forth in the sure knowledge that you will come back, pen in hand, to shorten them.  Unlike Faulkner's long sentences, yours often reveal what you've come to think of as stuffing words, words such as "somewhat," "rather." "perhaps," and "significant," words which, on closer inspection, cause more of the bloated feeling you associate with boredom.

You discussed this aspect with a writing chum, who reminded you of something you'll do well to keep at close hand.  "When you're talking,"  he said, "people may think you go on a bit, but no one is aware of your sentence length."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


In the same way some persons tend to be accident prone, you are distraction prone.  To set the proper tone here, you do not believe this admission is a coded or even euphemistic admission of you having Attention Deficit Disorder.  Distraction, in its own way, is quite enough.

One proof of your claim can be seen in the number of times you've worked at a project through the afternoon hours, well past your normal dinner hour of seven, only to look up at about nine, taunted by hunger pangs. Another proof resides in the number of times when, either at your desk composing or your reading chair, reading, you become aware how the transiting sun has caused the day to take on darkness, without your awareness.

Even when the mosquitoes of ADD buzz about you, you have strategies for sending them into the other room or, better still, out into the night, in search of other victims.  The point here is that you damned well know ADD when you see it and have a supportive sensory awareness to inform you when you are being distracted from one focal point to another.

When the symptoms of distraction begin, you're aware of a lifting sensation, often followed by an emerging spread of euphoria through your lower entrails, seeming to fizz upward, leaving deposits of alertness and curiosity to tantalize you.  Your inner jester stirs awake, alert for possibilities of mischief.  You begin to think you can hear yourself, speaking in a not at all  unkind way, saying, "Here we go. Again."

At the present moment, you are aware of two distractions, lingering like the marine layers of June and July, each heavy enough to remind you of how vulnerable you are to them, how in their thrall you've become, thinking of them during portions of the day already spoken for.  One of these is a booklength project that has not behaved well at all, jostling and forcing its way to the head of the line of projects.  As it progresses into an advanced provisional draft, it has found yet newer ways of wanting your attention.

The design of this project allowed you to pick the one hundred novels you believe you've learned the most from as study guides and inspirations to story writing.  With all the books about writing you've read, edited, and written yourself, these hundred novels have taught you more, inspired you more, distracted you more.  After considerable thinking and list making, you arrived at your list of the hundred titles you'd choose, then settled on the approximate number of words you would allow yourself to write about each.  

With six hundred words allotted to each of the hundred novels, and a rigorous ten thousand words for front matter and a final essay, you're seeing seventy thousand words, not a bad length if each word is chosen well and carries its own weight.  But in recent weeks, you notice another novel has begun distracting you, wanting to sit at the grown-up table, meaning the title changes to the hundred one novels, or that one of the chosen ones is disinvited, perhaps relegated to a list of also-rans in the back matter.

So far as you are concerned, distractions have a mind of their own.  Yes, that sentiment is a demonstration of the pathetic fallacy, where human qualities are attributed to inanimate objects or concepts.  Yes, you will allow it to stand on the grounds of the concept buttonholing you, engaging you in animated lobbying, reminding you of a favored photograph of Lyndon Johnson, when he was Senate Majority Leader, badgering and cajoling some unwary senator to cast an otherwise uncommitted vote to a measure still in debate.  Distractions do seize the opportunity to catch you when you are off balance.

You have been lobbied away from a project under way in which you discuss and demonstrate how techniques used by actors to enhance their portrayal of a role can be adapted to show fiction writers how to develop quirky, memorable, and skilled characters for their own stories.

And what of the second project?  You are at the stage of life where your interests and pursuits have less to do with material things and the attraction of people and more to do with things you have referred to as abstractions when dealing with students or clients.  Don't speak to me of a character wanting wisdom or happiness, you complain.  

Give me characters in quest of a specific scientific formula or a specific equation or a tangible ability, say to run a mile in three minutes, forty-five seconds or to be able to dance the lead role in The Firebird or Swan Lake, or to be able to pick up a tenor saxophone and replicate John Coltrane's spirited rendition of  his composition, "Giant Steps."

To the contrary notwithstanding, you are giddy with distraction about someone, at once enjoying the giddiness and welcoming it back into your life and hoping it will remain with you in full force in order to portray it in fiction, expanding the stage of your imagination yet again as all distractions expand the stage on which lives play out.

