History of my novel, Friday 10:03 (Part 6)

Monday, January 07, 2008

(This will make more sense by beginning with Part 1.)

Before moving on to the period when I started, wrote 120 pages of my novel, and decided to set it aside for 35 years, I need to mention three teachers.

I mentioned in part two that from a 7th grade creative writing class, I gained a best friend and critique partner. For the next ten years, we took most of the same English classes and wrote together for various school newspapers. Outside of class, when Steve discovered Faulkner and Celine, I read Faulkner and Celine. When he bought Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, and Randy Newman, we’d go to his house to listen to them. He’d read what I’d written, and pinpoint the key facet I had missed. I’d read what he’d written and think, “I’m not sure what this means, but it’s brilliant.” Ten books later, I still see reviewers say, “I’m not sure what this means, but it’s brilliant.” Steve actually suggested that my talents ran more to poetry than the novel. He also said that, unlike him, I would end up a teacher, because I lacked the drive necessary to be a novelist. I recognized he would be a novelist, but I thought he should also be an editor and a teacher. Forty years later, I have been a teacher, though I’m back again to the writing. Steve has earned great respect for his novels, but is also recognized as a book, film, and music critic, and has written occasional political commentary. But I’m pleased that he has also become an editor and a teacher. He founded and edits Black Clock, the literary journal at California Institute of the Arts, where he teaches in the MFA writing program.

At Granada Hills High School, Steve and I took Advanced Composition from Martin Kaufman. Mr. Kaufman taught me how words make sentences, sentences make paragraphs, and ideas must appear on the page in logical sequences. As a teacher, he also set a standard that I have attempted to emulate, but always fallen short.

After high school, while I went to community college, Steve went ahead of me to UCLA. There he began to study creative writing under Bernard Wolfe. I joined him in 1970. I can’t even recognize Bernie in the web bios I can find. As I remember his story, he graduated from Yale with a linguistics degree in the early 1930’s, when there wasn’t much of a market for linguists. He fought in the Spanish Civil War, knew (but didn’t particularly respect) Hemmingway in Paris and Havana, and was sent to Mexico by the American Communist Party to help Trotsky translate his memoirs (and serve as a body guard while he was there). After Trotsky was assassinated, Bernie turned the experience into The Great Prince Died. Later he wrote a pioneering Sci-Fi novel, Limbo. He wrote a lot for Hollywood, and he was a great creative writing teacher. I loved to workshop a story—mine, Steve’s, somebody else’s—with Bernie in the room.

With these introductions out of the way, it is almost time to start writing a novel.


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