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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Simply 'Extending The Tale'

Yesterday's announcement that Hal Holbrook had died reignited memories of him playing Mark Twain on stage and screen.  During his lifetime, Holbrook portrayed the legendary writer for all or parts of more than 7 decades.


Twain was, of course, actually a pen name, created by Samuel Clemens for his writing career, a name he used for about 5 decades.  So Holbrook liked to say that he actually portrayed Twain longer than Clemens did -- although his portrayal was in makeup while Clemens simply was "being himself."


Twain-Clemens-Holbrook shared many pithy thoughts about life and writing and I've always liked this one about novel writing, since it fits for almost anyone who's either written a novel or had plans to.  "Writing can be a mystery, rarely easy, almost always satisfying, especially when you are working on a novel.”


“A man who is not born with the novel-writing gift has a troublesome time of it when he tries to build a novel. I know this from experience. He has no clear idea of his story; in fact he has no story. He merely has some people in his mind, and an incident or two, also a locality, and he trusts he can plunge those people into those incidents with interesting results. So he goes to work. To write a novel?  No – that is a thought which comes later; in the beginning he is only proposing to tell a little tale, a very little tale, a six-page tale. But as it is a tale which he is not acquainted with, and can only find out what it is by listening as it goes along telling itself, it is more than apt to go on and on and on till it spreads itself into a book. I know about this, because it has happened to me so many times.”


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