Writers on writing
Some good advice for aspiring writers from successful writers, who are usually far better sources of such guidance than all the writing gurus who write nothing but books about how to write. These are all extracted from Shaun Usher’s splendid and beautiful Letters of Note book, based upon the always interesting and inspiring site of the same name in which the famous are humanised and the unknown are honoured.
Ernest Hemingway: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit.”
Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1934:
“You can study Clausewitz in the field and economics and psychology and nothing else will do you any bloody good once you are writing. We are like lousy damned acrobats but we make some mighty fine jumps, bo, and they have all these other acrobats that won’t jump.
For Christ sake write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket. You feel you have to publish crap to make money to live and let live. All write [sic] but if you write enough and as well as you can there will be the same amount of masterpiece material (as we say at Yale). You can’t think well enough to sit down and write a deliberate masterpiece and if you could get rid of Seldes and those guys that nearly ruined you and turn them out as well as you can and let the spectators yell when it is good and hoot when it is not you would be all right.
Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.”
Flannery O’Connor, responding in 1961 to a professor of English. O’Connor felt that the professor was over-analyzing:
“If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.”
Raymond Chandler, taking exception to an overzealous copy editor in 1947:
“By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have. I think your proofreader is kindly attempting to steady me on my feet, but much as I appreciate the solicitude, I am really able to steer a fairly clear course, provided I get both sidewalks and the street between.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, responding to an aspiring poet in 1903:
“You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you ) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple, “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.”
Cry of the Andes, episode 1. 1930s.
This is the first of several posts about Japanese kamishibai (paper theatre), a popular form of storytelling that began in the 1930s, peaked in the post-war/American occupation period, and more or less died out with the rise of Japan as a modern, technologically developed country. The material is all from Eric P. Nash’s great book Manga Kamishibai. As usual, out of respect for the author and the publisher (and also to piss off the imbeciles who are always going on about printed books being dead trees and obsolete, everything’s online now, blah blah blah) I’ll hopefully be posting just enough to arouse your interest without coming anywhere close to making it pointless to buy or borrow the book.
Kamishibaiya (paper theatre storytellers) would roll up to a street corner on their bicycles, which also supported a butai– a miniature wooden theatre into which the illustrated boards for the stories could be slid in and out. These boards were about 14 inches by 10. Until WWII each story set and board were unique because they were inked and coloured by hand using watercolour and opaque tempera paints, then lacquered and waxed to protect them from the weather. The boards provided a low-tech form of slideshow animation, but of course what really brought the stories to life were the storytellers. At one point kamishibai was such a cultural touchstone that when television was introduced to Japan in 1953, it was sometimes referred to as denki kamishibai: electric paper theatre.
The examples shown here are from a 1930s series called Cry of the Andes. It’s a sort-of Western adventure, though obviously set in Peru and filtered through the distinctly Eastern perspective of a nation that had never seen (or been) cowboys.
Next time: paper theatre for children takes a weird and sinister turn during WWII. Cute boar soldiers bayonetting captives for the Emperor, and so forth.
Cry of the Andes, episode 3. In true Japanese style they decided to jazz the boring old Western up a bit by giving the villain a crazy mask, a swirling cloak and a random bat symbol on his forehead.
Francesco Carancini, Italy, circa 1890s?
As psychic powers or ways of communicating with spirits go, being able to lift living room furniture a few feet off the ground in the dark has to be one of the more useless and absurd. And yet it was a thing that persisted in the repertoire of mediums for several decades. I’ve mainly been enjoying these pictures as exercises in domestic surrealism rather than as documentation of unknown powers. They’re from a (long out of print, 1981) book called Photographs of the Unknown, which seems to be associated– although not by name– with Fortean Times. In the photo above I like the fact that couple on the right are gripping each other’s hand apprehensively while the fellow on the left is still nonchalantly puffing away on his cigarette. The position of his left hand suggests slight annoyance that his ashtray has just been whisked away telekinetically. Continue Reading
Last of the splendid vintage Hashime Murayama insect illustrations that I found in a neglected folder from 1997, and some of the jolliest/most pretentious descriptions: “Scarabs that might have made a Pharaoh envious”, “From which Golconda do the beetles get their gemlike garments?”, “Dung Beetles in habit, but in armor royally clad.”
… arrayed in resplendent robes.
Emphasis on the buzz. Top sixteen illustrations of bees it took me three clicks to paste into the content management system that you need to see before you die screaming in a swarm of angry stingers.
‘Z z zzz and Z z z’ By Paul McCartbee and Beebee Wonder.
Continuing Hashime Murayama’s meticulous vintage illustrations. Like the night shift posted yesterday, some of these butterflies have names evocative of much more than a small, short-lived insect. Orange Sulphur. Great Purple Hair-streak. Ochre Ringlet. Ridings’ Satyr. Leto Fritillary.
Next time: ants.
More Hashime Murayama illustrations, this time of moths. What beautiful, poetic names these tiny, mostly unseen creatures of the night have. Striped Morning Sphinx. Blinded Sphinx. Satellite Sphinx. Humming-bird Clear-wing. Darling Under-wing. Night-flying Luna. Pandora. Fall Web-worm.
Next time: butterflies.
Unfortunately I don’t have page 186, so I can’t show you the giant sphinx moth commanding attention with its tongue. You can see the length here but not necessarily the quality. It’s what you do with it that counts, etc.
A rich seam of hard drive detritus uncovered recently: a whole folder full of insect, spider and butterfly images scanned in the mid 1990s (somewhat haphazardly in a few cases, although not by me) from vintage magazines. Some of the illustrations are obviously from National Geographic; possibly all of them are. Many of them are signed by Hashime Murayama, who did indeed work for National Geographic between 1921 and 1941. Unfortunately he was arrested several times as an enemy alien during WWII, although like 99% of Japanese-Americans he was completely innocent of any crime. He died in 1954.
First of all, some spiders. I really enjoy the jolly, gung-ho captions, but then I’m quite fond of spiders. I suspect for some people calling a befanged skitterer on too many legs an “athlete” is not enough to affect any form of rapprochement.
Next time: moths.
Fabrics of many designs come from these assorted spinners’ looms.