Humor me if you will. Or, rather, be humored yourself by a true master.
During those times when the creative well is running a little low and the plot lines lie flat on the page, I try to prime the pump with some good reading. There are several contemporary authors who inspire me but I also enjoy reaching back into the archives to see how the old guys did it.
One book that I never tire of revisiting is Roughing It by Mark Twain, based on his stagecoach journey to the west and subsequent adventures in silver prospecting, real estate speculation, and (after a side trip to Hawaii) newspaper reporting in San Francisco. During these years of 1861-1867, he honed his rough-hewn, almost madcap, style of writing into the Twain style that forever set him apart: sharply satirical (as in The Gilded Age) but capable of tender character portrayals as well (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). For spot-on, wry descriptions of the mundane, Twain is hard to beat. I’d like to share a few of my favorite excerpts from Roughing It.
First off, the western landscape provided Twain with all sorts of writing fodder and I love this meandering passage that manages to work in references to sagebrush, mules and anthracite coal all in one sitting:
“Sage-brush is very fair fuel, but as a vegetable it is a distinguished failure. Nothing can abide the taste of it but the jackass and his illegitimate child the mule. But their testimony to its nutritiousness is worth nothing, for they will eat pine knots, or anthracite coal, or brass filings, or lead pipe, or old bottles, or anything that comes handy, and then go off looking as grateful as if they had had oysters for dinner.”
“The cayote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolf-skin stretched over it, a tolerably bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over. The cayote is a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry.