Monday, April 21, 2014

Words

In the New York Times this morning I came across the word "anadromous." At first I thought it meant "trisexual," but as I read on learned that it describes a fish that lives in salt water but swims upstream in a freshwater river to spawn. That will stay with me all day.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Dialogue

Last night I watched the short after-show feature with the cast of "Doc Martin" and was struck by how inarticulate the actors were when they did not have a script to read from. Even Caroline Catz, the splendid British actress who plays Louisa Glasson, emitted a hail of "likes" and "you knows" and "ums" in her banal and quite forgettable responses to questions from the interviewer.

But why should we expect actors to be any better than us ordinary folks at unscripted remarks? We don't speak in shapely sentences and paragraphs, either. Our sentiments always emerge lumpy and rumpled, like unmade beds of the mind.

Every writer of fiction faces the dilemma: Do we render human speech as it actually is in all its messiness, or must we nudge and polish it into readable form?

We need some of the former to set off speakers from one another, to give them individuality, but a little of that goes a long, long way. Too much of the latter makes them sound cookie-cutter indistinguishable.

Writing dialogue isn't easy.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Second draft

The second draft of Tracking the Beast is now done. If writing can be compared to sex, then I am deep into the postcoital blues, thinking what I've done is a piece of shit. Typical of every writer I know. We are so neurotic.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Whoops

The other day I completed the last chapter of the first draft of Tracking the Beast, the working title of my fifth Steve Martinez novel. The whole comes in at 63,500 words, just 1,500 short of the minimum 65,000 words most publishers require of mystery novels. The second draft, if all goes well, should reach 70,000 words handily.

But there is a problem for aging novelists: the accuracy of memory. In reading over the first draft, I discovered two instances of in which an important passage or statement was repeated. In each, the second instance was not exactly a word-for-word repetition of the first, but close enough for it to be embarrassing if it were ever discovered.

Probably a conscientious copy editor would catch this sort of thing, but there is a good reason a writer always accepts responsibility for whatever errors manage to slip through into print: I wrote the thing and the mistake is mine.

Getting old, they say, isn't for sissies. Or the careless.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mention in Blogspatches

For some reason my old books have been getting a few new electrons on the Internet. The other day a Dutch journalist who had written about the Dutch translation of my 1994 book Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America posted the old article on his blog.

Google Translate tries hard, but its Dutch-to-English rendering is, well, creative. All the same, it ably captures the spirit of the book. I'm delighted. Thank you, Meneer van Grinsven.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Adventure on the runway

From today's mail bag:

"We met in Jacksonville, Ill., at IJX [Jacksonville, Ill, a non-towered airport], I'm guessing, in 1995. I was a reporter for the Jacksonville Journal-Courier who assigned himself to interview you when I learned that you were retracing Cal Rodgers' flight of the Vin Fiz for a book you were working on.

"(Here I must confess that I have not read Flight of the Gin Fizz, but I have ordered it.)

"I interviewed you at the airport and wrote what I thought was a pretty good story.

"A few years before I met you, I covered a story about a guy flying the Vin Fiz route in an ultralight powered by a VW engine. I met him when he made a forced landing in Sangamon County, somewhere between New Berlin and Alexander. I found him in a farm field and we talked. I knew a bit about VW engines and we discussed what had grounded him, burnt exhaust valve on No. 3 cylinder, I think. He told me about Rodgers and his trip. I decided to follow him.

"He got back in the air and flew to Nebo, in Pike County, and landed in the same field that Rodgers used. The community, maybe 500 souls, had rallied for a celebration that included naming a road the Vin Fiz Highway. I smile every time I pass it and see that sign.

"While covering this story, I met a guy who had run to the field where Rodgers landed. It was a bit soft and Cal asked the locals to give his ship a push on takeoff. The old guy I interviewed was one who answered the call. That made the story, of course.

"My father started flying in the '20s. He was the test pilot for Powell Crosley Jr's Crosley Moonbeam. When I was young, he took me on Saturdays to Brooks Field, in Marshall, Mich., where he taught guys to fly. 

"So, in 1994, six years after being divorced and with a bit of extra money, I started flying at IJX.

"When I met you, I had soloed, and had maybe 15 hours in a Piper (PA-38) Traumahawk.

"After the interview, I climbed into 2512L and taxied to 13. Winds calm. Started my takeoff roll —  after announcing on Unicom 2512 Lima departing One-Three JACK-sonvile — and holy shit, a high-wing Cessna is speeding down the runway straight at me from Three-One.

"I pulled the throttle and braked. Watched the Cessna leave the runway at least 2,000 feet from me. Saluted the pilot on his way as I realized this guy was flying but not talking. 

"It was a great day."

OLIVER WIEST
Glen Carbon, IL

That runway incident is in Flight of the Gin Fizz. It went to show that on rare occasions, being a deaf pilot can lead to "interesting" situations, as aviators like to say in their understated, testosterone-fueled way.

Both Wiest and I had done the proper thing. I had asked the airport clerk which was the preferred runway to use when there was no wind, and he had told me 31. But Wiest had chosen the opposite, Runway 13, for it was more convenient to his flight. As was sensible, he had announced his departure on the radio to warn anyone who might be thinking of taking off from the opposite end. As was sensible, as a deaf pilot I had checked the no-wind runway and was using it. But I did not announce my departure, for my deaf speech precludes being easily understood.

But, unlike most airports, IJX's Runway 13-31 has a marked crown right in the center, high enough so that pilots on one threshold cannot see to the other end. I began my departure first and was well above Wiest, maybe 300 feet, when he finally saw my airplane and stood on his brakes.

Whew. But it indeed was a great day.


Monday, March 3, 2014

203 pages into "Tracking the Beast"

Last night I started on Page 204, typing in "Chapter Twenty-three," before going to bed. Light at the end of the tunnel for the fifth Steve Martinez novel. Possibly it will be all poured, saucered and blowed by the end of the summer.