How to Become an American Writer

My captivation and aversion can be explained at once:
Everything is cheap there, including rent and human life.

Motto: “Some know, some teach…”

I   could never have a loose chat with my father. He has been interested in the ‘essence’ only. In my first thirty years I lived in Hungary with him, and whenever I tried to explain something from various aspects, he interrupted me. “Get to the point!” I was so envious of my friend, Peter, whose father used to say, “I don’t care about the issue. Just tell me the details!” The two approaches reveal the difference between news and literature. The former must be tight and strict like my dad. The latter may wander around and may have a questionable title that needs an explanation. However, don’t we have time and space to depict our subject? That’s what talking and writing are for. Let’s do it!

Far too many American books have the titles beginning with ‘how to’. How to get rid of your anxiety, your boring lover, your kleptomania, your lender, your extra pounds. How to be healthy, wealthy, attractive. How to become a carpenter, a computer guru, a scuba diver. How to get a good job, a nice home, an adorable pet, an orgasm. How to avoid confrontations, AIDS, pesticides. I am always skeptical of these books. Is the world really so simple that they can write recipes for solving the big problems of life? Their lives, maybe, not mine. After all my disbelief, I take a peek in these works, as you, my dear reader, did in my script. “Who knows? Something may come out in the end,” you think. I am warning you. Most articles, including mine, provide either obvious or stupid advice. But, hey, let’s forgive the writer if he is honest.

Unfortunately, many authors lie. Some imply that the world is flat, some swear that they reached its edge. For example, one writer promising wealth claimed he started from zero. In fact, he started from six zeros because he inherited a million dollars at a young age. Since then he has been bankrupted, but his last enterprise made him rich again. He sold millions of copies of his “How to become wealthy” book. So, do not expect much more from me, either. I’ll tell you how to become a writer, and I hope I do become one.

I almost forgot the adjective in the title, the American. I happened to get to the United States. That is another story. (I am looking for a publisher to sell my full length book on how to become an American. A high place on the international best seller lists is guaranteed.) A man who carries the fate of being born in Eastern Europe becomes American by living here, working here, watching American female butts on the street and expressing his admiration by saying “gee” instead of his native language word “hûha”.

I left Hungary with a tooth brush and a Ph. D. in Nuclear Physics, in 1988. The former was very useful but I could not use the latter without a security clearance. Some stations of my fast career in the USA have been: handyman, messenger, carpenter, computer repairman, programmer, harp player in a rock band, ski instructor, appraiser. Currently I work as a statistician and write columns for a chess magazine. See, how simple it is? It took less than six years and I could read my articles in printed form regularly. I stabilized my position in the Rocky Mountain Chess Magazine. So far the owner fired two editors but I stayed like a rock and in the last issue more than a full page was mine. It was really the last issue, because the magazine temporarily ceased publication. Trust me, it was not my fault. Probably no more editors wanted to work for free. The owner and the editors always debated on the compensation. Compensation was never an issue between the management and me. I carried over the habit of not being paid from Budapest, so, the last statement probably did not help the reader to approach the promised goal. Nevertheless, take my advice seriously, please. If the definition of writership is based on the amount of money earned, many great authors would be excluded. Publishing is the key word. I think measuring the talent in terms of dollars is as stupid as in terms of kilowatt-hours or of ounces. Circulation minus advertisement is a better indication of talent than fees collected.

Where was I? Oh, yes. To become an American and a writer. You would think the two desires do not have anything in common. In my case, life in America brought up the urge to express my thoughts. I started to write in Hollywood. I did not work for the studios, but I lived around the dream makers. My days went by aimlessly. On the street I did not need much English. Many people in the city spoke many different languages, anyway. American English seemed primitive. I should have forgotten half of the four thousand words I brought from Europe. I picked up a dozen new ones and I could fluently communicate. Everything was ‘coming’ or ‘going’. The food to take out is ‘to go’. The aspiration or future tense is expressed with ‘go’: “I am going to kill you!” or better “I’m gonna kill ya!” The past tense is ‘go’, too. Anything that expired, is over, finished or too late: “It’s gone”. Lost and stolen things are ‘gone’, too. A mediator or a middleman is a ‘go-between’. You do not establish or close a business, you ‘go’ into it or ‘go’ out of it. To continue something is ‘to go on’. Misconduct in class is ‘goings-on’. Current, prevailing, available, working is said to be ‘going’ or ‘ongoing’. Stage dancers are go-go girls. An energetic, aggressive person is a go-getter. Slow progress on the freeway is ‘stop and go’. Dating, having entertainment, eating in a restaurant is ‘going out’. It seems funny for us, Hungarians only, because in our language ‘going out’ has a particular meaning; something related to the outhouse, as opposed to ‘going in’ which means something bad happening in the kid’s pants.

I mostly lingered on the Hollywood streets. Sometimes I wished I only acted in a movie, and after the shooting I could return to my home land. “Can’t you dub this dirty life in Hungarian!?” I cried out into the imaginary shooting. They did not change the language, so, I learned more English, besides the words ‘come’ and ‘go’.

Those who are familiar with Los Angeles know that I am far from boasting with my Hollywood residence. The good neighborhoods are closer to the Ocean. As we leave Beverly Hills east bound, Greater Los Angeles becomes thicker as oil refinery columns do downward: at the top the lightest alcohols distill, at the bottom only sticky tar remains. I proved to be too heavy for the fancy areas, sank east of Hollywood and deposited in Koreatown. My captivation and aversion to the place can be explained at once: Everything is cheap there, including rent and human life.

I interrupted myself again. Let me return to the how. In the seventies and eighties I wrote scientific papers for prominent international periodicals, i.e., for Nuclear Instruments and Methods, Technometrics. In the USA financial need dictated my articles. My first nontechnical work was published in a local free newspaper. I share it with you in full:

Computer specialist installs hardware and software for $20 per hour. Call Laszlo (213)555-8613.

My second miniature hit the jackpot and appeared in two million copies. It does not have deep thoughts, though. I wrote straight from my heart, with my blood. Without going into details, I got to the point. The journal’s name: RECYCLE, the section: 82 domestic cars. The editor abbreviated my masterpiece but it still shines:

Plymouth Reliant, 2dr, cln, slvr/gray, radio, rr dmg, looks & runs gd. $2,200.

OK, I know, the last word is a bit strong, but the reader should understand what I meant. I do not want to try your patience. I get to the point. Father, this is for you, too! The other day I received a letter from a big New York magazine that they had accepted one of my articles for publication. In a nutshell, this is the way to become an American writer. Well, between the car sale and the success five years went by. For those who are interested in the details I will write again.

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