Cell at Eastern State

Cell at Eastern State

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day Three, The Thousand Mile Mark

It's going by faster than I thought it would, but then what doesn't these days? I'm in Atlanta, a thousand miles south, and about 37 chapters into Moby Dick. The money's holding out okay, Ahab just nailed a Spanish gold piece to the mast, and I'm having an amazing time. The theme of the first three days was dogs. Crossing the road, in doorways and cars and in pickup trucks, where I saw three enormous animals with short gray hair that were some kind of hound and were as big as elk. They were having a fine time jostling each other while crammed into the bed of a tiny pickup truck, but I dropped way back, worried that one of them would go over the side.

Spent two great days hanging out with my pal and editor Laurie Webb. I first talked to her a few days after I finished Dope Thief when we were introduced by a mutual friend, and we've been having one long conversation ever since. We talk about how to assemble good stories, which is all Laurie's done professionally since she went to Hollywood in her teens, where she ended up working for Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella for more than ten years, and in her business now as a consulting editor. We talk about the movies and books and people we love in one endless, drifting conversation from the second we meet until I have to leave.

Laurie and my friend August Tarrier (who sometimes share clients) are two of the very few people I've met who can consult brilliantly on story, with just the right mix of good advice and sharp analysis and with such enthusiasm and positive energy their clients (like me) go back to them over and over. I've been in dozens of workshops and talked to even very gifted writers who turn out to be the last people you would want to go to with a story in progress. Not because you'd get bad advice in the particular, but because most people have no idea how to help writers move forward without losing confidence because they've made mistakes or gotten bogged down. Think about it: How many people do you know who can address the flaws and missteps in your work in such a way that all you want to do is keep working with them?

I think the secret has to do with focusing on what needs to get done, not where it's gone wrong, and in accepting the premise of the work being written. I'm trying to learn from them, but they seem to do very naturally what is a pretty complex mix of tasks, and underlying it is of course a talent that might not be transferrable and has to do with a kind of 'story sense.'

Okay, so not too much here about the drive, I'll admit, but this is the stuff I think about when I'm driving. I'm also working on a short story for a Crimefactory print anthology for my pal Keith Rawson, so even while I was standing under a giant Mexican sombrero at South of the Border I was wondering about how Philadelphia courtrooms are laid out and how a parole violation hearing works. I know, I know, but this is what fun looks like for me.

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