Monday, November 9, 2015

When Story Is Like an Egg Cream

Down at the secular level of definitions available for the word epiphany, you are pleased to find the one most suitable to you, a moment of sudden awareness or insight.  You first encountered the word, which in itself was a sudden insight, from your sister, who had a habit of telling you things that did not seem to relate to anything until you realize, often well after the fact, that insights, whenever they came, brought a chemical sense of tingle.  

At the time, you associated that with a word you'd learned on your own, effervescence, which you learned after watching your father plunk two wafer like tablets into a glass of water.The tablets were a then popular anti-acid, over-the-counbter remedy called Alka-Seltzer.  

Indigestion was a rare event among your family, thus some considerable time elapsed between the discovery of your father, immersing the two-tablet dose in a glass of water, and the need of either of your parents or your sister for the long, satisfying burp after ingestion signaling the tablets had done their job well.

You were the immediate suspect for the missing Alka-Seltzer tablets, and properly so.  Watching an ordinary glass of water become transformed into a cornucopia of fizzing was almost as much pleasure as you could bear.  Perhaps in the interests of economy, your sister showed you a trick that was a one-up on the fizzing tablets.  One heaping teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in a glass, followed by a half cup of vinegar.

Your on-the-spot epiphany after being introduced to this formula was how, in fact, epiphany trumped effervescence.  In time, your interests caught up with your education, at least in the sense that you came to conclude how nice it would be if the stories you were writing had epiphanies.  And yes, you were soon brought to the family tribunal yet another time.  "Someone," your mother said, "has been using the bicarbonate of soda and vinegar."  

While you were in and about that age, you heard a number of sentences begin with the word "someone."  They could as well have begun the sentence with the more specific use of your name.  You were that someone, who learned to enjoy the greater visual of epiphany rather than effervescence.

So far as you are concerned, stories should effervesce into epiphany.  Your own significant variation on the theme of story is the subtext of nothing ever being what it seems.  For the longest time, this brought you difficulty among teachers and such others as you were able to wheedle or torment into reading your material.  Your intentions were not to be dreary.  Although a bored younger person, well imbued with impatience, you were not dreary at all.  You were in many ways the living enactment of the effects of bicarbonate of soda into which a quantity of vinegar had been introduced.

Your belief that nothing is what it seems does not mean you are suspicious or, indeed, cynical, rather that you hadn't expected much from those two Alka-Seltzer tablets or the combination of bicarbonate of soda with vinegar, and yet, look what happened.  You had another sort of epiphany when handed a drink of mythical proportions, the so-called egg cream, which, contrary to its name, contains neither egg nor cream.  When you first heard what the ingredients to this remarkable beverage were, you could not believe the information.  

Then someone showed you with great specificity.  An inch of Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup at the bottom of a tall glass, followed by three and-a-half inches of milk, the rest of the glass filled with seltzer water from a siphon bottle as opposed to being poured from an ordinary bottle of soda .  You might get passable results from Bosco or Hersey's chocolate syrup, but you would never experience the true transformation of the mystical periodical table of elements.

In similar fashion, any bicarbonate of soda and any vinegar will oblige, but for your needs, a greater specificity calls out.  The bicarbonate of soda must be Arm and Hammer backing soda.  The vinegar must be Heinz's distilled white vinegar.

In such matters, particularity as they relate to story, science becomes replaced with a combination of magic, sentiment, and the child-like amazement at the kinds of chemistry where things mix not according to their atomic numbers or valence or any other explanation related to science.  Story needs to have its elements combine as Fox's U-Bet syrup combines with cold whole milk and seltzer water.   

Even were you to secure a bona fide seltzer siphon bottle, Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup, and cold whole milk, you would need to combine these elements with the same sense of their being something of magic or myth or some secret code necessary as the attending ritual to produce a viable result.

Creation comes from technique, a child-like sense of wonderment, an inherent faith that nothing is what it seems, and a curiosity to plumb the dark corners of human awareness.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Being in Character

In some of your most personal and basic moments, you consult your most precious cache of treasure for two objects, one quite tangible, the other most abstract.  

The former treasure is a small pocket notebook with a list of characters who appeal to you to the point where you visualize yourself portraying them.  The latter is the equivalent of an E Ticket to Disneyland, in fact as open a ticket as possible to the inner worlds of fantasy.

According to the whim of the moment, you imagine yourself portraying one of the characters in your notebook.  The list crosses race, gender, and age boundaries.  The more you indulge your fantasy, the more aware you become of the training, skills, and instincts you have for being a portrayer, a player, dare you call yourself an actor?  

