The Next One

May 15, 2009

It’s actually been done since the end of 2005, maybe early 2006. The next book, the one that immediately follows Native Waters.
   So…where is it?
   Tell me. I’d like to know.
   Oh, I know where it is, physically. It’s on my computer at home and backed up on a remote server. It’s to be called The Way of Memory and it’s running a little over 300 pages. I know the word count and the chapters. What I don’t know if it’s finished. If it’s complete, or if its form is what I intended, what I wanted, or even what it needs to be.
   I take it out and tinker with it now and then: Move a paragraph from here to there, change a phrase, correct a prepositional phrase. Just acting like I know something there, I don’t know my prepositional phrase from a dangling participle. Just ask my editor. I flunked that part of high school English where we had to “diagram” sentences. My teacher told me, “You don’t know a prepositional phrase from a dangling participle, you know,” she accused. “But you sure can write!” No ego there, just a memory. Well, maybe a little ego.
   Later, in college, I did an English lit essay for which I got an A-. I took it to the instructor and politely inquired what minor issue prompted the minus.
   “Your paragraphs are too short,” he said. “I know you are a journalist, and that’s journalism, but real writers don’t write that way.”
   “I have two words for you,” I said.
   “What’s that?”
   “Ray Bradbury.”
   “Well, there you go,” he agreed, and crossed my minus into a plus. You can’t argue with Ray Bradbury.
   But the next book has been problematic. Partially it’s melancholy, though it may be a little brighter than Native Waters but the title itself decries its suffering. Any of you who know me can figure it out right away, from reading this column. It actually begins in the spring of 2005 and ends that winter, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It touches on a lot of native lore, including a little mottled-brown bird that sent me a warning early in the year that I could not understand until it was too late.
   And there’s a lot of fly-fishing in it, too. Probably more than in the first book, in fact, a condition which will make some of you hide your heads under your pillows and refuse to come out until that silly man with the fly rod moves out of the parish.
   I sent it to Pruett Publishing. They published Harry Middleton, my favorite author. I got a kind personalized “no thank you” from publisher Jim Pruett, who said it was good work, but “fishing memoirs just don’t sell anymore” and I suffered for many weeks and through many highland single-malts until I felt better.
   Of course, my short story collection with illustrator Gary Drinkwater came out since the first book. Chasing Thunderbirds was something of a dilemma for me, in that I knew most folks would brand me a lunatic, and the few that didn’t would be too ashamed to admit they liked it. It was a bit too “out there” for most folks around our fair city. But I understand. I was raised with ghosts, with spirits both nefarious and protector, and my grandfather could vanish behind a tree and never be found until he wanted to; I could follow my father down Sawmill Bayou, he in his boat me in mine, and never find him, paddle back out and there he’d be, fishing the mouth of the canal. So my world is an Indian man’s world, where time does not necessarily follow a straight line, and ancestors don’t just “go away somewhere” to play celestial harps but move from there to here and interact with us, and Neka sama still wanders the swamp, snatching children from hearth fires.
   In the second book, I tell of memories. I tell of how I found a dot of blue on a map and set off one winter to find it, out there in the basin. I walked quite a ways and finally came across it: A little pond, perhaps an acre and a half, out in the woods. There was not a worm bucket or beer can in sight. I cast a bamboo fly rod, a pre-World War II Victory model by the Granger Rod Co. of Denver, for an hour and caught not a single fish. I reasoned because it was too cold, the fish were near the bottom, lockjawed. I resolved to return in the spring, but I didn’t make it until the fall, and when I tried, whether because of the two storms that wracked Louisiana that summer or some thinness of being, I could not find it again. Gone, as if it never existed at all.
   Harry Middleton was once asked by an interviewer how much of what was in his books was true.
   “More than I had hoped,” Harry said. I understand all too well.
   Gray’s Sporting Journal, the premiere outdoors literature and art magazine in the nation, offered me $900 for that story, and was going to publish it in their annual fly fishing edition of the magazine this very spring. When they found that I had published it on the Internet on an online magazine site, they withdrew their offer. Lesson learned!
   So I tinker with the next book, and never quite feel it’s right, it’s ready. Perhaps Jim Pruett’s kind rejection makes me feel hopeless. Perhaps The Way of Memory is, indeed, just a recollection even in the literary world. Time was all the magazines and book publishers were out searching for good yarns from the outdoors. Those golden years created such writers as Gene Hill, Havliah Babcock, Pat McManus, Ed Zern and Robert Ruark. Today…it’s all techie. How to catch the biggest trout on the Madison River. Where to hunt pheasant and what gun to use. Useful information, but soulless, though there are a few fine writers who manage to overcome the jargon and mumbo-jumbo with an infusion of wit and wisdom.
   I go over its stories, and of course they are familiar and warm to me, but perhaps no one would want them as much as I do. I sold less than a thousand copies of Native Waters, but I didn’t publish it for fame or fortune, thank God. I published it so some old people I loved wouldn’t be forgotten; so that some stories I had to tell might be heard, and persist for a least a little longer.
   One day I’ll feel it’s right. Then I’ll shop it around a little more, and if there’s indeed no more space for “fishing memories” on the shelves, even one by an Indian man on waters his people have inhabited for eight thousand years, no more room for old ghosts and puppy dogs, wooden boats and bamboo fly rods, well, I’ll publish the dang thing myself.
   Because, as I’ve quoted Daniel Wallace many times before, a man tells his story so many times, he becomes them. They live on after him. In that way, he becomes immortal.