WRITERS ON TRIPS - Offpiste Humor
Column and head-scratching photos by Steve Giordano, mostly
A writer I met on a "research" trip discovered we wrote for the same magazine on occasion. With real people, the conversation starter is, “Haven't I met you somewhere before?''
With writers, it's, “Where have I seen your name before?'' We name the publications where our stories have printed, starting with the biggest circulations of course, and really connect if we've been in the same ones. It's rare that we've read each other's stuff, but we never forget a byline.
That's because we know we could have done a better job, whatever the subject. We keep the name and subject on file, but don't bother ourselves with the details.
If our stories have been in the same magazine, the conversation gets rich because we can compare our common hardships with the editor.
“What kind of experience have you had with the editor?'' she asked, when we established our mutuality.
“Well, she never answers a story proposal letter,'' I answered. “She's impossible to get on the phone, but she calls to say she lost my story and would I fax her a copy within five minutes?''
“She's been insulted when I drop by her offices unannounced and crabs about it being pagination day,'' I continued, “whatever that is.''
And I related a story from another writer, a man with several books to his credit, who got the same editor on the phone one day a few years ago. “How did YOU get through?'' she asked. And she wonders why she hasn't heard from him since.
“I've been told,'' I added, “that the only way to get her attention is to take her to lunch.''
My new writer friend said, “I'm relieved to hear all that. I thought she just hated women.''
A magazine editor on the same trip listened intently, but didn't contribute to the conversation. He's a sensitive kind of guy, 32, with a Big Degree from Columbia. Editors rarely go on trips with freelance writers because they're badgered to death by sycophants who want to appear in their magazine.
But later I noticed my new friend, 31 and with a Big Degree of her own from Columbia, and he in intense conversation. You know the kind of conversation — the kind that you don't interrupt, the kind where it looks like they're getting ready to partner up.
He was, she seemed to be but wasn't, and she got the story assignment anyway. He asked me the next day, in a rhetorical sort of way, “Why is it that women always treat me like drek after I give them an assignment?''
Well, it does get tiresome sometimes always saying yes to an editor. But it's a guiding principle of writers who want to get printed. I discussed it with the editor of "Out'' magazine, when he was in Bellingham for a reception.
“I wish more of my writers felt that way,'' he said. Then he thought for a moment, possibly reflecting on his magazine's stature as a leading vehicle for the Gay Pride community, and with a gleam in his eyes, said, “Maybe that's not always such a good idea.'
Receptions and “research'' trips are great sport, but they're the opposite end of the fun spectrum from the 15-hour days at the computer.
“What's your day like?'' I was asked by a ski hill owner who's about half my age. “I always wanted to ask a REAL writer that question, not someone like Stephen King.''
Stephen King isn't a REAL writer? King is mythic. He just cranks the rock 'n roll to top volume and his fingertips turn the keyboard into money.
“Well, I get up, put on my writer's costume, have a cup of coffee and go to work,'' I answered.
“Yeah, but what if you don't feel like it, you know, if the muse isn't there?'' he asked. “What do you do then?''
“Well,'' I answered. “I get up, put on my writer's costume, have a cup of coffee and go to work.''
He wasn't satisfied, of course, so I passed on Bill Kinsella's advice. Now there was a REAL writer. He wrote “Shoeless Joe,'' which was turned into the movie “Field of Dreams.'' Now there's a writer who could really lay out a scene that you wouldn't forget.
Kinsella answered that question after a reading at Village Books some years ago. He said that some days writing is close to automatic, that the silken phrases just roll onto the page in vivid colors and he's done by breakfast.
Other days, he explained, are sheer torture. Nothing's there, every sentence has to be built from scratch and the writing is abandoned for dinner.
“But you know what?'' he said. “Three months later, when it's time to edit, I can't tell the difference on the page between the good days and the bad days. They read the same.''
The ski hill owner could understand that. So I said to him, “Now you tell me, what's a ski hill owner's day like?''
“Well,'' he said with a huge grin, “I get up, probably a little earlier than you, put on my ski costume, have a cup of coffee and go to work.''
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