Friday, March 30, 2012
Harry Crews, a great writer, died on Wednesday. Long ago in Washington we would hand Harry Crews novels around like we were passing the grail. You would read a Harry Crews novel and you would be stunned by the experience. I would be afraid to suggest that anyone who does not know these books should read them, or if you loved them as I did that you should read them again. I fear that they would be dated, relics of a time unknowable unless you were actually there. Look him up on Amazon here. If I were to recommend one I'd say start with The Gospel Singer, maybe A Feast of Snakes. and go on from there. His autobiography, A Childhood, is also great.
Here are some Harry Crews quotes, some about writing, some not.
“Alcohol whipped me. Alcohol and I had many, many marvelous times together. We laughed, we talked, we danced at the party together; then one day I woke up and the band had gone home and I was lying in the broken glass with a shirt full of puke and I said, 'Hey, man, the ball game's up'.”
“If you wait until you got time to write a novel, or time to write a story, or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read - if you wait for the time, you will never do it. ‘Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.”
“I first became fascinated with the Sears catalogue because all the people in its pages were perfect. Nearly everybody I knew had something missing, a finger cut off, a toe split, an ear half-chewed away, an eye clouded with blindness from a glancing fence staple. And if they didn't have something missing, they were carrying scars from barbed wire, or knives, or fishhooks. But the people in the catalogue had no such hurts. They were not only whole, had all their arms and legs and eyes on their unscarred bodies, but they were also beautiful.”
“Writers spend all their time preoccupied with just the things that their fellow men and women spend their time trying to avoid thinking about. ... It takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself, in your experience, in your relationship with fellow beings, your relationship to the earth, to the spirit or to the first cause—to look at them and make something of them.”
"I decided a long time ago—very long time ago—that getting up at four o’clock to start work works best for me. I like that. Some people don’t like to get up in the morning. I like to get up in the morning. And there’s no place to go at four o’clock in the morning, and nobody’s gonna call you, and you can’t call anybody. Back when I was a drunk, at least in this little town, there’s no place to go buy anything to drink."
“Then I come home, eat a light lunch, then just go straight back to the thing. I might work till three o’clock . . . there comes a time of diminishing returns. You’re just jerking yourself off thinking you’re doing some good work, then you go back to it the next day and you think, ‘Oh, my God,’ and you have to throw away two or three pages. But the way I do it—I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of anyone doin’ it quite this way. I write on a great big square board. sit in a big overstuffed chair with this board on my lap, put a legal pad on top of that and write long hand. After that’s done, at some point I run it through a typewriter that’s older than I am—but it’s a beautiful machine, great action, huge keys, I love it—and then when I get through with that, I put it through the computer to revise, which is the only thing . . . I dunno . . . the only thing a computer is good for is to revise. Because, as you very well know, none of us need to go faster, we all need to go slower. I first among them. But the computer is a godsend for revisions. I don’t quite understand how we did it before we had the computer. I seem to remember a lot of tape and scissors.”
“Graham Greene—you’ve probably heard me quote before, because god knows, it’s true—“The writer is doomed to live in an atmosphere of perpetual failure.” There it is. There it is. Nah, you write things and write things—write a book for instance—and write and write and write and write and write, and you know, it’s not—every writer writes with the knowledge that nothing he writes is as good as it could be. Paul Valery: “A poem’s never finished, only abandoned.” The same thing with a novel. It’s never finished, only abandoned. I’ve had any number of novels where I’ve just at some point said to myself, well, unless you’re going to make the career out of this book—spend the rest of your goddamn life chewing on it—you might as well just package it up and send it on to New York. Go on to something else. Because between conception and execution there is a void, an abyss, that inevitably fucks up the conception. The conception never gets translated to the page. It just doesn’t. I don’t think it ever does. I think [Gustave] Flaubert kept Madame Bovary for nine years. Took him nine years to write it, well, he didn’t write it all in nine years. He could have written it in nineteen years, and he would still have felt the way he felt, and that was that it was a fine piece of work, but it was not as good as it could be. Same old same old."
Here's Harry. This will give you some idea of the power of the man.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
OK, Thriller Guy here, gimme my damn blog back for a minute.
TG was scrolling through the channels on the tube tonight and stumbled on NPR which was having pledge week, Oh, how TG hates pledge week. When TG was young and a stay-at-home dad, because writing fiction didn't pay shit then just like it doesn't pay shit now, and his sweet wife worked full time to support the family, he depended on the public channel to run Sesame Street every day so he could park his three year old daughter in front of the set and try to squeeze in an hour of writing. But whenever Pledge Week was on, there went TG's writing time. TG's daughter, Leah, (TGDL) used to see that bank of idiots on the TV screen, the ones who volunteer their time sitting in those phone banks, and she would immediately burst into tears, knowing that her show was not going to come on as long as these dopes were answering the ringing phones. Besides, she knew that daddy would be going nuts. Oh, how TG remembers the day, Leah crying, when TG, furious, called the pledge number and watched on the television as some minion answered the phone and TG screamed, “Twenty bucks, no, fifty bucks! If you assholes will stop this bullshit and just put Sesame Street on where it's supposed to be! Right now! You're making my daughter cry! If you don't put her show on right now I'm going to come down there and kick every one of your pussy asses.” Yeah, well, that was one call they didn't broadcast over the air.
