Any comments or questions about this site, please contact Bob Zolnerzak at






     "No, you simply don't realize how difficult it would be to write a book."
     "All you have to have is tenacity. You just have to sit down day after day and type a certain number of pages."
     "And that's all? Every sentence you write will turn to perfect prose? Just from the top of your head you will pluck marvelous similes? Your characters will leap from the pages with vitality and wit without your half trying?"
     "There have been many good books written. I can write a good one. Or a better one."
     "Have you read Virginia Woolf? Where can you find such marvelous cadences? In her description of London in the winter. In Orlando, you can feel the cold; you experience the frozen Thames, the clear chill of the nights. Can you top the similes of e. e. cummings? Can you invent the melodies and rhythms of a Dylan Thomas? Or the stark simplicities of a Hemingway? Look back. Can you hope to excite someone two thousand years from now as Sophocles excites people today with Oedipus Rex? Can you tear at the hearts of onlookers as Robinson Jeffers did with Medea? Can you invent the thousands of ways of saying hello, of saying good-bye, of expressing happiness or pain, or invent ONE of the characters who will live so vividly as a Nurse in Romeo and Juliet or a Margaret in Henry VI? Can you anticipate the frontiers of human knowledge as did Dostoyevsky? Can you summon up the sweep of history of a Tolstoy? Can you stretch the imaginations so much as a Tennessee Williams, or a William Inge? Can you portray the decadence of a Faulkner, the terrors of a Poe or Lovecraft, the satire of a Voltaire, the intimacy of a Henry Miller, the oddity of a Pirandello, the beauty of Mirosaki?"
     "You're not being quite fair. You've lumped poets and novelists and essayists and short story tellers all in one. It's a wonder you didn't throw in a Thucidydes, an Aristotle, a Thomas Acquinas, or a Freud. Each has his own field, and each you've named excels in one field only."
     "So Shakespeare wasn't a poet in his tragedies? Williams wasn't a satirist in his perverse plays? Did Plato have no facility with a simile? Did Newton have no literary sense in among all the theorems? Couldn't Swinburne tell just as appealing a story in poetry as Casanova could in a biography, as Baudelaire could in a fantasy?"
     "It's still not fair to compare a modern novel with such classic greats."
     "And why not? Any novel written today has a chance to become a classic great, if only the author takes the pains enough to write a classic story."
     "You sound as if greatness could be turned on and off like a switch."
     "Greatness can be aimed at. Kafka wrote and rewrote, and still he wasn't satisfied. He almost destroyed his own works because he didn't think they were good enough. Medieval playwrights traveled with their plays, rewriting as they went along. Do you think Gone with the Wind hasn't become a classic?" He laughed, "And not only because of the movie, either. She certainly didn't rattle that off in a few odd hours she wasn't working in an office someplace. By Love Possessed is a masterpiece, but it took years of writing. History books, to be great, take years of researching, more years of editing. Editing, that's the clue. If you could edit an Erle Stanley Gardner or Mary Roberts Rinehart down to a few great books, their fame would last longer than it will. Galsworthy had flashes of genius, but the Forsyte saga is too long to be a masterpiece. The only great book ever to run to two volumes was the Bible, and that had a ghost writer."
     He winced. "Why do you always whittle down your arguments by tossing in such horrid old jokes?"
     "Don't stop me now, I'm doing fine. Gibbon is great, but how many have read him? His was the classic cold weather sport: a good fire and twelve hefty volumes. There was enough ribaldry to keep the college students going, but nowadays peoples settle for abridgements, and as soon as you abridge something, it takes part of the treasure away from it, no matter what you cut. If the author had intended a shorter version, he should have written it. Das Kapital is a masterpiece, but who's plowed through its volumes of commodities, money, surplus-values, utopian dreams, and mad theorizings?"
     "But the style of today isn't to long-winded books. People don't have time for them."
     "Precisely, but with a difference. They want all the quality of an Anna Karenina in a short novel. They want the character, and the struggle, and the historical comment, and the personal development, but they want it succinctly. Here's the editing again."
     He wanted to remark that the flying tangents of his speech only coincidentally led back to an original subject. But before he had time, he plunged in again.
     "Before you can sum up a character in a sentence, you must write a paragraph about him, then throw away half the sentences, compress the sentences that are left, drop another, scratch out unnecessary phrases---until there emerge six or seven words which contain the essence of that former flowery paragraph. So now when you think of a five-hundred-page novel, you must think of five thousand pages that must go into chapters which are discarded, characters who are dropped, scenes that turn out to be irrelevant. When you finish with these five thousand pages, saving always the best, you might end up with a work fit to last more than a lifetime."
     "I read the book, summarized it to a chapter, squeezed it to a page, condensed it to a sentence, shortened it to a word, then forgot the word."
     "Now who's telling the old jokes. But don't go too far. James Joyce exhausts you after reading one page of Finnegan's Wake. A host of images swarm and swim. He has more words on one page than most men write in a book. Yet he's accused of obscurantism. It that word doesn't mean what I think it does, it should."
     He shifted around in his chair. "You're right there. I've read him with a dictionary sitting near me, and still find meaning anew when I go through it the tenth time."
     "But, unfortunately, no one reads it, simply because of his immense condensations. It's the same feeling when you pick up a math textbook after a steady diet of fiction. You want to fly through the pages, yet the formulae draw you up. You can't skim an equation. You can't skim Joyce."
     "But you can skip him, and people do, by the thousands."
     The last two words were spoken in chorus.
     "It must be discouraging to sit off somewhere and listen to us, if it's anyone's job to sit there and do that. We've said the same things thousands of others have said. To us it seems fresh and witty, yet to others, they'll draw themselves up and say, ?Humph, we've said the same thing, in better style, and way before you were born.'"
     "The ordinary person can't come up with much that's new," he admitted, "but every so often, a few people, in a particular generation in a particular country, will rise to the occasion. They'll come out with one more new idea, one novel way of looking at something, and it will be worth all the banal preliminaries."
     "So these are the banal preliminaries?"
     "Pre-preliminaries, perhaps. You're not ready to write yet, you haven't even lived, so how can you tell others about living?"
     "There are things that happened to me that have happened to few others. I could write about those things."
     You won't be able to do anything if you write about things. Why are cowboy pulps so dreary? They write about happenings. Why are 95% of science fiction novels a bore? They write about happenings. But get someone who uses the happenings as a veneer for the ideas underneath, who puts great thoughts into the mouths of his characters---he has taken the first step to being a great author."