Writer’s Desk: Making a Name

William_S._Burroughs_at_the_Gotham_Book_MartThis is Patti Smith at a Louisiana literature festival in 2012:

When I was really young William Burroughs told me – I was really struggling we never had any money – and the advice that William gave me was built a good name and keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name eventually you know that name will be its own currency…

We don’t all get to be like Smith and receive personal advice from El Hombe Invisible at an age when we’re young and struggling and wondering if any of the combat we’re suffering just to create something will ever be worth it. But her distillation of it is useful nonetheless.

Protect your work at all costs. Don’t sign up for anything you don’t believe in. Refuse to sell yourself cheap. And if you have to … use a pseudonym.

The Beat Report: New Kerouac Novella

hauntedlife1Not long after Jack Kerouac and his friends were wrapped up in the David Kammerer murder, he started work on a World War II novel called The Haunted Life. He only made it a little ways into the story (which was to have been a multi-volume work) before losing it, supposedly in a cab. The pages were rediscovered a few years back and have just been published; here’s a few lines:

“You’’ve been reading John Dewey.”

Dick moved off down the hall: “It’s fact. What the hell good is life if you don’t live it to the bone? Jack London was a great liver, Halliburton, even Herodotus . . . there was a man! To hell with college! Did I ever advise you to go to college?”

Peter grinned.

“No,” said Dick. “you let circumstances drag you along. Be like Hamlet . . . baffle circumstances.”

It’s hard to imagine Kerouac writing a war story, and what has survived looks more conventional and clunky than his later speedy improvisations — somewhat like how Williams S. Burroughs moved from the Hemingway-like prose of Junky to the surrealisms of Nova Mob.

There’s an excerpt here.

Writer’s Corner: Word Virus

 

Language is a virus from outer space.

—William S. Burroughs

Burroughs, who would have turned 100 yesterday, liked to repeat this quote and variations on its theme in his speaking and writing. Like with much else that he put out there, it’s not meant to be taken with complete seriousness, but he certainly believed in the metaphor of words and ideas as a virus that can spread with disease-like rapdity.

embassytownAlong those lines, check out China Mieville’s science-fiction novel Embassytown, in which (among other oddities) he invents an alien race which is actually sickened by words and the transmission thereof. I wrote about the book for The Millions.