Tag: cormac mccarthy

Legion of Horribles

Early in his story, some 50 pages into the novel, The Kid, our anti-hero, and the party of U.S Army filibusters he accompanies into Mexico, are attacked by a horde of American Indians and so begins one of the longest sentences in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian:

A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained wedding veil and some in headgear or cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a Spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.

Notice how this sentence, 246 words long, functions like a long shot in film, capturing detail upon detail to the point of overwhelming us, as though we were among the filibusters watching in terror as this horde descends upon us. The length matches the action. If Cormac instead paused the attack with one full stop after another we would lose the feeling of impending death he so brilliantly conveys.

Believe in Yourself

Two weeks ago The Booker Prize announced that An Island, the second novel by South African author Karen Jennings, has been longlisted for this year’s prize. If you knew nothing about the history of the book’s publication you might think there’s nothing remarkable at all about Jennings’ nomination. But you’d be wrong.

After Jennings finished the book in 2017 many publishers rejected it for years. According to The Guardian her publisher Holland House struggled to find anyone willing to review or endorse the book and when it was finally published only 500 copies were printed (in part due to the size of the press). “The only real response that I have been able to pin down,” said Jennings on her rejections, “was that it would not make any money.” Sound familiar?

Jennings’ story reminds me of William Goldman’s immortal advice, first conceived within the context of the film industry but always applicable to anyone that risks rejection for opportunity: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Goldman understood that a rejection, at best, is a guess. A bet if you will. I feel more and more that rejection is a necessary rite of passage for any serious author.

At one time Cormac McCarthy advised scientists at the Sante Fe Institute on ways they could improve their writing. One piece of advice he gave, quoting Rudyard Kipling, was “Trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.”

As silly as it sounds – believe in yourself.

Nobody knows anything.

Paper Trails

A few days ago Harper Collins published an anthology of The Doors frontman Jim Morrison’s writing. The bulk of this near 600 page tome of poetry, lyrics, transcripts and more comes from the 28 (now privately held) notebooks Jim left behind after his death. Imagine if Jim instead saved his work on a computer and no one could access it because they didn’t know the password or the hard drive crashed. Paper can burn but it can’t crash.

Some time ago two universities in Texas, Texas State and Uni of Texas at Austin, acquired the papers of my two favourite novelists Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo. McCarthy’s papers amount to 96 boxes and DeLillo’s 157 boxes. I was curious how either man was convinced to part with their work but then I thought if a university asked me if they could collect my work for preservation and research I would probably oblige. Maybe they would take better care of those papers and notebooks than me?

So what kind of trail am I leaving? I backup my work on clouds but how secure are they? I also think perhaps the more my work stays in the disembodied realm of a computer the more, in a sense, the trail becomes lost to me.

Next time I’ll think twice before I feed the paper shredder.