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!
That week’s paper “came out today — surprisingly — with no mistakes — amazingly!”
And so I took off my editor hat, went into town, and started thinking about fiction again:
Did I mention First Gentleman yesterday? I made some notes on what used to be Matriarch. Could be a good plot … if ever I get around to long-term writing.Journal, Volume II
10 October 1979
No, I hadn’t mentioned First Gentleman. I don’t think I had mentioned Matriarch either, so I probably owe you an explanation.
Matriarch was my idea for a novel about the first woman to become president of the United States — which was only theoretically possible 40 years ago. No female politician had even reached the critical mass of name recognition to get that kind of attention. The concept of Matriarch was that once that happens, all the presidents after that would be women, ergo, a matriarchy.
But a story idea isn’t the same as a novel, or series of novels. It isn’t a plot; it isn’t even a character.
First Gentleman was a half-step closer. The title character was going to be Fred Warner, my recurring hero/alter ego. He would be the patient husband of Madame President and be thrust into the spotlight along with her.
Little did I know — because I was too young at the time — that the idea had already been done as a movie. Fred MacMurray was the First Gentleman in Kisses for My President (1964). Ah well, wrong Fred, I guess.
The next day, I was back doing routine reporter stuff before I called it a day and went back to my writer’s garret.
Back home, skimmed TIME, read and finished Techniques of Fiction Writing, and, inspired, launched back into “Disco Tex.” Aside from the idea of playing out the actual dance sequence (Beethoven’s Fifth instead of “A Fifth of Beethoven,”) as closely to the music as possible — practice for “Rhapsody in Blue” — my ideas were mediocre and my writing really terrible tonight. Oh well, I can’t always be brilliant.Journal, Volume III
11 October 1979
I know I’ve told you about “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Disco Tex.” I don’t think I fully explained what I wanted to do with them, though. My thinking was that somehow I could adapt prose to tell a story that would be paced with the playing time of a piece of music. After all, song writers do it all the time, but they’re writing words and music together. I would have to deconstruct the music and set the story to it somehow.
I still have no idea how to do that. Oh well, I can’t always be brilliant.
Most of us are familiar with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, so for those who don’t remember the disco era, I leave you with Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” from 1976: