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Posts Tagged ‘Writing advice’

“A Garish Nightmare of American Annihilation,” and Other News

July 22, 2015 | by


Geoffrey Biggs’s Hiroshima cover (detail), 1948.

  • Ice cream: delicious summertime treat or agent of moral turpitude? In fin de siècle Scotland, ice cream parlors “with mirrored walls and leather seats” became “the scourge of the prudish bourgeoisie, who saw them as papist dens of vice”: “Among the more egregious crimes committed by the shops’ proprietors was that of allowing young people of both sexes to intermingle and smoke. One inspector had said that he had seen girls of ‘tender years’ smoking cigarettes in the shop. They were also seen dancing to ‘music supplied by a mouth organ’ … It was concluded that ice cream shops embodied ‘perfect iniquities of hell itself and ten times worse than any of the evils of the public house. They were sapping the morals of the youth of Scotland.’ ”
  • Frances Kroll Ring, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s longtime secretary, died last month. She had many critical tasks in his life, one of which was to rid him of his anti-Semitism: “It’s entirely possible that Frances Kroll was the first Jewish person he ever spent any time with … ‘Jews lose clarity,’ he jotted in his Notebooks. ‘They get to look like old melted candles, as if their bodies were preparing to waddle’ … As Kroll tells it, Fitzgerald displayed a great deal of curiosity about Jewishness, pestering her about Jewish characteristics and customs. He was fascinated by ‘the Passover feast’ and the practice of keeping kosher.”
  • Jack London spent his youth shoveling coal in a cannery, so he really, really, really wanted to become a successful writer and leave that hell behind. He had a good year in 1903: The Call of the Wild was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, bringing the success that allowed him to write full-time. He conveyed his newfound wisdom to aspirant writers in a piece called “Getting Into Print.” Some of it’s still true in this century: “Don’t quit your job to write unless there is none dependent on you.” Other parts are not: “Fiction pays best of all, and when it is of a fair quality is more easily sold.”
  • When John Hersey’s Hiroshima appeared in paperback, it sported a new, terrifically misguided cover, becoming what Paula Rabinowitz called “a garish nightmare of American annihilation”: “In this image, two people, not Japanese, are fleeing an explosion just beyond the frame. They are young, white, and stylish: she epitomizes New Look fashion in her loafers and gathered skirt, he sports pleated cuffs and a fitted trench coat … The cover artist, Geoffrey Biggs, wasn’t trying to be deceptive. As he says, in a note that sits just before the copyright page, he was trying to be universal: ‘I just drew two perfectly ordinary people—like you or me—and had them portray alarm, anxiety, and yet wild hope for survival as they run from man-made disaster in a big city—a city like yours or mine.’ ”
  • In which the Argentine writer Sergio Chejfec dissects names, first and foremost his own: “Some years ago I had the idea of asking several writer friends if they wouldn’t care to reflect on their own surname … This task—to speak about one’s surname and to portray oneself through it—contains, I think, a touch of transcendence that brings us closer to death. We insert a mark—which is our emblem, i.e. the commentary—into an undefined series of fairly indistinct moments which is characterized precisely by the absence of marks … That common coin which is our surname, received at times like a baton, needs us so as to take on substance and, as it were, identity.”

Writing Advice from D. H. Lawrence at Twenty-One

September 11, 2014 | by


On September 11, 1906, D. H. Lawrence turned twenty-one. Around that time he wrote this letter to Louie Burrows, a friend with whom he attended University College in Nottingham. The letter dissects one of Louie’s essays about art; it finds Lawrence full of youthful arrogance (“Like most girl writers you are wordy”) and optimism (“the world abounds with new similes and metaphors”). Lawrence and Burrows corresponded steadily for years; in 1910, they were engaged, though Lawrence broke off the engagement in 1912. (The “J” he refers to here is Jessie Chambers, another of his love interests.)

Dear Louie,

I am going to quizz [sic] your essay, not in the approven [sic] school-mistress style, but according to my own whimsical idea, which you may or may not accept. First of all I will find fault.

I do not like the introductory paragraph, it is like an extract from a Catalogue of Pictures for sale at some auctioneers … Like most girl writers you are wordy. I have read nearly all your letters to J, so I do not judge only from this composition. Again and again you put in interesting adjectives and little phrases which make the whole piece loose, and sap its vigour. Do be careful of your adjectives—do try and be terse, there is so much more force in a rapid style that will not be hampered by superfluous details. Just look at your piece and see how many three lined sentences could be comfortably expressed in one line. Read More »


“By Jove, the Monocle Has Returned,” and Other News

March 10, 2014 | by


Illustration: Jean-Baptiste Adolphe LaFosse, c. 1854.

  • Writing advice for children: “If you can get inside the creepy, disgusting mind of a monster you will really scare your reader.”
  • For more than a century, the Times has seldom passed up an opportunity to discuss the monocle: “Monocles used to be gimmicky … but now people realize they are useful with menus and theater programs.”
  • Thirty cult films you must see, including Sharktopus: “the tale of a genetically engineered half shark, half octopus who wreaks havoc at the beach.”
  • At last, a quantum leap in airship technology—the new Airlander can stay aloft for three weeks, and is, despite its bulbous bloat, pretty handsome to behold.
  • Silence is now a luxury product. “The fiercely defended philosophy of the quiet car is spreading.”