Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Real World of Fiction in the Apparent World of Reality

Without thinking of the matter in quite these terms, you decide around age fifteen to devote your major energy to learning about story, which is to say devoting yourself to understanding the fine inventions of fiction.  As time progresses, you shear off into the equivalent of graduate fiction studies, learning how to be an effective editor of other persons' fiction.

Almost as though you'd planned it--you hadn't--you now find yourself in a graduate-level classroom, where you present classes in how to write fiction, and how in effect to read and understand fiction.  In effect, you've been focused on making the imaginary seem real, which you have to admit has certain benefits.  But this study and focus, which includes the fiction you have brought into creation, has left you with the equivalent of a limp in which the real world often seems more imaginary than it ought.

The world revolves on its axis; your world, in large measure devoted to the imaginative and the simulacrum, revolves on your imagination.  There are brief-but-significant moments in baseball games where the batter has made contact with the ball pitched to him, either at a blazing speed or tantalizing  change-up.  Somewhere between the batter's box and first base, he pauses for a fraction of a second, to see if the ball, on its flight, will go all the way, up, up and over, hit the wall, or, in fact, be caught.  So much of the real world seems like those flashes of moments, where you look to see if the consequence of an action of yours is a home run, a hit, or a playable fly ball.

"It's clear," your agent tells you, "I can place your nonfiction.  How much longer do I have to wait for Lessing?"

Lessing is the protagonist of two novels in progress.  Lessing has been with you a long time.  He first appeared in a short story published in your college humor magazine.  Over the hears, his grandfather appeared in a men's magazine in the capacity of a member of the then U.S. Camel Corps.  Although you never thought of him as a writer, he has written books to pay the [your] rent.  "I thought fiction was not bringing in enough sales,"  you told your agent.

"You're going to set sales records with this new project I've got out?  Where's Lessing?"

Of course Lessing is you.  If you hadn't known that some years back, you'd still be struggling with how to bring characters forth, embedded Russian dolls. They are all you or, more to the point, you are all of them, waiting around at casting calls, looking for work, focused on some significant quirk or trait, more that quirk or trait than a person.  Would you have cast an earlier, traitless, quirkless you?

Back in the days of live television, you and dozens of other extras lined the wall of an empty rehearsal studio at the CBS TV Studio, Fairfax near Beverly, midtown, Los Angeles.  The gig:  A Playhouse 90 western.  This would be a good one to get.  John Frankenheimer directing.  Up at the fromt of the hall, murmurs, and movements.  The selection had begun.  One voice, saying no, no, yes, no, yes, yes, oh, yes, no.  Frankenheimer, making his choices.  Soon enough, he was before you.  "I'll have this boy."  Then a flurry of no, no, oh yes, let's have her. No.  You'd already been given things to fill out.  An AFTRA Rep was there, reminding you about dues, a production assistant told you not to shave, and two no choices arguing over how you, with horn-rimmed glasses, should be picked.  "You don't even look Western."  "Actually, one of them said, "He looks Jewish."

"Get your own show to direct,"  you said, "and you can pick Jewish extras who wear glasses."

At the time, you knew nothing about acting.  In the intervening years, you know even less, but you're more in awe of the inner needs and ironies of the human condition.  You didn't have to be an actor because you were a writer., except for the fact that you hadn't made enough as a writer to pay your bills and so had to become an extra so you could go on being an impecunious writer.  Persons could look at you and know you didn't have to do what you were doing instead of writing, because you were a writer who needed to be doing what you were doing in order to support being a writer who could not support himself from his writing.

Now, you have an agent who is in effect telling you it is okay not to write the kinds of books that earn out and to write instead the kind where the vast majority don't earn out.  A few words on that theme:  For any given book to earn out, it needs to recover the costs of its production, distribution, promotion, advertising, and overhead.  When a given book earns out or pays for itself, including the advance against royalties extended to the author, the book begins to show a profit.

There is another, more internal kind of earning out, which relates to the kind of book a writer writes in the first place. If you're beyond working on your first book, you've likely reached the plateau of working next on what your publisher has encouraged you to write (because the last one did so well) or because of what your inner selves have urged you to write.  You are not planning on getting financially comfortable on the book you have in progress now, rather you are writing it because you didn't have much of a choice.

Even when you'd been working on it to the point you reach on every project, which is where you wonder why you would ever work on such a book, you still felt driven to stay at it because there was still the vestige of promise that you would learn something about yourself from it.  Thus you are writing about a world of fiction from which you've been energized all along and through which you see some hope of learning about how to get along better in the Real World.

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