Friday, September 16, 2016

Raining Cats, Dogs, and Stories

When you were living in the corner apartment of 3153 Barbara Court, in the buffer zone between the Hollywood Hills and what became The Valley, you had neither cat nor dog nor even a goldfish, although all three had crossed your mind.

You had a lipstick red Olivetti portable typewriter, given you by a person you assumed would become your mother-in-law. You had an eclectic collection of furniture including a sofa one aunt had admitted to paying too much for and getting too little in return. 

Given your father's then pursuit as an auctioneer of the assets of failed restaurants, you had an eclectic assortment of cooking utensils, all of which you used at least once.

At the time, you most fancied having a Beagle as a pet, but the neighbor's cat, a mashup of a gray-and-white tiger stripe and a tuxedo, had other ideas and, as matters evolved, other plans. "I guess I don't have a cat any more," your neighbor, Ray, said one afternoon at about the time for your usual cribbage game. "He seems to spend all his time here, and I have to think he actually loves you."

Thinking the matter over, you understood how, at heart, you were a dog person, but this was no ordinary cat, even taking your evening walk about the neighborhood with you and, in one bold stroke, stowed away in your Hudson Hornet, all the way to Virginia City, Nevada, where he appeared able to cope with snow, altitude, and the inner life of The Brass Rail Saloon, wherein you did much of your serious drinking.

You also thought you were a short story person rather than a novelist even though any number of literary agents explained to you how you needed at least to be proficient in the novel format if you were to get anywhere with your intended career as a writer.  

One literary agent in particular, a man whose memoir you would eventually publish, flat out told you he wanted nothing more to do with you if you continued to pursue your inexplicable fondness for the short form. He was also known in The New York Times and Publishers' Weekly as "King of the Paperbacks."

The agent was a Harvard man who, as you liked to joke, spoke two languages, English and Harvard. For his part, he observed that you wrote pretty well for a Westerner, by which he meant you were not as prolific as he would have liked because agents did not get commissions from drafts, only final manuscripts.

Thus, in those days, you were a dog person with a cat named Sam; you were a short story writer, writing novels for a man named MacCampbell. You were perfectly content with Sam, thinking you might transmogrify into a cat person. But after Sam's death, you found in a succession of cats including one named after Edna St. Vincent Millay, a vigorous awareness you were indeed a dog person.

By their nature, most novels require either a significant change, a symbolic event that encodes explanation for the outcome of the novel, or some plausible explanation for the obligatory payoff. Your vision of the short story contains a special dispensation not to close out with any authority. You call a short story's conclusion a negotiated settlement with Reality. You have on occasion spoken of the short story ending with a poised irresolution.

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