About Writers, inspiration, writing technique

A Spooky Guy!

How many of us write with themes on our mind? Norman Mailer did.

The Spooky Art is a book on his writing history and process, and a commentary/diatribe on, as he puts it, “. . . one’s own foray into the nature of such matters as being and nothingness . . . the pitfalls of early success and how to cope with disastrous reviews . . .  identity and the occasional crises of identity.” And much more along these lines. And that’s only Part I.

Part II deals with genre and screenplays and journalism: “. . . some of the ways and by-ways down which writers search and/or flee from their more direct responsibility.” Part III, ‘Giants and Colleagues,’ is: “. . . a mix of thoughtful and/or shoot-from-the-hip candor about some of my contemporaries, rivals, and literary idols.” This is a book to be read in small bites, or you’ll drive yourself crazy.

Themes are important to him. He says of some of his early work: “I do not recognize the young man who wrote this book. I do not even like him very much, and yet I know he must be me because his themes are mine . . . I am not even without regard for him . . . he is close to saying the unsayable. The most terrible themes of my own life–the nearness of violence to creation and the whiff of murder just beyond the embrace of love–are his themes also.”

He recalls saying, in 1958: “I am imprisoned with a perception that will settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time.” (Whoa!)

Yes, he was a man of ideas. He admires Truman Capote’s style, and also criticizes it as a way to enliven none-too-interesting characters (in In Cold Blood). I can’t comment on that. Cold Blood is another book I read fifty years ago. Of Capote, he says: “Capote wrote the best sentences of anyone of our generation. He had a lovely ear. He did not have a good mind. I don’t know if a large idea ever bothered him. But he did have a sense of time and place.”

Large ideas, aka themes . . . does my stuff have a theme? Other than: Life is rough. Deal with it.

An English teacher in seventh grade lectured us on what a book report should consist of. Too many, called on to read out our book report, gave a summation of plot. Mr. ?????–I see his face, I cannot recall his name–wanted to hear about a theme.

He terrorized me, I can tell you. After I gave too many reports on the Nancy Drew series of–YA, we call it now–mysteries, he said to me, isn’t it time you read something worthwhile? I felt humiliated. I plunged into Dickens and never looked at Nancy Drew again.

Dickens, did he have themes? He told tales. Tales published as a serial, that hooked readers and kept them coming back month after month. Tales full of dense description and characterization, both of which I enjoy. I suppose I could call him an influence.

I read a ton of Dickens. There were boring stretches, especially in Dombey and Son, but I plowed through them. Sooner or later the story picked up again. That was my impression then. I suppose I should read it again, see what I think of it now.

Ah. Google tells me Dickens’ themes are pollution and exploitation. His aim was to denounce the problems related to industrialization and pollution. Also: Social justice.

Mark Twain, did he have themes? His theme would have to be: We’re all human, all in the same boat. Hold on. I’ll look him up.

Here we go: “His novels express the importance of perseverance, loyalty, bravery, and friendship, and display a brilliant control of vernacular speech.” He wrote for the masses as well. For both these giants, writing was their bread and butter. They had to keep it coming, to pay the bills. Both men were born into poverty and had to make their way in an inhospitable world.

Hey. Same as Sly. It was a hard-knock life in the sixteenth century, and way worse for a cat with talent and ambition. He had to take care who he communicated with. He could end up burnt at the stake. Luckily, John Dee was a flexible thinker. Anyone who believes he talks to angels will not be thrown by a talking cat. Just say “Madimi sent me” and you’re good.

Dee’s angels were a quirky bunch. And Sly, when he was comfortable with you, was a terrific bullshitter. As good, I believe, as Norman Mailer.

Norman Mailer is certainly full of himself. He certainly doesn’t shy from blowing his own horn. He has big ideas. And looks with scorn upon those who don’t. He talks philosophy a lot. This is going to take some rereading. Half the time I don’t know what he’s saying.

Sly talks philosophy too. He was a Natural Philosopher, like Margaret Cavendish, called ‘the first female scientist.’ She lived about seventy-five years after him, but her ideas were timeless in terms of wackiness. She had an impulse to present her scholarship in verse. So does Sly.

I had intended to bulk this piece out (it earlier appeared too slight to me) with a snippet of his verse on his Natural Philosophy (the precursor to true science). The first two lines are stolen from Cavendish, the rest of two pages of verse are Sly’s. You can thank your lucky stars this article is now a thousand words. You are spared another of my endless pieces of verse in which Sly discusses his philosophy and slams the ‘Gown-ed Tribe’, the university-educated intellectuals who refuse to accept him into, as the head of Harvard College put it at my brother’s graduation (Radcliffe was still a separate entity, with a separate degree), ‘the Community of Learn-ed Men’.

