David H. Keller – excerpt from “Creation Unforgiveable” – Weird Tales April 1930
MY WIFE used to think that I took the writing game too seriously.
“There is no living with you or loving of you when you are at work on a story, and the longer the story, the longer the period of separation,” she would say. I always answered her with a laugh and told her that was the penalty that she had to pay for marrying an artist.
For that was the way I looked at my writing. Prosaic enough it might seem to others to sit all day at a little low desk and pound the keys of a little old typewriter. Some of my friends told me that it was a poor way for a man of my ability to spend my time, but again I only answered with a laugh and told them that it made me happy.
All my life so far had been spent in comparative isolation in a little town. My outlook on life was apparently contracted, my opportunity for adventure slight. There were few persons to talk to, and, of those few, none who topped me intellectually. I should have been bitter, unhappy and misanthropic. My writing and the far-away fields that it took me into were the panacea that made living a happy adventure, in spite of my surroundings.
I sold a story, and then another, and finally was able to buy a broken-down house and fifty acres of land, some miles from the center of the town. My first thought was to make the house livable for the wife. After that I hunted for some place to write. So far, I had been handicapped by the lack of suitable surroundings in which to pound the keys, composing what I hoped would be my masterpiece. Surely in fifty acres there should be some place where a man could find solitude, comfort and, mayhap, inspiration.
And without hunting for it I found it. A small one-room shack, the floor six by ten, the roof hardly six feet from the floor. It was some distance from the house, almost in the shadow of an overhanging ledge of rock and on the edge of a swamp. I went into that swamp once and found the mouth of a cave, but the mosquitoes were so bad that I determined to save further exploration till colder weather.
I was more handy with a typewriter than I was with a saw and hammer; so I put a carpenter to work. First, the roof had to be shingled, and then a new floor was imperative. Some windows supplied light and ventilation, while copper screens kept out the bugs. We put shelves on the walls, and I moved my books out there at the end of one week, and arranged them while a painter dabbled green paint all over the outside. At last I had a place for my desk and my typewriter.
It was a wonderful place to write. There was always light, but all through the day the sunlight was mellowed and softened and changed, either by the green of the trees or the black of the mountain. There was a stillness that was only made more intense by the singing birds and weariless crickets. We liked it, the wife and I, while the baby cried for a whole day when she found that it was going to be a workshop for an author rather than a playroom for a little girl. The wife threatened picnic suppers and I had to arrange for a fireplace and a brass pipe to carry water from a spring up on the hill.
After all was ready, I walked to town and bought five hundred more sheets of paper at the local sell-all store. They handled magazines “handled” is the right word, for I never heard of anyone’s buying any except myself, and I bought only the occasional number with a story in it by myself. With these five hundred sheets of white paper, carbon, a machine and an ideal location, I was sure that I could do something worth while.
My wife insisted that I took the game to seriously, and it is true that while writing I lived the part. My characters were real people to me right up to the last line, and even the minute that I wrote “THE END” at the bottom of the page. Only then would they fade and lose in some way, their definite personalities to me. Not just so many word-people, but actual living persons, induced, for a few hours, to come with me and lead the adventuresome life that I thought out for them.
I loved them all, the heroes, ladies fair but frail, villains, sorry, evil, but, withal, lovable. They were perhaps the children of my creative mind, though at times I felt differently about them. Back of me were my ancestors two parents and four grandparents and eight great-grandparents. How many, twenty generations back? How many, fifty? Where and who were my ancestors one hundred thousand years ago and what were they doing and how did they live? Part of them was in me. They contributed to making the personality of the unknown author in the forgotten backwash of a country town. Perhaps when I created, I only brought up from the subconscious, from the deep pit of forgotten memories, portions of the lives of these distant relatives, dead a thousand years or a hundred centuries ago.
When I thought that I was creating, was that all that I was doing? Simply shutting my eyes and telling about the things that I saw these ancestors do? What an interesting conception of creative authorship! And what a merry, happy-go-lucky, hearty family I had in those olden days!
As usual, my wife asked me what I was going to write about next.
“It makes no fiddler’s difference to me,” she exclaimed for the tenth time, “what you write about, so long as you sell it. What makes me nervous is for you to spend a week or ten days toiling on a story, and then have a dozen editors write you that it is beautiful stuff but that their readers would hardly understand it. Write anything you want to, so long as you write the stuff that the editors will buy, for winter is coming on, and it is going to be a long winter, and I am tired of eating oatmeal and cutting down my old clothes to make dresses for Susanne.”
I told her that I was going to write a tale of prehistoric days. I had thought of doing this for a long time, but always other plots thrust it back into obscurity for the time being. Now I recalled that I wanted to write a tale of the past ages. It would be so far past that not one could measure it with the yardstick of historic accuracy and say that I was not true to the facts as known to the dry and musty antiquarians. I wanted to go back to the caveman and the saber-toothed tiger. I wanted to go back to the mammoth and the painting of cave pictures. There was a story there, a tale that I had wanted to fasten on paper for a long time. Now I could do it.
To me it was an interesting story. I wrote ten pages the first day and told my wife the high spots of those ten pages as we spent a half hour on the gallery before going to our bedroom…
(Keller “Creation” 481-483)
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