And I thought it was about writing. Well, it was about writing, that part’s for sure. But as art imitates life and vice-versa, this wisdom was about both.
A couple of decades ago I participated in a writer’s group, for many years. And made tons of friends there, many of whom I still have today. I was in my thirties then, and my first night there, I sat next to an old codgery guy who might have been the most irreverent person on the planet. Which was great for me, as irreverence makes me laugh. And I like to laugh. It makes me happy 🙂
Anyway, I was visiting for the first time and Glen B (no, this wasn’t AA—everyone just always referred to him that way) was quite nice and funny, smoking his pipe (man, would he hate the laws today—we were in The Boys’ Ranch building, and they smoked in the room!). This was a read-and-critique group, and at some point someone read a sex scene. I don’t say love scene because, well, there’s a huge difference. And this was definitely a sex scene.
Glen B, sitting next to me, drew stick figures in the position of this writer’s description. Then leaned into me and said, “That’s not possible for humans.”
I spit out my coffee laughing. Which was my introduction to the group at large.
But anyway, his advice has stuck with me. Not the drawing-of-humans-having-sex advice, but what he said later.
Come to find out, Glen B wrote normal fiction, but he made his living writing dirty Westerns.
I didn’t even know such a genre existed, but found that very night not only does it exist, but it’s a perennial seller. And Glen B actually made his living writing them. Who knew! The genre is fairly formulaic (he and a host of writers wrote The Trailsman series, about Sky Fargo. It calls for the usual Western flair only in addition the hero is superman on a horse and rides across the country getting laid. Okay, so he does other things too, but you have to include a minimum of 3 graphic sex scenes (again, these are not love scenes). As the series description says: “Never met a challenge—or a woman—he couldn’t conquer.” And conquer he does. Glen B had to churn one out every 6 weeks, for which he was paid, well, a lot. An amount that boggled the mind of this then-starving writer.
In fact, once he got sick and was dying, he had the publisher offer me the contract. It was tempting, I can tell ya. I was living on $500 a month, growing my own food, and even making my own beer. And giving the latter as Christmas presents on account of I couldn’t afford to buy much more than yeast and hops. Just a year of writing this series would heal me . . .
But I didn’t, in the end. And not for snooty reasons, but because with the volume of writing required, I wouldn’t have time to write my own stuff. And I had gotten pretty attached to writing my fiction by that point.
Anyhow, to ‘take that contract’ wasn’t his best advice to me either. Well, who knows—it mighta been had I taken it.
Glen B was the first person to tell me that putting together a plot is like pinning clothes to a line. And it’s all about the order you pin them that makes for a good plot or a boring one. That clarified so much for me. It was great advice to a budding author. But still not the pearl I’m referring to.
Glen B loved to express his opinion and give advice, but whether you took it was none of his business. Actually, he didn’t care. By then he was on to spouting his next wisdom.
That advice I still use? And can hear his voice say? It’s not Earth-shattering. And you’ve heard it before. But spoken from a brilliant, witty, irreverent, hoot of a man as he was dying, well, it lodged in me and has never waned.
Simply: “Nothing is ever wasted. Nothing.”
Again, he was speaking about writing as I bemoaned some failed novel or another. But he knew, and I knew, that wasn’t all he meant.
And as these decades have passed, and I still see and hear him, the truth of that statement has stayed with me, both in writing and in life. Ideas and characters and even plot pieces of failed work have often been woven into new stories. Ah, the tears I had shed over their deaths all those years before, only to see them resurrected in a fresh way. All the times I’ve stubbed my toe, thinking I’d broken my leg, figuratively, with one crazy choice or another. The time I’ve thought I’ve wasted, lost on some wrong turn or another . . .
And then, behold and lo, something I learned or gained comes into play in a decision I’m making today.
And each and every time, I think of Glen B . . .
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard?