About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!
I was about to embark on a new career as a small-town journalist. I had moved to Bradford, Vermont, for exactly that. The job was all I had hoped for: enough hours to make a modest living doing something I enjoyed and was good at.
So naturally you would expect me to throw myself into my work, right?
Wrong. I threw myself back into my fiction writing in the campus town I had just escaped from.
Needless to say, I visited Hanover today. I spent about 1 1/2 hours skimming Thorne Smith’s Turnabout, which seems rather lusty for a 1930s title. It also gave me some input/inspiration/ideas for Mind’s Eye. I thought that much of it, especially what I saw of the ending, however, was a bit of a cop out. Perhaps I can do better.Journal, Volume II
11 September 1979
I’ve mentioned Thorne Smith, author of Turnabout and Topper, before. Turnabout was a husband-wife body swap story long before the “Freaky Friday” trope caught on. My idea for Mind’s Eye was inspired by the rising women’s rights movement of the time. What would happen if the shoe were on the other foot?
Smith’s books are great fun, but often had weak endings. Turnabout was one of them.
The next day, I was back at work for the paper but again distracted by fiction ideas:
Another lovely seasonal day. So lovely that I worked outside for a while, playing with reporter assignments. Saw this week’s paper; it looks good.
Major work insight of the day: idea of retreating “Bartleby the Scrivener” as “Bartle, B.” — about a law student who would prefer not to. Need time to work on it.Journal, Volume II
12 September 1979
“Bartle, B.” was another of my titles-in-search-of-a-story. The name came from law school, where legal opinions were signed with the justice’s name, as in Frankfurter, J. or Warren, J. It took me a while to realize that all these justices didn’t have the same first initial.
“Bartle, B.” eventually came to pass, but I did indeed need the time to work on it. Twice. More on that later.
Over the next two days I wrote letters to friends and my high school teachers. I alluded to how “my rational side has finally balanced with my creative side, my soul says ‘write.’ … I don’t want to be a Topper, I want to do proper honor to the sun.” (Thorne Smith’s banker hero had learned his lesson to live life to its fullest.)
With my phone finally installed, I called my grandmother, mother, stepmother, and father. The amount of networking and deep, soul-searching correspondence I could pack into a day back then amazes me.
And then, almost as an afterthought, I wrote:
Also, tonight we were blacked out for 3 hours. Fortunate indeed that Barbara White had given me a candle as a house-warming gift. I could see the roadblock around the downed wire from my window, but did not probe.Journal, Volume II
14 September 1979
Howard, WAKE UP, man! You had news happening right down the street and didn’t check it out? The least you could have done was walk down the road to get a stand-alone photo.
It took you much longer to develop a sense for news than it did to come up with ideas for make-believe stories that eventually died on the vine. But you were still learning.