Either Black Magic or Miraculous

Sometimes I wonder what sort of pen Raymond Chandler used — and if finding out and buying one would somehow imbue my writing with a similar ethic.

Not his voice or style. Already we’re a sentence in and I think it’s ostensibly clear that I’m not writing as Chandler did. I’m usually not concerned with the same themes, and I’m not emulating his rhythms or aping the way he wrote his plots–

“When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. This could get to be pretty silly but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. A writer who is afraid to over-reach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong.

As I look back on my own stories it would be absurd if I did not wish they had been better. But if they had been much better they would not have been published.”

A lot of people recall that first sentence of that quote, but I’ve always been drawn to the rest, about writers who are afraid to overreach, and especially that jewel there at the end.

(For what it’s worth, I think Chandler is up there among the great writers of the 20th century, easily earning a place alongside folks like Fitzgerald and Hemingway and King.)

What I like about Chandler is his dedication. I picture him as a clean-cut guy in his 50s (that’s how old he was in he wrote The Big Sleep, as I’ve heard), wearing hard-resin eyeglasses as he sits at his desk tapping out his stories on an old Underwood from notes composed using the flex-nib of a now-vintage fountain pen — probably a Montblanc or a Parker.

As an engagement present, my wife gave me a Montblan pen — an Edgar Allan Poe writers edition. I confess I wish I used it more often, but it has a medium-size nib, and I like when I write to fit the words more closely together.

I wrote this very post with a Pilot/Namiki Falcon pen that has what they call a “soft fine” nib. You can’t tell, obviously, because I typed it out so that I could post it, but what’s neat about this pen is that it produces variations in line width. I’ve purchased a few fountain pens over the past couple of years, starting with a Waterman Expert nearly two years ago based solely on Stephen King’s mention that there’s no finer word processor. Apparently, after his accident, he couldn’t sit as well for long periods of time at a desk, and so he figured out other ways to pursue his stories. Because that’s what we writers do. We figure out a way to make sure the stories get told. There’s something about fountain pens I enjoy, something that brings to my mind a long-gone era in which men always wore suits and locks were always secure and there was always the possibility of a case falling into your lap, whether you were a private investigator or not. Sometimes you just trip and accidentally end up in North by Northwest.

Because it was like anyone could do it, wasn’t it? Anyone could be a PI, and fiction was full of them, the Shaynes and Marlowes, the Hammers and Dupins. That was one of the best things about Marlowe. He was Bogey, played with a slightly worn, hangdog way.

That’s one of the great things about writing, too — anyone can do it. It doesn’t require special instruction or licenses. Nowadays it doesn’t even require equipment any more special than what we all have on our desks — and that’s nevermind that you can post something on the internet for all the world to see using something you normally keep in your pocket when you’re not charging it.

I wonder what Chandler would have thought of that. Probably he would have thought it either black magic or miraculous, depending on how positive he was feeling when you asked.

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