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Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Writer's Life 2/4 - Influences

Re-working my first novel or, more accurately, my first manuscript, I've rediscovered several influences that had a large impact on my literary aspiration. One was Ernest Hemingway, who was the main focus of a class on the American novel taught by Dr. Edward Galligan, a portly, congenial man impossible not to like. I remember how inadequate I felt in not grasping The Sun Also Rises, the first assignment. Things improved dramatically thereafter. A Farewell to Arms features this spectacular, oft-quoted passage:    “…if people bring so much courage into this world the world has to kill them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those it will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry…” And For Whom the Bell Tolls is not only a great story but a clinic on the writing of a serious novel, on the reinforcement of theme throughout a narrative, a model to which I've tried to adhere. The title refers to John Donne's moving poem, Meditation XVII, also know as No Man Is an Island. The key phrase regarding the novel is: "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee." The setting is the Spanish Revolution. In one scene an officer administers the sign of the cross to those he has slain. He is clearly diminished by the order he has carried out. I was blown away at how this jived with the theme. There were other instances that have faded from my memory, which may dawn on me later, but the gist is that the book taught me more than any other about the novel. A close second came from a compilation of essays by Jean Paul Sartre. When I gave an early draft of Close to the Edge to a fellow teacher's aide at John Dewey H. S., she said there was too much telling and not enough showing. I didn't get what she meant until Sartre expressed the same idea in one of his works and explained it more thoroughly. The characters of a novel should have a life of their own. It should not seem the author is a God moving chess pieces toward their fate, in a sense passing judgment on them. There must be art to storytelling. For instance, rather than saying: "He was a maniac," provide instances of odd behavior and allow the reader to determine for himself whether the character is crazy or not. Class dismissed.

On Thursday I usually leave the apartment before 10:30 in order to catch a prime parking spot as the alternate side regulation is expiring. Today my car was blocked by an SUV owned by a gentleman who runs a nearby nail salon. I wasn't pissed. If the spots all filled up I'd could move the old Hyundai later to avoid tomorrow's regulation and then try again next morning. I passed the time by wiping the salt and dust from the surfaces, using Armorall. Soon the guy showed up and I moved to the prime position. I left the motor running while finishing the task I'd started, then turned it off and moved the crates to my regular nook. As I finished setting up shop, I noticed a traffic agent beside my car. I assumed he was going to give me a ticket for my registration sticker being slightly askew, the last number obscured by the residue of old ones. That typed number doesn't matter anymore, as there is now a bar code on each sticker. The guy scanned it with an electronic device and reached for his stylus. "What's the problem, buddy?" I said, hurrying toward him. He stopped whatever he was about to do and said there was still six minutes left in the alternate side regulation and walked away. "Oh," I said. I'd assumed it was past eleven, and we all know what happens when we assume. In all the years I'd been doing this, I'd never seen an agent come along so late. No doubt the city lost a lot of ticket revenue during the week the regulation was suspended due to the snow storm and had encouraged its agents to pull this sly move. A lot of drivers had done what I had, so he must have scored big on the block. I doubt there is a recall button on the electronic device, so I expect a ticket in the mail soon. He may have finished the task he'd started as he walked away. I'll assume the worst and be happily surprised if I'd acted fast enough to stop the injustice. I haven't had such a ticket, any ticket, in at least five years, possibly ten. The last time it was $55. I assume it's more these days. This sort of chicanery influences my profound cynicism about politics and government. I learned my lesson -- don't trust them; remain seated in the car ready to pull away at the approach of an agent until the clock strikes the hour.

My thanks to Herbie, who donated another paperback mystery and had very kind words to say about A Hitch in Twilight, and to Marie, who said she's enjoying the story line of Rising Star but finding my use of contractions occasionally puzzling. My thanks also to the woman who bought two Nora Roberts novels, the one who purchased two works of non-fiction, and the guy who bought two thrillers.
Vic's Short Works:
Vic's 5th Novel:'s 4th novel:
Vic's 3rd Novel:
Vic's Short Story on Kindle:
Vic's Short Story Collection:
Vic's 2nd Novel: Kindle:
Vic's 1st Novel:

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