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Lunch With A Fellow Writer: Carney, Baltimore County, MD, 1:30-3:30 P.M. 7/21/21
In the time of our fathers, I see Jason as having been a beatnik, or a character in a Robert H. Heinlein novel. His life reads like a Phillip K. Dick novel. He has a desire to write nonfiction and fiction based on his unique life experiences.
I met Jason as he worked waiting tables at a restaurant which he had recently sold so that he could pursue his dream of traveling and writing.
Jason is in his early fifties, is of an active body type, has avoided gaining the blubber of the American land whale, is I suppose 5' 7” and 150 and has thinning hair kept short. When not in his waiter duds, he wears a beret and beads—prayer beads I think. He is a man of metaphysic bent delving into numerology, philosophy and Asiatic cosmology. He has the deep affinity with alien cultures that only Caucasians seem to develop. I can definitely see him with Hemingway and Fitzgerald in 1919 Paris.
He meets me at an empty Vietnamese restaurant, which is staffed by a single family and decorated by a single work of art, featuring two water buffaloes and 18 crows. The history of the painting is revealed mid-meal, as it having been made for him by his Vietnamese girlfriend, and later donated by him to this place.
Jason is introspective to the degree that makes him rampantly curious as to the tides and storms of the Sea of Fate on one hand, and on the other hand offers him as easy prey for a drowning soul looking to clasp the legs of he the swimmer without a thought of dragging him down.
His strong protective instinct is demonstrated by his concern for the father, mother and daughter—toy sized folks of meek mien—who make this place their living. When they were being shaken down by a Baltimore County Fire Marshall for bribes, Jason, interceded for them, and pretending to think that the corrupt official was a patriot prejudiced against the family due to their Asian appearance at the dawn of the Wuhan Flu, he pointed out, “Hey, these people are not Chinese. They are South Vietnamese. They are our allies. We should try and help them out after leaving them to our mutual enemies in their country.”
That is a wan sketch of Jason, who is educated, can converse in Vietnamese and Greek and rebuilds sports cars as a hobby. His writing project was at hand, and is the investigation of a tragedy that he is familiar with, because he was close to the deceased. He expressed a desire for some advice. For although, he has written and researched two books, he has not published one.
He read the first 1200-word chapter to me, the introduction, I recall, and his form was pleasing, not over wordy, and has a moral center, which I think is key for a investigative work.
My advice was this:
-You have spent 2 hours telling me a fascinating tale, that would read as 7 chapters. In that time, you could have written a chapter. This is personal for you and you are passionate about it. So you need to stop talking about it. Bottle that energy and inject it into your writing. By not speaking of our creation, if we are writers, it will drive us to the page.
-You like to talk to people and you have wider writing ambitions than just this book. So conduct your conversations with strangers as an investigator of their life and character, and thereby cultivate them as characters in your fiction. They will be flattered in your interest in them. Don't tell them you are using them for composite or template character or they will edit themselves to be less believable or less interesting depending on their type. You can insert only the best of your entertaining banter while they provide the bulk of the conversation. I have gotten most of the characters in some 60 novels based on interviews I did for as many urban blight books.
-Keep titling your chapters and don't worry about coming up with a perfect book title. Pick the eventual title from a chapter title or a quote from the text. 1 to 5 word titles are best. Longer expressions should go into the subtitle.
-Do not commit to writing a non-fiction book in narrative order. Rather write what you are bursting to write now. Later, the book can be assembled and linkage written. Even with fiction, an attempt to start at the beginning and drive along a planned arc, is not always conducive to continual or high output.
-Do not write in the main document file. I once lost an 18,000 word novella with the press of a button and spent the next three days rewriting it. I lost a 40,000 word history book by transposing a file. Make your main document file, then copy it, the title, subtitle, dust cover, dedication and opening quote or passage. Then copy it into another folder. When you write the first chapter, copy it into your chapter folder and then copy and paste that chapter into the main work. In this way, you store the book in two forms, assembled and unassembled, which can not be mistaken for each other by the computer and transposed.
-To facilitate publishing on a Print On Demand platform, try writing in book format, with facing pages. Learn how to use the reference tab to build a table of contents, number the pages and be sure to use a “page break” function, which should be found under an insert or similar key.
-Since you are in the position of having to build a readership, do not labor in the dark for months or years. Use a website to generate interest and publish sample installments on the site, along with news of your project progress. Also, as soon as you get to 64 or 72 or 96 pages, depending on your narrative sense, publish it as Part 1. People more and more prefer thin books, which also gives you the ability to generate ongoing interest in your work. Eventually, as you get better at publishing—as you will have to do the work—then you can bundle these into an omnibus volume. Bigger books have more technical difficulty. So start small.
-When you have another concept start whispering to you mind's eye that could take your energy away from the current focus, don't try to block it out. Stop, write down the title that comes to mind, no more than 3 sentences of subject line, and any scene titles or character names that easily come to mind. Don't search for any expansion or try to amplify the inspiration at this point. The purpose of this outline is to get the fresh idea out of your way and put it on a shelf in the back of your mind by way of outline.
Jason thanked me, picked up the tab for the tasty food, and presented me with a cicadda shirt in memory of this year's brood of 17-year locusts, the last I will see, whose ancestors were buzzing in the Mid-Atlantic when Bacon's Rebellion was boiling like God's bad idea in 1675.
Thanks, Jason.
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