Blog 2: More prologue
I write the shortest stories. Not even essays, but columns. Jim Murray, The Los Angeles Times’ legendary sports columnist, perhaps the greatest of the genre, referred to this kind of writing as “tricks.”
Not the products of enormous talent, or effort. Just tricks. I think he was making a comparison of columns to writing as golf is to athleticism.
So now it’s a book, is it? Man, we’re really at the start. Whatever will I write?
The teachers say write about what you know. Great advice. Of course, what the hell else would you write about? That’s a question Jules Verne, Gene Rodenberry and J.K. Rowling pretty much shrugged off. Rowling started out writing on cocktail napkins. Or something like that. But she sure had a story, didn’t she? I doubt she has first-hand knowledge of Slytherin. Or maybe she does. It is her imagination, after all.
Head in the stars or full of magic? Fine. The other way might be John Steinbeck playing the journalist for perhaps the greatest of novels, “Grapes of Wrath.” He didn’t know this landscape, so he researched and interviewed and observed. Then he wrote something truer than the fact. This was James Michener’s way, too.
The celebrities cheat. They have a name from sports, or movies, or politics, or music. So they hire ghost writers to expand the franchise, to satiate, enhance or take advantage of our curiosity of them. But they write some pretty decent books too. My favorite coach, Phil Jackson, comes to mind. Aron Ralston, the kid who got his hand stuck in a rock in Utah a couple of years ago, exploited his fame and wrote really an excellent work, I think. Being trapped in the Canyonlands was the least of it. That he sounds like a first class prima donna jerk for refusing to talk in Vail ” not enough money in it, I think ” takes nothing away from the book.
The scholars and historians also write books. Sometimes good ones. I’m neither, of course. Newspapers being the first draft and all that aside.
So what shall be the subject for my book here? John Mclean, a Washington, D.C., newspaperman who retired to write the definitive book about the deadly wildfire near Glenwood Springs and another on wildland firefighting, exhorted me to write The Story about hotshots. The hotshots are the special forces of the wildland firefighting world, less glamorous and arguably more valuable than the more glamorous smokejumpers who parachute to work.
A knee injury, and marriage, and perhaps plain old restlessness took me from my career as a wildland firefighter a long time ago. The capstone was five seasons on one of the five original hotshot crews in America, the Los Prietos Hotshots, based in the Santa Barbara backcountry.
Great characters, some stories that could be pumped up a little, novelty, a largely untapped subject that’s interesting to a lot of people if still arcane to most. Lots of material there.
Before that was Hawaii. Surfing. Sailing. A great character for a father who still lives there.
And after that was newspapering. There’s a lot there, too. But no mere trick, it would take real art to spin the tale you would read.
Fiction or non-fiction? Something in between? I like the ambiguity of stories where you don’t quite know which is which. That can tease the imagination in interesting ways. Carlos Casteneda comes to mind. Those books about the magician-shaman Don Juan were promoted as non-fiction but were in truth pretty much complete bullshit. But really fascinating bullshit. I still think about those stories sometimes.
I need to think on this some more. For the meantime, I’ll explore character for awhile. A character. I’ll call him Our Hero. He’ll be the protagonist. He’ll resemble me. Maybe he’ll be me. I think he’ll be a non-fictional character. Mostly. You know, this non-fiction thing is a little slippery. What you see may not be the precise, unambiguous truth. It may be no more than the story you have made up for the moment. Your perspective. Others often see it differently. Don’t remember it quite the same.
I think that as I explore, some of the forays will be precisely true. Some might be exaggerated for effect. I haven’t committed exactly to non-fiction yet, after all.
Maybe Our Hero will sort this out as we track him for awhile …