Saturday, August 7, 2010

I always thought that I'd see you again . . .

I've put this off for a long time. Here it goes. James Taylor sums it all up:

Oh, I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again

When I review and edit my list of email contacts, I realize that several of their owners have died in the past year or so, but I just can't delete their names. I'll tell you about these people and maybe you'll understand why I like to keep them in my address book.

Patrice Moss was beautiful, multi-talented, and full of energy. She was generous and took care of everyone around her. I needed some mothering and she gave it, lovingly. She saw me through some difficult times and I hope I was helpful when she had her own challenges. She mourned for her son who was killed in an auto accident at age 17. Then, about four years later, she was also killed in an auto accident. I like to imagine that the two of them are very happy and busy on the other side, but to do that she had to leave the rest of her family behind, and they are struggling, just as any bereaved family would. I don't believe I've ever known anyone who gave unconditional love the way she did.

Ross Whipple was in our local writers group. He was a World War 11 veteran and a geophysicist ("I study the bowels of the earth," he used to say). He was a gifted writer and when I met him he was writing short stories, some of which I have and treasure. His style reminded me of O'Henry. He never wasted a word and though we chuckled at various points as he read his stories to the group we roared with laughter at the end. He was brilliant with comic twists that seemed to come out of nowhere. Sometimes he'd send a piece to me for feedback but there wasn't much I could say because it usually didn't need any edits at all. But I was honored that he'd ask. It was like going to a sneak preview of a movie. 

One year he took first place in short story in the League of Utah Writers competition. The first place winners traditionally read their piece to the whole audience at the banquet. Ross wasn't there to receive his award so someone else read it in his place. I could tell the reader had not read the story before, and he didn't do justice to it. He didn't even get the phrasing right. He read in a monotone and tripped over familiar words. I winced as I heard it. Basically, he ruined it, and polite clapping was the result, as nobody "got" it. When I read Ross's work I hear his voice, strong and expressive and always with a touch of irony.

We had white elephants at Christmas parties. I went to the local thrift shop and picked up a couple of "bodice ripper" romances. Of all people, 80-something Ross got them. It was hilarious to see his reaction.

When we had parties he also brought painted rocks for everyone. They were flat and averaged about 4 x 4 inches. He painted comical faces on them. We have one that looks like Picasso could have painted it. They make great paperweights and are reminders of a multi-talented man.

Ken Rand - I doubt there are many writers in Utah who haven't heard of Ken. He offered frequent writing workshops and courses. I attended one of his workshops early in my writing career and it basically caused an epiphany. I didn't know what an epiphany was then, but now as I look back, that's what it was. We walked into the room and found yellow legal tablets with our names on them, with the statement: "I am a Writer." When he talked about basic plot elements and how they worked in a story, I squirmed. I had a half-written novel in the works, and I had made every mistake he described. He also ran through a list of other mistakes beginning writers make. I wrote down the list and put a check by nearly every element, thinking of my own writing. He was spot on. I was miserable and I wanted to go home at that point. Just kidding. I was eager to go home and fix it! Ken was so constructive and positive as he presented, we all walked out of there motivated and feeling good.

Ken later edited some of my work and was so helpful. I wrote a story that won an award and was to be published in the organization's magazine. I was absolutely thrilled that it was going to be published. It looks good on a resume (that was rather slim at the time) and I needed that credential. Based on the feedback from the magazine's editor, I made many revisions to meet their expectations, and we exchanged many drafts. I couldn't seem to satisfy them, no matter how I revised the work. When Ken read their feedback, he emailed me. "Who ARE these people? Run, do not walk, away from them!" He was right. Despite my hard work and numerous edits, I realized I was never going to please the editors and my story wouldn't be published. So I growled and grieved a bit and had a little pity party and moved on. What a learning experience.  

Ken's love was science fiction, and he had many fans. He was deeply involved in sci fi writing circles. But I preferred his mainstream fiction, particularly his short stories. He loved the west and created wonderfully quirky characters and seamless plots. He pulled the reader in to the story and I felt that I was standing in the bar, out of range of possible gunshots, watching the whole story play out. I didn't see the end coming. What a surprise - a great surprise. It worked. I love it when a writer can be unpredictable but still true to the story.

One of the books I like to give beginning writers (well, I'm not a mentor at all, but occasionally I meet someone who wants to start writing, and I suggest it immediately)  is Ken's book, The Ten Percent Solution. It helps writers break bad habits they never knew they had. In his workshops he was all about self-editing, and he stressed the concept that every page should ideally touch all of the senses, i.e.,  touch, feel, smell, hearing, etc. I have tried to incorporate that into my writing, with some success.

Ken mentored many writers of all abilities and he was generous with his time. I miss his sense of humor. I miss his energy. I miss being able to ask him a question and get a pithy answer. I miss Ken.

These are people whose email addresses I cannot delete.  I guess reading their names brings wonderful memories to mind. I don't think friendships really end if we keep them in our hearts.

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