Budding Writer, 1979: Double feature

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An early autumn sunset before the trees turn offers some pastels reminiscent of a warmer time. North Hero, Vermont, September 29, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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!

Sometimes, my new double life as freelance writer and small-town newspaper editor struck a perfect balance. I was able to work on my short stories, then venture into my campus town to catch a movie or two to review for the paper:

I worked a bit on “Disco Tex,” which is actually a good deal of fun and might have some commercial, if not literary, merit. Then into town, where I made myself financially poorer but perhaps personally richer. I bought 3 books — at least 2 from Allan Foley’s library — early 1900s books by and about Dartmouth, mostly. Good reading was “The Lure of Books.” This could be the basis of a small collection.

Tonight I took in The Legacy (terrible) and The Kids Are Alright (All Right)…).

Journal, Volume II
29 September 1979

Allen* Richard Foley was a gem of Dartmouth’s Department of History, as well as a raconteur and collector of New England humor, particularly Vermontiana. I still have the books in my collection — somewhere — along with an LP of his “old-timer” stories. (A classic: A flatlander asks the Vermonter “Lived here all your life?” to which the old-timer responds “Not yet.”)

These books were published before 1920, when Foley was a Dartmouth undergraduate. I’m particularly intrigued by “The Lure of Books” by the Rev. Lynn H. Hough, a Methodist minister who later became president of Northwestern University when Foley was at Dartmouth. I bought the books on resale at the Dartmouth Bookstore without realizing they were probably from the Foley estate. He died in 1978, only the year before.

As for the double feature, apparently other critics and audiences agreed with my assessment of the films. The Legacy, a mediocre horror film, got so-so reviews despite the usually likeable Katharine Ross. I wasn’t a big fan of The Who, so The Kids Are Alright, which later became a classic rockumentary about the British band, was only “all right.” (I was more concerned about proper spelling than the experience.)

I reviewed the movies and copied “The Wedding Presence” into the Dartmouth book. I went to work, wrote an Encore piece on Dartmouth community arts, and critics, returned, wrote more “Disco Tex” and began + finished 1st revisions of “Bartel, B.”* Then I wrote to the law school requesting an extension of my leave, saying I hope to give writing the same chance I gave law. I also wrote to Yankee’s Judson Hale, enclosing the Bedell Bridge issue and suggesting some articles. All in all, today seemed a productive summation of this journal.

Journal, Volume II
30 September 1979

I knew at the time that the law school did not extend leaves beyond one year, so that chapter in my life was over. But Yankee Magazine was always looking for good tales from the region, and the dramatic destruction of one of the world’s longest covered bridges would certainly get their attention.

Besides, I had already met Jud Hale. He was one of the few people in my Dartmouth alumni network. I had high hopes.

*Howard: One more time. Get the correct spelling of names! Foley had even inscribed his name in the books you bought. No excuses. And for crying out loud, “Bartle, B.” — not “Bartel, B.” — was your own work in progress!

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