Anyway, TG scrolled onto pledge week tonight and there was Peter. Paul and Mary (if you don't know who they were/are, just go away from this site right now) and he was reminded of a moment from the dim past. It was 1964, and TG, a college student at West Virginia University, was sitting on a stone retaining wall out in front of a fraternity house smoking a cigar when a aging Buick coasted up and ground to a stop. Peter, Paul and Mary, then pretty much totally unknown, got out of the car and said to TG that they had been in town for a concert, (who knew?) and they had a check for $2,000.00 from the university but absolutely no cash money for gasoline. Would I loan them $20.00 to get out of town? $20.00? TG was a poor student, he worked in kitchens for food, his parents sent him $5.00 a week for spending money. Which meant beer money. But these three looked even poorer than he was. That was back when Peter and Paul had hair. At the time, TG figured the $2,000.00 check thing was bullshit.
But Mary was hot. Long blond hair, great body, big white teeth in a land where a missing tooth was de rigueur for females of that age, (OK, maybe it wasn't that bad). Anyhow, they seemed like nice people, so TG hopped off the wall, pulled his only five dollar bill out and gave it to Mary. So long to buying a beer for the next week. “It's a loan,” she said, smiling with those pretty teeth.
”Right,” TG said, with all the cool he could muster.
“And could I have one of those cigars?” Mary asked.
It was a Marsh Wheeling, made right there in West Virginia, the one with the wooden holder you could clamp down on with your teeth, if you had teeth. TG had an extra, so he gave it to her. She smiled and said, "Thanks, I owe you." Was there a little something extra there in that smile? TG could have said, "How bout I ride along with you?" Hey, those were the days. She could have easily said, "Climb in, we're going to New York." Things would have been different. No regrets. But she did have one pretty smile.
They drove off in a cloud of exahust fumes, the tailpipe dragging on the ground. Of course they went on to mega fame, a steller career with a few bumps along the way. In many ways they were the sound track of TG's generation.
Flash forward 48 years and TG is watching PP&M in a 1986 concert during pledge week on MTV. Mary is dead. Has been for four years. Leukemia.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Thriller Guy has gone on vacation. He says he'll be back when Appel is done using, or abusing, his blog.
For the long version of the story of the writing of my first published book, read the previous two blog entries.
So I wrote three chapters and an outline as a proposal for Time After Time, and Kent Carroll, of Carroll and Graf Publishers, using the chapters and outline, sold the paperback rights for the book to Dell for $20,000.00. He gave me half as an advance to write the book while he kept half to pay for the printing of the book, or to just go into the Carroll and Graf coffers in general. This was back in 1985 when such a deal was possible. Those were the good old days. Today, you'd never get that kind of money, which was considered paltry back then. Lots of folks I knew were getting $45,000 and $50,000 advances as a matter of course. In these recession times a fiction writer, much less a first time fiction writer, is lucky to get $5,000.00 for an advance. And unless you have an established track record as a decent selling novelist and you're dealing with a publisher who knows you and who has published your books before, you are never going to sell a piece of fiction on sample chapters and an outline. You have to write the whole book before you can even get an agent to look at it, much less a publisher. The writing business, particularly the novel writing business, has become much worse place for writers than it was 25 years ago.
But I was happy to write a book for $10,000. I really liked Kent and he was willing to help me along in the process. Sort of the way Thriller Guy works with writers. So I wrote the first of the Pastmaster series, Time After Time. The experience of writing my first book, Cross, taught me how to write dialogue and exposition at the same time and incorporate backstory and a sense of place. All part of what it takes to write a successful novel. I was writing like a regular writer. I wasn't particularly good, but I wasn't shooting for good. I was shooting for a term that I have always favored: workmanlike. As in several reviews I received in the early days, “Mr. Appel's writing never rises much above workmanlike, but he's given us an exciting read.” Really, what's wrong with that? Especially since I know from experience as a reviewer for the last decade or so, in at least 25% of bestselling books by household name writers the quality of the writing doesn't even rise to the level of workmanlike. So here's a tip: you don't have to be particularly good to write a bestselling book. (What do you have to be? Well, many things can make it happen. Luck is foremost, and appealing to popular taste is right up there as well. Having a great idea is your best bet. Keep reading Thriller Guy's blog, and you'll eventually learn all the secrets.)
I wrote the book, working from my outline which I diverged from as often as I stuck to. But the outline gave me a place to start every morning when I got up to write. In those days I wrote at a white heat. I could bang out ten even twenty pages a day. Were they good. Nope. They weren't even workmanlike. But at the end of the day they were done. Here's the big lesson: write. You can always rewrite.
After six months I had finished the book. I rewrote it a few times and sent it to Kent. He went over it line by line, wrote notes all over the pages, sent it back to me, I rewrote it according to his notes. He would call me and we would go over the rewrites. Then I rewrote it by myself a couple of more times. After all of this we had ourselves a book. It was done. It went into the production pipeline, and I began planning the next book in the series, Twice Upon a Time.
Next: The UPS guy tosses a box of the just-printed Time After Time onto my driveway.
Number Two in the series of erotica covers done for Carroll and Graph. (See previous entry)