Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Deus ex machina

Sorting through the garbage to determine what the hell my damn theme was.

Computer and phone out for a week; strange sense of isolation. Women had been on phone. Three a.m. loneliness-I'm-on-drugs-I-want-to-be-social-now chucks. Can't answer; they cannot reach me; I canot reach them.

Driven to old electric Smith-Corona that I had now forgotten how to operate. The damn thing is humming, waiting for you to do something. You press a key and out flies the paper. How did we get by in the old days?

You need to build up a lot of oomph to splatter the page with words. It all comes out in a huge dollop, only an artistic decision allowing you to finally place -30- on the final page. Who was that maked man, Thirdee, and why is it that we sometime journalists all place his code name at the end of our typographic scrawls?

Scrawls or not, I had produced something like a first page just to start working, working on any machine to get the mind off ones awful self and onto the production of, hopefully, literature. . What a drug this writing business is! How it is that as one grows older, he needs a crossword puzzle, a paper, a game of pool--anything to stop those wheels in your head from spinning.

I had thrown away that first page in disgust...All that labouring over precisely the right words, all that testing, sounding, scanning for style.

All that shit.

You know when the piece is good, when you have covered all the bases, when it comes first draft, all of a piece.
But you had been labouring over it. Sweating the copy, straining it, pushing the river.

And yet that's how it had been for thirty years and more. (That man Thirdee again, the end of my journalistic career). I had been a novelist in addition to journalist, but I was largely drawing the outline of my own face, something W. Somerset Maugham says you do anyway, but I'm not so sure. The self tends to be small and rather ugly. The Chinese referring to it, over the thousands of years as "that insignificant thing standing before you."
I have discovered, rather late that there are people in the world truly gifted. Genius does what it must, while mere talent only borrows; the droppings from the tables of the truly adept.

Journalism is chores. Journalism is trickery. Journalism is a blow job.

Journalism is hated by the litarati, just as commercial art is hated by the so-called "creative artists", the abstract expressionists and other optimists.

Yes, yes, that was my theme, the hatred of the journalist among the writing elite.

Yet neither can really do the other's job.

Literary types are largely disfunctional. They have a hard time with facts and procedures. Facts bore them. Technology drives them crazy.

It is the production of that monster crawling out of your typewriter or keyboard, the play's the thing, yes.

And if you labour too mightily you may well produce a mouse.

So it's getting up that oomph, having something like an epileptic fit (ten coffees will do it!) and having the piece come out all of one string. That's writing.

But it happens so rarely like that. So you become something of a Bob Woodward or John Updike, having the book go through about 34 people, spell checkers, checkers for fact, tone nuance. And more often than not, it comes out a lot better than
the author's original script. "Poetize this scene for me," Jerzy Kosinski used to order his underlings...So many freelance editors suing that talented bastard for non-paymentof fees, sometimes for plagiarizing entire rewritten manuscripts.

Ah, old Plato's parable of the cave. We can only see what we are allowed to see.

None of which is going to write the Great Canadian Novel for me.

But I have learned something over the past thirty years.

There is absolute hatred for the journalist in the literary community both here in Canada and the United States.
I was turned down for a major scholarship at Stanford University by Wallace Stegner, who said I wrote too much like a journalist, and in any event "was not an American."

Has anybody read Wallace Stegner. He is likely dead by now, so I don't fear libel.
I have never read such bird-like clumsy scrawling in my life. The man must have been one hell of a politician--that or writing has changed so much over the past seventy years that what was taken for truth and beauty a hundred years ago turns out to be charming, over-wordy Victorian swill.

Journalist vs. novelist. That was my theme; there it is on its way over to Michigan with the rest of the garbage...Biggest country in the world and we can't even figure out what to do with our garbage--Send it to Michigan; let the Yanks worry about it!

Like some of my manuscripts? Hah. Say it on!

Anyway, that first draft is gone, out to the Michigan landfill where it belongs.I finally remember what I'd typed in that first draft.

The antipathy between the journalist and the novelist.

But then look at what Truman Capote did with "In Cold Blood" and Norman Mailer with "The Executioner's Song."
Outjournoed the Journos!

Well, here's hoping that those of us who try to get to the arttistic heart of the matter-- can eventually score a Cupid hit on literature.

But then I am not sure these very different gifts are part of the same family in the first place.

Schizophrenics make the best novelists.

And we multi-media monkeys do the best we can.

We may not be greatly talented, but bigod we're fancy!

We have drawn our own face?

Why Ivan, you ugly fuck!


Sela Carsen said...

I'm too confused to be schizophrenic.

ivan said...

Myself, I answer the phone, give it to one of my many heads and say, "It's for you."
Lord of Bathos, let me tell you.

Shesawriter said...

