Thursday, March 23, 2006

Doug Humble - Ed Gorman

From Doug Humble:

Normally when I'm by myself I don't laugh out loud. (This is something
in itself
that could be looked at on a really rainy day. Suffice to say it must
have something
to do with humor as group activity - ie. demonstrative reaction like
group laughing [ those guys making
laugh tracks know something] )
So, I find myself cracking up reading Viehl's Earnestly on your blog.
Really a great piece.
Reminds me of my doctors office visit (Kaiser, L.A.) and when the
doctor finds out I'm an
artist wants me to cast some concrete lions like those in front of the
NYC library for his house
in Brentwood. I'm trying to get him to focus on my prostate and he's
conjuring up a vision
of his house as San Simeon south.

Ed here: Doug and I go back to the days when one of our more seriously disturbed friends was calling in bomb threats so we could get out of school to drink beer and play pool. Rhodes Scholars we were not. But Doug became a well-known sculptor and artist so things turned out all right for both of us. Even our bomb-threat friend turned out all right, at least sort of...he's a lawyer.

I agree, Doug, I thought Lynn's piece was funny and all too true. In twenty five years of publishing fiction, I've probably been approached thirty or forty times by strangers who want me to read their manuscripts. Lynn handled the situation much better than I usually do. I used to be polite, now I just simply say Can't do it, busy. If they push past that point, I say, Cancer and that stops them. Busy they can deal with. Cancer and busy is another matter.

Mystery Scene was probably five years old when I got a letter from a subscriber that started out with praise for the magazine and then an explanation that his favorite mysteries were those with golf in them. Then I got to the third paragraph. He asked if I would send him a list of all novels that had golf in them.

There's a story by Arthur C. Clarke called The Nine Billion Names of God. The premise is that the human race exists to identify all the names by which God is known throughout the universe. And when all the names are identified, earth has no reason to exist any more and thus vanishes.

The Nine Billion Names of golf...

I'll generally read a short story if somebody asks me to. I spoke to a writer's group several years ago and afterward a young man came up and asked if he could pay me to read his short story. I took the story, no charge, sat down and read it on the spot, and asked why he didn't send this to a magzine. It was a knckout story in every way. He said that he was afraid it just wasn't any good. I told Marty Greenberg about it next day and shipped it up to Green Bay. He read it, agreed it was a great story. A few weeks later no less a writer than Roger Zelazny personally called the young writer to tell him that he was not only buying the story for an anthology but that it was one of the two or three best in a book filled with heavy duty names.

About a year later, Carol and I took Larry and his wife out for dinner. We were all friends by that time and went out fairly often. They thought it was just another dinner. But it wasn't. I'd been talking to the editor we submitted Larry's first novel to and she told me that I could tell him that they were buying it. It was a great kick telling him that and seeing how happy it made both of them.

As some of you have probably guessed by now, the guy I'm writing about is Larry Segriff, the number two man at Tekno Books (he and his family moved to Green Bay) and his lovely, gracious, wonderful wife Marlice.

Every once in a while, these stoies have happy endings--I helped sell a novel for an old college classmate of mine--but unfortunately not often enough.

I've had two exceptionally sad experiences with reading a beginner's material. Carol and I were at Red Lobster (remember, this is Cedar Rapids, Iowa so Red Lobster is life in the fast lane) when a middle-aged guy in wheelchair kept looking at me as if he knew me. On the way to the john, I had to pass his table so he stopped me and said he was a reader of mine and it was great to meet me. Very nice guy. He'd lost his legs in Nam. Then he told me that he'd written a novel about Nam and would I read it. I of course said yes.

It had moments but it needed so much work I literally couldn't figure out where to begin. I shipped it off to a college friend of mine who'd done two tours in Nam and had published three Random House novels based on his experiences there. He came to the same conclusion I had.

I had lunch at Red Lobster with the writer and his wife. I was as gentle as possible, told him that with work it might be publishable, etc. But it was heartbreak for all three of us and I still think about it all these years later and feel that I betrayed him somehow.

The other experience involved one of the sweetest women I've ever known. I mean it. If there are secular saints, she's at or near the top of the list. She is in her seventies now and has written stories since she was in high school. She showed me three boxes of stories. Because I liked her--I kept hugging her as we talked because she was just so damned nice and modest and , yes, sweet--so I took three of her stories home and read them and wanted to kill myself. There was no way I could tell her how stupendously bad her writing was.

The day I broke it to her I brought a pizza along and over it we talked about writing and I made a lot of suggestions--she had a particular problem with run-on sentences--so I'd also walked in with a paperback of early Hemingway and read parts of the stories out loud to illustrate points I wanted to make.

But man I felt that I'd betrayed her. She just sat there, all those dutiful years of writing writing writing, and I could see she was fighting tears once she figured out that what I was really saying was that her material just wasn't any good.

I think about her every day. I sure wish I could've given her good news instead of bad. She still buys all my books and gets me to sign them. I wish it was on her books and she was signing it to me.


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