T.S. Eliot and Swag

English: Thomas Stearns ('T.S.') Eliot with hi...

English: Thomas Stearns (‘T.S.’) Eliot with his sister and his cousin, by Lady Ottoline Morrell (died 1938). See source website for additional information. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First edition cover

First edition cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of nights a ago I pulled out the copy of T.S. Eliot’s COLLECTED POEMS 1909-1962, the copy I had in college, and wondered why I liked him so much back then. Wondered why I was wondering/What the fascination was with this highly affected/Beyond self-indulgent/Narcissistic to an extent that would wilt the narcissism of kings. All kings.

At least he was a total pessimist, solipsistic and dreary. (Explains his appeal to collegiate humanities majors).

Now and again there still seem to me to be some good things. Mostly they occur in his “minor” pieces, and who cannot like OLD POSSUM’S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS? Clearly, this was a cat person as a dog would not even have let him in a dog’s house. Dogs are real and open and honest even when they bite. Cats never are. Reflective dissembling is a feline’s stock and trade.

There are many good lines, an occasional image nicely turned, a well-crafted phrase, perhaps overly crafted (And through the spaces of the dark/Midnight shakes the memory/As a madman shakes a dead geranium). Now, he is for eternity interred with his beloved English worms: “This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.” (The Hollow Men).

So un-Faulknerian, that, Faulkner who stated emphatically his belief that man would not merely endure, but prevail. Maybe. Nice to believe, anyway. Were I to pick a single Eliot line for sign-off, it would be: “And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.” (Four Quartets, Little Gidding).

Swag, you know that stuff you find at writers conferences and signings, ballpoints and keychains and bookmarks, postcards and business cards promoting an author’s latest contribution to the ever-growing mound of literary history. What’s it worth? Does it do any good? Has anyone bought a book because of it? Maybe. Is it cost effective? I’d bet against it. That said, I just bought 250 business cards with my website image on one side and my book cover on the other. And three mugs. One for my mother, and extras. Looking at the mugs makes me feel almost important. Not quite, but close. My mother will like hers, however, and will show it to her friends. That’s what makes a $2 mug worth $9.50.

I wonder what sort of swag Eliot would have given were he a swag-giver. Mugs, T-shirts, baseball caps. Unlikely. Engraved lighters, cigars, pipes, tobacco, Armagnac…maybe. A pack of pipe cleaners? I could see that. Faulkner would have swagged Bourbon. I’m sure of that.

William Faulkner, 1954

William Faulkner, 1954 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Where do stories come from?

One of the most common questions asked by readers of authors is where they get their story ideas. Most of the time the answers are facile, glib. Everywhere, nowhere, the newspaper, television. In my experience, many writers of novels and short stories, have derived it from a very specific experience. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be asking successful authors I know to detail the most the most interesting  trigger for any book or story they ever wrote. One of the authors will be me. I will talk about where the inspiration for my book, One Minute Gone, came from. The story opens with the disappearance of an attractive young woman, who is Imagea real estate agent in Manhattan. It is based on a friend named Camden Silvia, who disappeared one day and has never been found.

There are many famous examples, some obvious, some not. Faulkner’s trigger for The Sound and the Fury, he said, was the back side of the lace underpants of a young girl in a flowerbed, who had fallen into the dirt while trying to look through a window. What was she doing at the window? Who was inside? What were they saying?

On of the more obvious is Harper Lee’s inspiration for To Kill a Mockingbird. Her father was the roll model for Atticus Finch, the respected small-town attorney, who defended a black man for a rape her father was certain he didn’t and couldn’t have committed.