Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Maudlin and "Maughing"

Potted biographies.

Favourite device of the journeyman novelist.

Potted biographies. You have your list of characters. They all have histories. You place their histories in little pots you can uncork when you need to refer to why a character actually does something and how he/she does it.
W. Somerset Maughan says, however, that the writer actually ends up painting his own face, potted biogriaphies or no.
This is corroborated by one Miss Lizzie who seems to say, "Just write!"
Well, that is the way it usually works for me.
Procrustes' bed. Lay it down first, and superimpose the plot later.
But I can't get over Maugham's brilliant THE SUMMING UP.
Wonderful writer, at times, and Maugham's overall success in his plays. But, as people have asked me, "Are writers really human?"

I have seen your face, Billy-boy.

And I have no doubt as to Willie's sailor fantasies about being blown ashore.

He had needs. And marriage for him was a disaster.

I am given to understand that Maugham disowned his daughter

His vast millions? The inheritance? I don't know.
And his poor, ignored wife.
As if we ourselves were not guilty--oh how guilty!
Some of the things we have done in this dark age, would cause even poor old St. Augustine to blanch. Or W. Somerset Maugham.

Potted biographies.
Past lovers in bottles. Auras, really, some auras powerful, almost incandescent. The bottle shines bright, as if full of fireflies on a May night, when you and she, --her eyes responsive -- were in your bower, yourselves like two winking fireflies.

Now it's just you and your potted biographies.

The past is gone.

Today, a scene become gauche.

The past wafts around you at the oddest times.

Sometimes, of all places, it is in the shower that we sort out parallel universes;or maybe it's more rococo than that.
We men. Rococo, rococo in the shower.
Gets really rococo. Like Kirk Douglas singing that godawful tune in .20,OOO Leagues under the sea.

There was Typhoon Tessie
Met her down in Madagascar...

And all the times we have hurt the one we loved.

Just like The Augustine might say, we suffer (enjoy?) the auras of our past lovers.

I am a hell of a lot older than the revered Bishop of Hippo at his death, so my auras are all but overwhelming.
Somebody's face is nuzzling against my thigh. It is Celia, the most powerful of the auras, and I hardly had all that much to do with her sexually. Why the strong, almost magnetic pull? Because she was a lot like me, and like tends to attract like, and though a writer's worst enemy may be another writer, this was a female writer and women are best at the plays of relationship known as fiction, and she could really get write fiction.
Unpublished, though, but really banging against the wall of my lifeboat at one time as I tried to madly paddle back to a sinking marriage. . Celia, gorgeous young Faye Dunaway. We were a little like Bonnie and Clyde.We robbed memory banks.
Why did I not go to her soon enough?
There is the soul and its accusations.



You had no scrupulocities with your your cycle sluts and and a rutting pig with even the one who loved you most.

Ah but Tristan and Isolde.

The haunting presence of another halo, male. King Mark, I was the Tristan in the piece?

Would King Mark have slain me if he'd seen us in the act vulgarly known as sixty-nine?

Would he have just said, Hello then, let's have a cup of tea, shall we?
But he was not British, :)


Potted biographies.

My own potted biography. The older I get, the more I think of the past, but it is reallya pastiche of parallel universes.

I am in Denmark. I am in Spain. I am in my ancestral home home, Chernobyl, Ukraine.
Rarely is it these days that I fully realize I am in Canada, that Chernobyl of the spirit, where there has been a meltdown, an apparent dying of the country's spirit as its giants, the Northrop Fryes and McLuhans and Penfields and Bantings rise up to the sky, fingers pointed accusingly... And hardly anyone was noticing.

With the death of McLuhan, everything died spiritually. "Leave the poor man alone," said McLuhan's wife to the jealous academics. "You are killing him." They did. And with that, cutting-edge Toronto had to give it all up. We are now Baltimore's Maryland, soon slated, probably, for ugly urban renewal. One of the paradoxes.

Potted biographies.

Well, the giraffe prof is countering what the Zebra prof had just said.