The more you indulge your fantasy, the more aware you become of some trait or interpretation you would bring to your portrayal that would in effect make the character even more memorable to you, in effect enhancing your ties to the character, whoever he or she might be.

The most recent character you've indulged this fantasy with is one of the great dramatic challenges for an actor of any age or experience, the King Lear of Shakespeare's eponymous play. In your fantasy, you were the CEO of a large family business, reminiscent of the publishing company Knopf, when its founders, Alfred and Blanche, were still alive.  You recall Knopf railing against the printing of so many books, a if to say his list was so comprehensive and good that few others were necessary.

You like that kind of authoritative hauteur, find yourself trying out various postures to help project it.  Your Lear would be Jewish, by no means because you are and would thus be able to draw from experience.  Your own Jewishness lacks that cultural and experiential platform.  

Your choice was made because the idea reminded you of the aspect of Jewish humor that is accepted because it has to be.  As this Jewish Lear of the publishing house, Lear Books, you would retire, giving control to your three daughters, all of whom follow their counterparts in the original play.

Another reason for bringing Jewishness to Lear has to do with your reading of the play as the most starkly apocalyptic of all the plays, ending on a note that reminds you of The Final Solution, as it is being carried out.  In your fantasy, you even have two of the daughters selling Lear Books to the German conglomerate, Bertelsmann, which owns so many American publishers.

This fantasy game of yours, imagining yourself as the personality inhabiting your favorite characters, reminds you of a musician running scales or chords.  It is play and practice, both of which are essential for writing things for performance, which is to say publication, but also for the sake of having done them, which is first and foremost for the self as writer.  

In this same E Ticket fantasyland, you are also a writer who wishes to publish, who writes things for publication, who understands the impersonal nature of rejection and the surprising aspects of publication.  At one point, you ached to be published in some larger sense than you seeing your byline in newspapers and magazines.  When that happened, you accepted the fact that you'd reached a plateau where, nice as it was, that was no longer why you wrote.

The act of becoming your favorite characters for the sake of fantasy performance is of a piece with the phenomenon of fan fiction, wherein devotees of certain stories or characters invent their own adventures.  Your own understanding of fan fiction and your own adaptation of the concept ratify your understanding of the need for story in life, to create it, to be in it, and when the need arises, to usurp the work of ongoing stories about you to supply your own version.

Now, when you create a character, you begin wondering what it will take to portray him or her.  Do you give her the same fragility as Williams' Blanche Dubois, or is there something in her that causes you to make eye contact with her and begin the dangerous flirtation wherein you and she see each other's chemistry?

Such things are often spoken of as guilty pleasures, but for you there is no guilt, only the immense presence of pleasure.  Story and its denizens have become for you the presence of pleasure, no matter where they take you when they approach you, sometimes in your sleeping dreams, sometimes in your daydreams, sometimes when you are lost in composition.  "What say we get out of here," they say, "and go somewhere for a drink?"

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Character Onion, Not the Satiric One

Because of the way it is formed, the onion may find itself used not only as an ingredient in cooking but literary metaphor as well.  The phrase To peel the onion, suggests the removal of the layers, one by one, with a final destination being the core.  

In many ways, the personalities of persons and characters resemble onions, given the way the layers of each are peeled away by examination.  

The person appears before you in your daily encounters with the world about you.  The character appears in your reading, your critical analysis of what you've read, and your attempts to set characters of your own creation into motion.  

Peeling an onion or constructing one has direct connections for you with Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who was in effect using spare or diverse body parts as ingredients in his attempt to create life via artificial means.

As you read Dr. Frankenstein, your interpretation of his fatal flaw became hubris.  Now, years after you first met him and his works, through unfortunate motion picture ventures, and then through your reading of Mary Shelley's original text, you have arrived at an entirely different vision.  In a collateral sense, this is the same, after-the-fact vision you had of Franz Kafka's character from The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa.

You admire both the works in their original, literary forms.  You also admire their authors. You appreciate having been introduced to them through the mechanism of assigned reading, supplemented with one or more instructor's lecture explications.  You appreciate having been nudged to articulating your own sense of the effect each had on its surrounding society, your interpretation of the author's reason for writing the work, and your articulation of what each work means to you.

How unfortunate to realize your early readings and considerations of the works stopped short of your articulation of what each word meant to you.  At the time of your exposure to each, you were already aware of the concept of the instructor having written and defended at least one thesis.  

