“Who is Les Plesko?” my son asked when he saw that I was crying.
“Mommy’s teacher,” my husband said.
“A man of few teeth,” I said. “And one sport coat, who chain-smoked and wrote on a real old fashioned typewriter.”
Eight years ago I walked into a Novel I class at UCLA Extension with a toddler and six-month old baby at home, desperate for something. I knew little of the instructor other than the fact that he was the published author of a semi-autobiographical book about a heroin addict on Venice Beach in the 1970s.
In the beginning, coming up with pages was like shitting coconuts and often I showed up with only one page. But after a while it got easier. Les’s number one rule of critiquing was “don’t dis” and in the supportive environment of his classroom, I felt safe to take creative risks. By the end of that first quarter, I was hooked. I signed up for Novel II, III, and IV, all taught by him. Why mess with success?
When I enrolled in Novel V, I had a solid first draft of my young adult novel. The level of writing in the class was professional and so, miraculously, was I. I decided to tackle the next few drafts on my own, to see if I could write this novel without supervision. I could, although never with as much joy and purpose as I did with Les. I do better with deadlines and he was the perfect teacher for me: old-timey, philosophical, soft-spoken, cool and always supportive.
From time to time I would run in to Les, at the beach in Santa Monica, or at Abbott’s Habit in Venice. I always thought that the Universe put him in my path for a reason: to nudge me a little, to remind me to keep writing. Today I’m mourning with each of the other writers whose work and lives were elevated by Les Plesko. Although my first novel did not get published, it came close. Maybe it will someday. But just in case, here’s what the dedication page will say: Thank you, Les.