Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Digging in at the Los Angeles Times: memoir 17

Sections of the LA Times' building were under renovation in 1978. I wondered about the paint-splattered tarpaulins hanging from ceilings and the pounding of hammers that echoed among the marbled walls and floors. Workmen with tool belts got on and off elevators.
     "They're installing VDTs," Art Seidenbaum told us. He meant Video Display Terminals. Computers. We'd get help learning how to use them, but how strange they were. Big and boxy like a TV on your desk, a green screen.
     Book Review shared the massive fourth floor with all the other reporters and critics for the arts: film, music, dance, TV. They wrote on black Underwood typewriters. I loved the clickity-clack symphony mingled with phones ringing and shouts. Someone always seemed to be yelling over the top of their pod to a colleague with a question, a coffee order, or to discuss interviews with celebrities and film stars. By osmosis I learned the scuttle on who was gay or cheating on a spouse, romances sparked, hearts broken. Everyone was blasé, but I buzzed, wanting to be one of them, gathering info then writing about it. 
     One morning I answered the phone and it was Ray Bradbury, the famous science fiction writer and one of my idols. He reviewed books for Art and they were friends. When Art told me that "Ray" disciplined himself to write every single day, I decided to challenge myself to do the same. Something, anything. Just sit down at my card table by the window that looked out at the ocean and begin typing. I would try to craft stories, even if no one would ever read them. 
     The Times Op-Ed page often published personal essays, so I began submitting 500-word observations about life and characters in Southern California. One by one they were rejected. A note saying, "Too much purple prose," suggested I delete flowery adjectives, and another comment, "Not for us, but keep trying" spurred me back to my little typewriter.
     "Okay," I thought. "I'll just keep trying."

From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.

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