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One Last, Year-End Look at the Passing Parade of People in the News : The Write Stuff

December 26, 1985|MARSHALL BERGES

View has revisited some of the people and places it reported on in the last several months. Among them:

--Hollywood's Masquers Club, which because of declining funds sold its building and moved.

--Jimmy and Ricky Sperry, blinded in an accident 11 years ago, who received cornea transplants in August.

--Balu Natarajan, who triumphed over 167 other youngsters to win the National Spelling Bee in June.

Where do writers get their ideas for books? An updated survey of some well-known authors who were profiled during 1985 provides additional insights into the creative process and also offers hints of what to expect from them in the future.

Ray Bradbury, whose writing adventures were reported in April, told about a recurring early-morning experience that takes place before he gets out of bed: "I'll hear characters talking. They live in a toy box in my imagination. They're usually part of a novel I'm writing, or part of a short story, a play, a poem. They tell me what has happened and what's going to happen next."

For inspiration, Bradbury continues to search out the past. "During the year," he said, "I discovered a truth about an earlier time of life: I had never written about my childhood hanging around the movie studios."

It was a period when, as a 13-year-old film buff, Bradbury traveled around Hollywood on roller skates. And when not on skates, he occasionally was privileged to ride in gossip columnist Louella Parsons' limousine. Parsons never knew that he was a friend of the chauffeur's.

Now, half a century later, Bradbury has turned his imagination backward in time and has written 200 pages of a murder mystery, "Falling Upward." The title, he said, "refers to what happens to film producers when studios fire them."

Irving Wallace, whose story was told in January, has followed a career-long practice of paying careful attention to the conversations taking place around him.

"Most people do not listen," Wallace said in the January interview. "Their need to talk about themselves is so powerful, they just wait their turn to talk. I like to talk, but I love to listen."

Careful listening has more than once sparked the idea for a plot that eventually became a best-selling novel.

Listening paid off again during 1985, Wallace said recently. "I was taking a walk with my son, David (also a writer), and he told me at some length about two fascinating characters he had come across in real life. I stopped him and said, 'Hey, what a wonderful pair of characters they'd make for a novel. Are you thinking of using them?'

"He said he wasn't, so I said, 'Thanks, then I'm going to.' I had planned to go to Vienna, to research a different novel, but I laid that one aside, postponed it, and plunged right into preparations for 'The Celestial Bed,' which is the tentative title I've given to the project. I am close to finishing a first draft. Four or five rewrites will give me the completed novel ready for submission perhaps in May."

Laurence Peter, who added his name to the language by giving definition to the Peter Principle, has found a steady source of literary inspiration in an endless discovery of various kinds of incompetence.

He was profiled last winter after writing a book, "Why Things Go Wrong," in which he examined, among other items, some of the strange statutes enacted by lawmakers who have risen above their levels of competence.

Now he has written another. The latest effort, to be published next month, is "The Peter Pyramid, or Will We Ever Get The Point?" It deals with how entire systems, bureaucracies and businesses reach their levels of incompetence.

Peter Principle Lives

Peter bears personal witness to the experience: "My editor at William Morrow sent an advance copy of the new book to the mailroom for delivery to me. But the mailroom sent the book back to the warehouse, so I have not yet seen a finished copy of the book--further evidence that the Peter Principle is alive and well!"

Inspiration, however, is only part of the formula for popular authors. After the writing has been done, a dedicated--often heroic--sales effort is required to bring the book to the attention of the public.

That effort demands plenty of vigor and energy. Irving Stone, the subject of a profile last winter, observed his 82nd birthday in July, and he has continued to demonstrate that vigor and energy can be found at any age.

Having learned long ago that nothing succeeds like personal appearances on behalf of a book, Stone and his wife Jean, who is his collaborating editor, toured at a furious tempo to promote his current best seller, "Depths of Glory."

Stone said recently: "Starting in September, when the book was published, we flew to New York for a brunch at the Plaza hotel, where I spoke to some 400 to 500 people. Next day I flew back to Los Angeles for a TV appearance and some autographing, but the following Sunday it was back to New York again for newspaper interviews.

"Then we spent days in Cleveland and Chicago, came back to Los Angeles for more radio, TV, newspaper interviews and autographing parties. Then we flew to San Francisco for six separate interviews. We worked our way down the Coast with autographings and lectures in Madera, Modesto and Santa Barbara.

"I don't want to make anyone dizzy, but our subsequent criss-crossing of the country included a trip to Huntsville, Ala.; Nashville, Memphis and Baltimore, where I lectured for the Joseph Jackson Turner Historical Society at Johns Hopkins University. Then there were swings through the northwest to Corvallis, Ore., and Seattle, then back to Los Angeles for more literary luncheons and autographings, and then a final trip to Sacramento and Salt Lake City."

Are the Stones resting on their laurels? Hardly. In March they plan to begin researching a new book, tentatively scheduled for completion in 1990, and presumably to be followed by another vigorous sales effort.

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