I used a typewriter for about twenty years, from my college days until the personal computer came along in the 1980s. I remember well writing a paper longhand, and saying to classmates, "It's all written. I just have to type it up."
Eventually I skipped the longhand and began typing my first drafts. When revising, I then cut the pages with scissors and taped them back together in a different order. If you see the movie Trumbo, you can watch the screenwriter work this way.
I was thrilled when the personal computer came along---no more having to re-type the entire piece after cutting and pasting. Just move things around and click "Print."
I sold the only typewriter I ever owned in 2005 after it had sat unused for twenty years. But I've begun to wonder if the convenience of word-processing has a cost.
Lawrence Block's Writing the Novel from Plot to Print was written just before the advent of the personal computer. In his chapter on revising, he notes, "It's virtually impossible for me to retype a page of my own work without changing something." Therefore he recommends typing one's own final draft.
To support his argument, he cites the experience of a friend who started making more money from her books, and "decided she could afford the luxury of hiring somebody to type her final drafts for her. She works very hard over them, . . . but her style's not as polished in her latest books because she's not doing her own typing. She's omitting what was always a set stage in her personal process of revision . . . ."
Would my work be more polished if I had to type every page one more time after revising? Am I curious enough to get myself a typewriter and try writing a book with it instead of my laptop?
I'll keep you posted.
Many think Jim Thompson was at his best writing novels about bad-guy heroes, as he did in The Killer Inside Me, Pop. 1280, and others. I would agree he is among the best at that kind of suspense novel, along with James M. Cain, Patricia Highsmith, and some more recent writers. But he wrote other kinds of books, and some of them are amazingly good.
The Kill-Off is a murder mystery such as Agatha Christie wrote. We meet a character who is so unlikable we wish someone would murder her. We meet a small community of characters each of whom has a good reason to do the deed. When someone does, we try to figure out who did it, or, as fans say, whodunit. Obviously this is in the tradition of Murder at the Vicarage, Murder on the Orient Express and other Christie classics.
At first, it's hard to see the similarity because Thompson's setting has little in common with Christie's English country houses. There is no elegance, no sophistication. His fictional resort town is down on it's luck and populated by people just trying to get by. He wrote about the world he knew.
Though working in a familiar form, Thompson did something extraordinary in The Kill-Off: there is no sleuth. No equivalent of Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, or, for that matter, Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe. No genius to solve the mystery. Christie did this as well, though I am aware of only one example, And Then There Were None.
And Thompson did something I've never seen anywhere else. Each chapter is narrated in the first person by a different character---twelve chapters, twelve characters telling their own stories of past connections to the victim and others in town and telling where they were on the night of the murder . . . except when they're lying.
Andy Goldsworthy created a sculpture on a wall adjacent to the Officers' Club in The Presidio. It's called "Earth Wall," and indeed the wall you see in the picture is made of rammed earth.
Goldsworthy began by attaching curved eucalyptus branches to an existing concrete garden wall to create the ball in the middle. Contractors then built a temporary plywood wall parallel to the concrete wall and filled the space in between with a mixture of earth and cement.
When the plywood wall was taken away, the eucalyptus ball was completely submerged in the rammed earth wall. Goldsworthy then excavated the ball with a hammer and chisel until it was partially revealed.
He chose to make this piece of sculpture an excavation because the Officers Club is the site of an ongoing archaeological dig. Inside the building, visitors can now view an adobe wall that was part of the Spanish presidio (fortress) built in 1776. Next to the building is a dig that explores other parts of that 250-year-old building.
All of Goldsworthy's work is site-specific. It reflects the site on which it is created and is made of materials from the site.
I read this book about a year ago and enjoyed it. I learned some things about writing, but mostly I got to know Lawrence Block. He hits all the usual topics---Developing Plot Ideas, Developing Characters, Outlining, etc.---and illustrates these with examples from his own career.
He has had a remarkable career beginning with writing paperback originals in the 1950s and continuing through the present. In 2014, Liam Neeson played Matthew Scudder in A Walk Among the Tombstones, a book from his most successful series.
Two weeks ago, I found myself thinking about this book, so I decided to read it again. This time, I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time, but I also saw that he gives answers to most of the practical questions writers ask, if you pay attention.
For instance, in his chapter on rewriting, he recalls his experience writing in the 1950s, and says, "When you're turning out somewhere between twelve and twenty books a year . . . you may never rewrite a line."
What he is saying about rewriting is obvious, but there's a further point. He began his career churning out short novels at a furious rate and pouring them into a marketplace newly opened by the introduction of paperback originals. It was a marketplace that required formulas and demanded quantity rather than quality. This was his paid apprenticeship.
