The Writers Voice
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Some writers can only write in bed. Others need a quiet room in the house
devoted to writing and nothing else. Still
others, like me, can’t write at all when they’re home.
Too many distractions here, temptations – I find myself on the phone or fiddling
with the television. The trouble is
the crime stuff I have to write is dishwater dull and I’m constantly looking for
an excuse to do something else –
anything else. Crime is nothing but statistics. How many break-ins? When is
so-and-so getting out on parole? APB's.
MO's. “Just the facts ma'am.” There are perpetrators and enforcers, and when
you're on the outside looking in, like
me, you can't tell the difference between them. So when I really have to write a
crime piece for the Sentinel and
there isn’t much time to do it. I go to the library. There I know I’ll buckle
down and work at it until it’s done.
I found a vacant carrel in the reference room Monday morning and sat down with
my laptop to the right and my notes to
the left. I was sure I’d have the crime editorial for the paper done by early
But, it was Monday morning and the room was very still. There were skylights in
the ceiling of the reference room and
sparrows were setting their nests up there. It brought the outside inside and,
listening to the birds, it was hard to
believe I was indoors working on my editorial for the Westlake Sentinel. It was
distracting but nor nearly as bad as
being home. I thought if I just shut my ears to it, settle down and get the
first page on paper, I knew the rest
By late morning I had the gist of it under way. It was coming together so I sat
back in the chair and stretched ...
Someone said “Ahem,” at my elbow. I brought my arms back down again and turned
my head. A man in his forties sat
behind me. He had a notebook closed in front of him, it was one of those stiff
marbleized notebooks children carry to
school. He was a sandy haired blue-eyed man and he sat there rubbing the index
finger of his right hand with the
fingers of his left hand.
“Do you write fiction?” he asked.
“Only as a pastime,” I answered. “I work for the Sentinel.”
What impressed me more than anything else was the man’s worried expression. He
looked like a man expecting the
telephone to ring with bad news. One of his blue eyes twitched and both of them
were underscored with dark livid
crescents of sickness or worry – or both.
“Yes, I know you’re a newspaper man. I’ve read your work. I write fiction,” he
said. “Only fiction. I’m still
learning,” he gave me a sick smile. “I get bogged down sometimes.”
That was as far as I wanted the conversation to go and I made preparations to
leave. I put the lap top to sleep and
snapped the lid shut. I unzipped the attache case and slid the computer in. Then
I turned around to the man behind
me. “Well, I’m done for the morning, Mr ...”
“Evans. Do you have a minute – a minute before you go?”
“Maybe later,” I said. “I have to hand-deliver this text to the paper ... It’ll
need proof-reading. But I’ll be back
here later this afternoon.” I wouldn’t of course, but I thought I'd tell him
that. It’s a trick I learned in this
business. God knows, it's been pulled on me often enough.
He looked disappointed, but he took the bait and tried to set a time. “I can’t
really promise a time, but I’ll be
back late this afternoon. That okay?” I was sure he wouldn't be there if I
looked in later.
For some reason the incident in the library that morning stayed with me all day.
The name ‘Evans’ meant nothing to
me. I didn’t know an ‘Evans’ – I couldn’t remember ever meeting an ‘Evans’. He
wanted me to look at something he
wrote ... something of fiction. I hate reading something with the author
standing by. Watching him watch you, trying
to catch your expression before you have something to say ... it’s doglike. But
you do it because it’s the least you
can do and when you think back you remember once somebody did it for you.
Maybe that’s why I went back to the library that afternoon. I promised myself
that if I didn’t see him at the carrels
where I left him, I’d turn around and walk out again. But he was there. He was
sitting at the carrel I used earlier
that day. His face lit up when he saw me.
As I approached him he stood up awkwardly and said, “I thought maybe you forgot
– maybe you wouldn’t come.”
“I said I’d be here. Do you have a draft with you? I’ll take it home with me.”
“Draft? No, I don’t have a draft yet.” I pulled away. “No, let me explain,” he
touched my arm as I turned to leave.
“Let me tell you the plot ... just tell me if I’m on the right track. I have to
know if I’ve forgotten anything
I just couldn’t stand the thought of sitting in the carrel with him and
listening to him drone on about his plot.
“That’s not the way you do it, Evans. You write a draft, and if you’re lucky
enough to find someone to read it, you
let him have it a few days. I’m not going to sit in a public library and listen
to you tell me about a story you’re
thinking of writing.”
He looked desperate. His eyes looked up to the skylight above the carrel as
though he expected an answer would come
from there. “Please, it won’t take ten minutes––I have the whole thing right
here in my head.”
“Okay, I’ll give you ten minutes. I warn you––I’ve got a date for dinner. So,
ten minutes and I’m out of here ...
also I have a terrible headache. I warn you.”
Evans looked away. He looked as though he was looking for the proper way to
begin. “It’s about a man,” he started, “a
man about my age, and the fix he finds himself in.”
“He’s a structural engineer ... a project leader on a new bridge over the
Lackawanna. His company has an office in
the Chelsea building downtown. Maybe fifty men––no women. He has a family––a
wife and two sons. In the suburbs ... a
place like this. He’s been married seven years ... okay so far?”
“He reaches a point in the bridge project where he needs to correspond with the
highway department ... “
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Well, they assign him a secretary to handle his correspondence. A girl in her
early twenties. Blond.”
“What’s his name, her name? What do they look like?” He was crumbling now.
Looking like a witness giving testimony.
He turned away from me and sat down.
“I don’t know yet. I haven’t picked out their names ... he looks ... I don’t
know ... about my age. I’m not into
“That’s one of the first things you do. You get yourself a character. Create a
human being ... all the action begins
with your characters. Without them you’ve got nothing.”
“I ... I want to tell you about the plot. How his secretary tries to break up
“I’m sorry, I don’t want to hear any more. It’s boring, It’s the oldest plot
line in the book.”
“But ... he kills her you see.”
“Who kills who?”
“The man. He ... he kills his secretary.” Evans suddenly brought both hands up
to his face and began to sob. I
quickly looked about the workroom to see if anyone was watching us.
“Evans ... “ I put my hand on his shoulder. “Are you all right, Evans?”
“It wasn’t his fault ... I mean it’s a man’s responsibility isn’t it ... to
protect his family I mean. All right,
maybe he was a little weak, but he never promised her anything, the blonde I
mean. If you want to blame someone,
blame her ... “
I reached out to him and pulled his hands away from his face. His face was wet
and his eyes were shut tight. He kept
his hands together as if they were handcuffed.
©Harry Buschman 2007
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