Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Table d' Hote

At one point during the time you were composing stories to fit in science fiction or fantasy magazines, you wrote a narrative about a man who was attempting to sell his soul to Satan. Most of your narrative fiction was written at night; daylight working hours were devoted to dramatic materials intended for television or motion pictures. The bulk of your reading at the time was Mark Twain and Franz Kafka.

You did not stop to consider that both men were contemporaries, with Kafka outliving Twain by a scant fourteen years. Nor did you consider Kafka a humorist until well after you'd parted company with writing for television, even though the qualities you most cherished in him and Twain were irony and narrative voice. 

There is surely some exaggeration in your claim that the only things you came away with after your years of television endeavor was a Sahara tan VW Beetle with a sun roof and FM radio, financed by the credit union of the Writers' Guild and an undiminished reverence for the character of Wile E. Coyote.

Back to the narrative about the man who wanted to sell his soul to the devil. Even in those days, you recognized how overworked the concept, which was not yet a story, had been before your arm wrestle with it. You added a few twists: The protagonist couldn't get an appointment with Satan, who was busy to the point of exhaustion dealing with men and women who had much more to offer than your protagonist.

In retrospect, you believe you'd have been well advised to quit there, while you were ahead, leaving a message that the protagonist needed some ante to get into the game in the first place, but you slogged on. Your protagonist--and you--managed to get even more distance from any chance of a satisfactory finish, thanks to a number of tangents.

You were to learn later that tangents, themes, and propaganda were precisely the sorts of distractions you must avoid if you are, indeed, to have anything to lay on the table as an ante that would in any way attract Satan to sit in the game with you.

A great pal, Barnaby Conrad, had a dud of a first novel, then responded with his great breakout, Matador, a narrative that reflected his close friendship with any number of actual matadors. Even when first published, the novel's subject matter was offensive to many American readers. Nevertheless, such a success in terms of sales, word-of-mouth, and notoriety were, to continue the metaphor, ante chips. 

Satan not only came to the table, he asked Conrad the key question, "What would you say if, when we made the film, we changed the principal character from a retired bullfighter to a retired heavyweight boxing champion?"


Conrad left us in 2013, Matador still not filmed, although a producer, whom he admired and who attended his memorial service, told you at the time he still hoped to do the project. No matter, Conrad was a living example of an individual who sat at the poker table with Satan and came away a winner, particularly in your eyes, for the way he was able to look at the thing he devoutly wished to come to pass, then was able to see the importance of maintaining the vision that got him the story in the first place.

The tangents, themes, and propaganda of which you speak are in a true sense Satan incarnate, to whom, under the guise of learning your craft, you make accommodations and negotiated settlements with little or no awareness of having done so.

When you sit to compose, you gather about you flashes of insight you've gleaned from individuals you've known only through reading their works and as well from individuals you've known as associates and friends. You've come a long, long way to reach this point, which is by no means as lonely as it may sound.

You are in good company, and Satan is still too busy to have anything to do with the likes of you.

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