Ron Carlson

       Elaine and I have lunch at a Greek place, and she scans the fax of an interview I’ve given. It will be published in the fall, and I’ve been asked to check the facts. She’s having a good time with some of the phrases in the intro reading “boyish grin,” and then “slight hint of jowl.” Jowl becomes the theme. Elaine reads several sections aloud. I eat my dolmas quietly. The ceiling is painted a shocking Mediterranean blue.
       I head for Prescott, 100 miles north, in my friend Scott’s Mustang. He’s saved me hours off the round trip by loaning me the car, and I arrive at Yavapai College one minute before my reading. The campus is torn up, under construction, and I can’t find the hall. In the English building I see my picture on some flyers, but everyone I ask is lost too. It’s registration week. Finally I bump into my friend and recent student Tom L. who is teaching at the conference and he takes me over one building where we meet the director Susan M., a prolific writer herself. The small auditorium is full of earnest writers and I simply start talking about the story I’m working on now, the lost remote control in the bar. I’ve given 20 readings in the last three months, all around the country, and I’m just not enjoying it now. If you read three times in two days or you don’t press into new work between readings, you’re painting directional stripes on the winding walkway to hell with a power sprayer, or something like that. It’s bad for you. So today I talk, make diagrams on the blackboard, comment, answer questions, finally read a few paragraphs of something in progress, which is the kind of risk I was up for.
       Afterward I sign a few books. You open to the title page, cross out your printed name and add your signature below it. Where do authors learn this stuff? At Author School. Years ago at a bookstore in New York, I watched Frank Herbert sign a book that way, and I figured, hey, this is Dune, it will be good enough for my little books.
       Five of us end up at the best restaurant in Prescott having blackened burgers and the frosty local lager. Tom and Allison talk about their honeymoon in Hawaii, a horror which turned into a windfall in paradise. They are both writing novels. Susan’s writing a novel. Eddie W. is finishing his textbook.
       I try to talk sense to these people: there are so many things superior to writing. Eating. Walking down the sidewalk in town so that your reflection in the store windows looks like some rich guy. Driving your friend’s new car on a big desert night while 10 mile thunderheads hold up the firmament in every direction. Smelling the desert creosote. Checking your face with one hand then the other to see if you have implied or stated jowls, here in the next-to-last month of your 40s. Yet we keep coming back to the desk, going into our stories. It’s too late for me; I’m trained. I’ve written the story and I’ve taken my pleasures, and the pleasures with the story is a better deal.
       I arrive home to all the lights on, two kids in every room. It’s sleepovers in this dormitory. In two and a half years, I’ll just be a guy who wrote five books in the last century. I’d better get busy.