Saturday, June 4, 2011

Limitations...We Ain't Got No Stinkin' Limitations

Oh for the love of...you know, little did I suspect when Kelli asked me would I like to join this august body of merry pranksters who ply this pursuit of ours I would have to lay bear the inner fears that both compel and repel me from putting fingers to keyboard in my hunt and peck efforts to grind out stories…often as it were of bad – or mightily flawed – people doing bad things. In the words of Good ol’ Charlie Brown, “Good Grief.” Isn’t it tough enough we put our stuff out there for the slings and arrows of critics, some with axes to grind or worse, the deafening indifference our work engenders at times?

The ghosts of Hammett and Chandler, Ralph Ellison, Ross Macdonald and Ross Thomas (who I had the great pleasure to not only meet once, and not only share a panel with, but we also shared a similarity in our pasts as we’d both worked for a labor union), Richard Wright, Ed McBain, Westlake, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, let alone the still living grand masters of the form, always hover around me when I sit at the computer. Not that I’m so intimidated that OI can’t write, but any mystery writer, any fiction writer, has got to be thinking about their writing heroes and sheroes, if only a little bit, if only for the kid in us wants to please, wants to know if we measure up in some small way.

I wish I could be like former Illinois governor Rod “Big Hair” Blagojevich. His trial is happening now and the famous tape of him saying “I’ve got this thing, and it’s “bleeping” golden.” is the kind of delusional cocky mindset I’d like to manifest at the keyboard each day. I’d like to, but I don’t. Rather, I sweat and fret over plots, turns of phrase, character motivation, how do I convey exposition without being too heavy-handed, the right simile, the proper metaphor and on and on. But I do know this, there are those moments when I’ve done much mental gyrations on a given notion I’m wrasslin’ with and there comes that breakthrough.

Last night; perfect example. I’m on my way to meet a fellow writer as we’re cooking up a couple of ideas we want to get off the ground. So as this is L.A. and rush hour, I’m inching through traffic on my way to the tavern ‘cause that where some good thinking takes place. Anyway, I was thinking on this other matter I’d been ruminating about over and over for the last few days. I’d made notes and crossed out most of those notes and then came up with something, the origin of this character, his back story you see. But it was hackneyed, elements you’d seen before and knew it wasn’t the real deal, wasn’t taking it to the hoop or any of the other tired sports analogies I could roll out to pump myself up..

But then, sucking up some exhaust fumes, those “little grey cells” as Hercule Poirot would say, suddenly gelled. The answer to who this character was, and what about his past and certain events happen to him to put him on the path I needed him to tread had formed. It’s not the end of the story, only the beginning. But it was a foundation, shaky as hell as it might be, to build on and, baby, that’s bleepin’ golden.

3 comments:

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Gary, I read my heroes and sheroes (love that term!) and think "I'm a hack!" And many a time my ideas have gelled in traffic. It has to be the fumes.

Reece said...

This week's question is like one of those job interviews where they ask you what your greatest weakness is. I hate that question! Nice post, Gary.

Gary Phillips said...

Sue Ann, exactly...and absolutely, Reece. I would always hate on job interviews being asked to identify my biggest weakness -- which of course is answering this friggin' question but one could not say such.