About Writers

I Am The Walrus (1)

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The time has come, the Walrus (2) said,

To talk of many things:

Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —

Of cabbages — and kings.

The big reason I write is, I have a story in me, but only a very loose idea of what it might consist of. I have to tell it to myself, to find out. It wants to go ever-so-many ways. Which path do I take? The answer is: just about all of them, sooner or later.

And, I love to play with words. I get to talk about all kinds of things in Sly, and make sense, that’s the wonderful thing. Make sense in the context of the world I’ve created. When you’re dealing with a talking cat, there are no rules. You’re already down the rabbit hole, why not dig a little deeper? I run wild because I can. And the most fun for me is to run off the rails stylistically. It just fits, seems to me.

My story is silly-putty. I slap on a layer of silly and smoosh it in until it adheres. If it doesn’t grab in one place, I migrate it to somewhere else. I don’t compose. I collage a story together.

Things that have no reasonable relation to the story, I slip into footnotes.

That reminds me and by the way (3) work pretty damn well under any circumstance.

Anything I can connect, even in the flimsiest way, to – as Michael Hagen puts it – to that damn cat, in it goes. I pound square pegs into round holes, as I do in every area of my life.

(Carl’s reasons three and, especially, four: I am never more myself than when I write.)

Back to Lewis Carroll:

I talk of shoes in my thing. (Sly’s boots, diamonds hidden in a pirate’s boot heel.)

Ships. (My pirate adventure.) Sealing wax. (Also the pirates.)

Cabbages? Not that, but I do a whole lot around cheese, ewe’s milk cheese, to be precise.

Kings? Most definitely. I have my King of Haute-Navarre. I have Queen Elizabeth. I have touched upon science, and art. I have written verse. (Sly is an enthusiastic versifier.) I have given his, therefore our, opinions on many things.

He is me and I am he. (So much for Carl’s reason two: to save my sanity. I’ll take a pass on that one.)

I write in a literary vein, I try to make art. Pretty spooky, when your hero is a big-mouth cat.

Do I write for recognition? I hope for it, certainly. Do I write for money? I don’t expect money that would make a difference in my life. Do I write to connect with others? I worked on Sly for twenty years without showing it to anyone. It was only when I joined Book Country that I began to share it.

Oh, I showed it to my sister, and to a boyfriend. Barb’s reaction to anything I send her is invariably, great! She’s not much of a reader, and I guess I intimidate her. I know I intimidate her.

Vic belittled it, and me, but not because he didn’t like it. According to him, far from done, working at my usual glacial pace, no payoff in sight, I was wasting my time. He told me many times, until you make money off it, it doesn’t count for shit, I don’t want to hear about it. Discouraged (deeply, for several reasons), I dropped it for years at a time. I finally pulled my life together and got free of him. I now have a husband who couldn’t be more supportive.

My goal with Sly is to be as silly as I can figure out how to be, on my terms. An editor says I need to be more flexible, my difficult choices insult potential readers, who may not be as beguiled by them as I am. You all know how I’ve taken that advice to heart. (4)

Writing is hard, but the hardest part is deciding where to compromise. Being confident enough to stand your ground is a satisfaction in itself.

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(1) (Goo goo g’joob) John Lennon wrote that lyric, he explained, to goof on the people who were trying to analyze his songs. I just read a few days ago that Dylan would cut and paste phrases from newspaper articles and string them together in ways that delighted him, he actually wrote some songs that way. I string nonsense together in ways that delight me. Then I call it a plot. As much plot as you’re going to get out of me.

(2) Lennon, Lewis Carroll, I take my inspiration where I find it.

(3) Uh, by the way, the pdf of the full Come To The Manger is now available in our communal email.

(4) George Michael said “I don’t need the approval of people who don’t approve of me.” I feel the same way.

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About Writers

Why I Write – Carl E. Reed

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For those merry fictioneers past 50 years of age (I am now a member of this august, somewhat-worse-for-wear group) who keep putting pen to paper, hammering on keyboard keys and/or barking into tape recorders as twilight approaches, the question might well be asked: Why do you keep doing this? After all, depending on whose statistics you reference, only 2% – 5% of published writers make their living from the writing of fiction. What are the reasons to continue practicing the craft, then? Speaking only for myself (and in no particular order) my top ten reasons are:

1. I am compelled to do it. There is something about the aesthetic frisson and sublime pleasure occasioned by the fashioning of words into cunning order that scratches a deep-rooted psychic itch in me like nothing else can. (“A word after a word after a word is power.” —Margaret Atwood)

2. I write to save my sanity and calm, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, that “dog’s breakfast, 3½ pounds of blood-soaked sponge” ceaselessly monkey-chattering away inside the “bone housing maelstroms” (this latter phrase from a poet whose name I have unfortunately forgotten). Or as Ray Bradbury commands in Zen & the Art of Writing (close paraphrase): If you’re a writer, you must write yourself sane every day. (Direct quote: “You must stay drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you.”) When I don’t write I feel vaguely unsettled and nauseous, nerve-jangled and angry, peevish and resentful, churlish and depressed.

3. I write to discover what I actually think and feel. There is no better way to interrogate yourself than to put characters of divers temperament, backgrounds and agendas on direct collision courses with one another in your plots. All you need do then is stand back and record the resulting fireworks as honestly and directly—as devoid of dogma and cant and easy bullshit conflict-resolution answers—as you can manage. (“A writer should be of as great probity and honesty as a priest of god.” —Hemingway)

4. I am never more myself than when I write, so I write in response to Plato’s dictum: “know thyself”. (Or as no less an authority than Socrates observed: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”)

5. Practice of “the spooky art” (Norman Mailer’s numinous phrase for the craft) allows me to better appreciate the hard work and consummate skills of “The Greats”. After all, who better understands and appreciates music—the musician, or the stereo owner?


6. It is the hardest work I’ll ever do—therefore, the most satisfying. (“Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.” —James Joyce) It is also, at times—to immediately contradict myself—the easiest, most exhilarating work that I’ll ever do. (“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.” —Truman Capote) This is also most satisfying.

7. I enjoy the tactile feel of fingertips on keyboard and the clack-click clickety-clack sounds my keyboard makes. (“If typewriters hadn’t been invented by the time I began to write, I doubt if the world would have ever heard of Jack London.”) Never underestimate the love an artist has for his instrument, or the concomitant impact such technical idolatry might have on his or her continued enthusiasm for the work. Do you think there are any great guitarists indifferent to guitars; accomplished painters unaware of subtle differences in canvas, brushes and paints?

8. I write for recognition. (In this, I have utterly failed, of course. Heh! So it goes . . .)

9. I write for money. Yes, that is one of the reasons I write, despite the long odds of ever receiving a check large enough to cover a month’s bills. (See rueful comment above.)


10. I write to connect with others, to let them know that they are not alone. (“We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness.” —Albert Schweitzer. “Only connect!” —E. M. Forster, Howards End)

What are your reasons for writing, I wonder?

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