I may have discussed Gourd Fish, instead. Just so that we're on the same page, this is Gourd Chicken:
It was a book Glynn had picked up, of course. He’s drawn to books about writing, even if he tends to read and discard. Our bookcase had three such volumes the day I went looking. There was Norman Spinrad’s Staying Alive: A Writer’s Guide – Glynn was a big fan of Spinrad, back in the day – and Dean Koontz’ How to Write Best Selling Fiction – which is dated, possibly fatally so, but is an honest attempt to tell a writer exactly how to hit the top of the charts by a scribe who has done so many times – and See’s book.
I knew why my partner had saved Spinrad and Koontz, but I didn’t know why he’d kept Making a Literary Life. I picked it up, read the synopsis on the back, and still didn’t know. As far as I knew, Glynn hadn’t read See’s novel, The Handyman, or any of her other works. I flipped through the pages, enjoyed the first few paragraphs I read, flipped again, and discovered that this award-winning author had worked on the t.v. series, Barnaby Jones. Not only had she worked on B.J., she and her partner had received an assignment to do a second episode. I loved that See wrote literary stuff but wasn’t above pounding out an episode of a run-of-the-mill television show to pay the bills.
(If you’re a huge Buddy Ebsen fan, or you own the entire Barnaby Jones DVD collection and don’t think there was anything run-of-the-mill about your favorite mystery program, I'm not saying you're wrong. Do know that Ebsen discussed his show in his book, The Other Side of Oz. The actor enjoyed the series, loved that it ran for years, and spent the residuals with a smile on his face. As well he should, since those are lovely things. Ebsen was the best thing on B.J. But he also felt comfortable quoting Walter Grauman, the director behind Barnaby’s first television appearance: “I don’t know,” (Grauman) mused. “This show has got every cliché, every gimmick that’s ever been on any other PI show. There’s nothing new in it.”)
Anyway, back to Literary Life: Carolyn See and her partner were in a plotting bind. They’d placed Barnaby Jones in a strip-mall parking lot. He could see two bad guys in one of the mall stores. He needed to sneak up on them, catch them, take ‘em to jail, but he’s old, slow, and not as strong as the bad buys. Since the show is called Barnaby Jones, not Those Lovable Bad Guys in a Jewelry Store, it's important that he succeed. The writers’ problem was – and these are See’s italics – “But how come he can see them and they can’t see him?”
I wanted to know, too, so I carried the paperback to my bedroom. Wheezing as I went along, I made some hot tea, propped up my pillows, folded back my blanket, and settled in for the afternoon. Opening the book to the page I wanted, I read See's solution:
“I can’t remember how Barnaby managed to catch those crooks”. I was so mad, I closed the book and went to sleep.
When I woke up, Literary Life was the only thing within reach, so I gave it another try. It’s an interesting book, with some sincere and heartfelt advice, and was worth my time. I enjoyed it enough that I went looking for online reviews of her novel, The Handyman. There are some wonderful reviews, but I soon discovered that Ms. See passed away this summer. Too soon, I think.
And not wanting to leave this column’s minor mystery unsolved, I asked Glynn why he’d kept this third book of writing advice. At first, he looked at me blankly. Then he said, “Oh. Haven’t read it yet.”
I told him he’s going to love the section on Barnaby Jones.