So you can read my books

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Ghost of John Steinbeck here.

Who am I you ask.  Fair enough.  Despite my novels, I live in a house of shyness.  If you wish to know, there are alway those funny sounding things called "Search Engines."

But who are you?  Where are you in your writing?  Where are you going with it?  To know where you are going, you must first know where you are.

To help you with that last, I ask you:

Are you a coward in your writing?

Do you even know what it means to be brave in your writing?

I have noted that contemporary fiction is not interested in culture, history, ideas or real human psychology.

Not really.

To be interested in such things requires engagement not only with the world but also with entire bodies of knowledge generated by hundreds of fevered human minds.

That requires you to read, to think in areas most shy away from.

Incapable of taking anything seriously and unwilling to risk disapproval by writing anything that might be deemed in any way political, 

today's writers spend their days like performing toy poodles in a circus:

pushing a load of battered toys called words around in a baby carriage while undemanding audiences roar their approval.

Hemingway wrote that bullfighters taught us how to be brave. 


I hung around the rings in Spain. I even saw Manolete fight a number of times, which is more than Ernest Hemingway did.

I know about the underweight bulls, the sandbags on the kidneys, the shaved horns and sometimes the needle of barbiturate in the shoulder as the gate swung open.

I have yet to hear of a bull-fighter who has taken a dangerous political stand, who has fought a moral battle unless its horns were shaved.

Are you like that bullfighter?  Only willing to face issues that have had their horns shaved, only willing to write fiction that will not raise eyebrows, will not offend any one of a dozen special interest groups.

In the end it is not the bulls of critics or agents that will defeat today's writers I am afraid, but their own shrinking, cowardly approach to what they write.

"Oh, there are things we must never say out loud, groups we must never risk offending" I read on your electronic journals.


But aren’t writers meant to write down the thoughts that others won’t speak?

After I wrote THE GRAPES OF WRATH, the banks that owned the groves whose workers starved howled at me.  The critics expected me to write societal commentary from then on. 

Subsequently I saw a piece of war as a correspondent, and following that I wrote CANNERY ROW.

That was a kind of nostalgic thing, written for a group of soldiers who had said to me,

“Write something funny that isn’t about the war. Write something for us to read— we’re sick of war.”

When CANNERY ROW came out, it got the usual critical treatment.

I was wasting my time in flippancy when I should be writing about the war.

But half a million copies were distributed to troops, and they didn’t complain. We had some very warlike critics then, much more bellicose than the soldiers.

It is strange to me that I have lived so many lives. Thinking back, it seems an endless time and yet only a moment.

Tell me:

if a thought came to you of a tale that included Moslems acting as humans customarily do: both heroically and cruelly -- would you write the tale?

Or would you shy away from it?

What do you think about honesty in writing? Do you tackle taboo subjects in your writing?  Do you play it safe? 



  1. I write about what I'm interested in. There are some subjects I won't touch - a personal choice. Why disturb a nest of vipers?

    Did Steinbeck have a beef with Hemingway?

  2. There are subjects that I won't touch either.
    Sometimes I wonder if the conservative viewpoint has become taboo. If so, then maybe I do write about tough subjects sometimes.

  3. New writers must write to a niche. I try to upset people, and some tell me abut it, but the niche keeps buying the books.

  4. D.G.:
    A wise choice not to disturb vipers. If we do it often enough though. the vipers may take over.

    Steinbeck thought to kill animals to prove your manhood only proved the opposite. To mount their heads on your walls was only announcing it to the world. And Hemingway betrayed a friend in print to get out of a inconvenient contract -- to Steinbeck friendship was sacred.

    Like you, I do not touch certain subjects since I am uncomfortable with holding those images in my head for the length of time it would take to write them well: child abuse, rape, torture -- though I have touched upon them in my novels briefly.

    Christianity has become the new homosexuality -- oh, yes, practice it in private if you wish, but don't speak of it in public. There are other closet issues, too.

    Controversy can draw people to our work -- and with the vegetables they throw, you can always make a nice salad. :-)

  5. I write fantasy and science fiction that aren't Christian fiction but I can't help having a single powerful Being in most of my works. I do read and write for entertainment, not to promote my personal viewpoints. And just like I avoid reading fiction about certain subjects I don't write about it either.

  6. I write what I love to read - fantasy. Easy :)