Saturday, March 16, 2024

The Latent Joy of Writing: Guest Post by Peter Riva

There is something akin to an infection that firmly takes hold of spatial awareness, time, and any desire of possible rewards when you first sit down to write that a story – and like an infection that laid dormant until allowed free reign, once the fever rises, the blank page miraculously fills with squiggles forming into words, buried thoughts and knowledge manifest as signposts, and direction starts to unwind—all to expose purpose, plot, and characters. 

Characters come to life on their own just as purposefully intended, plot which laid dormant, latent in the psyche of the author, uses that precious time of creativity to reveal itself.

Creativity is not deliberate intent, it is a natural force from within. In every person that latency deserves to be manifest, not just harbored as a secret. Art is generosity – sharing with others. Without generosity there can be no impact, no sharing, no sense of accomplishment. That is why authors crave readership figures. Critics think creativity is ego or financial whim. It is not. At the root of every author’s desire to publish is an essential tenet of life as a human: to share, to impart, to give, to contribute.

In over 50 years as a licensing agent I have seen authors struggle, desperate to attain what the media calls recognition, but really what they craved was a wide sharing of their thoughts and words. I have witnessed the sorrow and joys of too many creative people fraught with the necessities and control of the financial structure of publishing – a structure controlled largely by Wall Street’s gambles. I have seen the highs and lows of authors who have achieved enormous success and recognition – many of whom still wonder if it really counted at all, if they actually achieved that creative sharing they were so intent upon.

In every case, authors (and indeed my own exploits as an author) who write for themselves to release that latency of creativity are the happiest, the most fulfilled. An author who feels the release of their own creativity and the catharsis that engenders – these author’s work is always the most interesting.

Take Steig Larson for example: a workaholic journalist – the investigative kind with a stellar press reputation. Between smoking and drinking and his long, long, days probing criminality and corruption, he let his inner self out and wrote – as one volume – a book, all one thousand five hundred pages, closely typed. In the elevator of his apartment building he asked Norstedts’ editor Per Faustino if Per would read “something I’ve written.” Per agreed. The next day Per was handed a plastic bag with all one thousand five hundred pages. Shocked, knowing such a tome would never fit publishing’s business model, Per nevertheless started to read. He could not put it down. As Per told me, asking me to help license it in the USA, the Millenium series was the hardest edit – into three volumes – he had ever accomplished. I asked Per why Steig had written it, “He told me it was burning inside him, he just had to.” The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo’s history is well known although sadly Steig would pass before he could realize its global reach and impact.

And then there is my mother who wanted to write her mother’s biography. Blessed with a remarkable (sometimes eidetic) memory, her mother (as she would later write) knew that Maria would be the only one capable of telling the truthful whole story. Her agent, Swifty Lazaar shopped the biography to Michael Korda at Simon & Schuster, providing there were co-authors. After three years working with them (nice people), Maria rejected their work correctly (as did several other editors at Simon & Schuster as well as Swifty Lazaar). I took over. Maria then allowed herself to release her inner voice on paper and after her sixty pages were submitted, Michael Korda and his boss Dick Snyder realized they were the wrong publishers for what Maria wanted to expose: real events, an in-depth history of a stellar career, and personalities. Vicky Wilson at Knopf snapped it up and urged Maria to “let every scrap of knowledge” flow in what became a truly great biography, revealing one of the greatest proponents of the pre-eminent artform of the twentieth century as well as a great American immigrant, war hero, and singer: Marlene Dietrich. Maria wrote the entire work on yellow legal pads all day and my father typed them after dinner while she slept, presenting the typed pages for editing over breakfast. In November 1990 the manuscript was finished, edited, and locked away at Knopf – a testament to Maria’s latency of creativity and accurate memory. 

Never once did Steig Larsson ask Per Faustino how much money he would make. Per told me all Steig ever wanted to know was how many languages his work would reach, how many people. Similarly, never once did Maria ever ask how much money the book would make in 13 languages but how many people would learn, understand, what made this life of a great performer possible. How many would heed the messages of that life? At a coffee bar at Hamburg airport a server refused to allow Maria to pay for her coffee before boarding a flight. The woman was crying, thanking Maria for sharing secrets that had affected her own life in a similar way, “If you can tell everyone of the rape, then I can too, and maybe people will understand.” Better than any “best seller” listing, such moments are what drove Maria’s inner desire and rewarded her effort.

Latent creativity always has a purpose, is always dying to get out. The very best of authors delve into their own psyche and experiences and share them with whoever is lucky enough to pick up the book. Allowing the escape of latent thoughts and experiences is always a satisfying luxury and often cathartic. Such output is simply generosity and that is a true manifest artform.

50+ years as an agent, Peter Riva created and produced of over 78 hours of primetime wildlife television, having spent a ton of time in East Africa and parts of North and Central Africa. Author of over nine books, five of them thrillers taking place in East Africa. Born and raised in New York City, London, and Switzerland, he moved some years ago to the wilds of Gila, New Mexico.


HonoluLou said...

Wow, so eloquently put. I wrote one massive 93-pg, non-fiction book. It took me over 10 years, and my hat is off to everyone who puts pen to paper.

Frank Price said...

I am in awe of writers like Peter