Thursday, March 24, 2016


Your earliest remembered associations with instructions began with your interest in building model airplanes. Without a doubt, you'd had previous experiences, but remain to this day unable to remember them. You do remember having worked your way through a number of ten-cent models to the next available plateau, a twenty-five cent model, powered by a rubber band.

You were used to following printed instructions, such as having the equivalent of a large flat surface on which you could work, the admonition to cover the plans with a sheet of wax paper, and the further admonition to make sure you took care to cover the tube of glue after each use.The twenty-five cent model had no such instructions.

At your father's suggestion, you turned to the shop where you'd bought the model, thinking perhaps the instructions had been somehow left out. You were well known at the shop, thus both the owner and his wife consulted a few boxes of the same model you'd purchased, only to deliver the message that this model has no instructions. A sympathetic Mrs. Fazzio, (owner) ventured that you'd had enough experience with model airplanes to be able to proceed on your own.

You had no idea at the time how shrewd and philosophical your father was. "Some things in life," he said, "don't come with instructions. You have to figure them as you go, and even then, there's no guaranteed that they'll work with something new." He offered to consult with you if you felt you were, as he put it, in over your head, with this model. You did not put this into words at the time, but you got the impression you could go to him for instructions about other things that did not come with instructions or if you should find the instructions somehow lacking.

The twenty-five-cent model came with a rubber band that looked puny in comparison to some of the rubber bands you found about the house. You substituted the supplied rubber band with one of a sturdier appearance, built in what you hoped would be a reinforcement device, wound the propeller until the rubber band seemed unwilling to take any more turns, then set the plane on the ground. When you took your hand off the propeller, the plane emitted a satisfying growl, then lifted into flight, gained altitude, and traveled over the backyard fence into the terrain of the neighbors.

On its next flight, your model distinguished itself by flying into the garage with such force that the front of the fuselage and a good chunk of the leading edge of the wing were mashed beyond repair. You thought for a moment about whether the lack of instructions had anything to do with you substituting the rubber band that came with the model for the more substantial one that was the ultimate cause of the model's demise. 

In a rare glimpse of prescience, you decided that you wouldn't have paid much heed to any instruction warning you not to use more substantial rubber bands than the one that came with the kit.

Your experiences with the instructions in the first book you'd ever bought relating to writing stories caused you to realize that you were pretty much in the same fix with writing stories as you were with that instruction-less model airplane. The jump from ten-cent models to twenty-five-cent models was nothing in comparison to your excitement and results with some of your earliest efforts.

Over the next several years, you haunted new and used bookstores and libraries, hopeful of finding the one book,story, or novel that would cause the kind of epiphany you'd come to recognize from your reading of other authors. With such a story or novel or book in hand, the mysteries of the craft of writing memorable stories would be as muscle memory. 

Once achieved, this vital muscle memory would allow you to pursue your next goal of writing in every genre before deciding on the one or two with which you would spend the remainder of your writing life.

Somewhere along about the time you'd reach the conclusion that such a story or novel or book did not exist. Not only that, if you were to come into possession of such a work, it would have to be something you'd written. Worse yet, you understood that the "something" you had written would be only good for one time; everything ought to be different, you realized, otherwise you'd be duplicating yourself, derivative of you rather than evocative of your growing awareness of the elements of storytelling. You could, in a lifetime, master some of these, but by no means all.

Helpful to your new found awareness was the fact of you being employed as an editor who was confident in hi ability to get the go-ahead with a project he'd discussed with an author. You were, in fact, signing authors who'd published some of the stories you'd grown up reading, men and women whose output was monumental.

One such writer, aware of your interest in writing Westerns, had not only written them himself, he was the story editor of a weekly television anthology set in that window of Post Civil War until about 1915 or 20, when the Industrial Revolution was shifting into second gear, the automobile was beginning to make its appearances, and the cattle being nudged and herded by the cowboy was more likely than not to be a Hereford rather than a Texas longhorn. This author suggested a book which, after you'd been into it for a few pages, you recognized immediately as the object of your earlier search.

The novel grabbed you on so many levels--its characters, its vision of the setting, its ability to convey the way horses and cows smelled, behaved, and thought, its seeming episodic nature that transcended the plot-driven story--that you knew you were holding something you'd need to come back to, again and again. Of all the many books you'd read and came away thinking the work was so simple, perhaps you could do it, you realized, reading this one, that you would well be able to consider yourself a writer, were you able to write such a book.

The book is a Western. You've been on occasion, thrown from a horse, on greater occasion by a book. So far, all you've learned is to get back on the horse and get back on another project.

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