Connecting

Writing is a solitary activity, we all know that. I’d like to find meaningful connections with other writers, but it’s hard. This afternoon I sat through the 90-minute monthly Zoom meeting with the local writers’ group (which is affiliated with the California Writers Club organization). I don’t feel even a smidgen of connection with the people in this group — but I’m there, because where else are you gonna go?

Some of them write memoir. Memoir? Why would anybody ever want to write, much less read, memoir? I’m baffled. The local club’s critique group has a word limit (for a submission to be critiqued at a separate monthly meeting) of 2,500 words. How can you possibly write a meaningful piece of fiction if you have only 2,500 words?

I’ve heard of flash fiction, thanks. The very idea makes my skin crawl.

I’ve suggested to the group that we start a long-form critique group, with a monthly word count of up to 25,000 words — and fiction only, please, no memoir. I’ll probably end up leading that critique group. But the truth is, I’m not looking forward to it, because I’ve seen some of the writing that people in the club have done, and … well, maybe I can help them a little, if they’re not too defensive, but I don’t expect to encounter any kindred souls, let’s put it that way.

I really need to be hanging out with, or at least acquainted with, some good writers. People I can look up to! But I have no “in” in the literary world. Okay, John Lescroart answers my emails, because he and I worked in the same office for a year or two, back in the ’70s. But that’s thin.

The project that I’m working on now, which may turn into a fat fantasy duology, would be almost impossible to explain to anybody, even if I had somebody to explain it to and even if I didn’t know better than to talk out a work-in-progress. Talking about what you’re planning to write tends to drain the energy away from actually writing the thing, so it’s better to keep your cards close to your chest.

Someone explained this once by saying that your subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between writing the story and talking about the story, so if you talk about it your subconscious thinks you’ve done it, and the flow stops. There’s something in that. So what are you going to talk about when you’re around other writers? Agents? I don’t have an agent. Word processors? Use Scrivener; don’t even talk to me about Word.

That’s a short conversation.

I got to thinking about connections tonight when I watched an hour-long video interview with Ralph Grierson. You’ve probably never heard of Ralph, but he was for many years one of the absolute first-call pianists in Hollywood. He played on hundreds of film and TV soundtracks. And see, Ralph is one of my Facebook friends. As is another retired first-call Hollywood pianist, Mike Lang. I know these guys, at least vaguely, through my years as an editor at Keyboard. I also know Hans Zimmer slightly, for the same reason. I’ve met him, and he’s one of my Facebook friends. Hans is one of the most titanically successful film score composers working today.

In the interview Ralph told a story about Don Buchla, one of the groundbreaking synthesizer designers of the ’60s and ’70s. And I knew Don. I visited his workshop several times and ran into him now and then. I knew Bob Moog too. Chick Corea, another stunning pianist, died recently. I used to edit both Chick’s and Bob Moog’s monthly columns for the magazine. I didn’t know these guys well, but I knew them.

I’m not really trying to name-drop here, though of course I’m doing exactly that. Would you like to hear how Suzanne Ciani once made me eggplant parmesan for lunch? Probably not. Okay, maybe the story about the time Glenn Gould phoned me. Or the time I had lunch with Laszlo Varga, who had been the principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein. Maestro Varga told us a story about his encounter with Glenn Gould. I had been invited to that lunch by my friend Larry Granger, who played cello in the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas. Tilson Thomas was a student at USC in the ’60s when Grierson was there, and the two of them recorded the piano-four-hands version of Rite of Spring for Stravinsky.

None of that actually matters. The point is, in the piano-and-synthesizer world, I feel connected, and it lifts my spirits. Not so connected anymore, because we’re all getting old, those of us who haven’t died. But I still feel that I’m a tiny part of something that’s larger than just me.

In the fiction writing world, I don’t feel that. I’m sitting here staring at the computer screen, knowing that what I would like to do with this next project is so big and complex that it’s almost (but not quite) more than I can contemplate. And who can I talk to about it? Viewpoint, theme, world-building, character development, plot pacing — who can I talk to who will say, “Oh, yeah. I’ve done that. I get it.”

At the writers’ club meeting the guest speaker, who is a successful literary agent, went on for half an hour about recent changes in the publishing industry. On one level it was pretty interesting, and I’m sure a lot of the attendees appreciated it, but I know darn well my duology is not going to interest an agent. I’ll be self-publishing it. So the trends in the industry are utterly irrelevant to me; her talk was just dust in the wind. In the whole meeting there was not one word, not one single solitary word, about viewpoint, theme, world-building, character development, or plot pacing.

What a depressing miasma of irrelevance. Why was I even there? Oh, I remember now. To connect with other writers.

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