Notes for a story: Write it or Not?
This is part of how it works when you write: the ideas come in fragments, start to form into people, places, stories. You take notes on your imagination and then start writing it out. Sometimes the story flows and stops and sometimes you feel your way into it.
I was cleaning up my hard drive and came across these notes. They are from six months ago. I can’t start anything new until I finish the book I am working on, but I can’t get this guy out of my mind.
* * *
Dave Anderson. 53 years old. Newspaper reporter and editor. Working on a small weekly newspaper. Community newspaper. In a New England town? Or put him in California, like the original model.
Regardless, he’s morbidly obese. He drives a little car. He’s been unsuccessful in love. Kids like him, especially teenage girls. He took working on a newspaper seriously.
Lives in a garage apartment. On a private piece of property? Or what about the little hunting cabin I almost rented off the Bedford Golf and Tennis Club?
(talked him thru with T. at dinner — he doesn’t sound like he would in Greenwich. Obesity would keep him out of the social flow. Newport is a better place for them to be.
The problem with Newport is you don’t get the same intense social imprinting that happens in Greenwich. He could be out in the Hamptons. Both places have seasons and don’t have youth that are in one class and encounter problems that have them slipping down to another. Which is better?)
Yes, the cabin comes with the job. He’s been hired to start up a new weekly just focused on Greenwich. A hedge fund manager who has had some investment in media companies and made a bunch of money playing the distressed debt of newspaper companies. He’s seen how the local paper has cut way back, because it’s part of the old Tribune chain. The daily has virtually no character but has increased advertising rates significantly. The Greenwich Weekly is designed to take advantage of that.
Anderson has come back from the coast. He had a long stretch in Eureka working on the paper there. He worked all the local beats — crime, politics, business — and did a stint in Sacramento as the state political correspondent for the three papers that were jointly owned up the coast.
He had a chance to join the Times-Mirror chain, and they talked about sending to Washington if a key CA political figure won a national election, but he’d met the woman that he was going to marry, and they had put a deposit down on a space in Eureka where she was going to start a yoga studio.
The marriage lasted for four year — the middle of his 50s. She was 12 years younger than him. She lost interest when the health kick and spiritual awareness that he’d gone on during their courtship had fallen ton pieces, and when they discovered that his sperm didn’t have sufficient motility to make a baby.
Dave had always been heavy and the passage into obese was easy enough to bear. He wasn’t part of the generation of news guys who were going to make it in electronic media. He was the sweaty, sloppy big guy who could crunch a lede and craft a hed without thinking twice about it, who could get in, get the facts, write pretty much any story you needed so you’d feel good reading it, never feel very confused or inspired or in awe of the work. Just solidly informed.
The motility was a problem because he didn’t want to stop smoking dope. He always had.
When he got laid off from the paper, he didn’t have anywhere to go. It had never been a union shop, he didn’t have much stashed away to retire, he couldn’t see himself setting up a shop on eBay, or blogging for companies, or doing pr work, or much of anything that you could do around Eureka. So he cleared out the apartment, loaded up the miniCooper and headed back to (Newport/Southampton/WestHampton Beach?) to visit his mom. It was the first time he had been back since 1984.
That absence hadn’t been intentional. His father had died when he was in college, his sister lived close to their mother, and he’d grown up in a time when flying across the country wasn’t something that you just did, and his job didn’t give him an opportunity to run up frequent flyer miles, and when you got down to it he didn’t have a lot of desire to go back anyway. He had moved away. It was that way for a lot of newspapermen that he knew — you went to where the job was, immersed yourself in a place and maintained a professional skepticism about the people you met and the things you learned. Look at the world that way and it’s hard to make the trek back to the cradle of your consciousness.
There might have been other issues too, but Dave wasn’t given to introspection. He’d been trained to observe, question, take information in and then represent it in a way that was clear, conscise and easy to understand. He was good at his job in a professional, matter-of-fact way and he didn’t need to think much about himself in the middle of it all. And when he was idle, he was getting high and mellowing out, or watching movies and listening to music he’d found on bit-torrent streams. Sometimes he would read, especially if one if the news hounds he’d crossed paths with over the years had a new one come out. He watched a lot of public television. He didn’t keep up with the current news dialogue like he had used to. Once he thought he would always have the latest scoop and all the angles on what was going down in Washington, where the hot political races were, what the DNC or RNC was doing that was strategic and what they were doing that was underhanded. Now he didn’t care much. He had a paper to get out, a locality to cover, some political news to chase, and no one was trying to get his job, no one knew just how much he had mastered his craft, and no one was going to be putting his work up for awards. There wasn’t anyone to show his craft off too.
Concept: modern life hasn’t equipped us with the stamina to stick with the hard choices that we have to make between what is right and what is wrong.
Theme: too much easy access to the things that are distraction — drugs, porn, entertainment, travel — and too little value placed in doing the right thing by other people.
Story: Dave Anderson is a smart man who’s lived a low-key cynic’s life, stayed on the outside, created a bunch of rationalizations and excuses that keep him feeling ok about the choices that he’s made. The center of his life is vacant, doesn’t have much energy.
He moves to Southampton to from the west coast. Prompted to come back because of a health scare? Visits his mother in Greenwich and then goes to Southampton, where he’s offered a job to resuscitate a new local paper. (office at the zabriskie air field?)
Why put him in the center of wealth? Because he’s really in the center of the people who are the foundation in a resort/ summer community.
What is the catalyst that makes him confront the hard choice and then live with it?
The fight between the town and the Jews over the enclosed space.
Anderson writes about it. Is supportive of the Jews. But then he comes across a young girl — 9 or 10 years old — who’s been aggressively accosted by one of the leaders of the Jewish community for something that she did unwittingly but that was imagined to be desecrating. She’s the daughter of the girl Dave scores his weed from.
He stands up for the girl and finds himself in the middle of a big cause, where he’s become the firebrand for sensible people who can’t stand what is going on.
There’s another character in this, someone who appears to be taking the easy choice, but who is really doing something very hard and private. Imagine that the woman who runs the WHB Performing Arts Center, and that she was having an affair and then left her husband and got pregnant and make her life over.
When Anderson comes to town, she’s just left her husband. Her story is a counterpoint to his,because she appears to have no problem navigating through her challenges, even though she’s deep in the center of the town.
The story takes place over two years: begins in the early winter, just after the New Year, and then cycles through to Christmas of the following year…that’s where it ends?