Tuesday, December 20, 2016

There's Good News and Bad News

A writer, an editor, and a publisher enter a neighborhood saloon.

"I'll have a Manhattan," the writer says.

"We don't do cocktails here," the bartender replies. "I could maybe get you a shot of rye inna jelly glass, dig up an ice cube, and get you some tap water, you okay with that."

"Could have been worse," the editor says.

"That's part of the news," the publisher says. "You know, the good news and the bad news."

"Was that the good news or the bad news?" the writer asks.

"Depends on your point of view," this from the editor. "We are going to publish you."

"Is that good news or bad news?"

"Hey," the bartender says, "this is a serious neighborhood bar. We try to keep the conversation civil here. This is your only warning."

"Could have been worse," the editor says.

"So why do you guys publish if you don't know if the news is good or bad?" the writer asks.

The bartender comes out from behind the bar, a baseball bat in his hands. "Okay, that tears it. You guys outta here, right now, screwing up the ambience of the only place our regulars got to get away from the zeitgeist. Out! Now!"

Moments later, out on the street, the publisher remembers another saloon two blocks hence. Wordlessly, the three head off in that direction. After about a block of walking, the editor stops the writer. "When we get there," he says, "don't fucking order a Manhattan."

Writers, even those such as the one in this fanciful conceit, draw from personal experiences. There is no surprise in the fact of some part of you being resident in all these individuals; they, and many of the individuals you bring forth, either in direct fiction or memoir, come from the equivalent of an ensemble which you carry about and which frequently take to the roles they are portraying to a point where you might need to make calls or send notes of apology.

At one time, back in the naive past, all you wanted to do by way of making your living income, was write, either via the essay, critical review, or short story, thinking how nice it would be if, along the way, you managed to learn how to write novels in spite of the fact that you did not have the merest idea of how to concoct a plot for a novel.

To your credit, you were often able to subside at such a level, thanks to a multifarious income stream, checks ranging from about fifty dollars to a hundred-fifty, and once having as your agent the famed, eccentric Forrest J. Ackerman, who was in the habit of sending you checks via special delivery.

The good news always related to the fact of some new assignment or some thing, written for what seemed the sport of it. The bad news was often what the assignment was, in other words a directive to produce a particular length on a particular subject, or a story with a particular theme.

When you wrote and sold your first two pulp novels, some of your friends were producing eight or ten a year; one in particular was doing one a month. He suggested you might improve your income stream and teach yourself plotting if you were to do the same.

At one point, a year or so later, you experienced what you thought was burnout so far as fiction was concerned, but in retrospect you see how what you experienced was less burnout and more a failure to see how story began, at levels even deeper than you were able to recognize.

There were long hours of sitting behind one of a string of typewriters, most of them coming to you via your father, who encountered them in his capacity as an auctioneer for various referees in bankruptcy. You approached story with a lock-jawed determination, and in return, story rewarded you with stories that had a grim, locked-jaw determination about them.

Then, one day, with what you like to think of as the same kind of sensory awareness the female mosquito shows when entering a room or target area in search of a meal, a story entered your field of awareness. You welcomed it in, listened to it, and experienced the same kind of thrill you used to get when you found yourself in a room or office or store or anywhere else there happened to be a person who spoke to you without speaking to you, who sent signals you were able to interpret across the room or office or store or anywhere else.

The good news in that case was the same kind of feelings you felt when you interpreted those signals.  The good news was that you were a writer. The bad news was that you were a writer.

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