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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

LETTERS FROM JOHN: Of Ducks and Men

 
Pacific Grove
January 1, 1931
 
Dear Roland -
 
     Thank you for your letter. I am sorry I must answer it from memory.
 
     Tillie Eulenspiegel, the Airedale, has puppies, as sinful a crew as ever ruined rugs.
 
     Four of them found your letter and ate all of it but the address. I should imagine they were awed by the address if I had not learned that they hold nothing in reverence.
 
     At present they are out eating each other, and I must try to remember the things I should answer. 
 
      I am daily expecting to receive both of my novels back. That will be a blow but I don’t see how I can escape it.
 
     My work is improving, I think— and eventually I shall be able to dispose of all of it, but this is rather a long period of waiting, don’t you think?
 
     Yesterday we bought two mallard ducks for the garden. The drake has an irridescent green head. They are beautiful. They swim in the pond and eat the bugs in the garden.
 
     We are pretty excited. They cost our amusement quota for this month but are worth it. Named Aqua and Vita. Carol hated to go to work this morning and leave them because they are so interesting.
 
     They do not ever step on the plants— just edge between on their big clumsy feet. They very promptly caught and ate the goldfish, but we don't care.
 
     The other day I asked a young friend to read a story, and he felt that he should criticise because that was what one did to a ms.
 
     So he tore a pretty nice story to pieces and showed me how to do it.
 
     It was funny because he hit all the places which are simply matters of opinion and tore up some of the nicest writing I have ever done.
 
     Such things reassure one in the matter of believing critics.
 
     Has that ever happened to you?  How do you deal with criticism of your work, Roland? 
 
     Do you ever feel guilt for putting those you love and who love you under such strain from the clinging to your dream?
 
     That is all I can think of. If there was more to be answered it is in the stomachs of those khaki-colored devils in the garden.
 
     They are eating the fence now. The appetite of a puppy ranks with the Grand Canyon for pure stupendousness. I am very grateful to you for your interest. 
 
Has Man grown kinder by 2014?  Or is the human heart withered by all it has endured?
 
John
 
 
How would you advise Steinbeck to deal with criticism? 
 
Do you feel guilt over spending so much of your time on your writing? 
 
Has a friend ever tore up your ms. in ways you thought unfair?


11 comments:

  1. Not a friend, but a mentor did rip apart one of my mysteries. She questioned my research, etc.

    I'd advise John to weigh the value of listening to that assessment against his own gut feeling.

    Guilt over writing time? Sometimes. But, I get over it.

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  2. D.G.:
    John took your advice and trusted his gut instincts!

    Sorry about your mentor and the questioning of your research -- a similar thing happened to me. It hurt. I thought I knew the person, but I had been mistaken. Sigh.

    I think John's guilt is having his wife, Carol, live in such poverty due to his dream keeping him from working.

    He thanks you for your concern and your wisdom. :-)

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  3. Writing is a part of you. A big part. Which Carol knew when SHE made the choice to love you. Don't take her choice away from her, but continue to work at being the best you can be.
    And the mallards sound enchanting and puppies are marginally less destructive than kittens - because they can't climb as high.

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  4. Elephant's Child:
    So very wise! Yes, Carol knew John's dream when she married him - in her head -- but did she realize it in her heart?

    I think you would make a good counselor. Mallards are beautiful and elegant when in the water. And you are so right about the height limitations of puppies as compared to kittens!!

    Thank you for your insightful reply. I know John will appreciate it.

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  5. Thank you. I volunteer on a crisis line, and try very hard to be as supportive as I can be.

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  6. Gotta go - they are eating the fence. Funny.
    Bet that young critic thought he knew everything.

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  7. This is fascinating. I have friends who are very honest and I think it makes me a better writer. It forces me to stick with what I think is really important and give up what I don't want to fight for.

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  8. I get the guilt thing going on sometimes.

    Hugs and chocolate!

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  9. Elephant's Child:
    I knew I sensed a fellow counselor in you. :-)

    Alex:
    Those puppies must have been something all right! Yes, it is a trait of the young to be certain of so many things, isn't it?

    Aurora:
    Good hearing from you again! As a rare blood courier, I do not get around to all the friends on the net that I want.

    Yes, you are right: defending your position or your work helps shape it more clearly in your mind, doesn't it?

    Shelly:
    Yet if we do not spend time on our dreams, they will certainly never come true. Success is promised no one. Failure is if we do not try. Hang in there!

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  10. Sometimes that "ripping apart" is what is needed to make a good concept into an engaging read. Not fun; but you gotta weigh the intent of the story with the feedback. Its so hard to tell when the ms is being ripped to shreds unnecessarily, and when the feedback is harsh but helpful.

    Opinions, everyone has them. Just gotta keep your filters on and sift out the useful.

    ......dhole

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  11. Donna:
    I learned a long time ago: if you don't want to hear the painful truth -- don't ask!

    And you are right, we must listen in the end to our own instincts.

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