When I was in high school, my best friend, who is also named David, played the tenor sax. He played in the school’s jazz band and probably in the orchestra, but I may remember that incorrectly. Dave also played in what might be now called a garage band and that group was good enough to get hired for local dances and I went to as many of those as I could. I admired his talent and did what I could to associate myself with the band and thereby bask in the glow of his their fame, but what I wanted was an outlet of my own and while most of those adolescent yearnings might have been hormonal, some at least were artistic, or so it seems now.
I knew I had no musical talent and no aptitude for visual arts, but I did have the sense that I might be able to write. Consequently, like so many young people, I fooled around with poetry in college and created the usual overstated verse on the usual weary themes: love, injustice, loss (I never did descend to puppies). Later, I had better luck with poetry and during the 1970’s and 1980’s published poems with some frequency and later still, in partnership with the photographer Andrew Martinez, met with some success as a freelancer for a number of magazines.
However, it was always novels that interested me, but the more I read them, the more certain I was that I lacked the kind of organizing vision that novel writing demanded. Even books I and others regarded as mediocre were skillfully constructed, filled with foreshadowing, intricate and overlapping imagery, clever ironies, and consistent characterization. I could not imagine how a person could possibly plan all of that and then execute the design so as to create something that felt full and organic, that carried the reader all the way through to the final finishing page. And so I never tried.
When I was about fifty, the breakthrough came in an unexpected way. I belonged to a reading group comprised mostly of teachers of literature and one of the members knew a local writer who told her he’d visit the group on the condition that we read one of his mysteries. We did. The book was, by the standards of the group, poor. Not only did it pander to the sexist fantasies of older men (the author himself?), but it was clumsily written and peopled by characters who lacked depth. When the writer arrived, no one had anything kind to say about the book and so we instead discussed his writing habits. (This is a wonderful fallback, of course, because writers are vain people who never tire of reporting on their working habits or their literary history and in these days some of them are foolish enough to maintain blogs). I’ve forgotten everything he said save his answer to one of my questions. His mystery, like most mysteries, contained clues to “who done it” early on, but, like most mysteries, they were invisible until you looked back on the initial chapters after you’d finished the book. Only then would you say, “Ah ha, I should have known!” I asked about this. I asked him how difficult it had been to plan this out, to sow the seeds, as it were, in the first few chapters that he would reap later on. He looked at me as if my question didn’t quite make sense, and then said, it wasn’t difficult at all; he simply followed his nose. As for the foreshadowing that had so intimidated me, he explained that it was the opposite: he remembered when he got to the end of the story what he’d written at the beginning and simply picked it up. What a revelation this was for me. You didn’t have to be a genius of organization to write a book; you could be just as foolish and floundering as I felt myself to be and, with a little luck and persistence, carry it off. I went home thinking that I could write a book at least as bad as the one we had read for our meeting and shortly thereafter got started on the first of what has proven to be an even dozen, an apprentice novel entitled Michael. This one is not published and probably will not be. Others are. You can find them at the following link: