Mark Terry

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Terry Manifesto

September 1, 2006
Over on http://www.journalscape.com/keithsnyder Keith talks today about his creative manifesto, such as it is. It reminds me of years back when I was being represented by New York agent Ben Camardi of the Harold Matson Company. They repped me for 6 years and never sold anything, and I'm pretty sure we got tired of each other. I broke it off, although I suspect he was relieved. Certainly one of the reasons I severed our relationship was the feeling I got every time I sent them a manuscript, a kind of, "Oh Jesus, Not Him Again" kind of thing, although maybe that was just me feeling desperate and what they felt was, "One Of These Days He's Going To Write Something We Can Sell Because He's Good Enough."

Anyway, somewhere along the lines I sent him a letter along with a manuscript with the line: I WILL GET PUBLISHED. Ben told me it sounded like a manifesto, which I later dubbed The Camardi Manifesto.

But I digress. Hey, there's a holiday weekend coming up. I'm allowed.

Keith says, among other things:

"And marketing, Ben. Hook. Nothing says "Marketing gimmick" like a nice fiery manifesto.

I also think of something RZ told me about his analysis of Webern, which is that the really interesting parts were where Webern departed from the rigorous twelve-tone system. Because--RZ supposed--he just thought it sounded better that way.

Manifestos, philosophies... I guess I should have one, but I'm just trying to make a living doing things I'll be proud of after I'm dead. I assume I'll be as tough an audience then as I am now. "

Let's start with the first line. Some irony that Keith is talking about somebody named Ben. I doubt it's the same person, although it's a small world. Actually, it's a big world, but publishing is a small universe. I agree. It's the whole "high concept" thing in a nutshell. Let's all polish our story idea down to a single sentence: Terrorists steal genetically engineered super virus and one man has to get it back before they use it. Okay, that's the high concept for THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, and it works well enough. So does, "'The Rock' meets '24.'" At the same time, it kind of means nothing. It doesn't tell you about the main character, Derek Stillwater, who drives the story. It doesn't tell you about his neuroses, his fears, his panic attacks, his sense of humor. It doesn't tell you about Liz Vargas...

Next bit about Webern, etc. Look, Keith is a musician and he's talking about a composer who wrote a piece using the 12-tone system. For those of you unfamiliar, there are 12 notes in the Western musical scale. C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, plus the various sharps and flats, depending on which way you're going on the scale. In the type of music we're most used to listening to, the composer more or less picks a key, say the key of C, and uses the 8 notes, more or less, in that key. The 12-tone system utilizes all 12 notes and is, more or less, built on a progression of those notes. It can be cool and it can be discordant. And what he's saying is that the composer wandered off his own system for a while because he thought it sounded better, in other words, went with his gut. Amen, brother. All the theory and insight all us writers claim to have over grammar and style and what makes a story work often comes down to our instincts. And some are born with them, but most of us hone those instincts by reading tons and tons and tons of books and writing and writing and writing.

Now, this:

"Manifestos, philosophies... I guess I should have one, but I'm just trying to make a living doing things I'll be proud of after I'm dead. I assume I'll be as tough an audience then as I am now. "

Keith suggests here that he's concerned about a legacy with his work. I'm not sure I do. Well, maybe a little. One of the first things I do when a book is published is autograph two and give one to each of my sons. Ian might be old enough to read them--he's nibbling at Pitchfork, but Sean definitely isn't. That isn't the point, actually. The point is someday I'll be gone and hopefully my sons will still have copies of my books and that will be a reminder of dad. Hopefully a positive reminder. My father was a photographer, often a very good one, and several of his photographs hang on my walls in my house. A decent legacy, in many ways--because what's on my wall is a brief glimpse of how my father saw the world.

So perhaps my manifesto is slightly more varied than Keith's. Something like:

I'm just trying to make a living doing something I love doing; something that I can be proud of doing while I'm still alive; something that makes me feel alive while I'm doing it.

And I might add: and something that pays the bills with money left over to piss away on pleasures and luxuries.

Best,
Mark Terry

10 Comments:

Anonymous Keith said...

Not so much a legacy as just not wasting my limited time on stuff I'm not proud of.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Ron Estrada said...

Having just escaped the auto industry, where I was a Ford engineer, I can relate. It's hard to look at yourself, after all those years of school and clawing your way to a high salary, and say "I'm not proud of this."

We think alot alike, Mark. My kids have been the reason I've wanted better, not necessarily more, but better, for myself. I picture Sydney talking to her own kids someday. "Grandpa," she'd say with a sentimental gleam, "wrote novels." Published or not, we write our own legacy. My name on a book cover is just nice aside. The pride comes from having done our best and not settling for what the world tosses at us.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

For those of us essentially raised by conservative people who believed in job security and 9 to 5 jobs--my own parents, children of the Great Depression--it takes a very, very large leap of faith to think, "There has to be something more than job security and working a job just because it provides a regular paycheck."

My previous job in the clinical laboratory industry was work I guess I could be proud of--it was worthwhile for the patients, for instance. But it didn't make me proud. It made me angry and depressed. So ultimately my feeling was that this was work better left to people who found satisfaction and pride in it, and they should. Hell, I should have, but didn't.

Pretty philosophical for a pre-Labor Day Friday.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

What little Webern I've listened to (and some pieces were indeed little) was kind of interesting but I never felt like it offered much to a non-musician, that most of the interest was in how the sound illustrated the theory. I wondered whether Webern cared about the sound itself.

My Dad painted so, although he's gone, you can look at one of his watercolors and see exactly what he saw, standing at the edge of a field one morning in the late autumn. It amuses me sometimes to realize that fifty years from now someone might find one of our books in the library stacks and, reading a scene, experience what was going on in, one afternnon, years before, in a head that doesn't exist anymore. But I don't think in terms of legacy.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Eric,
I like the music of Norman Dello Joio quite a bit and he often used 12-tone. More to the point, Paul Hindemith used 12-tone. He went out of his way to create a series of 12-tone piano preludes and fugues with the intention of "being better than J.S. Bach."

My brother, a PhD in music theory and composition put it this way to me. "He did and so what?"

11:24 AM  
Blogger Rob Gregory Browne said...

Legacies, jeez. I don't even think about such things.I'm fairly certain I won't care what people think of me when I'm dead. I barely care now... :)

A speaking of the now, my only concern is that people like my books, are entertained by my stories.

I can't ask for more than that.

9:14 PM  
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