Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Donald E. Westlake. Adios, Scheherazade: A Serious Comedy. Excerpts of interest. Simon and Schuster. 1970.


          Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.
I’m supposed to write a dirty book now. It is one-thirty in the afternoon, Fred is asleep, Betsy is at the A&P, it is the 21st day of November, the year of my God! 1967, and I have ten days in which to write Opus Number 29. In E flat, Scherzo, please.
What the heck am I doing? I put the paper in the type-writer, I typed the number 1 midway down the left margin, I quadruple-spaced, I indented five, and then I was supposed to write the first sentence of this month’s dirty book. So what do I think I’m doing? I’m sitting here typing nonsense, I’m supposed to be typing sex.
I can’t think about it, that’s the problem. I sit here and I look at the paper, the typewriter keys, the desk, the Bic ball-point pen, the yellow Ticonderoga pencil, the round red erase with the bushy green tail, and I wind up thinking things like how many words are in Ticonderoga. Ago. Tide. Recoating.


What kind of crap is that? It’s sex time, lust time, time to get the old cottage industry in high gear. I have til three P.M., November 30th, this year, to get this book written and delivered to Lance or it’s all over, I am up the flue, down the chute, in the dustbin and out on my ear. Lance does not tell jokes, and he does not make empty threats. “I’m sorry, Edwin,” he said, and he sounded sorry.
That was on the phone. I never see Lance except on the phone, if you know what I mean. Maybe he knows he’s more effective that way, with nothing but the calm sincere persuasive voice, the voice that belongs with the name Lance. Lance Pangle. You’d think he’d have changed the last name too. Rod says he had to keep it for tax reasons or business reasons or something like that, but I say no. I say the bastard’s too egotistical to become a pen name for himself. Maurice Pangle was horrible, and because (grudgingly I admit) the rat does have brains he knew it was horrible, he knew it would be a disadvantage in business dealings. And I can see why he didn’t keep the first name; Maurice itself is horrible, and the only name on earth it goes with is Evans, and that’s taken. So he changed his first name. Lance Pangle. The front half of a cowboy hero and the back half of his horse.
The voice invokes the first half. It is a gentlemanly trombone, the softest baritone in the world. The moods it implies are gentle, quiet, civilized. He can call out the firing squad and then say, “I’m sorry, Edwin,” and really and truly sound sorry.
“I’ll get it in on time, Lance,” I promised, and I wanted t sound determined and responsible, but I have the bad feeling I sounded like somebody already on the chute.
I’m a square peg in a round hole, that’s what it is, forgive the sexual reference. I’m no more writer than I am an astronaut. I’m no more a writer than I am a -----. (Fill in the blank with your three favorite occupations.)
Rod warned me. “Nobody can do this shit forever,” he said. “You gotta remember it’s only temporary.”


How could I pay any attention? In the first place she was saying “shit,” in my mother’s living room, with my mother sitting right there. In the second place he’d come up from New York with Sabina Del Lex, and they were staying together in the same motel room out at the Howard Johnson by the Thruway exit, and all I could do was try not to look at Sabina’s thighs. And in the third place I didn’t intend to do this shit forever.
A year and a half, that’s what I said. Rod came up to Albany in January of 1965, late in January. I got his letter the first week in January, and I wrote back and said hell yes I’m interested, and he drove up in that red MG with Sabina sometime toward the end of the month.
It was the money he kept talking about, and it was the money I was most interested in. I was a college graduate (class of ’64 gang!), and I was married, and I was living at home with my mother and was working for Capital City Beer Distributors. And Betsy was seven months pregnant, which is another reason I was refusing to look at Sabina’s thighs.
Where was I? Money. Rod said they paid twelve hundred dollars for one of these books. “It used to be a thousand, but Lance Jewed them up.”
Betsy said, “That isn’t a phrase, is it? Isn’t it Jewed them down?”
So I looked at Sabina’s thighs. Milky white, shadowed above. Eyes too. Gray, milky whites, shadowed above. I


wondered if Rod neglected her. I hoped so. I began to fantasize: One o’clock in the morning. A phone call. Sabina. “Rod just passed out in the car, you know how he drinks, I can’t do anything with him. I wouldn’t bother you, Ed, but I don’t know anyone else in Albany.”
“No trouble at all. I’ll be right over.”
Betsy: “What’s the matter, Ed?” Half asleep, sitting up in bed, blinking at me.
Me: “Rod’s passed out drunk. I won’t be long.”
Over to the motel. Sabina worried, wringing her hands. Rod lying in his vomit. I carry him into the room, undress him, put him to bed. Sabina: “Ed, I really appreciate this.”
Me: “Not at all.”
Some conversation ensues, too boring to fantasize, and we next come into focus with the two of us sitting on her bed – twin beds, right? – drinking scotch out of water glasses. She is telling me how unhappy she is. She starts to cry. I put my arm around her. She cries against my shoulder. I put my hand on her thigh, it’s so cool, so smooth, so gentle, so civilized, so absolutely insane-making. I slide my hand up to white panties. She sighs against my throat. We lie back on the bed. I’ve got a hard-on a pole vaulter would envy. We get our clothing off, she’s a tigress, she moves like an exploding mainspring, I come too soon, she says, “Is that all?”
Damn it. Why do all my fantasies turn against me? My trouble is, I never manage to get them hermetically sealed. A little reality begins to creep in, like mist under a door. Like tear gas around the edges of the mask.
I was talking about money. I’m having the same trouble concentrating on money instead of Sabina that I had that day in January of 1965 in my mother’s living room in Albany, New York, a very crappy city in which I grew up, but in which I was not born.
I was born somewhere in the South Pacific, in point of fact, on the aircraft carrier USS Glenn Miller. It was the high point of my life so far.


