Thursday, July 19, 2012


Even when writing seemed difficult bordering on the impossible to you, all you had to do was find something to read and things would balance out.  Then writing seemed easy again, not because of anything you’d done, except perhaps to read.

So far as you were concerned, there were two distinct types of things to read.  First and foremost, you found books that engaged and engrossed you to the point where you’d put aside necessary chores to finish them, rereading passages that seemed to sing to you.  In some cases, your game was to pretend you were some of Odysseus’s sailors, hearing the sirens.  If you were called back to reread or called to read on, you were glad to comply. 

What could be the polar opposite?  Why of course, writing that seemed to you sketchy or indulgent or somehow using language and story techniques at a distance. You were on the alert for the appearance of any of your favorite tropes in such things.  Writing at this level heartened you because it was being published, which meant to you that you could—and did—find your way in.  Such books made it possible for you to come after the books you loved, the ones that made the concept of story telling seem simple.

It is not simple, nor is mere narrative prose simple even if it reads as though it were.  You’ve been spending some time reading the latest work of a writer you have not taken to well in the past and whom you are now quite admiring. 

The author is Richard Ford.  The work has a one-word title, which you love because it seems to have such nuance. Canada,  You’re in such awe of Ford’s use of sentences and detail and of your favored tactic, withholding, that you find yourself writing some of the passages in your note pads.  You’re quite taken with this one:  “Chickens bobbed and pecked over the dry ground.”  Not that there is much importance to the chickens, but if you’re going to have them in the story in the first place, having them represented this way helps you see them, believe they are present, believe you are there with them in the scene.

When you are in the scene, you are in the story.

When you are in the story you are engaged in that simultaneous thing humans do; you inhale the elements to the point where you are a breathing part of drama. 

In what stand for you as the old days or the pulp days, you were in the frequent company of noir fiction that was not always of an even quality.  Nevertheless you felt the kinship with it beyond whether it was either of the two types you described above.  You could get at the feel of that type story—but not quite.  You could get at it except for the places where your own attitude shone through.  In this way, you came to what you would call noir or dark funny.  Funny in places, but dark in others. 

One of your favorite writers from those times, when pulp novels were flourishing in magazines and as massmarket originals, was Jim Thompson, 1906-77.  Here’s how he starts Savage Night.

“I’d caught a slight cold when I changed trains at Chicago, and three days in New York—three days of babes and booze while I waited to see the Man—hadn’t helped it any.  I felt lousy by the time I arrived in Peardale.  For the first time in years, there was a faint trace of blood in my spit.”

Years of reading and trying to get your writing squeezed into that mode started to produce some results.  And while you were experiencing those results, you were being squeezed into being an editor, which meant that persons who wrote such things were coming into your office or having drinks with you and telling you about strange things they wished to publish.

And you listened.

And you published some of them 

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