So you can read my books

Thursday, April 4, 2013


I was writing in the dim interior of the haunted jazz club, Meilori's.

I heard a mellow yet deep voice to my right. "Dear boy, don't tell me you're still persisting to write?"

I looked up.

Gore Vidal.

Or rather his ghost, looking rather dapper and nearly as young as me.

He sat down, leaned next to me, reading what I had just written on SLAYBELLES IN THE NIGHT, and shook his head.

"Roland, half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President."

I smiled. "Let's hope it's the same half."

He slapped my arm. "You're stealing from me!"

"Steal from the best Oscar Wilde always said."

He leaned and scanned my laptop screen again, nodding. "You have your own distinct sytle. Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."

I made a face. "And it's gotten me so far."

Gore raised a long forefinger in admonition. "I’m not sentimental about anything. Life flows by, and you flow with it or you don’t. Move on or move out.”

I nodded and sighed, "It's just that sometimes I get depressed."

Gore smiled sadly. "As do I, my boy. As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too.

Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action:

you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”

He tapped my laptop screen. "But words like those of your friends and you give me hope. How marvelous good books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself.”

I asked, "What would be your advice to my writing friends, sir?"

He smiled wickedly, “Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all. Write what you think, what you imagine, what you suspect!”

He winked at me. “You can't really succeed with a novel anyway; they're too big.

It's like city planning. You can't plan a perfect city because there's too much going on that you can't take into account.

You can, however, write a perfect sentence now and then. The trick is to write one after another.”

He looked off into the bronze mists of Meilori's. “The most interesting thing about writing is the way that it obliterates time.

Three hours seem like three minutes. Then there is the business of surprise.

I never know what is coming next. The phrase that sounds in the head changes when it appears on the page.

Then I start probing it with a pen, finding new meanings. Sometimes I burst out laughing at what is happening as I twist and turn sentences.

Strange business, all in all. One never gets to the end of it. That’s why I go on, I suppose. To see what the next sentences I write will be.”

A tall ghost sat down on the other side of me. Oscar Wilde. He laughed.

"Roland, as a young man in the South, you are in a splendid position to write great novels. Southerners make good novelists: they have so many stories because they have so much family.”

Gore's eyebrow rose. "I said that!"

Oscar smiled wide. "As I have been quoted: if you are going to steal, steal from the best. Go on. Admit it. I'm your hero, Gore."

Gore gave Oscar a look that would have curdled vinegar. " Don’t ever make the mistake with people like me, thinking we are looking for heroes. There aren’t any and if there were, they would be killed immediately. I’m never surprised by bad behaviour. I expect it."

Oscar pouted, "You think me nothing but a gossip."

Gore relented, "Everybody likes a bit of gossip to some point, as long as it’s gossip with some point to it. That’s why I like history. History is nothing but gossip about the past, with the hope that it might be true."

Oscar laughed deeply, "Oh, the gossip about me is definitely true ... if it is bad."

Gore looked sadly at my laptop screen again. "It is all a waste, you know."

"What, sir?"

"Your striving for quality, for uniqueness. In the case of the new writers, rather like priests who have forgotten the meaning of the prayers they chant,

we shall go on for quite a long time talking of books and writing books,

pretending all the while not to notice that the church is empty and the parishioners have gone elsewhere to attend other gods, perhaps in silence or with new words."

I said, "People still read, sir."

Gore nodded grimly, "The fad of the moment is what they read. Not to think, not to reflect, but to be aroused."

Oscar shook his head firmly. “The malady of civilized man is his knowledge of death.

The good artist, like the wise man, addresses himself to life and invests with his private vision the deeds and thoughts of men.

The creation of a work of art, like an act of love, is our one small yes at the center of a vast no.”

Gore grumbled, "You just stole my words again!"

Oscar nodded, "Because you seemed to have forgotten them. We writers exist to be the 300 Spartans in the tide of ignorance and hopelessness."

I raised an eyebrow. "I thought it was to be on the best seller list."

Oscar laughed, "That, too!"

What favorite author(s) of yours would you like to chat with at a haunted jazz club?  What would you ask him/her?  What do you think they would think of today's books and publishing industry?

*{As the restrictions on this photo 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. Such has been respectfully done.}


  1. Excellent choice for the W letter! I read Dorian Gray by Wilde a few months ago.

    Not as familiar with Gore Vidal.

  2. D.G.:
    Oscar is always glad to come to my rescue! Gore Vidal's most widely regarded social novel was Myra Breckinridge; his best known historical novels included Julian, Burr, and Lincoln.

    His screenwriting credits included the epic historical drama Ben-Hur (1959). Ben-Hur won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

    His essays rank with Twain's for their readability. Sadly, like most of us, he will slip into obscurity. In his case, it will be a crime.

    Thanks for visiting. I took a chance on spotlighting an author who deserves to be remembered and is not. Have a great day, Roland

  3. I think Oscar will be around for a long time to come. His Ballad of Reading Gaol is a poem I read over and over again. I'm not sure about how focused Gore Vidal was on his writing. Thanks for this very interesting post.

  4. The ego of these two would have filled Noah's Ark, but you captured their characters nicely.

  5. Write what I imagine - I can do that.

  6. How fun that you're going backwards! So creative. Hope you enjoy the challenge. :)

  7. Ashamed to admit I've never read Gore Vidal, but Oscar is one of my heroes. I adore everything he wrote, but my favorite remains the first I ever read, "The Canterville Ghost." Bestest ghost story ever. He is also my go-to guy for quotes.

    Oscar is definitely the guy I'd want to run into at a haunted Jazz club unless I was feeling a little wild (pardon the pun), then maybe Byron.

    ~VR Barkowski

  8. Inger:
    The Ballad of Reading Goal is a haunting poem, all right. In my mythos, Samuel McCord and Mark Twain broke Oscar out of Reading Goal when Queen Victoria flung Sam's plea for mercy in his teeth. (He had saved her life as a princess, and mercy he felt was the least she owed him). It is a fantasy that is on the back burner. If my books do better, I will get to it eventually.

    The Desert Rocks:
    Yes, those two had so much ego, I was almost shoved out of my chair at Meilori's!

    Your high sales show it!

    Yes, I decided to have fun with the challenge! I pray your health greatly improves soon!!!

    Yes, quotes from Oscar certainly pepper my mind! :-)

    Lord Byron's daughter, Ada Byron, has a prominent role in all of my Samuel McCord and Victor Standish novels and in Alice Wentworth's solo novel, END OF DAYS.

    Gore Vidal's essays are stunning in their breath and depth. I like his essays best of his writings.

    For an insider's view of the White House of FDR and JFK, read both of his autobiographies.

    Nothing to be ashamed of about not knowing about Gore (related to the Vice President of that name). There are so many fine authors who are slowly slipping into obscurity.