Raymond Chandler: On Writing

A friend just sent me this incredible quote from Raymond Chandler, one of my favorite writers ever ever. Some writers simply let their work speak for them, but I really appreciate when the most gifted humans among us can articulate that elusive THING that lights heavenfire in their bellies.


This is a wonderful grouping of thoughts about the experience of creating, and reading, and how the most banal of experiences can throw open the doors to your heart if it’s written just right:

A long time ago when I was writing for pulps, I put into a story a line like “he got out of the car and walked across the sun-drenched sidewalk until the shadow of the awning over the entrance fell across his face like the touch of cool water.” They took it out when they published the story. Their readers didn’t appreciate this sort of thing; just held up the action. And I set out to prove them wrong.

My theory was they just thought they cared nothing about anything but the action; that really, although they didn’t know it, they cared very little about the action. The things that they really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description; the things they remembered, that haunted them, were not for example that a man got killed, but that in the moment of death he was trying to pick a paper clip up off the polished surface of a desk, and it kept slipping away from him, so that there was a look of strain of his face and his mouth was half opened in a kind of tormented grin, and the last thing in the world he thought about was death.

He didn’t even hear death knock at the door. That damn paper clip kept slipping away from his fingers and he just couldn’t push it to the edge of the desk and catch it as it fell.

If you have not read Chandler before, The High Window is a perfect place to start. It’s a novel I’d take with me to the proverbial desert island, because I’ve read it maybe fifteen times and it’s like cracking open a brand-new book every time. Chandler comes from the sexiest era of Americana, a time of gangsters and molls and Cadillacs, and long white gams emerging from parted sequin seams. His books, especially The High Window, remind me of a time when the classy and the trashy bled together, and aggressive Post-WWII “normalcy” forced pleasure into the darkest nooks and crannies of culture.

The High Window, Raymond Chandler

There have been very few writers since Chandler that take the time to savor the background, the moments between the plot points. He describes even the boring, especially the boring, with such artistry that every swathe of words totally ignites the senses. His prose sparkles, it smells good, it tastes like steak and velvet cake. It makes you pause for breath, and sometimes laugh: “From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.” That wit! Incredible.

Raymond Chandler knew what it was to read, to scour the creative output of another person searching for divine connection and meaning. He voraciously consumed every man and woman with whom he ever shared a word, or a look, and created stories of human experience with the contrast turned up high. He made everyday lives something mysterious and sexy. Which, if you just take a minute to look around, and inhale, they really are.