Friday, May 6, 2016

How Long Must a Participle Dangle until

For the past several years, the first section you pull out of the Sunday edition of The New York Times is the magazine section, home of the crossword puzzle, a gesture speaking to your fondness for the puzzle and also speaking to the growing sense of lost interest in the editorial section. 

In previous times, the puzzle came second, after you'd taken on a conversation-type argument with the NYT editorial board over matters of national, global, and local issues.

For years preceding and paralleling the crossword puzzle years, you were drawn to the hardboiled mystery novels of such writers as Ross MacDonald (Ken Millar) whom you knew, Dashiell Hammett, whom you wish you'd known, and Raymond Chandler, whom you you spent a great deal of time trying to capture in your own mystery novels.

Since the age of seventeen or eighteen, when you were grappling with the awareness that plotting as such was as filled with mystery for you as algebra and geometry were, the frustration of enjoying, loving the mystery novel and not being able to plot one out to your satisfaction, hung over you, an oppressive, weighty cloud.

You'd studied with a gifted mystery writer, Dorothy B. Hughes, met and talked to her dear friend, Vera Caspary, of Laura fame, become at their nudging, active in the Mystery Writers of America, envying the mystery writer, any mystery writer, for their ability to string out related series of events. At one point, after you'd begun teaching, a number of your students were publishing mysteries, which you'd read, recognize as having the proper alignment of strategic scenes, then wonder what it would take for you to get beyond the impasse.

In fiction, the protagonist writer would work toward his goal of wishing to make his living as, indeed your friend, Day Keene, made his, writing a mystery novel a month. In fiction, the protagonist writer would work his way up to turning in two hardcover mysteries a year to a respectable enough hardcover house, then get a job moonlighting as a story editor for a TV Western anthology.  

In life, the closest you came was watching your students get contract after contract, while you became an editor of the sorts of writer you hoped to start as, then grow as Ross Macdonald grew, to the point where a writer such as Eudora Welty would say in print that the mystery novel was a literary force.

Here you were, a shelf filled with half-finished mysteries, unfinished because you'd written yourself into a place you wished to be, confident with the belief that you'd be able to work your way out, in keeping with your belief that this was the goal you were after.  But zip, nada, niente. All the while the crossword puzzles in both the Los Angeles and New York Sunday Times, until.

Until cannot be allowed to dangle like a misplaced participle. Until must be reconciled with some form of resolution.

Mystery novels were--still are--puzzles to be solved. Mystery novels were--still are--narratives where the puzzles needed some kind of solution, but the inner workings within the characters matter more than the solution to the puzzle.  In fact, the solution to the puzzle is maybe only the equivalent of the conclusion of act two; the solution oi the parallel elements to the puzzles the major story, stepping out of the shadow of the puzzle.

You are back at the pursuit that brings you the most happiness, half-articulated mysteries peeking out at you from stacks of handwritten sheets, the sight of them whispering to you, Hey, pssst, over here, friend.  Look over here.  In fiction, answers would have come to you long ago enough to have allowed you to develop necessary skills.

In life, you try not to overthink, to get your pages done, which is what you must do if the process is to make any sense to you.


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