Anyone who has ever been in hospital knows that it’s the secondary stuff that gets you.  I have a dear friend who is presently battling leukemia, and with everything he is going through, it’s a terrible case of dry eye that is causing him the most aggravation.  Certainly, with my recent operation the same was true — all the “important” things were just fine, but getting the rest of me in working order has been the big issue. I’ve been thinking about how the same is true with writing.  I know my first break came with the production and publication of my poetry play, Dreams of May, and that was a piece I created “on the side” while I took breaks from the supposedly primary work of writing my novel.  I can’t help but wonder whether without that “secondary” piece of work, Tangled Roots would have ever gotten published at all.

Grace Paley, perhaps the greatest short story writer of her generation, always said that every story must be made 0f two stories.  And anyone who has ever watched as many episodes of Frasier as I have been lately will know that those writers certainly believed it to be true.  But as my brain slowly starts returning to the writing of my second novel, I am becoming more and more aware of the primary importance of the secondary (if you will) in novel-writing as well.  The idea for the novel came from one main story, one main character.  But as I approach the end of the first draft I realize that it is actually the secondary plots and characters which create the world in which that first character will live.  They are the ones who will keep the reader focussed, interested, worried, annoyed, relieved, while the so-called main character’s story unfolds.  Indeed, it is the richness of their lives that allows the life of the main character to really have meaning.
I suppose I am now beginning to really believe that there is no such thing as a true distinction between primary and secondary.  Everything is important; everything must be attended to.  It is all the same.
Now here’s a short clip from recent popular culture’s most wonderful example of what I’m talking about…the character of Niles Crane from Frasier: