(32 Squared) The Author That Roared

[Slightly edited by ElshaHawk]

(Source: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters)

Notes/Letters between John Steinbeck and the many players in publishing his book, East of Eden. Pat is his editor.

New York
1952

EDITOR
The book is out of balance. The reader expects one thing and you give him something else. You have written two books and stuck them together. The reader will not understand.

WRITER
No, sir. It goes together. I have written about one family and used stories about another family as—well, as counterpoint, as rest, as contrast in pace and color.

EDITOR
The reader won’t understand. What you call counterpoint only slows the book.

WRITER
It has to be slowed—else how would you know when it goes fast?

EDITOR
You have stopped the book and gone into discussions of God knows what.

WRITER
Yes, I have. I don’t know why. Just wanted to. Perhaps I was wrong.

EDITOR
You make Cathy too black. The reader won’t believe her. You make Sam Hamilton too white. The reader won’t believe him. No Irishman ever talked like that.

WRITER
My grandfather did.

EDITOR
Who’ll believe it?

SECOND EDITOR
No children ever talked like that.

WRITER
(Losing temper as a refuge from despair)
This is my book! I’ll make the children talk any way I want. My book is about good and evil. Maybe the theme got into the execution. Do you want to publish it or not?

EDITORS
Let’s see if we can’t fix it up. It won’t be much work. You want it to be good, don’t you? For instance the ending. The reader won’t understand it.

WRITER
Do you?

EDITOR
Yes, but the reader won’t.

John Steinbeck proves them wrong, too. East of Eden was and still is, literary genius. Steinbeck is essentially angry that his editor/publishing company refers to his entire reading audience as “The Reader”; all one mind, all one mentality, and John’s not happy that they think very little of “The Reader”.

So next time anyone of us writes a story and it receives multiple comments and half say they get it, and the other half does not, do we service the half that did, or cater to the half that didn’t?

It’s up to each individual to choose to edit and rewrite, or stay true to their own style.

Write with abandon. Buck the system. Don’t formulate your story in hopes that people “get it”. We, as writers, can’t follow every reader around and explain what we meant, I don’t believe that has any place in fiction.

Writing a story is like articulating a math problem, some people understand it, some don’t.This is the age of the internet, there’s an audience for all of us.

In the words of Steinbeck: “He’ll take from my book what he can bring to it. The dull witted will get dullness and the brilliant may find things in my book I didn’t know were there.”

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Comments (9 so far!)

  1. Avatar August 2nd

    I agree with this 100%. One cannot please everyone and it’s useless to try. Write to please yourself and if someone else enjoys your work as well, consider that a bonus.

    “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr Seuss

  2. Avatar Tad Winslow

    Thank you for distributing this conversation for all of us to read. It’s an important thing to discuss for anyone trying to publish their work.

    We can’t all be Steinbeck, a superstar genius getting published whether he takes the editor’s advice or not. For the rest of us, rewrites beat starving.

    Bill Cunningham said, “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.”

  3. Avatar 32 ^2

    It’s been awhile since I’ve been here, thanks for posting this. I know it’s not a popular topic, but maybe I’m going by the responses, maybe more have read it.

    I saw Hunger Games a couple days ago. I was insulted, I was the idiot dim witted viewer.

    Fact: there are two people, one by one girl, chosen from each district to fight among other “couples” from other districts. That’s easy, even for an eight year old. One boy, one girl, equals two.

    (Not exact quote)

    Boy to Girl, both from the same district: “My mother told me she knows one person from home has a possibility of winning, and it’s not me.”

    Well, that’s the way it should have been written for the screen, and is in the novel.

    Boy to Girl, both from the same district: “My mother told me she knows one person from home has a possibility of winning, and it’s not me. It’s you”.

    The “It’s you” is what Steinbeck was talking about, the viewer can’t subtract one from two.

    I walked out, it was only going to get worse.

  4. Avatar mark.i.wang

    I’ve been too busy the past week to comment (or write for that matter). But I thought I’d chime in on this.

    There is an aspect of self expression, and an aspect of sharing, for ficly, and in creative writing generally… In the final analysis, leaning too far to either extreme is going to end up being counterproductive.

    I personally write my stories with an imaginary Reader in mind – not a faceless “all-one-mind-all-one-mentality, Reader” audience, but a single concrete personality, with likes/dislikes, etc. My Reader is someone I’d like to know, someone I’d like to talk to about my story. Writing for my Reader requires that I find a common ground between myself and him – something that’s not too much me, and something not too much him, either. I suppose it’s not that different from having a conversation, really.

  5. Avatar ElshaHawk (LoA)

    very true, Mark, and thanks for sharing your perspective, which is a great way to write.
    32, sometimes certain parts need emphasis. Think about how people state the obvious all the time in normal conversation, usually to emphasize a point. It sounds natural. Yes, it can get annoying.

    I enjoyed Hunger Games because I thought it stuck to the book rather well. My husband did not because he said it just wasn’t his kind of movie. We all have our pet peeves, which is why we can’t write something everyone will enjoy. Someone out there will hate it.

  6. Avatar 32 ^2

    @ Mark~

    Quote: My Reader is someone I’d like to know.

    Beautiful.

  7. Avatar Abby (LoA)

    You’ll never please everyone with what you do.

    But it doesn’t matter

    As long as you please yourself.

  8. Avatar Scrawler's Secret

    I just had an experience like this with my English professor. I acknowledged their points and eventually I got them to acknowledge mine.

  9. Avatar 32 ^2

    An excerpt from Emily Bronte’s very famous novel, Wuthering Heights:

    On opening the little door, two hairy monsters flew at my throat, bearing me down, and extinguishing the light; while a mingled guffaw from Heathcliff and Hareton put the copestone on my rage and humiliation. Fortunately, the beasts seemed more bent on stretching their paws, and yawning, and flourishing their tails, than devouring me alive; but they would suffer no resurrection, and I was forced to lie till their malignant masters pleased to deliver me: then, hatless and trembling with wrath, I ordered the miscreants to let me out – on their peril to keep me one minute longer – with several incoherent threats of retaliation that, in their indefinite depth of virulency, smacked of King Lear.

    If you didn’t notice, this entire paragraph is two sentences (two periods). No, no, not today Bronte, she’d be forced to break up her paragraphs or never get published.