Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: The Long Goodbye (the book, not the movie)

From: Patrick King (
Date: 09 Aug 2007

I recently read Roy Hoopes' biography of James Cain and Cain was a very driven rewriter. He knew where he wanted a piece to go and what it had to do, and he'd write it. Then he'd write it again, as though the original draft didn't exist, and again and again if necessary. He literally rewrote each chapter, didn't just revise them. That's why it took him so long to complete many of his books, but also why his dialogue and prose are so tight and well-crafted. He wrote 1,200 words a day, every day, even when his work wasn't selling. He thought nothing of rewriting an entire novel if he felt the idea was good, but the work didn't do it justice. It would be a lot easier, in the computer world, to work like this today. The main thing is to see the work the way a painter sees a painting, or a composer sees a song or symphony, as a work on-going and a reason in and of itself. Cain said his best selling books were plot driven, not character driven: The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Serenade. The character driven stories like Mildred Pierce did not sell so well as books, although the movie did his reputation a lot of good. So he looked for good, complex plots and tried to people them with strong characters, but the story, he believed, needed to be there for readers and critics to warm to the book. I think that's an interesting distinction.

Patrick King
--- Mark Coggins <> wrote:

> Seth,
> Thanks for the kind words about the article.
> >I wonder if you think Chandler would scrap so much
> of what he'd gotten
> >down in the first draft (everything he didn't
> underline) partly
> >because of the typewriter and that changes meant
> re-typing up the
> >whole page ...
> >But at the same time, I think this method probably
> was a great tool to
> >use and it clearly helped him to produce some of
> the tightest, best
> >prose I can think of. Do you think he'd have done
> anything close to
> >this method today? How do you view revision? I
> think with today's
> >technology most of us probably rewrite far less
> than writers in
> >Chandler's day.
> Those are some good questions and I'm not sure I
> really know the answers. My
> sense, and it's only that, is that regardless of
> technology, writers select
> their rewriting approaches based on what seems to
> work for them, rather than
> what the technology of the time best enables.
> I think there was just something in Chandler's
> personality that meant
> writing--including revisions--involved significant
> (re)invention, not just
> "tinkering." Besides the evidence from drafts of THE
> that when he "cannibalized" his short stories from
> BLACK MASK for his
> novels, he rewrote them significantly.
> Contrast that with somebody like Kerouac who wrote
> ON THE ROAD in the early
> 50s (about the same time as THE LONG GOODBYE) and
> typed the whole thing on a
> scroll of paper in a single sitting (although I
> believe he actually drew
> from scenes and notes recorded earlier in
> notebooks).
> But, like I said, what do I know?
> --MC

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