Sunday, May 22, 2022

The Mischief That Nurtures Us

You are well into your twelfth year of teaching a course called Writing Personal History FOA.  The FOA abbreviates "For Older Adults."  One of your qualifications for teaching this class has its origin in the fact of your own status as an older adult, a fact that brings you countless occasions of amusement.  

In recent weeks your own "OA" status was born out when you had occasion to check the status of one of your many writing pseudonyms. In this case, you sought the name Craig Barstow on the Amazon books pages.  Sure enough, Craig appeared in the role of author for two titles, The Lady of the Line and The Virgin of Spare Rib Hill, the former bearing the copyright date of 1960, the latter copyrighted in 1961.

Sure enough, Craig appears as well for The Reluctant Lawman, published in March of this year.  He is also credited with authorship on The Robber Barons, scheduled for August of 2022.  The publisher of the 1960s titles has long gone defunct.  The two more recent titles are published by Berkeley Books, an imprint of the Random/Penguin family.

Were you to Wikipedia the publisher of the earlier Barstow titles, you'd see it listed among the offerings of Kozy Books, Roslyn, Long Island, New York.  In a few Facebook groups related to mass-market paperback publishing, Kozy Books  "Cozy up with a Kozy Book" is listed as a sleaze publisher.  Indeed, many of your earlier novels, short stories, and essays appeared in publications with dodgy or condescending titles, in many cases solicited with the notion that your work added a more tiered, dare you say respectable appearance to the publication.

One early novel, Deadly Dolly, was commissioned by a publisher of magazines that fell in the category of so-called "girlie magazines," for which you also wrote essays (rather than articles) or humorous short stories in which sexual relations, indeed, even romantic relations, were not mentioned.

In short, but to your intended point, your publishing history has as many gray hairs as your whiskers.  When you think of this history, you're as likely to linger on a remembered incident or individual from your personal life.

A sixty-odd year gap between appearances of Craig Barstow writings forms a large enough receptacle for your own lengthy history, which crosses paths with current incidents and moments where, even as you composed fiction, you reminisced reality, then incorporated it in the text.  Example:  The Robber Barons has a character who was born in Chicago as Gunnard Hjerstedt.  You have no trouble finding names for your various characters.  All you have to do is listen to them.  They'll tell you their names.  

Not likely you'd invent a Gunnard Hjerstedt, who complains in the pages of your novel of the dangers he experienced as a lad in Chicago's fraught, working-class neighborhoods.  This character changed his name to Laird King, a close approximation of the name of a longtime writer friend who, among other things wrote the book from which Sally Fields's first screen appearance as an actor came.  Gunnard Hjerstedt, at one time an actor, changed his name to Day Keene, under which he wrote well over fifty novels.

Much of this makes you an older adult.  Your actual date of birth ratifies your older adult status.  That does little to tamp down the parts of you who still have the thoughts and feelings you had at seventeen or twenty, when you could expect, from time to time to fall hopelessly and helplessly in love.

As an older adult you have indeed been attracted to admirable young ladies, one of whom you confessed how, were you back to being seventy-five again, you'd be more expressive.

Among the many things you've learned from being attracted to intriguing ladies is the same thing you learned from watching actors you admire.  Restraint. Timing.  You have caused a barista at the estimable Handlebar Coffeehouse to appear in three short stories so far.  You have also listened to the character you have created of her.

In these years of your history, you've spent many times and incidents with actual and imaginary individuals, including those roistering, argumentative, cranky, and sentimental aspects living rent free within you.

Neither a romantic nor a cynic, you've come far enough along to know how each of them believes in the absolute rightness of their vision, the incredible irony of the human condition, and its constant, nurturing mischief.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

When You Got Serious and When You Didn't Part I

 In the earlier stages of your writing life, you'd experienced a few minor satisfactions that came from being published.  That the venues for these publications were well below your hoped-for targets only served to remind you of the hurdles you sought to overcome, the growth you hoped to achieve.

You have a vivid memory of a college-level writing class you'd been at some pains to be admitted to.  The professor had  reading assistant who, he told us, had earned the position because she had some publications for her own work.  One of your submissions for class credit came back with her handwritten marginalia:  This story is ready for publication.

You were at most twenty at that time, awash with omnivorous reading and aflame with the desire to see your work appear in publications reflecting your interests and aspirations.  Even then you understood that the story you'd submitted for class credit was not remotely ready for publication.  So far as you were concerned, publication was a serious business.

For some considerable time, the things you wrote struggled under the weight of your seriousness.  The scant few things of yours to find their way into publication had one thing in common.  You were more concerned with the pleasure of writing them than their ultimate publication.

Flash forward to your last year of the twenties and the publication of your first novel.  This was by no means the first longer work you'd completed in the belief it was a novel, rather it was the first sustained narrative you wrote built on the foundation of your experiences working with a traveling carnival and the awareness of supportive emotional support from the topic, its characters, and the relationship between the reality you experienced and the fictional reality you attempted to evoke.

Flash forward two years, at which point you stood before a display of paperback novels in San Francisco, a city of great importance and affection for you.  In that rack, you saw three novels you'd written pseudononymously and one with your own by-line.

At about this time, many of your friends and associates began to ask you the same question:  "When are you going to get serious?"

Alas, you listened, triggering a long stretch of your attempts to write seriously.  What pleasure can there be for you in seriousness?  Yours is not a serious nature, it is a fun nature.

More to come on this important stepping stone.  For instance, how can you be serious about something that consistently supplies you pleasures?  Don't you take writing seriously?  Why would you persist in trying to achieve ability that has to be coaxed and nourished at every turn.

Leave it for the moment at this:  To undertake writing is the equivalent of taking on a puppy.  One of your first puppies was a notional and preternaturally bright blue tick hound.  Indeed, her son, whom you named Edward Bear, graced you with a life that shone with writing-related metaphor from which you to this present moment draw insight.

Your most recent puppy, a feisty mix of Australian Cattle dog and Australian shepherd, still appears to you in dream and memory, bestowing gift and insight.

Another parallel go go along with your writing experiences resides in the formal education you got in institutions and the education you got in used bookstores, carousing with writers, and working your way through untold thousands of pages wrenched from your typewriter, balled into wads, tossed toward some waste receptical.

All the while, you were moving away from seriousness.