I’m pretty intimidated by Mailer, me with my little ideas. But I’ll get over it. I always do, eventually. I’ll leave the heavy lifting to the literary titans. And make do with my nonsense.

“I am imprisoned with a perception that will settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time.” These words would fit into Sly’s mouth nicely. And a bunch of other pronouncements as well. Thank you, Norman Mailer.

Mailer can keep his big ideas. I’m content to have big fun.

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28 thoughts on “A Spooky Guy!

  1. Thanks for this, Mimi. I can admire successful people with huge egos. To think so much of your own opinions and to be successful -I’d bet even Sly would enjoy a chat with Norman Mailer.

    But that sounds glib for a complex mind that nailed today’s social media world where “Anything you say can be used against you….” and careers can be destroyed years later.

    “One could hardly maintain the courage to be individual, to speak with one’s own voice, for the years in which one could complacently accept oneself as part of an elite by being a radical were forever gone. A man knew that when he dissented, he gave a note upon his life which could be called in any year. No wonder then that these have been the years of conformity and depression. A stench of fear has come out of every pore of American life, and we suffer from a collective failure of nerve. The only courage, with rare exceptions, that we have been witness to, has been the isolated courage of isolated people.”

    That from an essay Mailer wrote a few years before the 60’s revolution. It is time for another revolution, for the ultimate diversity, individualism.

    Liked by 4 people

    • mimispeike says:

      My own individualism: I have been a misfit from an early age. Why try to conform? It’s never worked. And I’m short on patience for that anyway. I finally say ‘screw this’ and revert to my obnoxious ways.

      I’ve always envied my cousins (on both sides of the family), living their straight-and-narrow lives, missing, as far as I can see, the worst of life’s potholes. My core family? My brother: Skirting adult responsibilities all his life because of his wife’s money. My sister: A history of abusive relationships culminating in marrying a predator priest while he was in prison for his crimes. Me: you know a bit of my story. We’re a bunch of loonies, I can tell you.

      I have a talent for saying the wrong thing. (Maybe the third glass of wine that night helped that email along). My upstate next-generation cousin, who I don’t know at all, contacted me on Facebook. I replied, and introduced myself as a lifelong atheist and progressive. I thought he’d be delighted to know that not all in the family are church-deacons, Eastern-Star-attending, God-obsessed conservative. I thought a younger member of the family might be of a more flexible mindset.

      I’ve never heard from him since.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I find huge egos judging everyone but themselves as inferior and unworthy of their time, to be tiring and aggravating to read or listen to. First, because they are demonstrably wrong, and second because they rarely contribute to the improvement of the society in which they preen.

        John Dee is a central figure in the YA fantasy series of 6 books: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. And each person’s magic has its own oder, e.g., oranges, or vanilla. That’s my strongest memory of the first three books.

        Liked by 4 people

  2. Perry Palin says:

    “Mailer can keep his big ideas. I’m content to have big fun.” Absolutely, Mimi. This is great.

    I have a problem finding the “theme” in something I have read. Our little writing class is exploring themes, and some of the other participants throw out this or that grand idea while I sit silent, averting my eyes. Reminds me of the time over 50 years ago when I needed something for an undergraduate creative writing class, and I dashed off an original episode for the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show. When I read it in class, the others were wild with admiration, and named all manner of themes for the piece, while in writing it I was just trying to have fun.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. 🙂
    I was looking for inspirational quotes by writers on writing and found a wonderful quote by R.D. Arnold (The Elephant Tree.) “Remove the comma, replace the comma, remove the comma, replace the comma….”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. mimispeike says:

    Oh crap! There’s a book on Amazon, Maisie goes to Hollywood. Published by one (never heard of her) Margaret Constance “Maisie” Williams. She is now around twenty-five years old.

    From Wikipedia: Margaret Constance “Maisie” Williams is an English actress who made her acting debut in 2011 as Arya Stark, a lead character in the HBO epic medieval fantasy drama series Game of Thrones.

    I googled Maisie in Hollywood. Google threw up one item for my Maisie, and five or six for this not-my-mouse Maisie. Might this work to my advantage? Got to think about that.

    In this book, Maisie is a cat. Dressed in a ballgown one one cover. There’s a different cover on another edition. It’s a 32-page illustrated children’s book. Published 2001. Yeah, four-year old Margaret Constance “Maisie” Williams (born 15 April 1997) wrote this, sure she did.

