The incomparable Patty Templeton has interviewed me for Black Gate, and you can read it here. That’s pretty much the news, because I can’t possibly add to the job she’s done. A thousand thank-yous, Patty!
But since you’re here . . .
I was in Giant Eagle the other day, shopping for groceries (a friend and I habitually refer to the supermarket chain as “Giant Nazgul,” and the name has become so ingrained in me that I frequently call it that in mixed company, and I get some funny looks . . .) — and the latest issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction caught my eye. Seeing Peter S. Beagle’s name on the cover, I glanced inside . . . and sure enough, the story of his that’s in there is “Olfert Dapper’s Day.” I had the unforgettable joy of hearing the author read this new story aloud at the most recent World Fantasy Convention. Mr. Beagle is a true virtuoso with words. This tale moved me more deeply than anything I’ve heard or read in many a year. Do yourself a favor: while this issue is still on magazine racks (the March/April issue), go to your local newsstand, bookstore, or Giant Nazgul, and acquire your own copy. The man is one of the very finest living fantasists, and this is a gem of a story, a pearl of great price. Its like is not often seen in the world.
In that interview, one of the questions Patty asked me was about writers’ quirks. It’s a fascinating question. Something I forgot to say was that at one time, before my former computer gave up the ghost, I had seven different keyboards for it. I made a little “apartment complex” of file boxes to store them all in, and each month, I would give my room a thorough cleaning and dusting, and I would plug in a different keyboard. It helped me start the new month with a feeling of change and renewal. Some keyboards are small; some are large. Some are conventional; some are ergonomic, shaped in interesting ways. Some have firmly resistant keys. Some have keys that make a loud, satisfying click. I had a “skeleton keyboard” that was transparent, and you could see all the inner wires and workings. I had one that the Japanese maker dubbed “Stealth Keyboard” — perhaps useful in covert ops? The sentries on the other side of the bushes don’t know you’re writing? I had one covered with a soft, rubbery, separate veneer layer that protected the keyboard if you would spill a cup of coffee or a bucket of paint on it. I think it was designed for use in garages and warehouses, where operators might have oily or dirty hands. I had one I called the “Cricket” keyboard and one I called “Blapadap,” because of its sound. I won’t even get into the fleet of mice I once had . . . Those are all long gone now, retired along with my old, dear PowerMac, my first computer that served well for seven years. For my current computer, I only have three keyboards and one external mouse. I’m a responsible adult now.
But other writers are weird, too! E.B. White seems to have been a little like Adrian Monk. Before he could write, he would straighten the pictures on the wall and the rugs on the floor. “. . . Not until everything in the world was lined up and perfectly true could anybody reasonably expect me to set a word down on paper,” he wrote. I had a calendar one year that showed a picture of the converted boathouse he wrote in: all wood, wood-colored, unadorned, with a rough table and uncomfortable-looking seat, and a sort of hatch that offered a view outward. There was nothing at all in the room to distract him.
Truman Capote, as Patty mentioned, wrote lying down. Virginia Woolf and Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up.
Faulkner claimed that the tools of his trade were “paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”
I read once that P.G. Wodehouse affixed a roll of paper in a bracket over his typewriter, so that he wouldn’t have to keep stopping to insert new pages. He would then cut the typed-on roll into pages and tape them to the wall in a row all around the room. He would stroll around reading over them, and if the writing seemed to sag at one point, he would physically lower that page, fastening it lower.
Schiller used rotten apples: he’d cram a stash of them under the lid of his desk, and if he got stuck trying to think of a word, he’d raise the lid and inhale.
Garrison Keillor has said that computers make things too fast and easy, that the writing suffers when it pours out too quickly; when writing with a pen or pencil, writers have a little mental space for editing before committing marks to the page. (It astounds me that Tolkien wrote all of The Lord of the Rings by hand, and then typed it all with hunt-and-peck typing because he couldn’t afford to hire a typist.)
But Flannery O’Connor had good things to say about the typewriter. It was more personal, she said, because “you use ten fingers to work a typewriter and only three to push a pen.”
(For some of these facts, I thank Helen Sheehy and Leslie Stainton for their many On Writers and Writing desk diaries over the years.)