Not Exactly Writers' Block

by Mel Gilden

It's been a quiet week in Mel's writing biz.  I made an appointment for next week with a nonprofit organization.  From the preliminary phone discussions between us, I suppose that the organization would rather I edit their grants than write them.  Which is what I had in mind in the first place.  Writing grants is a very specialized skill, and though I had a class in it, I am more comfortable editing the work of others than writing from scratch.  Editing grants can't pollute my precious bodily fluids any worse than writing TV animation, and I survived that OK.

I had been told by people who should know that finding a job as a grant editor, particularly a freelance grant editor, is just about impossible.  My current experience indicates that it may be possible after all.  Time, as they say, will tell.

A little income would be a good thing.  It would allow me to finish my current novel and pay bills without touching my nest egg.  Having an income is not quite as good as living on the interest, but better than spending off the top of a finite pile of cash.

And speaking of my current novel, this past week I spent a few days figuring out what is going to happen next.  Have I spoken about "and then four guys take over the Enterprise"?  Most writers come to a spot like this eventually, though each of them calls it something else — a title that usually involves a lot of swearing.  But whatever a writer calls it, it always means the same thing — that you've come to a place in your outline where you have to figure out not just what will happen, but exactly how it will happen. 

Usually the writer has been putting off figuring this out because it must do three things at once: 1) further the plot, 2) be in character, and 3) be damned clever.  Sometimes it is necessary to back up and plant an item that the hero will use at this point.  But whatever it takes, a writer can't get any further in the book until he figures out what to do.  I solved my problem at last, but it cost me two days when I did not actually add text to the novel.

Last week I went to a free lecture at Cal Tech's Beckman Auditorium on the subject of how science is used in mystery stories.  The subject interested me, but more than that, the lecture was delivered by Dr. Harold Goldwhite, who, at the dawn of time, had been my chemistry professor.  Undoubtedly I was the worst chemistry student he ever had, but even then I could see that he was a very good teacher, always pleasant and ready to explain a difficult point again, occasionally humorous, often sympathetic.  I was amazed that he not only remembered me, but was glad to see me.

The house manager at Beckman that night was a charming and nattily dressed men with a Salvador Dali mustache.  We conversed, as people sometimes will when waiting for something to happen, and I learned that he had been a clown for Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus — or as he put it, he used to clown.  I've been reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty again, and in that book the cowboys talk about cowboying.  "I used to cow some," one of them will remark to another.  I find all this very interesting.  Sometimes when a noun is used as a verb it makes my teeth hurt — but it doesn't in either of these two cases.  I have no idea why.  Each of us has grammatical lines in the sand he does not want himself or others to cross.  For instance, I hate it when people, especially educated people say they "graduated high school."  What they actually did is "graduate from high school."  To graduate high school means the speaker has somehow marked high school off in increments.  Not the same thing at all.