Oh, Ivan. Have you been typing again? You poor dear. LOL! :-)

Josie said...

Yah, but look what happened to Capote after he wrote "In Cold Blood". He never wrote again.

I don't understand writing. It's a creative part of my brain that is asleep. I understand the visual arts.

With writing, to me if the grammar is correct, it's good writing. The simpler the better.

I think it's like painting, if you over-think it or over-work it, it loses its vibrancy. Isn't that the same with writing? Shouldn't it just flow from your fingers, and not your brain?

Just a thought.

R.J. Baker said...

Matthew Bruccoli once told me that any writing other than by hand stunted and damaged creativity. He was addement about it bordering on fanatical. He said once a writer abandoned hand writing the first draft he or she was doomed to mediocrity.

Hmmmm...maybe that's my problem.

Sela Carsen said...

Matthew Broccoli never tried to read my handwriting.

ivan said...

Thanks, Josie.

I am quirky in not believing that English composition comprises writing itself.
There's English composition, then there's writin', as Truman Capote may have said.

The ideas that goad you into writing are non-verbal, it seems to me,and the closer your words come to describing (inventing?) a feeling-state the more evocative and powerful your writing will be.

...But then, I suppose, we're talking about the same thing, sort of a frozen spontenaiety (to brook the edges of oxymoron).

I guess the problem is with mental blocks, which come, I opine from the fear of making a damfool of yourself in front of your readers and peers...that's when you start to belabor your writing and anybody half- awake can hear you gasping for air.
Um, like maybe here?

Truman Capote would brag about his next book after In Cold Blood, giving it the provisional title of "Answered Prayers", part of which, titled La Cote Basque", appeared in Esquire in about l965, soon to be followed by Cote d. Azur in another installment.

Public demand was estremely high especially where it was learned he had somewhat mercilessly eviscerated all his famous friends, exposing even their sexual habits.
"Why that toad!" snorted one socialite when Capote exposed her lesbian daliances with her sister.
Yes, Capote wrote again and the public couldn't get enough of it, though the subjects of this vast roman 'a clef found him a total stinker.
Heh. I guess I'm showing my age, describing events thirty years back.
But I had nothing to do after serializing my own novel in l975.
Read a lot of Esquires as the bad reviews came in.
"Is the final installment in yet?" a girl asked.
"Yes,I'd answered.
"Thank God!" she said.


ivan said...

Type, type type, eh Ivan?

R.J.: The famous quote of Capote's when he learned Jack Kerouac typed his material straight off. "That ain't writin', that's typin'."
I am of two minds on this. At J-school, we learned to think into a machine, and the habit persists.
I went on to graduate school and was glad I was typing my material, for like maybe Sela, my handwriting was all but unreadable by now.
But then there were so many strikeovers and corrections in my ypescripts that even here, I was starting to drive my instructors crazy. "A cleaner copy would have worked better."--I could never muster the patience to retype a 360 page manuscript,so I'd submit, strikeovers and all; maybe that's why I've had mixed reactions from publishers, but I don't think that's it.
Typed manuscripts dooming you to mediocrity? Maybe.
Peter Martin Associates, here in Canada, said my Hat People was "unpublishable", and man, did that hurt!
I went on the the House of Anansi and editor James Polk said that if I retyped, it could turn out to be "an absurdist, surreal masterpiece,"
I mustered the energy to retype clean and Mr. Polk said, that although he loved the story of a culturally displaced person trying to hold it all together in Toronto, Anansi was a producer of modernist and sureal tales and the Hat People may not be the right book for Anansi.
We dicked around for about three years and more and Mr. Polk finally authorized an Ontario writer's grant for me, so as to finally complete the book along Anansi's lines.
Then he quit his job and I had to start all over again with a new editor. We are still dicking around!
What in hell is an "absurdist, surreal novel" anyway? I think Josie or Sela would know.


On the subject of a writer being stellar or mediocre, I'd offer that you really have to be one versatile critter.
You've got to out-Plate old Plato, outshop old Schopenhauer and out- Kirk Kierkegaard.
And you'd have to know absolutely everything about your craft.
Take a guy like Andy Warhol: He knew everything about art before
heading for the supermarket.
Still, a genius, like maybe John Lennon, would break all the rules as he did in "In My Own Write".
Or Bob Dylan in his own novel, "Tarantula."
I am in correspondence with a woman, R. J., who can't write half as well as you do.
But I think she's a genius. She is unique, breaks all the rules and seems to produce poetry never seen before...And she doesn'r really know her craft; she just does it.

But as a technician, i'd say learn everything you can about your craft before writing that novel.
The Yorkshire writer John Braine has been my best tutor.
Read all the books on creative writing you can, especially Stephen King and John Champlin Gardner.
Gotta know your craft.

