16 September 2011

Write Short Stories the Dave Manley Way!

A follow-up to Tuesday's post on The Mayor of Côte St. Paul.

A friend asks why Dave "proudly" shows Cherie his stacks of rejected manuscripts. "Shouldn't he be embarrassed?" Not at all. Dave knows that he needs just one breakout story before the rest will sell – valuable info gleaned from a lecture by "the great novelist" Robert Patterson:
Paterson had explained how he'd written nine books – had them all rejected. Then wrote the tenth and had it accepted with much horn-blowing. Then he had promptly retired and merely doled out his rejects at the rate of two a year. All of which were accepted and made money.
"Those stories are like money in the bank", Dave tells his girl. And so, he keeps at it, churning out two each and every week. Dave shares his method with Cherie:
"I regard a story like a game of cards – poker for example. Only in writing a story you have all the cards in your hand before you start. You can make up your own hands. The beginning is probably the most important. Writers call it the narrative hook. Introduce a character and then place him in a difficult position, sort of a tough spot. After that the writer is just as anxious as the reader to see what happens, to see if he can get out of the jam and lick the problem. The characters usually take control and the writer just writes whatever the characters suggest. I guess that's about all there is to it."
We're later treated to a scene in which we witness Dave in action. It begins with my very favourite sentence from the novel:
"I wonder if there's any mail?" wondered Dave. He started to rise from his chair, then he sat back. "I'm just looking for excuses," he cried. "Why the devil is it that writers will search for any excuse to keep from writing. We put it off till the last possible minute, but once we do get started there's no stopping us. Ideas! Ideas! That's what I need!" He glanced around the room to see if he could spot anything which would act as a starter. He wanted to do a short detective story for the Weekly Advocate. The editor had said he was interested. The rate was only $25, but he'd get more kick out of getting $25 than from $250 from run-running.
He shivered in the cold grayness of the room and started tapping the typewriter keys idly. His gaze fell on the camera on the bureau and without thinking he typed a line, "The Clue of the Missing Camera."
Then he started typing, at first slowly, then with a steady staccato as his ideas took shape. He finished the first paragraph and then read it, "Mark Graydon removed one gloved hand from the wheel of the car and patted the small German camera in his pocket – he had the evidence – nice and clean as you please. His fat, beefy face broke into a smile. He glanced out at the foggy shoreline where a twinkle of lights marked the outline of the village. Lightning racked the sky and pelts of rain as sharp as bullets whipped against the windshield, suddenly..."
Dave continued his story. Impervious of the darkening room, and the increasing coldness of his surroundings.
The Mayor of Côte St. Paul ends before Dave has a chance to send out "The Clue of the Missing Camera", so we never know whether it's his breakout story. Somehow, I doubt it.

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  1. "Impervious to the darkening room and the coldness of her rotting heart, Dave Manley removed his left hand from his undershorts, the right hand from his navel, put them both on the keyboard and began to type:'Some dames are worth it, some aren't. Dirk Girley wished he hadn't murdered Cherie but her memory remained an inspiration, and he'd always have that at bedtime and first thing in the morning.'"

    BTW: Where do we find understanding and easy-virtue broads to stand behind us with their warm paws on our shoulders as we write?

  2. Where? Montreal's St Catherine Street is the place, apparently. But you can't be half-hearted in your stalking. Even Dave nearly gives up a couple of times. At one point, when he sees that he's not alone in following Cherie, Dave tells himself: "What the hell? It's none of my business. Maybe she's going to get bumped off. So what? Lots of dames get bumped off in Montreal. Besides the typewriter is waiting in the rented room. And it has a nice clean sheet of paper in it."

    Dave Manley - a man devoted to his craft.