Forget plot. Use character. Character is everything. Character IS plot.

You write your first draft on the fly, just let one word follow another, forget the sophistication you want to convey, just do it, do it to that last page 300 where you finally write THE END.
It is shit, yes, but out of shit grows the flower.Then you go into the second draft, another five hundred pages, two hundred of which you will have to throw away. Still want to be a novelist?
It is a technique (some Satanists would say a Technology ) ninety-nine per cent talent, ninety-nine percent hard work and ninety-nine percent imagination. And potted biograhies. Especially your potted biography.

"I was born..."
John Fowles " I was born the son of middleclass parents, themselves under the shadow of that monstrous dwarf, Victoria...It soon became apparent that I was not equipped by heredity to be the person I wanted to be..."

Now don't that turn your brown eyes blue?

How did John Fowles arrive at his book? He has no idea and says so. "I just wrote and wrote, hardly knowing what I was doing."

First draft.

Potted biographies. His own autobiography in a huge pot?

The potted biographies really go into your second draft; that's where you flesh out the characters, that is where
things click into place. That is where they do what they do because they have no choice. That is where you do what you do because you had no choice. Your biography,

I am still in the shower.
Use your vices, your alchollism, your lechery, your addiction to tobacco--as rewards. Do not just surrender to your vices, your piggishness. Use your vices as a reward when you finally succumb.

Surrounded by the auras of all the past lovers.
Like Philip Roth somewhere, you are likely to masturbate and that will take all the sanctity out of it. Yeah. Noble as hell.

Jacques Barzun: More people f*ck than philosophize.

But then, Jerzy Kosinski: If you must masturbate, do so, and you could even try writing about it as a Gongorist trick.
And Philip Roth took the advice, hook, line and stinker.
Produced a book called "Whacking Off."

O how profound, we male writers!.


the walking man said...

Profundity is pastiche...write porn for profit...give them something to masturbate to and you become beloved of a generation...and if you're really good at it then you enter the hall de Sade.

And if Mark had come in on you and Celia in flagrante delicto I suppose as long as your bum was on the bottom he would have made tea and waited. said...

Caught me, Mark.

Pastiche indeed, thought not penetrating or profound.
Writin' to fill up space, and I suppose you could hear me grunting.
There is a school that say write porn first, sell it, and then, having put yourself on the map, write your real novel.
I had a bit of porn in my Black Icon. Both the Ukrainian bookseller and the priest came over to give me hell.
The writing life is strange.
A fried of mine asked, "How come your printed columns are so much better than your novels?"

benjibopper said...


my last manuscript was 167,000 words of potted biographies. it turned out pretty well once i cut all the background details. they helped me understand my characters but i figured the reader didn't need all that boring history. but i still think those cut bits could be edited into short stories. actually one cut chapter is being published as an audio short, on cd no less. go figure.

love the cartoon. is that crumb? said...

Benji. Wow.

Writing a novel is not like the creativewriting teachers tell you it is, is it.
Seems that a rugged straigforward narration will do more often than not.
Yes, that is Robert Crumb the Elder. Peter Breughuel the Elder for the hip, I'm sure.

benjibopper said...

ah the hip. reminds me of college. can't even listen to their new stuff, only because it doesn't sound identical to those early days. what a terrible fan.

ivan@c said...

Gordon Downie writes some electrifying stuff.
But all that awesome creativity in a tenor voice.
Canadian genius, though.

Lorna said...

Well. Here's a guy who knows about Thomas Hobbes.

A nation without laws is a nation of anarchy.

~lorna said...

Hi Lorna,

Over from Jo's huh?

Hobbes and Malthus were such comedians!

the walking man said...

You do realize that you could write porn from your own potted biography don't you?

And anarchy is bad because...

ivan@c said...


Looking over my notes there are places where the hero could well be The Man from Nantucket.

Anarchy is like bank robbing. Two things are certain. You will be at last taxed, and electrocuted.*

*See Prince Kropotkin or Melvin Mole in MAD Magazine