So you can read my books

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


{"Read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it.

Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.

Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window and start again wiser."

-William Faulkner.}

William Faulkner, ghost, here :

I am deeply touched by the struggles I see among you beginning authors.

I asked Roland if I could write something to grant you light in the darkness that often threatens to overwhelm even the best of writers.

He, being my friend, said : "Of course."

But what to write? What did I know that would assist you?

Know. The word mocked me. Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.

What light could I offer to guide you through the shadows?

I decided to give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire of the struggle to be published...

I give it to you not that you may remember time,

but that you might forget it now and then for a moment

and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it.

Because no battle is ever won. They are not even fought.

The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.

The artist doesn't have time to listen to the critics.

The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don't have the time to read reviews.

I remember what Samuel McCord told me in the New Orleans of the Roaring Twenties :

"I think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, and how terribly passion goes along the earth, clinging to it,

so that after a while the two lines are too far apart for the same person to straddle from one to the other;

and that sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words.”

Angela Brown once commented on how odd "soul" sounded to her mind in this modern, remorseless world.


It is just a word. Soul, we call it. But I have been used to words for a long time now.

I know that that word is merely like the others:

just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time comes,

you won't need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear. When your prose fills that lack in the reader's chest, "Soul" will take on a life of its own.

But let us talk of what it takes to be an author:

Don't be 'a writer'. Be writing:

A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

And to work well you must write with the embers of truth stinging your eyes.

You can have 13 people looking at a black bird and none of them will get it right. No one individual can look at truth.

Even simple truth. Look deep enough, and the simplicity disappears in the murky depths.

Truth blinds you. It is too much for one set of perceptions to take in. To a man with rose-tinted glasses, the whole world is rose.

And so it is with the writer looking at Man.

We call ourselves Homo Sapien, the reasoning animal. But Man is not made of reason.

A man is the sum of his misfortunes. One day you'd think misfortune would get tired, but then time is its own misfortune as well.

And so all human behavior is unpredictable. Considering Man's fragility and the ramshackle universe he functions in, how could it be otherwise?

So how does that affect you as a writer?

1) The writer must not set himself up as judge:

He must focus on action, the character's behavior. Maybe your protagonist, like so many people, has no concept of morality,

only an integrity to hold always to what he believes to be facts and truths of the human condition.

2) The character does what his nature dictates.

He acts not as the writer would, not as a man should do, but what he will do -- maybe what he can't help but do. Which leads me to my greatest fear:

3) I fear that Man is losing his individualism, his sense of self, in doing what the herd does in order to stay safe.

Which is why I do not belong to anything besides the Human Race, and I try to be a first rate member of that.

4) You are first rate as a human being and a writer if:

you do the best you can with what talents you have to make something positive that wasn't there yesterday.

How do you do that you ask:

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. And he makes his home of the stones of his efforts.

How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home until I realized that home to a writer is where his mind, his heart is.

5) Most men are a little better than their circumstances give them a chance to be. Strive to thrive where you are. "How?" you ask again. And I will tell you:

You cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything good.

You have to have courage. Courage is not so hard to have in writing if you remember that:

All of us have failed to match our dream of perfection.

6) I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. If I could write all my work again, I'm convinced I could do it better.

This is the healthiest condition for an artist. That's why he keeps working, trying again: he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off.

Of course he won't. Which leads us to the next point.

7) The phenomenon of writing is its hermaphroditism:

the principles of victory and of defeat inhabit the same body

and the necessary opponent, the blank page, is merely the bed he self-exhausts on.

8) You can learn writing, but you cannot teach it. A paradox but true despite that.

And what have I learned from my novels?

I learned how to approach language, words:

not with seriousness so much as an essayist does,

but with a kind of alert respect, as you approach dynamite;

even with joy, as you approach women: perhaps with the same secretly unscrupulous intentions.

Are you a writer? Really? Then, what are you doing about it? Go, write. And remember:

Dreams have only one owner at a time. That's why dreamers are lonely.

And that's why a dream is not a very safe thing to be near...

I know; I had one once.

It's like a loaded pistol with a hair trigger: if it stays alive long enough,

somebody is going to be hurt. But if it's a good dream, it's worth it.

*As the restrictions on this collection expired in 1986, the Library of Congress believes this image is in the public domain. However, the Carl Van Vechten estate has asked that use of Van Vechten's photographs "preserve the integrity" of his work, i.e, that photographs not be colorized or cropped, and that proper credit is given to the photographer.
The ghost of William Faulkner says this video speaks to him though the music is not what he is accustomed to.


  1. "The Soul" does not sound odd to me...

  2. Alex:
    Nor to me. But I am a dinosaur living in a modern world where a 14 year old girl, having won a Peace Prize, can be gunned down by "religious" men.

  3. Somehow the ghost of Faulkner can always hold my interest to the end of the post. Maybe it's the rhythm of the words.

    Part of a writer's life these days is also having an online presence, which involves blogging and other social media. That takes time away from our creative writing, but it can provide another outlet for learning.

    As for 'soul', you either have it or you don't. I'm not sure about all the inhabitants at Meilori's though. Perhaps you can advise me on that, Roland?

  4. D.G.:
    Faulkner does have a distinct rhythm to his words both poetic and profound.

    An online presence.

    I try but free time is so meager for me. Twitter seems so full of shouts to look at the tweeters.

    I try to make my forum here educational and supportive for my friends.

    McCord, despite his bruised faith, believes in the soul ... and its lacks which he sees in too many pairs of eyes.

    As for the inhabitants of Meilori's, McCord believes they are living souls unable to leave this plane of existence due to unresolved inner conflicts.

    Good to see you here on my birthday, Roland

  5. So true. Take the noun writer and turn it into a verb, writing. Excellent advice.

  6. Well, Happy Birthday!! Hope you didn't have to work.

    The positives - we're still here, we're still writing, and trying to illuminate the world with our words.

    That's something. And McCord's reasoning makes sense.

  7. Lydia:
    Robert Downey, Jr. once wrote: 'Hero' is not a noun. It is a verb. The same with writing. The ghost of William Faulkner sends a wink your way for liking his advice. (He always was a ladies man!)

    Yes, I had to work on my birthday. But like a hobbit, I gave gifts on my birthday -- the gift of life to ill patients by being a rare blood courier.

    Stephen King said that writing was a kind of magic that transports the reader into another world to converse with people who can teach us with their actions and their thoughts.

    McCord tips his Stetson your way for thinking his reasoning sound. He would wink but he is married to a jealous goddess. :-)