The day Raymond Chandler struck back.
October 14, 2013
Every author has faced rejection, and nd every author thinks that his or her rejection letter, or note, is the only one that has ever accounted or amounted to anything.
We put our writing on a pedestal, and wait for somebody to knock it off. Somebody always does.
Even the great writers had their words stepped on, stomped on, wadded up, and thrown in the garbage.
I have always loved the way Raymond Chandler strung his words together. He was seldom taken seriously because his crime fiction, featuring Philip Marlowe, was almost always regarded as pulp fiction.
Only later did anyone realize that his writing had style and grace and elegrance. He wrote the way others wanted to write but couldn’t.
Chandler received a rejection letter from The Atlantic Monthly, and he promptly mailed a rejection letter back to his editor at the magazine, Charles Morton.
If the publication didn’t want his story, fine.
If the publication didn’t like his writing, fine.
But he was both irate and frustrated. He didn’t write for money. He wrote for the love of writing. He didn’t like the way he was being treated. Tell him yes, or tell him no, but tell him something. He could handle the truth. He didn’t like being left to dangle in some literary wind.
His literary put down of the publication is a classic.
I have one complaint to make, and it is an old one – the cold silence and the stalling that goes on when something comes in that is not right or is not timely. This I resent and always shall. It does not take weeks to tell a man (by pony express) that his piece is wrong when he can be told in a matter of days that it is right.
Editors do not make enemies by rejecting manuscripts, but by the way they do it, by the change of atmosphere; the delay, the impersonal note that creeps in. I am a hater of power and of trading, and yet I live in a world where I have to trade brutally and exploit every item of power I may possess. But in dealing with the Atlantic, there is none of this.
I do not write for you for money or for prestige, but for love, the strange lingering love of a world wherein men may think in cool subtleties and talk in the language of almost forgotten cultures … I like that world and I would on occasion sacrifice my sleep and my rest and quite a bit of money to enter it gracefully. That is not appreciated. It is something you cannot buy. It is something, which, even when the gesture is imperfect, deserves respect.
I can make $5,000 in two days (sometimes), but I spend weeks trying to please the Atlantic for $250 or whatever it is. Do you think I want money? As for prestige, what is it? What greater prestige can a man like me (not too greatly gifted but understanding) have than to have taken a cheap, shockly, and utterly lost kind of writing and have made of it something that intellectuals claw each other about?
What more could I ask except the leisure and skill to write a couple of novels of the sort I want to write and to have waiting for them a public I have made myself? Certainly, the Atlantic cannot give that to me.
Raymond Chandler wrote pure poetry, heavy with the metaphors of literary fiction, while bleeding the veins of hardboiled detective stories. Consider these unforgettable lines:
- Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that, you take the girl’s clothes off.
- I do a great deal of research – particularly in the apartments of tall blondes.
- She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.
- From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away, she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.
- The streets were dark with something more than the night.
- I guess God made Boston on a wet Monday.
He had his own style. He had his own way of coining a phrase. And after one of his stories was heavily edited, he sat down and wrote a letter to Edward Weeks, who ran The Atlantic Monthly:
By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.
He had plenty.
I don’t know who inherited Chandler’s money if he had any.
But we inherited his words.
We got the best part of the deal.