Writers

Dorothy Parker, blocked

In June 1945, Dorothy Parker telegrams her editor to inform him she has writer’s block:

Via Letters of Note.

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George Saunders on writing

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Arthur Conan Doyle on the origin of Sherlock Holmes

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Turning time into language

Anthony Trollope

Adam Gopnik’s story on Trollope in the New Yorker touches on

his very Victorian work ethic: he wrote for money, and he wrote to schedule, putting pen to paper from half past five to half past eight every morning and paying a servant an extra fee to roust him up with a cup of coffee. He made a record of exactly how much each of his novels had earned, and efficiency and economy, taken together, got him a reputation as a philistine drudge.

Trollope was, in truth, merely being practical about the problems of writing: three hours a day is all that’s needed to write successfully. Writing is turning time into language, and all good writers have an elaborate, fetishistic relationship to their working hours. Writers talking about time are like painters talking about unprimed canvas and pigments.

Not sure I agree with Gopnik’s three-hour rule. Three hours a day may have been enough for Anthony Trollope to write successfully, but you, alas, are not Anthony Trollope.

It is interesting to think of writing as “turning time into language.” Of course, Gopnik is not saying that’s all writing is. He is making a simpler point about Trollope’s practicality and discipline. (Otherwise the phrase is meaningless: all art forms can be reduced to “turning time into” something — sculpture, music, painting, etc.). Still, it is a useful formulation for writers to keep in mind. Looking back at these monstrously productive Victorians, it is easy for a writer to get psyched out. Better to use Trollope as a daily reminder to turn your time into text, and be done with him.

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Orwell

George Orwell colorized

Colorized by Edvos. Date and photographer unknown. (Via Colorized History.)

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Nationality: without

Nabokov immigration card

More on Nabokov’s immigration to America here.

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Updike on his early stories

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Hemingway, 1945

Hemingway passport

Ernest Hemingway’s 1945 passport, recently added to the Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library in Boston. Hemingway is 46 years old in this photo. Compare.

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Valediction

Maurice Sendak’s final interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, in September 2011, animated by Christoph Niemann. Sendak died seven months later. (via The Dish)

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Three Lawyer-Writers

bouchercon

At Bouchercon 2012 in Cleveland with fellow authors Twist Phelan and Linda Fairstein. October 5, 2012.

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Gay Talese

Gay Talese gives a tour of his office and discusses his writing habits (via Austin Kleon)

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Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer (1963)

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Elmore Leonard on bad movies and good writing

Elmore Leonard interviewed by James Parker of The Atlantic.

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Graham Greene by Yousuf Karsh

Karsh portrait of Graham Greene

Graham Greene, 1964. Portrait by Yousuf Karsh.

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Joyce

James Joyce

James Joyce. Scratchboard portrait by Mark Summers, whose work you will recognize from Barnes & Noble shopping bags, among other places.

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John le Carré: The final interview

John le Carré, age 79, in what he claims is the final interview he will grant (2010).

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Lamb House

Lamb House

Lamb House was the home of Henry James from 1897, when he was 55, until his death in 1916. Below, the residence as it appeared in the late 1930s or early 1940s. To the left of the house, at the end of the high wall, is the garden room where in summer James did most of his writing. The garden room was destroyed by a bomb in August 1940.

Lamb House 1930s

Look here for more about Lamb House from Colm Toibin, whose portrait of Henry James, The Master, beautifully evokes James’s life at Lamb House. If you read The Master — and you should — you will want to know what Lamb House looks like.

Photos: Jim Linwood, doveson2008, both via Flickr.

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The Master

Henry James

Henry James
Rye, England, 1906
Photogravure by Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1882-1966

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Public Writer, Private Writer

Preparations continue for this winter’s publication of Defending Jacob. The cover art is locked in (sneak preview soon). Yesterday I spent six hours being photographed on Boston street corners in various brooding writerly poses. This morning comes news that the book has sold in China, making it the rare product that we export to them. (Hang on, America, just a few more books and I’ll get this darn trade deficit turned around.)

But the strangest bit, to me, is that I will soon go off on a “pre-publication tour.” In September and October, I will visit regional trade shows for independent booksellers in New England, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, southern California (Long Beach) and northern California (San Francisco). I am delighted to do this, of course. Author tours, pre- or post-publication, are rare today. Not penny-on-the-sidewalk rare — unicorn rare. So I’m very grateful to my publisher for putting increasingly scarce resources behind my book.

At the same time, I can’t help thinking that I am a hell of a lot less interesting in person than I am in my books. In person, I am a perfectly pleasant guy, I suppose, but no author can replicate the intensity and intimacy of a good reading experience. Most authors I’ve met? Meh, the book was better. That’s the nature of reading, which requires the reader to conjure the author’s voice out of squiggles on the page. Inevitably the voice you, the reader, create in your head has a special quality. It seems to come from inside you, it seems to originate in your own thoughts. A good book hijacks the inner voice that burbles constantly in every reader’s head. That’s what makes the medium so powerful: the story takes place inside the reader’s consciousness. No wonder the author’s voice seems so familiar and authoritative.

The author’s voice is not my real, conversational voice, of course. When you read my books, you hear only my most articulate, well-crafted sentences. My best and most refined self. That’s what good writing is. The rest — the clumsy phrases, the not-quite-right words or metaphors, all the inarticulate flubs that characterize ordinary speech — is edited out. Even my realistic dialogue is not quite real, the quotation marks notwithstanding. It is shaped, polished, crafted, improved. Every stammer and stumble is calculated for its precise effect. It is the way you would talk if you had a writer scripting your life. (How great would that be?)

Surely readers know all this, but they crave the writer’s personal presence anyway. They want to meet the awkward, bashful, inarticulate writer behind the exalted, hyper-articulate authorial voice they’ve heard in their heads. That’s why there are bookstore readings and author tours and Oprah (well, there used to be Oprah). Continue reading →

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Hemingway, 1916

Hemingway fishing, 1916

Ernest Hemingway, age 17, fishing at Walloon Lake, Michigan (1916). Below, another photo of Hemingway apparently from the same trip. Today is Hemingway’s 112th birthday. (Sources: Wikimedia Commons, JFK Library.)

Hemingway 1916

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