Friday, October 30, 2020

Notes on Becoming a Penguin/Random Author

 Some years back, let's say as many years back as fifty, you embarked on an approach at making your living from writing for the expanding massmarket phenomenon known as the paperback novel. You had no thought whatsoever of becoming an editor, taking a paycheck from a publisher. Nor did you consider teaching as an income stream.

In consequence, you were often forced to some of the jobs associated with the starting years of the freelance writer. You variously worked at a parking lot, prepared moribund restaurants for auction, walked dogs, shelved books at a library, wrote screen tests for an aging actor, wrote scenes for LA-area tv shows including a daily equivalent of a concept that eventually became "Laugh-In."

Because of a pal who was able to support himself by writing a novel a month, you developed the discipline of producing pages, daily. Some of these pages were published as written by you, others via a number of pseudonyms, two of which have relevancy here: Craig Barstow and Walt Feldspar. Both these aspects of yourself wrote Westerns, novels taking place in the American West from about 1870 to 1900.

Your current literary agent knew that about you. She also knew an editor from her own days as editor who was looking for titles for a line of Western novels. She also had a client who expressed a wish to write Westerns but wasn't sure how to proceed. Thus the fateful phone call from your agent, asking you to adlib an acceptable outline sketch for a Western novel.

In your earlier writing years, you recognized a significant gap in your ability to tell a story. Plot. You had pretty good characters, reasonable dialogue, narrative that took editors beyond your plotting ability. But a noticeable, even remarkable absence of plotting tools.

Thus you employed two examples of plot, found in short stories of writers not at all like one another, Dashiell Hammett and James Joyce. You reduced the plot beats of Hammett's story, "The Gutting of Cofingal," and Joyce's story, "The Dead," to role models you've more or less consulted each time you begin a new project.

You consulted the Hammett when questioned by your agent, who interrupted you from time to time to record your turns of event, seemingly improvised. Her plan was to show your plot design to her client by way of inspiring him. Inspire, it did, but not to the desired effect. The client, whom you do not know, was not successful in impressing the editor at Penguin/Random.

At three this morning, you were up to pee, awake enough to consider adding a few hundred steps to your daily requirement, sufficient reason to detach your cell phone from the charger and bring it along with you to record your progress.

Through this seeming ramble of paragraphs, you learned at three this morning that your agent, so impressed with your improvised scenario that she submitted it as well as the outline of her other client.

Thus you learned of the Penguin Random editor's approval of your outline.

Your waist and shoe size have not changed since those days you wrote as Craig Barstow. Thus Craig Barstow rides again, with a hitch up to the saddle from Dashiell Hammett.

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