A Letter

Have you ever gotten a word of encouragement, from the most unlikely source, that simply blows you away and changes your life?

I have.

I don't think this person had any idea what kind of impact his encouraging words, probably written out of polite recognition, had on me. I received this email letter about 7 years ago when I was taking a novel writing class at UCLA. I wanted to write a novel, but I didn't know how. I knew I was a pretty good writer, but I wasn't completely sure I could ever write, not to mention publish, a novel.

I have since abandoned the novel I was working on at that time -- it wasn't meant to be. I liked the characters, but the story just didn't have anywhere to go (one day I might pick that story up again). But the experience of having written parts of it, and having those parts critiqued by fellow writers, proved to have had an enormous effect on me. It was during that time I started thinking about a new novel, thinking how I might one day finish it for real.

I bit the bullet about 3 years ago and wrote the first chapter. By then, the story had changed course, but the characters stayed on board. In November 2003, I finished it. It's called The Pacific Between. In November 2004, I sold it. And in November 2005, it will be published. The saga took me almost 8 years, but it was worth it. And all because of one piece of email.

Don't underestimate the power you have on someone else's life.

The Letter that helped push me toward my goal as a novelist:

...Anyway, what I REALLY wanted to convey to you write [SIG] now is that HELL YES!!! I THINK THAT YOU AND JAMES ARE THE BEST TWO WRITERS IN THE CLASS!!!! (Some of the other genre writers do what they do very well - but so much of genre writing is formula: do you have any doubt already EXACTLY where Nancy's narrative about the "mountaintop debutante" is predictably going to go? Of course not! We've all seen this show a thousand times! That does not make it "bad writing" - in fact, if "getting published" is the goal, Nancy can pretty much stop taking this course now and start submitting exactly what she's doing: she's nailed down that entire "romance genre" kind of writing to perfection!!!!! But it isn't the type of thing that you or I are doing - and, to be honest, it's not the type of thing I have very much respect for or interest in....)

God, I'm getting sidetracked again! The point that i was TRYING to make is that you DO have "writer's magic" and you have it in a way which I do not!!!! I can express exactly one thing perfectly: my inner states of mind. But THAT'S IT!!!! I understand how some people do not have as much facility to do this (you are NOT one of these people!!!) BUT I have always been amazed (because I do not have this facility) at how somebody can "make life and characters come ALIVE" on a page so that you ACTUALLY BELIEVE that these people are real! Tolstoy had this amazing ability, which is why his works are timeless and have been translated around the world ; Dostoyevsky - though he plumbed the depths of human psychology like nobody had ever done before or since - generally did not.

You, I think, have the Tolstoy gift; I, the Dostoyevsky. So rest assured: I am as murderously envious of your own gifts - and see in them a reflection of my own failure - as you may be of mine or anybody else's. Still, though (you can tell I've become a stoic), we all must put to the best use the abilities that we fortunately have. And I'm telling you Ray, if you don't think its absolutely MIRACULOUS that you have the magic to put a few marks on some paper (or, in this case, onto a computer screen) and have some yo-yos whom you've never even met physically LUSTING for a woman who does not even actually EXIST - well, my friend, in that case I would have to say that you're either just not giving yourself enough credit, or you're just not paying attention!!!!! (I think it is the former!)

Anyway, Ray - my Inner Henchman is FURIOUS with me for taking all this time away from the research library (Fuck him! Get a life, Jughead!!). Just keep doing what you're doing and let these stories take us where they may!!! One good guess on my part, however: you know your dad is gonna have to show up in this story at one point or another - and, if you ask me - he's going to be one of the central characters - maybe the central character when it comes to story conflict. An interesting way to go might be to write about that conflict as if it was something that was happening to Jason or to Janet, that way your narrator could comment on it and observe in a way which he could not if it was happening to him. (this is just a momentary thought I had: I have NO IDEA whether or not it would actually WORK - so caveat emptor, as the boyz back in the Bronx would say!)


Anonymous said…
enjoyed your post. - william
Anonymous said…
Followed your link from AW and just read a good portion of your blog. Really enjoyed it, Ray. And if I haven't said so before, congrats on the book!

aka Whispering Bard

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