You allowed your early decision not to pursue graduate-level study to divert you away from the essential need nevertheless of having a thesis about such things as Dr. Frankenstein's creation or Franz Kafka's characters.  Indeed, you allowed your decision to seek your fortune as a writer become an irony injected into what you like to think of now as a long, deliberate make-up examination in the taking of which you were once again peeling the onion of yourself.

The irony you see now is the way you jumped into your own work without examining your own thesis about much of anything.  You did this in the belief that you were prepared enough.  You were prepared, but in the defended theses of others.  You went forth in a real sense all onion and no tears.

You did not at the time think Dr. Frankenstein would have had greater experiences had he become a writer.  What a remarkable and, in fact, more difficult way to create life than he chose.  Kafka was closer to the mark; he created a riotous and comedic response to his negative feelings about his father by creating a circumstance where the elder Samsa was forced to care for his son, now transformed into a bug.

Without making a direct association, you often use the analogy of an individual or a character as an armature of agenda or desire, about which layers of constraints, inhibitions, and fearful experiences are wrapped.

Onion or armature, you see characters now as some force embedded within a field of irony.  There is struggle, transference of power, tidal surges, and moments of great understanding, all illuminating that field of play.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Opening Paragraphs and Hidden Agendas

Finding the beginning of a story or of a chapter within a story is like a drunk, trying to fit the correct house key into the door lock.  You know this because you, while drunk, have experienced the frustration of getting the lock to remain stationary, and while sober, you've tried to get the sentence you knew was there, but was not quite ready to reveal itself to you.

When you stop to think about the multifarious range of elements needed for openings, your head spins as it has done on occasion when you had too much to drink.  Sometimes, to get the process moving, you use a note pad to list the necessary things for the beginning.  Start with someone relevant, if not he or she who will become the main character.

This is often a lucrative step because he or she wants or needs something,  He or she must, in your opinion, be a bit off plumb, having wanted and striven in the past with at best a string of near misses.  This introduces a note of desperation or sense of fatalism.  (A trapeze artist who has been dropped on occasion becomes suspicious of shaking hands.)

The beginning must have a setting.  Through the years, you've understood the need to give the setting a personality that somehow causes the reader if not the reader and characters a sense of discomfort.  

One way to accomplish this is to imagine some interior flaw such as a clogged drain, a dripping faucet, an infestation of termites, perhaps even something as fanciful as a squatter, living in some unnoticed space.  You will not mention this flaw nor will you allow your characters to refer to it.

Suffice it to be an active, imaginative flaw, tucked away in your vision of the place so that your awareness of it will effect the way you see the place, which will be transferred to the way the characters sense something amiss.  "Is it all right to sit here?"  "Yes, of course.  Why would you even ask?"  "I'm not sure.  There's something uncertain here, as though it were in use by someone who will return at any minute."

This is one of your defining characteristics.  Your primary character sits at a table in a coffee shop, waiting for an important rendezvous.  Someone in a nearby table asks the character if she/he will please watch his/her table for a moment.  The primary character agrees.  His/her appointment arrives, takes one look at the surroundings, then insists they leave.  The primary character is bound by the promise made to watch the table and books or laptop computer or backpack or even a rolling suitcase.  

The appointment person grows impatient.  "We  have to leave now."  But as they start to leave, the primary character already feeling guilty for having broken a promise to a complete stranger, requests five more minutes.  When the five minutes have expired, the two start to the door, which is blocked by the police.  The person from the nearby table, the one who asked for the primary to watch his/her things, will have been murdered.

The appointment person nudges the primary character.  "I told you we had to leave."  We do not know what's going on, but we do suspect the appointment person of having been the one to have dispatched the person from the nearby table.

Additional to characters and setting, beginnings require some sense of impending disaster, some outrageous irony, some twist of fate.  Even so, the beginning requires a sense of some pattern the reader senses, some causal force behind the events.

The more aspects of presence you think to braid into your beginning, the more daunting the beginning comes.  You appreciate all the more the metaphor of the trunk, fumbling with his keys. The only way out of the situation is for you, in your desperation to get the story off and running, is another complication.

You have at least two avenues open before you.  In the metaphor of the drunk, trying to gain entry to his home, how about a neighbor, equally drunk, appears, confesses to our drunk that she can't get her door open, and would our person please, please help.  On the other hand, the prime character is now being questioned by the police, who wonder why his/her name was in the pocket of the deceased.

For the longest time, you believed you could not plot.  During that long time, you'd have given anything for these ruminations.  But even then, you knew your way around an opening sentence.