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Sunday, August 15, 2010

MARK TWAIN_IF YOU ASK A HUNGRY MAN_GHOST OF A CHANCE Interlude


{"If you ask a hungry man how much two plus two is, he will reply four loaves."
-Mark Twain.}

Nikola Tesla told me, ghost to ghost, not to use Roland's prose as a blunt instrument.

To leaven the flour, so to speak, with a little lesson on writing, or what not, every now and again.

Nikola's a smart one, even for a ghost, so I thought I'd listen to him.

Listening.

I've been thinking some on that subject.

Like that hungry man I started out with -- how what we hear depends upon what we're listening for.

I remember walking down a busy downtown street in 'Frisco a century or two ago with an Injun of my acquaintance.

I was in the midst of the most sage pontificating you ever heard when he suddenly pulled up short and bent down.

Lord Almighty, if he didn't pick up a chirping grasshopper, of all things, from the corner of a store door.

He walked carefully over to a nearby planter and dropped it in.

"You mean to tell me," I said, "that you heard that little fella over all this hustle and bustle?"

"Do you have a silver dollar, Clemens?"

"Why I sure do."

"Let me see it."

So I dug it out of the warmth and security of my vest pocket and handed it to him.

Wouldn't you know that danged Injun flipped it high in the air where it clattered to the floorboards of the sidewalk.

I swear there was a such a mad scrabble of folks clawing for my dollar, it took all I had to snatch it from the hands of an ample matron.

Being a gentleman and all, I only left a bruise or two on her doing it.

Well, it was my dollar, dang it.

She told me where I could go for my next vacation. I informed her that I would join her there come the next cold front in that place.

That Injun shook his head at me. "I heard a living creature in the path of blind feet. They heard the hungry cry of free money. You hear what you listen for, Clemens."

And just what has that got to with writing?

Well, listening is what killed Hemingway the first time around. Yes, that's right. Listening.

You see, a long time ago, Hemingway stopped listening - except to the answers to his own questions.

Maybe that's what dried him up -- not listening outside the Greek chorus inside his own mind : "Ernest. Ernest. Papa. Papa."

No insult meant to him. It happens to all of us. We see well enough. We just stop listening.

It dried the wellspring inside his soul. He was dead long before he pulled the trigger.

You say : that's fine to say of him, of yourself. The world's has changed.

But not human nature.

Lord Almighty, I've seen it all go, and I'll watch it go again.

If you would be good writers, children, thing to do is to last, to get your work done -- see and hear and learn and understand.

Write when you've done all that and not before.

Then, your readers will actually experience your tale.

But to do that you have to use the right word for the right thing. The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

As you would filet a fish, filet your prose. Strip every sentence to its cleanest state.

Every word that serves no function,

every long word that could be a short word,

every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb,

every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what to whom -- carve it out as you would the bones from a bass.

After every sentence, ask yourself what the reader wants to know next.

Good writers write in such a way that one can read them aloud and know what they mean.

Bad writers have to be studied and re-read and pondered like that bejiggered James Joyce.

His ghost still holds a grudge against me for putting out a cigar in his ULYSSES. I thought I was downright subtle in my critique of his book.

It's not like my books haven't had their share of insults.

I've been tarred and feathered for HUCK FINN.

But you can't make your world come alive for the readers without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful.

Because if it is all beauty and victory and rose sunsets, the readers won't believe in it. Life isn't like that.

Roland's certainly wasn't.

Now, I've gone and done it. Dang tears. I can't see the letters on this bejiggered contraption anymore. I have to stop now.

If you want me to, I'll post another entry from his journal Monday.
***
Nikola tells me I'm old-fashioned, even for a ghost. He wants me to add this song. Have I told you that old Nikola's a strange bird? Well, he is.

By the way, unknown to that band, Nikola is one of them -- the fella with the strange eyes behind that gal in the first photograph.

Like Wagner, this music is better than it sounds. The start and end of this song gave me a nosebleed, and the middle gave me a stomach ache :

11 comments:

  1. Great advice and so timely. I'm about to start writing a new story and I need to keep the simplicity in mind. Short words, nouns and verbs, straightforward prose.

    Thanks!

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  2. Raquel : Good luck in your new story. My email is listed in my profile. If you need a question answered or someone to bounce a problem off of, don't hesitate to email me.

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  3. My favorite Mark Twain quote: "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."

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  4. Learning from you is such FUN.
    Mary

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  5. Oh dear! Poor James Joyce!! LOL!!

    A friend said I made the mistake of starting to acquaint myself with Mr Joyce by going straight to Ulysess. She said start with The Dubliners - more accessible. I will one day!

    Take care
    x

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  6. Be still and listen. Open up and listen. Shut up and listen. I love these lessons. I hear the message. And I get it. Thanks so much.

    I like it when you write in these masters' voices, it brings them and their message alive for me.

    Thank you ever so much for your generosity, that rebel, Olivia

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  7. I've heard the money story before. In daycare, when we can't seem to get the kids to listen to us, we can quietly ask, "Who wants some ice cream?" and they all come to a screeching halt. Yeah, it's what we're listening for. Thanks for the great advice. I actually loved Huck Finn, btw. Many of the things I learned from that book, I still use today to make points in the everyday world. I laughed when you wrote that the song gave you a nosebleed (liked the song, btw). Classical music makes me tense. If I listen to it very long, it makes me angry. I don't know why, maybe because it's so technical....?

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  8. Thanks, everyone. Today, not only am I alone manning the blood center, but I am on first call so I not only have to do the office duties but run rare blood all over S.W. Louisiana, too. So my time to respond and visit is non-existent.

    Thanks again, Roland

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  9. I agree with Twain. I loose interest in a prose when descriptions, words, sentences, etc. get long and complicated. It brings me to the old but true statement, 'show not tell'. That shortens things.

    And it's intriguing how time has no place and place has no time on this blog. Twain talks of you as if you are gone... I guess in your world we are already dead someplace and time.

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