F. Scott Yourself.

October 9, 2012

Recently having embarked on a re-reading of The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, your editorial staff presents here, for your own authorial ease, a do-it-yourself Fitzgerald story maker. Simply make your selections from the options available, mix an old-fashioned, and watch while your very own gossamer beauty, her hair and skin and eyes aflame with the fire of youth and debutante society, takes shape in Fitzgerald-ian (-ish?) verse.

Thomas McClane Blackrock III was a young man from A) Minnesota, B) Manhattan or C) Andover, looking forward to A) summer in the Hamptons, B) an ocean voyage abroad or C) drinks with A) prep school classmates, B) a horsey uncle or C) a youthful fling at the Knickerbocker Club, when he set off down 42nd Street in the marvelous, blustery winter of 19 A) 21, B) 21 or C) 21.

At A) 15, B) 19 or C) 28 years of age, he had just recently been A) admitted to, B) rejected from or C) asked to leave Princeton, on account of A) a series of events in which a man of modest means but intellectual ability and morality is thrust into the world of the wealthy and shocked to find it cruel and hollow, B) a series of events in which a man of modest means but intellectual ability and morality is thrust into the world of the wealthy and shocked to find it cruel and hollow or C) a series of events in which a man of modest means but intellectual ability and morality is thrust into the world of the wealthy and shocked to find it cruel and hollow.

As young Blackrock turned a corner, he was struck by the sight of a girl, no – an angel! stepping from the door of a limousine onto the curb. Swirls of virginal snow played about her ankles, and she was followed out of the vehicle’s cabin by A) a strapping young banker, B) an elderly and proper matron or C) an air of invincible youth, made merry by the glittering delicacies of life and champagne, in front of which the banality of bookish notions of love wither for want of truth. He cocked his hat and lit his pipe.

After colloquial dialogue, Blackrock and the girl A) elope, only to return at her father’s threat to cut off her allowance, at which time she leaves Blackrock heartbroken, cynical and mystified by the very different world of the rich, B) strike up a casual affair that becomes steadily more serious, till it comes to the attention of her father, at which time she leaves Blackrock heartbroken, cynical and mystified by the very different world of the rich or C) ride horses along the beach together, bathed lazily in the starlit incandescence of the moon and waves and love and all things young and fruitful both.

When A) war broke out, B) Blackrock was called to Princeton for pre-season football or C) a more suitable society match was organized for the girl, they parted ways and slipped from one another’s hearts like ships loosed from their moorings in the night, slipping soundlessly away in the cold, black water. At least, thought Blackrock, upon the moment of their parting, we each have plenty of cigarettes.


Get A Good Pen.

October 3, 2012

From the Wall Street Journal, where it was published by Mark Helprin on September 28, 2012:

Should you be insane enough to want to make a living in this cultural climate by writing fiction that is neither politicized, confessional, nihilistic, sexualized, sensationalist, nor crafted with the vocabulary and syntax of Dick and Jane, here are some suggestions.

Never write in a café, especially in Europe. Ever since Hemingway, this has been the literary equivalent of what in mountain climbing is called the “tech weenie” (that is, someone who cannot get a foot off the ground but is weighed down with $10,000’s worth of equipment). Literary skill, much less greatness, cannot be had with a pose, and exhibitionism extorts the price of failure. Also, have pity on the weary Parisians who have wanted only a citron pressé but have been unable to find a café where every single seat is not occupied by an American publicly carrying on a torrid affair with his moleskin.

This brings up Levenger, which sells “tools for writers.” The fewer tools the better, and they need not be costly or complicated. Whether you use a pencil, a pen, an old typewriter or something electrical is largely irrelevant to the result, although there is magic in writing by hand. It’s not just that it has been that way for 5,000 years or more, and has engraved upon our expectations of literature the effects associated with the pen—the pauses; considerations; sometimes the racing; the scratching out; the transportation of words and phrases with arrows, lines and circles; the closeness of the eyes to the page; the very touching of the page—but that the pen, not being a machine (it does not meet the scientific definition of a machine), is a surrender to a different power than those of mere speed and efficiency.

In short, a pen (somehow) helps you think and feel. And although once you find a pen you like you’ll probably stick with it the way an addict sticks with heroin, it can be anything from a Mont Blanc to a Bic. The same for paper. There are beautiful, smooth, heavy papers, but great works have been written on ration cards, legal pads and the kind of cheap paper they sell in developing countries—grayish white, almost furry, with flecks of brown and black that probably came from lizards and bats that jumped into the paper makers’ vats.

Your most important tools will be your honesty, labor, courage, practice, luck and utter concentration. Inspiration can be magnificent. Handel wrote his “Messiah” cooped up in his room for two weeks. No one saw him, and his meals were allegedly slipped under the door. (Either it was a very strange door or he survived on fruit leather and matzah.) Then again, Voltaire—”On Sunday I was seized by inspiration”—wrote “Phèdre” in six days flat, a play that made his audiences weep not from emotion but because they had to sit through it.

More valuable than speed or being struck by what you think is lightning (and others usually do not) is concentration. When asked how he managed to come up with the calculus, surely one of the greatest achievements possible for the mortal mind, Newton replied, “I thought of nothing else.” Your drafts should be many. Some people (unspecified of course) even go, at times, to 12. This is but one of the differences between modern books that are flipped out like burgers and older ones that are roasted like beef. With the exceptions of those passages where it appears that God has commandeered the pen for the sake of perfection, the initial drafts should look like the Rosetta Stone and be so slashed and worked over with lines, directions and corrections that no one but the author can read them.

This gives rise to the fear that if you are run over by a bus before the work is set in type either it will go to the grave with you or require an army of scholars to decode it. Though they may be paid to unravel Donald Trump’s memoirs, they are less likely to be there for you.

Still, don’t hurry. Live dangerously. People love to look at the rough and scarred original manuscripts in the display cases of the New York Public Library or in facsimile editions. It’s not just because it brings them to the kind of authenticity one cannot help but treasure but because they know that if there is, indeed, magic, it is here to be seen, in worn pages that glow with concentration, genius and love.