Conversations with Faulkner

Alcohol was his salve against a modern world he saw as a conspiracy of mediocrity on its ruling levels.  Life was most bearable, he repeated, at its simplest: fishing, hunting, talking biggity in a cane chair on a board sidewalk, or horse-trading, gossiping.

Bill spoke rarely about writing, but when he did he said he had no method, no formula.  He started with some local event, a well-known face, a sudden reaction to a joke or an incident.  “And just let the story carry itself.  I walk along behind and write down what happens.”

Origin story:

Q: Sir, I would like to know exactly what it was that inspired you to become a writer.

A: Well, I probably was born with the liking for inventing stories.  I took it up in 1920.  I lived in New Orleans, I was working for a bootlegger.  He had a launch that I would take down the Pontchartrain into the gulf to an island where the run, the green rum, would be brought up from Cuba and buried, and we would dig it up and bring it back to New Orleans, and he would make scotch or gin or whatever he wanted.  He had the bottles labeled and everything.  And I would get a hundred dollars a trip for that, and I didn’t need much money, so I would get along until I ran out of money again.  And I met Sherwood Anderson by chance, and we took to each other from the first.  I’d meet him in the afternoon, we would walk and he would talk and I would listen.  In the evening we would go somewhere to a speakeasy and rink, and he would talk and I would listen.  The next morning he would say, “Well I have to work in the morning,” so I wouldn’t see him until the next afternoon.  And I thought if that’s the sort of life writers lead, that’s the life for me.  So I wrote a book and, as soon as I started, I found out it was fun.  And I hand’t seen him and Mrs. Anderson for some time until I met her on the street, and she said, “Are you mad at us?” and I said, “No, ma’am, I’m writing a book,” and she said, “Good Lord!” I saw her again, still having fun writing the book, and she said, “Do you want Sherwood to see your book when you finish it?” and I said, “Well, I hadn’t thought about it.”  She said, “Well, he will make a trade with you; if he don’t have to read that book, he will tell his publisher to take it.”  I said, “Done!” So I finished the book and he told Liveright to take it and Liveright took it.  And that was how I became a writer – that was the mechanics of it.

Stephen Longstreet reports on Faulkner in Hollywood, specifically To Have and Have Not:

Several other writers contributed, but Bill turned out the most pages, even if they were not all used.  This made Bill a problem child.

The unofficial Writers’ Guild strawboss on the lot came to me.

“Faulkner is turning out too many pages.  He sits up all night sometimes writing and turns in fifty to sixty pages in the morning.  Try and speak to him.”

 



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