I get dozens of non-fan letters per dayâbut I have no desire to respond to the strident, insistent, and persistent demands for my dismissal. To those folks, I can only say, âGet a life!â However, every once in awhile, a letter comes into this august nautical publication with a specific marine-related question of wide interestâlike where a local sailor could buy a wife like my Carolyn. Fat chance Iâm going to spill the beans on that oneâfor fear theyâd be out-of-stock on bad-karma women when she divorces me. But, lo and behold, occasionally I get forwarded a question which merits a serious answer. The latest is, âHow do I become a writer like you?â
In a nutshellâit ainât easy, pal! Education plays a role, and if youâve got any, youâre out. Itâs not just a matter of being ignorantâit is the breadth and depth of that ignorance which lends it resonance.
Note that last sentence. It sounded like I said something, didnât it? And yet, when you examine it closely, the sentence does not. It is as meaningless and charming as a Bob Dylan lyric. Do you think you could make your living for three plus decades coming up with similar lines of drivel?
I doubt it.
Oh, sure, a paragraph is easy to make meaninglessâbut to make a simple declarative sentence non-sen-tence-i-cal is truly a magic feat.
There are a myriad of rules for the writer to learn. Capitalization rules for example. The sentence, âI helped my Uncle Jack off the horseâ really needs those caps!
Vocab is important. Example: I donât know what the word âmyriadâ means but I use it lots and lots and lots.
Another rule is to avoid redundancies, repeating yourself, or saying the same thing over and over. Do you understand that? If not, Iâll repeat: another rule is to avoid redundancies, repeating yourself, or saying the same thing over and over.
Thatâs taken care of.
A writer, of course, is supposed to write what he knowsâhence, my beginning this essay with the ignorance-thingie.
The primary rule of the modern journalist is show donât tell. What does that mean? Well, it means that all the beating-around-the-bush with calling it the wash room and powder room and restroom isnât nearly as effective as saying to the reader, ââ¦look in the bowl!â
The latter is vivid, right?
Dishonesty is a useful trait for an inkslinger. For instance, if you want to suck up to your word consumer, just whisper in his ear, âNever talk down to your reader,â even though, obviously, if your readers had any sense youâd be reading them instead of vice-versa.
In todayâs marketplace, specialization is important. Iâm not just a writer, Iâm a marine scribe. Why? Because I figured any reader whose hobby was puking at great expenseâwas just the reader for me!
Humor, of course, is hard to define.
For example, an aspiring humorist recently wrote, âA woman fell out of her wheelchair.â Ho hum.
When I, however, write âA woman fell out of her wheelchair,â I laugh for monthsâthinking of her sprawled there, rump in the airâ¦ too much, eh?
Of course, you have to be careful not to be insulting. I mean, some people can handle âMy ego is bigger than yours,â and some canât.
Script writing is another source of incomeâbut one in which commas play a major role. The line, âEats shoots and leaves.â might be fine for the Nature Channel but add two commas and its for mature audiences only.
Writing for radio is another optionâalthough I was once fired from a local station for being too handsome, comparatively. I mean, many radio personalities are so ugly they have to sneak up on the mic! Iâm not kiddingâif they were undertakers, their clients would complain!
Of course, writing for a Caribbean audience is difficultâespecially since so many of them donât know what the letter âhâ is forânor how to pronounce it. But this has a plus sideâas all the Stateside writers donât know we spell the world âdatâ with the letters t-h-a-t in dese islands, mon.
Like most writers, I make a point of staying up with current affairs. Plus, pithiness is much admired in literary circles. Thus, as a Caribbean writer, I might start a column with, âChristopher Columbus arrivedâ and end it there too.
Too many adjectives arenât considered cool any more. Thus, I donât say, â big, huge, voluptuous, curvaceous, plump, delectable, full-figured, buxom, sultry, D-cup breastsâ anymoreâI leave the bra-size out.
Itâs all about the verbs, really. They really put the zing in a sentence. Thus, in a mystery novel a poor writer might say, âthe corpse lay thereâ while Iâd have that same corpse âjack-knifingâ and âwaltzingâ and âjitterbuggingâ up to the Pearly Gates.
Cliches like âPearly Gatesâ are frowned uponâunless, of course, youâve died and gone to heavenâ¦ because youâre too broke to pay attentionâ¦ and are tired of this heaven-on-earthâ¦ and like to frolic in the âGarden of Eden,â etc.
â¦ why, you might even think advice like mine is heaven-sent!
Of course, a writerâs relationship with the editor is importantâas is the method of payment. I work with some editors who pay by the word and they get short onesâwhy waste money typing âantidisestablishmentarianismâ about the dismantling of the Church of England when âclosedâ works just as well.
Other editors pay me by the column inch, so they get a lot of choppy dialogue because:
âNo, I didnâtâ¦â
âYes, I did!
â¦just earned me an additional two bucks.
What Iâm trying to point out is that men of literature such as myself have artistic criteria the lay-reader might have no conception thereof.
Often, I insist on getting paid more than I deserveâand weasel out of it, if necessary, with the cryptic statement, âThere are three types of people in this world: people who can count, and people who canât!â
This usually shuts up the publicationâs anal-retentive bookkeeper immediately.
For years, I wrote for Fodorâs Travel Guidesâwriting âopen air diningâ about every beach bar, beach snackery, and beach restaurant in the Caribbean.
They call this âcreative writingââgo figure!
Iâm currently editor-at-large for a major national publicationâwhich is about as meaningless a title as possible. Basically, such a title means, âWe canât pay you any more money but because we think you are so very stupid weâll attempt to piece you off with one of these high-sounding corporate titlesâoh, dear! It worked!â
I requested, instead, to be called an Editor-at-Fat. They refused, haughtily.
No, writing isnât very lucrative. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quit his medical practice and picked up his penâand then filed his income taxâ¦ his income tax form came back with a handwritten note that said, âThis is totally unacceptableâ to which he replied, âI couldnât agree more!â
This publication pays me by the month but we cash the checks annually so as not to be embarrassed.
My wifeâs idea of an opulent meal aboard is when we get to eat more than one bean at a sitting. My profession makes her sad. I often hear her telling her girlfriends, âWe donât have much money because they pay my husband what heâs worth.â
The worst part is that editors are always calling for rewritesâas if we writers cared one iota how our stories are perceived by the public. This happened to Erle Stanley Gardner. He got a 30 page letter from his editor suggesting corrections, and immediately returned it with the statement, âGee, Iâm really looking forward to any other suggestions you might have on the back of that check!â
There are a lot of highs and lows to being a writer. When the school my daughter Roma Orion attended asked me to speakâI was honored. When I arrived and the entire faculty was there to meet meâI was even more honored. But when the principal informed me theyâd purchased every one of my books in a desperate attempt to find a paragraph to read to the childrenâand failed, I was not.
Reviews are, needless to say, evil. Iâd change my opinion if I received a positive oneâbut Iâm not holding my breath. âDoes Mister Goodlander realize that trees have to die so he can write this tripe?â didnât sit well with meâand is one of the primary reasons Iâm now such a fan of eBooks.
The New Yorker rejected one of my submissions with the handwritten note, âThis is the worst manuscript weâve ever received.â I cried for weeks. Then, more determined to be a famous writer than everâI sent them another story to show I hadnât been discouraged. âWeâd like to revise our previous statement,â was the rejection note this time.
Still, I cling to my profession. Every morning, I sit down and attempt to write something that will live forever in the annals of literature. I reach for immortality! Each evening, I read what Iâve written and find immoralityâ¦ only one letter off!
Capân Fatty and Carolyn are currently zooming through the Straits of Torres towards Bali.