Writer’s Desk: Nothing Wrong with Imitation

You could spend a good part of your life just trying to catch up with the output of Larry McMurty, who passed away this week. Screenplays (Brokeback Mountain), essays, nonfiction, and novels galore (The Last Picture Show, Lonesome Dove). He was also one of the country’s great used book merchants.

He once gave Texas Monthly some very straightforward advice for what he would tell young writers to do:

The most important preparation for writing is reading. Certainly for me and most people I know. Trying to imitate the writers that we love to read. That’s what got us all started…. It doesn’t hurt you to read a lot. In fact, it’s better that you read a lot. You’ll find the right ones.

So if anybody reads what you have done and says that it reminds them of another writer, own up to it. Say McMurty told you to do it.

Writer’s Desk: Larry McMurtry

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Cowboy novels, screenplays, weepies, Larry McMurtry’s written them all.  It’s a tossup as to what’s going to lead his obituary, Lonesome Dove or Brokeback Mountain, but either one is the kind of big-hearted and deeply-felt work most writers would kill to be associated with. He also runs his own bookstore, which is the sort of thing more writers should do.

A few years back, McMurtry—whose birthday was this past Friday—gave some writing advice to The Daily Beast; herewith a few selections:

  • “If you’re going to write fiction, you should read Tolstoy and the Russians; Flaubert and the French; Dickens; George Eliot; Dreiser; Twain; and on and on.”
  • “I have never mapped out a book ahead of time. It’s important to me to leave a little space for serendipity. Most of my books start with an ending. Then I go backwards and write towards the ending.”
  • “One thing I don’t do is read fiction while writing fiction. It interferes with my imagination.”

It’s difficult to imagine not reading fiction while writing it. After all, even a short novel takes most people months. That’s a long dry spell. But, then, he wrote Lonesome Dove, so probably knows a thing or two.

Screening Room: ‘Books: A Documentary’

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This is the killer Kickstarter pitch for a new proposed film project with the can’t-go-wrong title of Books: A Documentary:

This past August over 300,000 antiquarian books from Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up were sold at auction: This is the story of those Books.

Color us intrigued.

For those not already in awe of the man, Lonesome Dove and Brokeback Mountain author McMurtry also owns one of the nation’s great used-book emporiums. He told the tale of last fall’s great blowout sale at the New York Review of Books.

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According to Publishers Weekly, the filmmakers (husband-and-wife Sara Ossana and Mathew Provost) have already shot about half of the doc and need $50,000 to finish it up. Ossana notes that the film, which uses McMurtry’s sale to explore the modern book landscape, might be expected to be a downbeat tale about an industry and way of life in decline:

“We weren’t sure if the film would be a moratorium, or more uplifting,” Ossana said. “It’s turning out to be more uplifting.” That, she thinks, is due to a larger cultural shift afoot in America—brought on by the country’s economic need to develop a stronger foothold in the production of goods and in manufacturing—that is driving more people to ask where the objects they have come from, whether it’s the food on their table, or the hardcover novel on their shelf. “There is a cultural awakening happening now,” Ossana explained, “around what people find valuable. I think the book is a large part of that,” she said. And, with that, Ossana thinks physical bookstores are becoming more important as “cultural centers” on the community level.

Here’s to hoping that she’s right.

Dept. of Literary Commerce

When novelist/screenwriter/storeowner Larry McMurtry announced The Last Book Sale, he didn’t really know how many people would trek down to his retail emporium in Archer City, Texas to buy up some of the 300,000+ titles that were on offer. In the end, he reported in the New York Review of Books, “everything sold but the fiction … I was irritated to discover that I still had 30,000 novels to sell.”

The auction went well, overall, particularly in regards to this title:

The star item on the first day was typescript of some twenty-nine story-ettes of an erotic nature. These had been commissioned in the 40s by the oilman in Ardmore, Oklahoma; among the writers who wrote these trifles were Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Lawrence Durrell and others. The late G. Legman knew the oil man’s name but never revealed it. I have owned this curiosity for more than twenty years; it went to Between the Covers for $2,750.