Tag Archives: write

It’s a Dirty Job, and No One Has To Do It

There’s this guy I know. A young fella. Young to me, anyway. Young in a lot of ways. Sure.

Anyway, this young fella. Fancy’s himself something of a writer. More power to him. More power to all of us. He’s got youth going for him, that’s for sure. The spunk of his age. Plenty of energy.

So he’s telling me about his work. All about his work. He knows exactly what he’s writing about. Precisely. He knows what he puts on the page and only what he puts on the page. Anything pre-dating his yarn doesn’t exist. Any artistic references that could inform his writing don’t exist. Any of that and all of that–they never really happened.

I shake my head.

Then he starts talking about the writing itself. How he prepares for a session. How he gets up for it and sustains it. He makes sitting at the keyboard sound like a goddam event.

I’ve been a working stiff most of my life. I’ve had to pursue “my work” when I could. It’s always been just like that last line from hide and go seek: ready or not, here I come. I never could afford to wait for some muse, for some special inspiration, for just the right mood. Whether the creative juices flowed like Niagara or buckled and cracked like blacktop in the heat, I never had a choice. The bottom line remained. The bottom never changed. The bottom line lingered and haunted and pounded away like the dropping percentages of a baseball statistic.

If I didn’t do the work, it didn’t get gone. It’s always been that simple.

Today I’m in a rare position. Privileged, I am. I’m a full-time writer. And I have no idea how long this opportunity will hold.

Some days it’s a push. A lot of days. So sometimes I push. What else can I do? All I can do is keep feeding the meter until it expires. Or until I expire. It’s always been that simple.

Right and wrong doesn’t exist in any art scene. That young fella should do exactly as he pleases. Creating a work that plays is what matters. And maybe he’ll do just that, no matter how much I shake my head.


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Poe Would Be Vaping

I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives. You know, at one time I think I secretly wanted to be a writer.
–The Philadelphia Story

Maybe artists can forego nasty habits, addictive rituals and obsessive practices. Maybe. There’s nothing that says writing the great American novel requires an intoxicating level of whiskey. Oils and opium don’t necessarily mix. Or similes and opium. Or tone poems and opium.

No, having a dependency cross to bear isn’t required, but it’s pretty standard issue according to history. That doesn’t make it right, mind you. Then again, it ain’t necessarily wrong, either. Whatever gets you through the night. Or through the chapter. As long as you’re left standing when you come out the other side. Sure.

What I’m getting at is my own peculiar slant, of course. I’ve been writing full-time now for a little while. A privileged position, that’s for sure. But from the start I’ve had one overriding vision, one fantasy that’s dogged my particular work set-up. I’ve longed to write and take a drag at the same time.

See, I’ve been grinding out my so-called art in a smoke-free zone. No cigarettes, no pipes, no cigars, no nothing. When I wanted a smoke, I stopped writing. I had to split myself in two, a synthetic division between aspects that are inseparable as far as I’m concerned.   So everything got broken up, cornered, boxed in. Smoking became relegated to breaks. And I took plenty of them. Sure.

That’s all over now. I can be slow to the game, but I’ve finally discovered one of those great writer resources, a superb tool for anyone whose creative and addictive make-ups are inseparable. I’m talking about vaping, the big brother to disposable e-cigarettes. Loading up one of those overgrown, cylindrical devices with nicotine-punched juice and sucking up clouds of vapor that disperse in the air like mist.

What I’m aiming for is enhancing the creative process. I’ll leave the health and social aspects to other writers. I’m concerned with making the work happen. Removing obstacles, finding solutions, making it cook.

I’ve reclaimed my writing desk with vaping. Its part of my work now, no different than the cup of coffee at my side or the cell phone close at hand. Technology in this 21st century has fulfilled my working habit in more ways than one. 

I can imagine Chandler laughing it off: “Why don’t you just get a damn hookah?”

Spillane got all PC towards the end. He’d probably say whatever floats your boat makes no never mind to him. As long as you aren’t harming anyone else. Then he’d turn his back.

I’d like to think that Hammett would’ve given it a whirl. It always struck me there was an experimental side to his nature.

The Great Edgar–he’d lap it up altogether, figuratively speaking. He’d dabble with all the stock variations of e-juice. When those were exhausted, he’d move onto things of an illicit nature. Call him Edgar “Leary” Poe.

There are probably those out there that depend from nothing and can’t relate. Maybe nothing comes between them and the words. No shot, no stein. No stick, no Havana, no weed. The only fix they require is the work itself. I guess art takes all kinds.

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The Raymond Chandler Interview

The city where I work and live is rich in tradition. Politics, in many ways its own hog butcher to the world, overlaps most of this heritage. If there’s one thing we’re good at, and we’ve been doing it a long time, that’s getting out the vote. Preston Sturges celebrated this in his original screenplay, “The Great McGinty:”

Some people is too lazy to vote, that’s all. They don’t like this kind of weather. Some of them is sick in bed and can’t vote. Maybe a couple of them croaked recently. That’s ain’t no reason why Mayor Tillinghast should get cheated out of their support.

It’s in this spirit of overcoming trivialities that I present the following interview with Raymond Chandler. Just because he hasn’t penned a word since the 1950’s is no reason he should dummy up now.