Similarly today there is a vast online marketplace for ebooks, including formulaic genre novels. The beginner can pound them out and get paid a little while learning the fundamentals of the craft.
Of course, he can also spend years revising a unique personal novel and hope that someday a publisher will recognize his genius.
It's good to have choices.
"The paperback original as we know it was born in 1950," says Bill Crider in his excellent article from The Mystery Readers Newsletter in 1971. That's when Fawcett began publishing its Gold Medal Books, paperback editions of new novels. Up until then, paperbacks were issued only for reprints of books previously available in hardcover.
Fawcett published its paperback originals through the 1950s and 1960s and other publishers imitated its success. Some of the great names in crime fiction learned their craft and launched their careers writing for this market, including John D. MacDonald, Donald E. Westlake, Jim Thompson, and Lawrence Block.
With this new concept, these publishers built a huge audience for what is now called genre fiction: mystery, western, science fiction, and romance. Fawcett guaranteed its authors a first printing of 200,000 copies. It's easy to see a parallel to today's ebook phenomenon: lots of people reading lots of books that otherwise would not have been written and published.
The reaction of the publishing industry to paperback originals also sounds familiar. Crider quotes an executive of Pocket Books, which published paperback reprints, as saying, paperback originals were, "mostly rejects, or substandard books." The traditional publishers also said writers couldn't make a decent income from paperback originals and couldn't sell their stories to Hollywood. These accusations were quickly disproven.
When the success of paperback originals became undeniable, an executive of Doubleday complained that this new format would, "undermine the whole structure of publishing." But soon those traditional publishers were offering their own line of paperback originals and announcing plans to publish new fiction in hardcover and paperback simultaneously, just as traditional publishers now do with ebooks.
Kayo Books, in the photo above, is San Francisco's book seller devoted to collectable vintage paperbacks.
I wrote this page today. It was the last of four pages I wrote, and, as you can see, it is "The End" of the book---Dark Picasso, the third murder mystery featuring Nicole Tang Noonan.
Earlier this week, a friend asked what it feels like to finish a book. The word "relief" came to mind. Once I start a first draft, I like to get my four or five pages every day until it's done. It's much easier to keep moving than to start going again, and the clock is always ticking.
I'll set this aside for a while, and then start rewriting.
You may have noticed the first and second mysteries are not yet available for you to read. That just sort of happened. While rewriting Dark Mural, I started researching Dark Exhibit. While drafting Dark Exhibit, I thought of things I wanted to change in Dark Mural, and so on through this book. I'm glad I could work back and forth over these three books to keep things consistent.
Now, however, it is time to share these stories. Fortunately, there are many ways to do that these days. I'll keep you posted on when and where you can find them.
Patricia Highsmith begins the preface to this book by saying, "This is not a how-to-do-it handbook." Of course the title makes one expect exactly that. Later in the preface, she says, "In this book, I speak a lot about the odd happenings, the coincidences which have led to my writing a few good stories or books." At the time she wrote that, 1966, she had published eleven novels. So then this slim volume is not so much how-to-do-it, but how-she-did-it.
We learn that Highsmith, "never found other writers stimulating. . . . I get along much better with painters, and painting is the art most closely related to writing." She has more to say on this, and, though I'm not convinced, I'm delighted to know she thought so.
In her chapters on "The Germ of an Idea" and "Mainly on Using Experiences" she is eloquent on the subject of keeping notebooks. She relates developing extended descriptions into short stories, but also comments, "Even three or four words are often worth jotting down if they will evoke a thought, an idea or a mood."
I was thrilled to learn she was a fan of afternoon naps, as I am. She says, "I go to sleep with the problem, and wake up with the answer."
She covers lots of grand ideas, and lots of nuts and bolts, but she speaks to me most when she says, "Writing is a way of organizing experience and life itself."
I've been hanging out at the Presidio. It's a former army base turned national park. It offers quite a lot in its 1500 acres: history, ecology, recreation, concerts and lectures, and art exhibits. It's always busy with people from San Francisco, the Bay Area, the United States, and all over the world---LOTS of international visitors.
And it's all free of charge. You don't even pay for it with your tax dollars. The Presidio is the only part of the U. S. Park Service that pays for itself. All the buildings left behind by the army have been rented as homes, restaurants, museums, and workplaces. For instance, the Lucas family of companies is now located there (including Industrial Light and Magic). Actually not all the buildings have been repurposed. The bowling alley is still a bowling alley.
The building in the photo is the visitor center. Formerly it was the brig. It still has bars on the windows. Behind it is a view of San Francisco Bay. What looks like a mountain in the background is Angel Island.
Drop by whenever you're in town. Go for a hike, have lunch, visit a museum, and/or kick back in one of those red lounge chairs on the lawn of the Main Post.