Friday, May 2, 2008

Write, Right and Rite

And while we're talking about writers, I'll tell you that I know a lot of them--novelists; tech folks who put out those incredibly complex computer manuals and others who write and edit the legislation of the land. There are a screenwriter or two, a playwright specializing in children's theater, a couple of poets. I know one splendid young woman whose books are so amazing and beautiful that she should be a household name but isn't. There are Pulitzer Prize winners from the old days at The Washington Post, and a science fiction author who has won the top prizes in the genre. I even know one lady who writes dirty limericks, though the buyers' market for that is pretty slim. The most widely distributed--if not read--of them all, though, is the author of the safety warning found on every can of Duron paint manufactured and sold throughout the North American hemisphere.

Some write by the pound, others specialize in haiku-like brevity. Every writer I know follows some rite of creation. The woman whose fiction I so admire sits among orchids, wearing earplugs. A few must be hungry, one has to just have been fed. A novelist friend can only write in his bathrobe. It is old and needs replacing, but he is persuaded that his talents will vanish if the bathrobe disappears. When he washes it--twice a year--he will stand by the washing machine until the cycles are done. He dries it outside because he wants the terrycloth to benefit from the sun's Vitamin D. My friend C does a set of calistenics, running in place, followed by deep breathing and stretching exercises before hitting the keyboard. Interestingly enough, none of the writers I know smoke, though a lot drink and do other drugs.

All in all, writing is the height of self-centeredness. Wasted Miracles, the 18th installment of which is on this blog, comes in at 389 pages, and contains 79,742 words. Another novel I recently finished is set in Paris just after World War I. It is 456 pages long after editing.

I look at such numbers and think of the conceit necessary to produce a book. I am amazed by the fact that I believe, really believe, readers might spend several hours over several days wandering through a world I invented and peopled. Who the hell do I think I am?

Here's installment 18 of Wasted Miracles.

Had he? Josie couldn’t think. Probably not, and if he had it wasn’t the kind of thing she would remember. She was always forgetting the names of people she saw almost everyday, people who shared at the meetings, identified themselves and clearly remembered her. It was embarrassing, one of the reasons she didn’t often hang around with the others afterwards. She looked down at her shoes, sighed, shook her head.
“No. No names. Just people, he said. He only mentioned it once or twice, that there were some dudes who’d be happy to see him gone, that’s all, I thought he was being, you know, like, dramatic or something, trying to impress me.”
The cop nodded, looked sympathetic. She started speaking faster and he let her ramble. Then, when she seemed drained, he encouraged her. They talked generalities, what Herbie was like, how long she’d known him, what they did when they were together. Did Herbie like movies, restaurants, nightclubs? Which ones? Did she know his friends well? How well?
Afterwards, he took her name down again and asked a lot of other questions but she didn’t have much to say, which made her realize how little she knew about Herbie, even though they’d been together kind of a while. Then he inquired in a roundabout way whether she knew what Herbie did for a living. Josie said she didn’t, though she had suspected it right from the start. The cop said, “He dealt drugs. You do drugs?”
She’d wondered when the question was going to come. She shook her head, said, “No,” but there was no conviction to her voice.
She wasn’t stupid, had figured out right from the start that Herbie wasn’t in real estate like he claimed, he didn’t know the difference between a rambler and a Victorian, and his friends hardly seemed like the investor type. Herbie wasn’t into anything taxable, he was too easy with money, always sprang and bought her little gifts on a whim. He had two cellular phones and three beepers, a Platinum Amex. Secretly, she found it kind of exciting that he might be involved with drugs, she liked flirting with the dark but she’d never, not once, asked him to set her up. And Herbie, to his credit, had never used in front of her, though a couple of times at clubs he’d gone to the men’s room and come back with glazed eyes. She said, “I do NA. You know. Narcotics Anonymous. ”
The cop opened his eyes a little wider. “Yeah? How long?”
“Almost a year.”
He nodded again. “A year? Well, good. Good for you.” He paused, closed his notebook, placed it back in his pocket. “Got a brother in NA, but he never has managed more than four, five weeks. Did you do a rehab?”
She looked at him. The expression on his face had changed. Now it mirrored real interest, concern.
“Three times.”
“Three? Last one took, I guess.” He paused, smiled. “Well, good. Good for you,” he said again. Then he sighed. His voice turned flat, sad. “My brother tried it. Ran away the second day.”
Josie was tired. Her anger had vanished. There were things she hadn’t said to Herbie yet, stuff they were supposed to talk about and laugh over and now he was dead. She closed her eyes, rubbed them with her thumb and index finger, trying to change the colors in there. “Yeah. That happens. There was a girl did that the last go round. Ran away, I mean. Went straight to the Safeway, bought a gallon of burgundy and some Nyquil...”
He stood, reached out a hand for her. “I’m sorry about all this. I might have to call you, get more information. You sure you gave me the right number? I’m trusting you, now.”
Josie took the hand, pulled on it to stand up. “What happened to Herbie, was it, you know, gross?”
The cop avoided her eyes, looked somewhere over her left shoulder. After a moment, he said, “Yeah. Yeah, it was.”

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