Scrapbook One Hundred Seventy Nine…

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APRIL 2017

 

Heck With Those Guys

In high school I don’t remember anyone giving me instructions on how to write. They probably did and I just wasn’t paying attention. So in later life, when I became interested in words and how they were used, I naturally gravitated to a trial and error style of writing that suited me best.

In 2011, when my book, The Thrill of the Chase, co-won an award for best independently published book of the year, I received a letter from the judges. It said my entry was among other things, childish, which they must have thought was pretty good because otherwise how could I have won the award? It started me thinking about how different people write.

William F. Buckley Jr.

William F. Buckley Jr. was one of my heroes. I saw him once in an airport in Newark and he looked straight at me, so I’ll call him Bill. Bill had a daily column in the NY Times. When he got on the commuter train in Connecticut each morning he didn’t know what he would write about, but when he alit an hour later in New York City, his creation was finished. He rarely rewrote, he said, and no one ever dared to edit him. While his method is on the Technicolor end of the writing spectrum, mine is on the black and white. That’s okay with me because our composing modes are diabolically opposed to each other.

My habit when writing something short, is to decide on a subject, then start gathering sentences together with some kind of focus, but not much direction. They need to stay close to the topic and carry my theme or plot to the end of the story. Often, the thoughts come rushing out as I think along. One notion propagates the next. Sometimes I can’t type fast enough.

Then I retreat to the beginning and try to reorganize my words into some kind of acceptable cohesive unit. How can I say a line better and keep it in the same flavor as the others? Is this sentence too predictable? Do I want to misspell a word to make the reader stop and look it up, and maybe feel a need to respond? It’s okay if the reader wants to work with me. I use other techniques too, like corrupting a word or idea. In my Thrill book I wrote about courting my wife. “Everyone knew she was too good for me, but tenacity was never one of my shortcomings.” That sort of thing causes the kind of word-of-mouth publicity that I need because I self-publish and don’t have any distribution. And it’s my way of keeping a reader’s attention fresh. If one knows exactly what I mean then who cares what the word is, or how it’s used. Educated editors disapprove of me en-masse, but they don’t have a Pulitzer either.

I am frequently criticized for where I put commas. My reply is that I don’t want to use anybody’s book-writing rules. It is my prerogative as the writer to decide when I want the reader to pause, not the reader’s, and certainly not the critic’s. Cormac McCarthy was known to write a story and then go back and remove all of the commas.

The hardest part of writing for me is sitting down and getting started. Some of my techniques develop themselves as I write along. For instance, I learned when researching my J. H. Sharp biography that the elderly Taos Indian models wouldn’t answer my questions about the artist. I quickly discovered that if I said something to them that I knew was wrong, they would correct me, on and on, and tell me things I wanted to know. Success sometimes hides in squinting wrappings, but a delicate new bow, if tied correctly, can widen eyes.

I wrote this someplace a few years ago and maybe you’ll think it’s worth remembering, Imagination isn’t a technique, it’s a key. f

 

Scrapbook One Hundred Seventy Eight…

scrapbook

APRIL 2017

 

The Graciella Experience

Pony Ault was the only important client our gallery had in Santa Fe, and she seemed to know everyone. It was not unusual for her to bring celebrities in to meet me, and I loved that. And I equally loved that she could write a check for nearly anything she wanted, a fact that did not go undetected by my banker.

Everyone loved Pony, especially me. She was a chatterbox conversationalist so I always gravitated to her at parties, dinners, and art openings. She took chitchatting to an intellectual plateau that was several layers above where I normally felt ease. Our discussion time found me mostly listening, smiling, and nodding. Being seen with her was always good for my sometimes flailing ego.

Robert Henri

Pony said she wanted a painting by Robert Henri (1865-1929), so I started looking. The problem was that she had a great eye for art, a trait that never worked to the advantage of art dealers. When discussing art Pony nearly always knew more about the artist whose work was hanging on my walls, than I did. So when we talked price I was somewhat disarmed and usually capitulated to what she delicately described as her “medicinal discount.”

Henri paintings were very important and quite valuable so my eyes were always on alert for his name in auction catalogs. After a few weeks I bought one. It was a picture of a little girl named Graciella. But for some unknown reason it didn’t appeal to me. Her face was, well, I don’t know.

Graciella by Robert Henri

So we hung it on the wall in my office opposite my desk. Every time I sat in my chair, there she was, her stern face staring at me. I didn’t expect to actually warm up to Graciella, but at least I hoped we could establish some kind of meaningful rapport.

When I called Pony she made an appointment for the next afternoon. She wanted me to meet Cary Grant. I couldn’t have been more thrilled because To Catch a Thief was one of my favorite movies.

When they entered my office, introductions were made and I shook hands with the debonair Mr. Grant. We talked for several minutes and then Pony turned around.

And there it was in grand lighting, the Graciella Henri. It was hanging where it had been for a month while I tried to warm up to that little girl. No other clients were allowed to see her because I was saving it for my special client.

Well, Pony immediately recognized the artist’s style, palette, subject, and personality. She wasn’t impressed, and as if possessed by the spirit of Thor, she turned to face me. “Is that what you called me down here for, to look at that thang?” Her face looked unsympathetic as her nose pointed toward the 17th century wooden door to my office, beside which one must pass to exit, and out she strode, the sensitive Mister Grant silently following in close trail. Neither of them even said goodbye.

Gulp!

I went to my refrigerator and took a long pull of Worchestershire Sauce to clear my head.

Pony liked to show off our gallery to her lunching friends and house guests, so over the next few weeks she strolled them into my office and acted as docent. Often she was seen to glance at the You-Know-What that was hanging on the wall opposite my desk. Each time she left without comment. I didn’t care because Graciella and I were becoming friends.

During an evening art opening at our gallery Pony open the door to my office and sneaked in. She was in there for a minute or more. That’s when I started to worry.

A week later she called me on the phone. “Forrest I want that painting, and I’ll be there in thirty minutes to get it.” My heart sank. “Pony,” I lamented. “You didn’t say anything and I’ve grown to love that “thang.” I’ve decided to keep it in my own collection.” There was a gravid few-second pause in our conversation, necessitated by a requirement for Pony to recover. Then a loud sound vibrated against my ear drum. “What?” she sputtered. I felt like my tail was under a rocking chair, and Pony was sitting in it.

What could I do but capitulate? After all, she was a good friend and she was a good client, and I did offer it to her, and I sensed that she was about to have an unfortunate physical issue. Not to mention that I needed the money.

An hour later my wife walked into the office and asked why I was reading my bible. I didn’t mean to be rude, I just didn’t want to talk about it. f