‘Well, when you put “I” in the story, it doesn’t mean it’s about you?’ Harrison asked in an empty bar in Red Hook.
‘How’s that?’ Jameson asked.
Harrison repeated the question.
‘No,’ Jameson said, ‘because it’s a fiction piece, even if it’s based on something that’s true.’
‘That gives you a chance to twist it around a little bit, huh?’ Harrison said.
‘Right,’ Jameson said. ‘That’s why this is called creative writing.’
‘So, that piece wasn’t about you?’
‘That doesn’t matter,’ the mentor said. ‘You’re missing the point. As soon as you’ve got a character going somewhere, doing something, having a problem he has to solve, meeting resistance, it’s a story.’
‘Well, what about that trip to Philly?’
‘It wasn’t about me.’
‘But I know it was.’
‘Again, it’s not about “I” once it enters the story zone. It’s just a way to say something. “I”, “He,” they’re the story’s narrative mode.’
‘I haven’t learned that yet.’
‘No, we haven’t gotten to that yet. Order me another beer.’
‘Anyway,’ Harrison said, ‘I read your piece in “Voltage” magazine, and it got good reviews, but it still wasn’t clear to me.’
‘What didn’t you understand?’
Slowly they drank their beers.
‘I just didn’t understand certain points that you told me about verbally. I just didn’t see them.’
‘You mean the problem of what you leave in and what you leave out?
‘I’m surprised I even attempted to teach you that before “point of view,”’ Jameson said. ‘Order two more,’ he added.
‘You probably have more money than I do.’
‘Order two more,’ Jameson said.
‘OK, look. They went down to Philadelphia for the big wedding. You get that point?’
‘Then the bride finds out a dear uncle passed away.’
‘Right,’ Harrison said. ‘Nobody told her.’
‘Right,’ Jameson said. ‘Until then.’
‘But what about the point about the wedding being ruined?’ Harrison injected. ‘You never really said that part.’
‘No, no, no. That’s a good lesson for you. Don’t overcook the stew, you might say.’
‘What’s that mean?’
‘That means you can only say so much. The reader feels more than he intellectualizes. That’s what makes the story the story. The sights, the sounds, the smells. The reader feels things.’
‘The vibes,’ the student said.
‘Yeah, that too. So it’s more of a pictorial language needed. You’re really a painter, and that page is your easel.’
‘You’re getting a little drunk.’
‘That’s OK. Order two more.’
‘Consider this payment for this valuable information.’
The bartender wiped the area with a white cloth, then laid two more bottles of Michelob in front of them. Harrison got his change. The thin barman walked to the right end of the bar. He wanted to stand alone. The bartender was a nervous-looking guy. He looked about 35. Jameson was 40. Harrison was 29.
‘Anyway, you don’t have to say too much.’
‘Well, shit, Richie, your stories are wordy.’
‘Ah, it’s one thing to try to emulate me. It’s another thing to take my advice. Even with my style, it’s always specific references. So much depends upon “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Remember Williams? Specific references. Specific things. Don’t go off.’
‘Actions, face-details, conversations, lights, floors: warped? hard-planked?’
‘Are you saying 56 details to one cosmic generalization?’
‘Yeah, that’s good, Harrison. Already the beers you bought me have been exchanged for quite adequate knowledge.’
‘But what makes it clear that she’s heartbroken?’
‘You mean Angela, the bride in the piece? Are you taking us back to that?’
‘By describing the wedding with great care and tenderness, the golden, shining horn of the tenor sax player, the whiteness of the bride’s gown, the tears of the bride’s papa when they dance, you know the thing’s ruined when someone breaks the news because you’ve bought into the sweetness of the wedding. By concentrating on the surface, you get deep down.’
‘Is that the trick?’
‘I think I almost have it.’
Harrison smiled. He was drunk and he was going to get very drunk, and he knew he was now in the right profession for sure. He wanted to be like his mentor, and have all the pretty girls like him and ask for his autograph, and then take them to bed.