...I did run across a guitarist for Gordon Lightfoot, David Rae:
He was a stickler for properly tuning a guitar. "Some days you just can't tune a guitar."
...Made me think, somewhat peripherally of your acquainance,
Matthew Broccoli.
David Rae was a real stickler about some things!

doubtingthomas said...

Just so that it is David Rae, and not Bob Rae! Knowing one's craft helps to convey ideas, and hence stories that thinking readers want to read to the end, and ponder later, to keep the writer's idea alive, to apply the reader's persective on the idea. Notice I said the thinking reader. Maybe this is an oxymoron.

The pursuit of craft should not get between the reader and the telling of the story. A draftsman can produce a very accurate depiction of something that exists, or is to be made by a worker. Beautiful perhaps, but not a Mona Lisa that scientists would x-ray hundreds of years later.

The tools that the writer uses are merely tools. Few draftsmen toil with pencil and straightedge, perched on a stool in front of big, flat table. The cathode ray tube, or the liquid crystal is the tool of today. Pencil and paper, Smith-Corona or Royal, electron keyboard. Matters little. The reader wants the idea, the story, not to look for toolmarks.

As far as schizophrenia, I am of two minds.

ivan said...

Nice, Tom. Really nice.

Love that end line.

There are days when I wonder where all my many heads are at.

I have parties all by myself.
Heh. Get lonely in the crowd!

Sela Carsen said...

What in hell is an "absurdist, surreal novel" anyway?

Unreadable NYT Bestseller. Probably by Tom Wolfe.

ivan said...


Josie said...

Ivan, I read "Answered Prayers". In fact, I think I have a copy of it around here somewhere. I found it in a little tiny bookstore on Madison Avenue in New York. But it didn't seem complete to me. I thought it was just a bunch of short stories.

There was a writer, I have forgotten his name, who wrote a collection of short stories called "Waiting for Winter". He said he could never write anything until it was winter, so he wrote short stories instead, waiting for winter.


Josie said...

John O'Hara, that was the writer's name. "Waiting for Winter."


ivan said...

John O'Hara.
We're getting a real writers' group in here. Who knew?

Thanks, Josie.

Jaye Wells said...

I prefer to write using a stone and chisel, or in a pinch a stick and dirt. Never tried the Marquis De Sade method--ah, well, my writing would probably turn out shitty that way.

ivan said...

Hi Jaye. Nice to see you.

No way your writing could turn out uh, crapulent.

I do believe the late Marquis, no whippersnapper by now, had a scene in his Sexual Philosophy where
people were stapled up so they couldn't dump.
And here am I a fan of the great and incontinent Rabelais!

ivan said...

Stop the presses!

It has just struck me that Matthew Broccoli may have been one of Truman Capote's biographers.

I am jealous.

It's the biographers who have the monster sales and contracts in an increasingly shrinking world of fiction!

JM said...


Wallace Stegner was not a great writer, but a curiously compelling storyteller. "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" was a sprawling mess, but an oddly addictive one. Seems to me he could have wrought a classic by applying some journalistic principles to the work.
But that's just me.
Journalists, as you know, are never wrong; merely misdirected.

ivan said...

Welcome jm!

You are probably the only correspondent here who makes his entire living from writing.
Yeah, I guess I am still smarting from that Standford scholarship that I missed so many years ago.
I was a pretty cocky bastard in those days and may have said something to Wallace Stegner to really tick him off. Dunno.
Yes, yes, journalists are never wrong, and the good ones, I'd say, are rarely misdirected...I guess I'm maybe thinking of present company.
Welcome to the blog, my friend.

JM said...

Glad to be along for the ride, Ivan, now that I've surmounted/circumvented whatever glitch it was that prevented my posting.
Come to think of it: My access to your site improved immediately after the IT guys removed the porn filter from my machine -- it was installed a while ago on all the browsers. I complained vociferously and continually -- Christ, they don't even have filters on the computers at the public librabry, I told 'em -- until they relented and removed it; but only from my computer, it seems.
I'm left wondering: How pornographic do you feel, knowing all this now?
Fight, I say. Fight.

ivan said...

You had to remove your porn filter to access dis ole blog?
Hope you haven't lost on this operation.
I'm glad one of my old flames is tramping up the woods looking for me...Couldn't find me through my own computer's downtime.
I seem to see porn everywhere; turn on the TV and somebody is getting shagged or gobbled...Great stuff, except that I have to do a Pee Wee Herman and like him, be kind of reclusive, sort of go off by myself...not entirely my idea in the great scheme of things.

I notice you seem to comment on this second-last blog rather than the current one, whose title is
"Three Generations of Lunatic pilots."
...Come to think of it, with a title like that, who the hell would want to browse on a full moon!
Welcome again, and