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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Five Questions: Lance Mannion

1. Why do you blog?
Dangerous question. Like asking a fly fisherman why he wades out into an icy cold stream in the grim pre-dawn light on a bitter morning in early spring or like asking a model railroader why he dons a blue and white striped engineer’s cap and red bandana and disappears down into his basement to spend hours inhaling the fumes of airplane glue and paint thinner.
You’re likely to get a long-winded answer full of whimsy, faux lyricism, sentimentality, and cliches about the beauties of small moments of perfection achieved and the sweetness of doing a task for the task’s sake, all of it horseraddish covering up all kinds of deep-seated neuroses, insecurities, sexual and professional frustrations, delusions of grandeur, insufficiently repressed angers, and a soul-shattering fear of death and oblivion.
Or a simple “I like it, it’s fun, and you meet interesting people.”
I can do a better job of telling you why I started blogging.
One morning, two years ago, I was at a bagel shop having a cup of coffee and an apple cinnamon bagel and I witnessed this:

Bald man in a blue dress shirt and tie bursts into the bagel shop and starts talking to the woman behind the counter as soon as he’s through the door:
“I’m sorry, Marge, I’m in a rush, I have to pick up lottery tickets, I’m on my way to a funeral in New Jersey, and now Marcia’s decided she needs a bagel for the ride!”
The counterwoman takes this in stride. “Two bagels then?”
“Two plain, yes, please, and to top it off, it’s funny, I’ve got a funeral this morning and later a fiftieth anniversary, Marcia’s parents.”
“You’ve got a full day.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, enjoy. The latter part anyway.”

That little scene went straight into my notebook. My notebooks are full of little scenes like that, along with random thoughts about writing and art and movies, political fulminations, observations about the weather and the scenery, snatches of memories of good and bad times, stories and anecdotes told to me by friends and others. At the time I was in a funk about my “real” writing, my fiction and journalism, and as I was adding the conversation in the bagel shop to my notebook, I got to thinking that as a writer I had more fun keeping my notebook and writing letters than I had writing stories and book reviews.
Considering the way my professional luck was running, I began to wonder if maybe I was a better notebook keeper – a better journalist – than I was any other kind of writer.
Too bad there’s no place for me to publish this stuff, I grumped morosely to myself.
Then it hit me.
My pal Nancy Nall, who is also one of my favorite writers, had (and still has) a popular blog, and she had been pushing me to start one of my own.
What the heck, I said. At least I’ll be able to read my own notebook online. (I have terrible handwriting, and it’s a chore even for me to decipher it.) Maybe a few other people will find it interesting too.
Within the week, Lance Mannion was up and running.
The conversation in the bagel shop wasn’t my first post. Almost immediately, the blog went off in an unexpected direction. I still include notebook entries, though, they’re in my archives under the category headings Mining the Notebooks and Sketchpad 1 and Sketchpad 2. I still have the most fun writing those pieces.
And, it’s turned out, some people have found it interesting.

2. Which author and/or book has most influenced you?
Before I started blogging I’d have said Dickens and David Copperfield. But nowadays I’d say Thoreau and Walden. I read Walden when I was in eighth grade and at the time it’s main influence on me was to convince me I needed to build a cabin in the woods behind my parents’ house. My father refused to help me buy the lumber though, so I put that ambition aside. But I kept reading Thoreau. I went from his books to his journals and from his journals to his friend Emerson’s journals and from reading Emerson’s journals to keeping my own notebook and from keeping my own notebooks to . . . well, see above.
Emerson and Thoreau would both have made fine bloggers. As a matter of fact, Thoreau has a blog. It’s here.

3. Which three blogs do you visit most often.
Minefield! I have too many good friends who have blogs to single out three. I try to read them all every day. I do not read the top American political bloggers all the time, I can tell you that. I prefer to read blogs by people who cover a wide range of topics or who, when they’ve decided to focus on a single subject, have chosen something other than politics, like the bloggers on my blog roll under the category Film Majors.
At the top of my blog roll is a category called To Be Read Everyday, and I do try to at least skim those blogs everyday. They’re sort of my daily newspaper.

4. Why do you read fiction?
Because from time to time I get tired of reading blogs and newspapers and magazines and op-ed pages and non-fiction books and just want to read somebody who’ll tell me the truth.

5. What makes you laugh?
Serious question that deserves a serious and straight-forward answer.
Everything by P.G. Wodehouse, but especially Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, and the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett. As my bedtime reading, I’m reading Pratchett’s Going Postal right now, which means that I end every day with a big grin.

Lance Mannion blogs at:

2 Responses to “Five Questions: Lance Mannion”

  1. thenarrator says:

    Ah, the scene, the collected human experience via notebook (in this case) or simply memory (mine). Fantastic. Another discovery for me – thanks John.

    jb says: I suppose I use both the notebook and the memory. But with the latter potentially great scenes have a tendency to slip away.

  2. axe @ his oblivion site says:

    Not trying to dis you, merely help out, but how about moving to the modern age and use some sort of (mp3) recorder instead of a notebook ? I use a nokia internet tablet with sound recorder for the purpose and whenever something jumps to mind, I start recording so I can blog about it at night !


    jb says: I use both an old notebook with lined pages and a cover with a pen tucked down the spine, and my Nokia N95 with the same recording device you use on your tablet. Sometimes one, sometimes the other, depending on time and place and which is more effective in the circumstances I need to use it.