Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thank you, Gordon

For the longest time, you looked for ways to include your friends as heroic or at least as friends of the protagonists in your fictions. This left you the Dickens-envy of trying to establish those who, in real life, you sought some form of revenge as eccentrics, grouches, and miscreants.

You were not alone in this practice. Indeed, you eventually discovered how a rival for an editorial promotion had cast you as a potential Iago in at least two massmarket paperback novels. You also learned that Ed McBain,one of your favorite mystery writers tended to name junior high schools after his card-playing friends, and to your great amusement, you appeared in a collaboration by two of your own card-playing friends, Day Keene and Len Pruyn.

Nor were you above portraying the buttoned-down inner humor of Charles E, Fritch ("Horse's Asteroid") as Chick Fitch and an author you greatly admired--and edited--William F. Nolan, as Bill Nolag.

As such things go, a young lady you thought well enough of for quite some time to consider marriage with had sneaked a copy of the Keene-Pruyn venture into a study hall, laughed so explosively at seeing your presence in the work that she earned herself a week's detention.

Your most recent collected short stories contain the presence of the late, lamented Steve Cook, the perennially worried and pestered Duane Unkefer, Digby Wolfe, and, in what you considered elegant japery, Barnaby Conrad, transmuted to Conrad Burnaby.

These represent the visible part of the iceberg. They add a note of amusement to what you have come to realize is a longstanding, difficult process. Speaking of longest times as you were in the opening paragraph, you were for considerable time in denial of the difficulty of the process of concocting a convincing story about plausible, lifelike individuals. You did not take kindly to the notion that writing should be anything but fun. You thought this because you paid little attention to your first or perhaps second drafts because, why bother? If there were in fact something wrong, you could catch it with the next story.

During another long burst of time, when you wrote novels for the ongoing Nick Carter mysteries, you named Carter's villains after department chairpersons who had in some way or other run afoul of your cheerful nature, describing their physicality in unnecessary--to all but you--detail and exaggerating your grievances against them to a point you later realized undercut their dramatic plausibility.

Not all that long ago--at least in your terms--you began to recognize the need to humanize your Iago sorts, while adding some grounding to the quirkiness of those characters you tend to like more than the Iago sorts. In retrospect, you wish it had been longer for your recognition,rather than not all that long ago.

The novel you're at now begins with a dislikeable character who heads a committee to hire your protagonist. You have discovered some excellent and valid ways to keep this character unlikeable. But only last week, while you drank coffee at your favorite coffee shop and waited for the arrival of a friend who you will surely be able to put to use as a character, your attention was drawn to a customer whom you disliked on sight.

He represented the embodiment of entitlement, class-consciousness, and little or no patience for the working classes. (Time to get honest with yourself here. In your head, you champion the working classes. You've worked picket lines, contributed to strike funds, joined various boycotts from the comforts of your middle-class, white male platform. But you are alert to see the potential for Archie Bunker to reside in the skin of the factory worker, the union person, the laborer.)

You knew in a moment that this individual who caused you such distaste was your character, Gordon Slope. Watching him, you even realized that Slope must wear plastic Crocs, have one or two varicose veins on his legs, muscled from treadmill exercise.

Whatever it was that got you thinking next, What can be done to make this person likable, he did it for you by treating the baristas with respect, interest, and some measure of empathy.
The next time you were at the coffee shop at the same time he was, you took him in with a glance, greeted him with a cordial How's it going, Gordon?  He had no way of knowing anything about you, but for a moment, his eyes met yours. He nodded, then smiled.

Thank you, Gordon.

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