Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Typewriter in the Sky - Chapter Four - Writers on Writing

There is a problem with this story's premise, in which Mike de Wolf is being forced to play a role in "Blood and Loot" as Horace Hackett writes it - what happens to Mike when Hackett has to take a leak?  In this chapter Hackett goes out for a drink, but in the next chapter Mike doesn't sob in relief after coming out of some sort of limbo state he got dumped into the instant Hackett's fingers left the keys.  So there doesn't seem to be a 1:1 ratio when it comes to time's flow in and out of the story, especially since we'll see later that Hackett carelessly writing a paragraph that starts with "several months later" dooms poor Mike to week after week of nothing happening, while only minutes are passing at the typewriter in the real world.  But there's also a moment when-

Well, in due time.  We probably shouldn't closely examine the mechanics of a fantasy story that kicks off when somebody electrocutes himself on a bathroom lightbulb.  So let's join Horace Hackett as he has a drink in a place called the Vagabond Club, sitting in a state of fashionable disarray, "a perfect picture of an author who has finished a day's stint and who hopes his virtuousness will be noticed."

He was wholly unconscious - so far as anyone could tell - of the whisper across the room, to wit: "That's Horace Hackett, the popular novelist."  And it was purely coincidental that Horace immediately sighed deeply and assume a profound expression.

Hmm, I've read magazines and such that referred to people as 'popular novelists,' but I think most ordinary folks would just call someone a 'writer.'

Hackett is joined by another author, a fellow named Winchester Remington Colt, good grief.  He's walking around in New York wearing a Stetson and "high-heeled boots," orders "a short of redeye, pard" from the bartender, and ambles over to "hunker down for a spell" next to Hackett after seeing how his friend is "all tuckered out" from "horsewhippin' the wordage."  And yes, we're allowed to view this guy as a ridiculous poser - his hands are pale, he loses the western jargon the longer he talks with Hackett, and in two pages admits to being on a farm "once."  It's just eerie how much this guy, someone trying so hard to become a western stereotype, resembles some of the 'satirical' characters in Hubbard's later works that we're supposed to take seriously(?).

It's a case of dueling egos as both authors try to discuss their latest pulps - Colt is working on something called "Hell on the Border," and he tries to talk about its plot and characters while Hackett blathers on about "Blood and Loot" - until they give up after a page.  Then they start talking about their profession, how it's "a hell of a business" filled with doubters prepared to dump you the minute you "turn in a sour one" no matter how many stories you've sold before, how editors are "a pack of bums" who have no idea what the public really wants, that sort of thing.  It's at this point that Hackett considers buying a farm, prompting Colt to relate how he spent a weekend on one - "Woke me up at ten o'clock in the morning they did, after me not being able to sleep all night because it was so quiet."  So yes, he's as much of a cowboy as George W. Bush, clearer of brush and wearer of loafers.

And then the topic turns to one of those strange things about writing, as Hackett admits that sometimes a story seems to write itself.  "You lay out the beginning and know how it's going to end, and it wanders around as it pleases in the middle.  'Course, you know the high spots, but even those take care of themselves pretty well if you have the effect you want in mind."  In his case, Hackett admits that his original idea for his story was a straightforward 'hero shows up, suffers setback, beats villain' scenario, but now he's found that the bad guy is a pretty interesting character too, with sympathetic motivations of his own, even if he loses in the end.  Which sounds less like the story writing itself and more like Hackett having a good idea during the writing process, but potato, pineapple.

Colt admits that something similar happened when he did "Hell on the Rio Grande," that he knew the start and finish and "the middle just went racing along" almost without his input.  Hackett agrees that it's kind of spooky, like they're "perfectly in tune with the story.  We don't have to think about it, it just sort of comes bubbling out of us like music."  And it makes me wonder - did Hubbard have such an easy time writing when he produced the Mission Earth books?  And if that's the sort of writing that comes naturally to you, what does that say about you as an author, or as a person?

Colt remembers Mike de Wolf mentioning that the only good stories get written in this way, and asks about the guy since he missed a cocktail party last night.  Hackett admits that he hasn't seen Mike since the guy got mad and "shoved off" after being used in a story, then goes back to talking about the power of writing, how it's "sort of divine, somehow," that ability to create and destroy.  Colt agrees to an extent and tries to phrase the process like that of a medium, but Hackett won't settle for that.

"No, I feel different than that.  When I go knocking out the wordage and really get interested in my characters it almost makes me feel like - a god or something."

"Yeah, I know," said Colt.

"It's a great business," said Horace.

"Yeah.  Sure.  Nothing like being a writer."

In-ter-esting.  Colt seems pretty level-headed since the farthest he'll go is to compare the writing process to channeling greater than yourself, which is a poetic way of saying that if you know the characters you've created, and know the setting, it's easy to figure out what they'll do in the situations that come between your story's beginning and ending.

But Hackett seems a bit more megalomaniacal, exulting in his power of creation and the control he has over (fictional) characters' lives.  After all, you can do a lot with a story: change the world so that it works how you think it does or should, or create a new world from scratch.  Have your views accepted and embraced by everyone, even say that they've changed the world.  Write your friends, even yourself into the narrative, and your enemies too so they can get what's coming to them.  Yeah, a certain type of person could go on a real power trip after messing around with a typewriter.

Well, wasn't that enlightening?  We learned a bit about early 20th century pulp writing culture, and might have unintentionally learned something about this story's author.  But don't worry, next time we'll get back to Mike as he prepares to meet the real hero of "Blood and Loot."

Back to Chapter Three

1 comment:

  1. The revelation that Hubbard is a god-modding suethor who writes by the seat of his pants is nothing new. If you've been reading his works in the order they were published, maybe it could be news, but not if you started with BattleField Earth.

    Oh, wait, is Hackett not supposed to be the good guy here? It looks like the Gris-Heller dichotomy is rearing its ugly head again. It's really telling that his self-inserts that are, erm, villains? I'll go with "unflattering." Anyway, it's telling that his unflattering self-inserts have a lot more character than his one-dimensional Gary Stus. Mike here just seems like a normal guy, though, one that's caught in Hubb-I mean Hackett's rubbish writing.

    Speaking of Mike, did he get zapped into the typewriter through the power socket? I don't think that could be possible, as typewriters didn't require electricity, did they? So what happened? That's what I'm wondering. The other thing I've been wondering is what's going to happen to Mike when Hackett starts writing a scene that's not in his perspective? Will he just go into a state of limbo as Hackett writes about what his hero is doing?