Category: The Writing Life

Plot and all that tommyrot

It turns out that the first manuscript I wrote was “written for the universe.” So said my agent at the time.

We were in a bar on Third Avenue.

He had submitted the manuscript to William Morrow — big outfit.

He showed me the letter they sent him:

Thanks for sending along In Mudboots Fast Runner. It is certainly well written and the writer has mastered the use of dialogue to move the action along. Unfortunately, the novel never goes anywhere.

“Well written, mastered dialogue,” I repeated, “but they don’t want it.”

“They want plot,” said the agent.

“Plot, and all that tommyrot,” quoth I, “as Henry Miller once said.”

“It has nothing to do with your ability,” the agent said. “It’s simply that the publishing business is fucked up.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

“I liked it,” he said. “That’s what I meant when I said you wrote it for the universe.”

“I don’t even know what the hell that means, man.”

“I could say you wrote it for yourself,” he clarified, “but it’s better than that. I could say you wrote it for your family and friends, or for the world, but it’s better than that. It’s universal — ergo, you wrote it for the universe.”

“So, ergo old pal, submit it to the universe.”

“My territory is strictly New York City.”

I downed my gin and ordered another.

“Therefore,” I said, “the next novel I write will have to be written for the public.”

“If you want to make any money from it.”

“I don’t know how to do that. I’m not Lee Childs or James Patterson or Nora Roberts. I wish I was — well, not Nora Roberts.”

“So who do you think you are? Henry Miller?”

“Never in a million years.” My gin arrived and I took a gulp. “So what do you think I should do, man?”

He finished off his beer and got up to leave. “Write for the universe.”

Of cats and the dead

I don’t get out much anymore. I stay inside with the cat. I myself am turning into a cat. I eat like the cat — cold salmon on a small plate; I sleep like the cat — frequently, and in various chairs. There is one major difference between us — she can’t type, therefore wastes no time at it.

The cat looks out the Miami Beach window at the blinding white sky. Pelicans fly in formation — nature’s own squadron, one bird taking the lead, ten others fanned out behind him. Here’s another difference between the cat and I — I know that far-away objects are bigger than they appear; the cat thinks the pelicans are about the size of budgerigars.

I’m running out of time if I intend to write my magnum opus, that one book that will justify my lousy life. The age-old question is: Where to begin? Don’t give me that “at the beginning” routine. I hate stories that start: My earliest memory is when I was four, standing on the running board of my father’s old Ford, blah blah blah.

One should start at the end, if one only knew the end. Well, the end is death, of course, but we need to know the circumstances, the morbid details, the cause, the how and the why and the where — and most chillingly, the when.

If we all knew when, we’d live our lives a lot differently. Either that or we’d blow our brains out now and be done with it. A lot of people hate waiting. They’re impatient. And they especially hate waiting for a corned beef on rye with too much pain on it; or waiting for a lousy bowl of oblivion. The hell with it.

I know a lot of dead people. I don’t call them anymore. I used to dial A for Afterlife. Never an answer. Talking into a dead phone. I dialed O for Oblivion. Busy signal. Lines all tied up.

I shared this fact with the cat. She listened intently but I knew she wasn’t interested. She was thinking of a crunchy pelican the size of a budgerigar.