    I’ve googled Maisie in Hollywood several times over the last five years, to see if my pieces on medium.com pop up. (They do.) I never noticed this rival Maisie until today.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Maybe, substitute a verb you like for “in?”
      Bad examples, but you get the idea:
      Maisie Storms Hollywood
      Maisie Does Hollywood
      Maisie Blitzes Hollywood

      Or, Add a subtitle:
      Maisie in Hollywood
      XXX Meets Haute Couture

      Liked by 2 people

      • mimispeike says:

        I’m thinking more of changing the name. My character is based on Louise Brooks, who wrote her important book of film history essays and called it Lulu in Hollywood. I’ll start thinking about replacement names. I guess.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      Ha! Back when I had a day job my name was in the news for some stuff that went on at my employer. When I googled my own name, I got accounts from 2012 about a former governor of Texas and a former governor of Alaska and whether they might team up for a run for the White House. I wouldn’t change Maisie’s name, but GD’s suggestion of a verb in the title could work. “Maisie Does Hollywood”

      Liked by 2 people

      • mimispeike says:

        Hi Perry.

        I want to keep ‘In Hollywood’. It’s a nod to Louise Brooks’ ‘Lulu in Hollywood’. I want to keep the first name with an M, I make jokes: before there was MM (Marilyn Monroe) there was MM (Marcelline Mulot). I have time to think about it. I just finished the final outfit, but I have a dozen fake-vintage photos to create, as in a real star bio, shots from her time in the sun.

        I got your book. I’m halfway through, and I’m enjoying it. I’ll talk about it when I’m done. Is all this drawn from your early life, or is it a fictionalized rendering to some extent? I really am enjoying it.

        It makes me yearn for the carefree childhood I never had.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Perry Palin says:

          Hi Mimi,
          The Katz Creek stories are all fiction. I’m told we should write what we know. This is stuff I know. Some of my readers have said they wished they knew me back when, and I’m flattered that I’ve made the stories real for them, at least for a little while.

          Carefree childhood? That might have been nice. We lived in a small house out in the country. We were very poor. My mom died when I was ten. My dad was an alcoholic. He tried, but he didn’t know anything about raising children. Still, I had a chance to do well, something that many kids don’t have today.

          Liked by 4 people

  5. Mimi, I stumbled upon this reference & thought I’d pass it on to you.

    Poet William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat (1561) – a satirical book considered by some to be the first ever novel, which centres around a man who learns to understand the language of a group of terrifying supernatural cats, one of whom, Mouse-slayer, is on trial for promiscuity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mimispeike says:

      GD, you are fabulous. I’m going to get it.

      Well, I’m not getting it off Amazon. They want $199 for it.

      I found it on the web and was able to copy and paste it into a word doc. It’s very short.

      “This article analyzes William Baldwin’s prose writing. It focuses on Beware the Cat, which resists classification due to its diverse and strange nature. While at times a pleasant read, it can also be disgusting and occasionally disturbing. The slipperiness of the work reflects the ambiguous nature of Baldwin’s status as a Tudor writer. It is argued that Beware the Cat is an exercise in foolish writing and that Baldwin was a fool to write a work that consistently frustrates any and all attempts to fix its meaning. The folly of writing such a slippery feline work is perhaps only exceeded by the foolishness of those who seek to collar Beware the Cat, to hang a generic bell onto Baldwin’s work in order to warn readers of its approach.” Sounds good to me.

      This needs some investigating. The text I copied and pasted runs to 90 pages. I’ve found another version declared to be 160+ pages. Strange.

      Could it be in Middle English on one page, modern English on the facing page?

      Not an antique. Published 1995. The seller asks $199! What with that? Must be a rarity. I guess.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Did you see this delightful review on a Canadian website?
        https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/renref/article/view/11857/8759

        Beware the Cat is largely the three part oration of a man named Gregory Streamer, who argues forensically that animals communicate with one another. Streamer’s proof is based on his own rather dubious experiences-after having followed a recipe in the celebrated Book of Secrets he listened to cats talking outside his window.

        The work is a masterfully layered narrative, a brilliant oral performance, in which the different voices of the speaker, friends, servants, the author, and, of course, the cats all tell stories, most of which seem to be outright lies. The well-ordered jumble – of learned nonsense, jests, shrewd anti-papal satire, folktales, even a patch of lively Skeltonics suddenly appearing in the midst of the prose narrative — proves that one must “beware the cat,” for cats not only listen to our privy secrets, they relate them to other cats.

        Liked by 2 people

    • mimispeike says:

      The story itself will take some studying. It’s difficult to follow. The archaic spelling is a major distraction. (And this is the modernized version. The Middle-English original, forget it.)

      But phrases in the introduction are useful. The verse contains some good lines also.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It just occurred to me that I am writing with a theme. I dug out my Wip notes on Code Blue & Little Deaths and there it was, the first note:
    Theme: No one is one thing only.

    Well, that is scant, a bit devoid of detail. But I can’t explain it. That’s what the story does.

    Liked by 2 people

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