Monday, January 2, 2017

Careers-ma

At one point in your career, you ran the Los Angeles office of a major massmarket publisher that happened among other things to be the reprint publisher of the iconic storyteller, Elmore Leonard. Thus, when he saw your face among the blur of strangers at a yearly event once called The American Bookseller's Association Convention, there was more than mere recognition. You'd become a life preserver. "Do you think you could find me some coffee?" he said.

What followed was a conversation that apparently stuck with us both because within it, you'd expressed admiration for a character of his named Ernest "Stick" Sticky, Jr., to which Leonard made the observation, "Coincidental you mention that. He's been speaking a lot to me lately and I'm thinking he wants his own book."

Cut to the future, when you were no longer in favor with the major massmarket publisher and were pursuing, as it is often said, other options. Some of these options, writing short stories (which had been your default plan for being happy and making a living), for instance, had been influenced in no small measure by that conversation with Leonard. Indeed, you began forthwith to spend time listening to your characters, in consequence of which you'd begun to place the kinds of stories you'd always believed you had it within you to write. In particular, you'd had one editor, John Milton of the estimable South Dakota Review, telling you "I guess you're one of my regulars now."

Somewhere within that future, your cherished friend, Barnaby Conrad, had encountered Leonard as a friend, in further consequence of which, Leonard would on occasion come to Santa Barbara to appear as a speaker at Conrad's glorious toy, the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference, where you were able to have a continuation of the conversation about Ernest Sticky, Jr., who, indeed, had "talked" his way into his own book, Stick.

Perhaps because Leonard knew you'd also followed his Western stories, he began telling you of another instance in which he sought an appropriate name for a jailer in one of his Western stories, found nothing that satisfied him, then had significant problems wringing convincing dialogue from the character. Leonard went on to tell of having gone through a contemporary newspaper account, originally published in a newspaper from the Arizona Territory (which would have dated the story back at least as far as 1912, whence Arizona achieved statehood.

The story gave a quote from a prison guard named Bob Isham, on which Leonard pounced. That became the name for his character. "And you know something," Leonard said, "I couldn't keep the garrulous old son of a bitch quiet after that."

In significant measure accurate in details, the previous paragraphs become an adjective your literary agent made you swear you would not use in any copy you submitted to her. The adjective was prologaminous, or, "somehow related to the prologues of fiction and dramatic nonfiction."

The previous paragraphs came rushing back to you as you recall your recent encounter with a typographical error you were correcting on a manuscript you'd begun as a procrastination from a project you've been working on, need to finish, and realize, from a review of the last page, that a bit of the lackluster had set in. Writing things that intrigue and delight you are sure ways to energize your writing persona to the point where, once again, you are not sure which (as opposed to what) mischiefs will come pouring forth.  Memo to self: Always write as though about to allow a mischief to slip through the cracks. Saner persons than you will rush to strike them out, but even then your prose will have that level of impudence you favor.

In repairing the typographical error on your procrastination project, you somehow caused your protagonist to become not only himself--Benjamin C. Bloom--but Benjamin C. Bloom, Jr, which meant he had a father whom you'd not previously considered and now must.  Since you knew, thanks to your quirky memory, of an actual individual with the name Benjamin and the middle initial C. (a former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Benjamin Cardozo), it made sense for your fictional Benjamin C. Bloom to be an attorney and a professor of law.

On such trivialities is fiction shunted into life.  Suppose, you told yourself, that your fictional Benjamin Cardozo Bloom had actually been born Benjamin M. (for Maurice) Bloom, but had furtively changed the M. to a C. That one little typographical counterfeit could have an enormous effect on generations to come.

Indeed.  And what's so special about M-for-Maurice?  Couldn't  hurt to have a smattering of knowledge of U.S. theatrical history in which one of the great stalwarts of that institution had the same effect on history as Benjamin Cardozo had on American jurisprudence.  Of course you knew all about Maurice Barrymore, sire of the great Barrymore acting family.

As Elmore Leonard said of Bob Isham...

You are well into one hundred pages of the procrastination, haunted by the sounds of its characters, wailing and moaning at you as you attempt to tread the warp and weft of your daily Reality.

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