In case you don’t know it, Chandler’s the bird what wrote “The Big Sleep,” “Farewell My Lovely” and “The Long Goodbye,” among others. By all accounts, Chandler and Dashiell Hammett make up the one-two punch that matured pulp, detective fiction. They gave it class with a capital K, and their polish and sophistication turned the hard-boiled genre into the stuff of literature. I hear some of their work is even assigned in high schools and universities across the nation. Not too shabby for a couple authors whose early works wore a Black Mask.

Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888, and it’s about time he retuned for a visit. In world-class and world-weary style, no one paid us no never mind as we swapped questions and answers during a walking tour of the Near North Side.

SOLOMON: Mr. Chandler, I thank you for granting this interview. I’m sure readers everywhere are plenty grateful, not to mention awful surprised.

CHANDLER: Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.

SOLOMON: I understand you didn’t go for it at first. I mean the first time my editor called you.

CHANDLER: I hung up. It was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough. I ought to have locked the door and hid under the desk.

SOLOMON: You two didn’t get along.

CHANDLER: He was a guy who talked with commas, like a heavy novel. Over the phone anyway.

SOLOMON: What did you tell him?

CHANDLER: You talk too damn much and too damn much of it is about you.

SOLOMON: He tends to do that.

CHANDLER: He sounded like a man who had slept well and didn’t owe too much money.

SOLOMON: Well I’m awful glad you eventually came around.

CHANDLER: Sooner or later I may figure out why you like being a kept poodle.

SOLOMON: I’d sure never admit to anything like that being true. And even if it was, I sure as hell wouldn’t like it.

CHANDLER: You know Chandler. Always griping about something.

SOLOMON: You are the first in the decadence of your art.

CHANDLER: The more you reason the less you create.

SOLOMON: It’s easy to stiffen up while sitting at the keys. That’s for sure.

CHANDLER: The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.

SOLOMON: So how do you accomplish that? How do you pull it off?

CHANDLER: Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.

SOLOMON: Isn’t that a little easier said than done? Don’t you run up against obstacles? Don’t you even create your own obstacles?

CHANDLER: Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say.

SOLOMON: I know what you’re getting at. But when you say it out loud it sounds kind of astounding. Almost appalling.

CHANDLER: There is something about the literary life that repels me, all this desperate building of castles on cobwebs, the long-drawn acrimonious struggle to make something important which we all know will be gone forever in a few years, the miasma of failure which is to me almost as offensive as the cheap gaudiness of popular success.

SOLOMON: Yet your work is still celebrated. “The Big Sleep,” f’rinstance, is held in the highest regard. That book goes back to 1939, for crissake.

CHANDLER: There are no “classics” of crime and detection. Not one. Within its frame of reference, which is the only way it should be judged, a classic is a piece of writing which exhausts the possibilities of its form and can never be surpassed.

SOLOMON: So you’re saying you never achieved that. Hammett, neither? Not anybody since?

CHANDLER: No story or novel of mystery has done that yet. Few have come close. Which is one of the principal reasons why otherwise reasonable people continue to assault the citadel.

SOLOMON: The public always loved the form, anyway. And still does.

CHANDLER: An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except the cleverness of a decadence.

SOLOMON: I take it you don’t go in for a lot of the contemporary, detective fiction.

CHANDLER: The flood of print has turned reading into a process of gulping rather than savoring.

SOLOMON: Is there such a thing as being too critical? Perhaps a touch too severe?

CHANDLER: A classical education saves you from being fooled by pretentiousness, which is what most current fiction is too full of.

SOLOMON: So who do you recommend?

CHANDLER: Hammett was the ace performer.

SOLOMON: You can’t go wrong with Dashiell.

CHANDLER: He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of—

SOLOMON: “The Glass Key.”

CHANDLER: —is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.

SOLOMON: That’s one heck of a compliment.

CHANDLER: The challenge is to write about real things magically.

SOLOMON: Who sounds pretentious, now?

CHANDLER: Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.

SOLOMON: So how do you keep your integrity intact? It’s a tough haul, word by word, line by line, page by page—

CHANDLER: Don’t ever write anything you don’t like yourself and if you do like it, don’t take anyone’s advice about changing it. They just don’t know.

SOLOMON: Fair enough. Sure.

CHANDLER: I am a writer, and there comes a time when that which I write has to belong to me, has to be written alone and in silence, with no one looking over my shoulder, no one telling me a better way to write it.

SOLOMON: You are your first and last audience, if I get you right.

CHANDLER: It doesn’t have to be great writing, it doesn’t even have to be terribly good. It just has to be mine.

SOLOMON: It always sounds too damn easy when you talk it through. So easy to say it’s all about the writing.

CHANDLER: The actual writing is what you live for. The rest is something you have to get through in order to arrive at the point.”

SOLOMON: But it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

CHANDLER: Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality: there are no dull subjects, only dull minds.

SOLOMON: If I’ve got it right, you kinda write as you will, artistically speaking, I mean. The notion of creating art isn’t part of what you consciously do.

CHANDLER: There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that.

SOLOMON: Ain’t that the truth?

CHANDLER: There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.

SOLOMON: Now I believe you’re quoting yourself…I wanted to take you for a bite, to one of those venerable establishments you might remember. But you know things can never be the same. The Blackhawk, Barney’s Market Club—both gone. Even the Berghoff ain’t what it used to be. Sure.

CHANDLER: I used to like this town. A long time ago…

SOLOMON: Maybe I should just rustle us up a couple of dames.

CHANDLER: I do a great deal of research—particularly in the apartments of tall blondes.

SOLOMON: Then maybe I should just leave you to it and say goodbye.

CHANDLER: To say goodbye is to die a little.


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