Thursday, January 1, 2015

Writing, 2014

Greeting a new year and closing out the preceding one is always bittersweet.
There was never enough written or read; there are still too many ideas that haven’t had time to get developed–worthy, Great American Novel ideas that given half a chance would set the publishing world on fire, or maybe not. There was too much time perusing other peoples’ works and not enough time spent on my own. There are a dozen story and novel titles crowding my computer screen, and others still are queued up in small notebooks spread throughout the house.
I got a new agent who at the time of signing was enthused enough about my work that he wanted to represent three of my books. Sales were imminent, he said, in fact a couple of important editors had already shown interest…Unfortunately, I haven’t heard from this agent since July in spite of repeated and varied attempts to contact him (are you there, Barry Zucker? Is McGinniss Associates literary agency still alive? You never call; you never write! I’m feeling abandoned here!) and so part of the coming year probably will be spent looking for another agent, a frustrating and thankless task I do not look forward to. Agents, it seems, are overwhelmed by demands made upon them by hordes of ink-stained wretches and so, more often than not, don’t bother replying to authors’ queries. No news, when it comes to dealing with agents, is not good news.
I wrote a play, an absurdist thing on existentialism, and a producer friend arranged to have it read. That was an eye-opener. I learned that writing for the stage implies totally different skills than writing fictional dialog. The pacing and rhythms are different; the choice of vocabulary requires skills I may or may not have. The spoken word, I came to understand, has little relation to the written one, and I gave up whatever control I had over the characters I created as soon as the actors read their lines.
I didn’t get in print as much as I would have liked. I still have a rough time accepting the worthiness of online publications. To me, writing is ink on paper, not variations of ones and zeros spread across a digital page. There’s a permanence to paper that doesn’t seem to exist on screen; in fact, I find the majority of stuff printed on-line falls sadly short of acceptable. Brevity and accuracy have fallen prey to immediacy, and that’s unfortunate. I think we’re finding more and more ways to communicate less and less, and increasingly poorly at that.
On the positive side, I’m nearing completion of a book that more than two years ago I was commissioned to write about the International Voluntary Services, the precursor of the Peace Corps. That’s been fascinating if sometimes frustrating, but the sense of contributing to something important, of actually writing about the experiences of people whose involvements in things bigger than themselves meant something, that has been priceless.
And it’s going to be a real book…

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