Monthly Archives: November 2005

More Texty

Two pictures that didn’t come out from the bike trip through East Williamsburg and Maspeth, on the way to Jackson Heights: one of the sign for “GRAND THEFT AUTO SALES” (“where every deal’s a steal!”), and another of the storefront for “69 FLOWERS.” And I didn’t take any pictures of all the gentlemen’s clubs out in that neck of the woods (who knew?), but this first photograph is of what appears to be a 99¢ store in the middle of nowhere, shot from one of the bridges over a terminus of Newtown Creek, either English Kills or Maspeth Creek (although I’m pretty sure it was the latter).

The rest of the pictures here are some text-y remainders from the past year or so.

It took me the longest time to figure out that “Panoom” used to be “Bathroom.”

Yarnspinner Masterpieces

A couple weeks ago The New Yorker had an eight-page special advertising section in it, taken out by Bantam Dell. The section begins with this copy:

Great writers are great storytellers: they are rarely at a loss for words. The ability to unravel a yarn, deliver an adventure, and bring a voice alive is what sets the storyteller apart, and what keeps us, the readers, satisfied.

And I’m like, what? Bantam Dell copywriter guy, are you nuts? Or just reporting from the talentless hack zone of the planet Genre Fiction? I mean, I’ve read more of the Paris Review “Writers at Work” interviews than is probably healthy, and although the interview with, say, Dorothy Parker is rather different than the one with William Burroughs, if there’s one thing all writers seem to agree on it’s that the work is really, really difficult.

I had a similar reaction to this, from an article in the current Poets & Writers:

As we put pen to paper, we all feel that we’re writing masterpieces—we’re sure of it. Maybe we all have to be, in order to keep writing. After all, by the time we learn how wrong we are, the work is safely finished and either published or rejected.


I think I’m sticking with the drops-of-blood-on-the-forehead, never-finished-only-abandoned school of thought for now.

Basil Hargrave’s Vermifuge

I just got How to Write Short Stories [with Samples], by Ring Lardner (Scribner, 1924). The book is a collection of Lardner’s stories; the joke of the ironic title (suggested, apparently, by the author’s friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald) is built on with both a preface that purports to explain the art, and brief introductions to each story that note which particular aspect of short story writing is being demonstrated. With the exception of one or two that fall somewhat short of the mark—object lessons on the shelf life of topical humor—these are hilarious.

A few pieces of Lardner’s advice from the introduction:

The first thing I generally always do is try and get hold of a catchy title, like for instance, “Basil Hargrave’s Vermifuge,” or “Fun at the Incinerating Plant.” Then I set down to a desk or flat table of any kind and lay out 3 or 4 sheets of paper with as many different colored pencils and look at them cock-eyed a few moments before making a selection.

How to begin—or, as we professionals would say, “how to commence”—is the next question. It must be admitted that the method of approach (“L’approchement”) differs even among first class fictionists. For example, Blasco Ibañez usually starts his stories with a Spanish word, Jack Dempsey with an “I” and Charley Peterson with a couple of simple declarative sentences about his leading character, such as “Hazel Gooftree had just gone mah jong. She felt faint.”

After commencing a story about the adventures of Miss Abbott, Miss Quaver, and Mr. Whaledriver at a famous resort with the Prince of Wales, which then becomes a story about a mule and Mrs. Croot, which the beginner is instructed to finish for practice, Lardner has this advice:

Now for the marketing of the completed work. A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.

Personally I have found it a good scheme to not even sign my name to the story, and when I have got it sealed up in its envelope and stamped and addressed, I take it to some town where I don’t live and mail it from there. The editor has no idea who wrote the story, so how can he send it back? He is in a quandary.

In conclusion let me warn my pupils never to write their stories—or, as we professionals call them, “yarns”—on used paper. And never to write them on a post-card. And never to send them by telegraph (Morse code).

Getting the Word Out

Some of you reading this might know one or the other of these things already, but I’ve been continuing to act as a vector, if that’s the right word, for Movable Type:

1) I made a blog for Soft Skull, here. (It’s not perfect—figuring out how to perfectly integrate it with the rest of the site is beyond what I’m capable of doing—but it works.) In theory it’s a team blog, although Richard’s the only one who’s posted so far. And even though there have only been a few posts to date, one got mentioned by Maud, which led to a mention by Cory Doctorow over at BoingBoing.

2) I helped Miriam Datskovsky a little bit with setting up her Movable Type-based author site, here, which went live just in time for the publication of Amy Sohn’s sex columnist roundtable for New York magazine, “The Vagina Dialogues.”