“When the price goes from a thousand,” Rod told Betsy, “to twelve hundred, the phrase is, he Jewed them up.” Rod always treats Betsy with exaggerated courtesy and overfull explanations, the sort of contempt you can’t call him on. Even if I disagreed with him which I don’t.
Anyway, he then turned back to me. “You use my pen name,” he said, “so it’s a guaranteed sale. You get a thousand, I get the two hundred. Less commission, ten per cent commission. That makes your cut nine hundred.”
“To do a book a month,” I said. My mind was full of Sabina’s thighs and my need for money. I was too excited to make decisions.
“To do a book in ten days every month,” he said.
“I’ll never do a book in ten days.”
Well, I was wrong. I’ve done twenty-eight books, and twenty-four of them were done each in ten days. The first one took almost three months, but that’s because I was learning how, and Fred was born then, in March, and up till then I’d never even thought about being a writer.
“If you can write a grammatical letter,” Rod told me, “you can write a sex novel.”
“Rod,” I said, “you are a writer. When we were freshmen you were a writer. You came to college and you said, ‘I’m a writer.’ I’m not a writer.”
“You don’t have to be a writer to write sex novels,” he said. “I know half a dozen guys doing this, they aren’t writers, they never will be writers, they’re making ten grand a year doing it.”
“That’s a lot of money,” I said. I was making seventy-one twenty-five at Capital City Beer Distributors. A week. That’s three thousand seven hundred and five dollars a year. My mother, waiting table at Limurges Restaurant, was bringing home over a hundred a week, but that was still only five thousand a year. Ten thousand, my God, ten thousand is two hundred dollars a week! That’s why I said, “That’s a lot of money.”


“That’s why I think you oughta try it,” he said.
Which is when it occurred to me that ten thousand a year is what he was offering me! What with Sabina’s thighs and my mother sitting right in the same room with her hands full of argyle socks and that red MG out front and Betsy giving everybody her furrowed brow expression of being lost forever at sea, I hadn’t done my arithmetic up till then. Nine hundred dollars a book, he’d said. A book a month, he’d said. That was ten thousand eight hundred dollars a year. That isn’t divisible into weeks, it comes out two hundred seven dollars and sixty-cents with .0023076923076923076923076923 etc. left over.
“Will you try it?” he said.
“What can I lose?” I said, being cool because I was so ex-cited I was about to forth at the month.
He explained what I was supposed to do. There was a formula and a system. There was practically a blueprint. It was the closest thing to carpentry you can imagine. As a matter of fact, I don’t see at all why I couldn’t write up the formula and sell it to Popular Mechanics.
Here’s the way it goes. There are four sex novel stories, which we will number 1 through 4:
1–A boy in a small town wants to see the world. He screws his local sweetheart goodbye and goes to the big city. In the big city he gets a job and meets a succession of people, mostly female, and lays them all. Typical sequences are hitching to New York and being given a ride by a bored but beautiful wife in a convertible, or getting a job in a store and meeting a nymphomaniac in the stockroom, or going to pick up a date and meeting her nymphomaniac roommate instead. He can go back to the small town and the local sweetheart. He can marry one of the big city girls. He can become ruthless and shaft one of the big city girls and wind up alone. It doesn’t matter which of the three, any one of them will give your sludge that redeeming social significance which


will prohibit the cops from confiscating it. All resolutions are emotional – sad, happy, pointed, poignant, cynical, sentimental or whatever – so take your pick. You can’t lose.
2 – The same and 1, except with a girl. She leaves her little home town, pausing first to fuck with her little home town boy friend, and then it’s off to the big city for her. The reason she shacks up with her lesbian roommate is she was just raped by her boss. Fill in the details and a few more studs and you’ve got a book. Same jazz about the ending.
3 – La Ronde. Chapter 1 introduces George, who screws Myra. Chapter 2 switches to Myra’s viewpoint, and she makes it with Bruno. In Chapter 3 we follow Bruno as he climbs into the rack with Phyllis. And so on, and so on. The finish here is either to have the last character in bed with the first character, or the last character decides to stay with the next-to-last character and end this chain of meaningless sex. Either way will do.
4 – A bored husband and a bored wife. The chapters alternate between their viewpoints. We watch them having bored sex with each other and less bored sex with other characters. If we make one of them, husband or (more usually) wife, the heavy, we can finish with the heavy getting his (her) comeuppance and the good guy (girl) getting a better girl (guy). If we make them both merely confused and troubled but basically nice, they get back together again at the finish. Redeeming social significance either way, if you’ll notice.
Of course, there are other sex novels that can be written, but why strain? I’ve done a few with a college campus background, but they wind up essentially to be variants on numbers 1 and 2. Rod gave me these four basic outlines, and Rod is a writer and knows what he’s doing. Got his own spy series with Silver Stripe now, under his own name and everything. One of them sold to the movies.
But I’m not done with the formula for sex novels. Your book is one of the four basic stories outlined above, right? Right. It is also fifty thousand words long, and the easiest


way to do it is in ten chapters, each five thousand words long, and with a sex scene in each chapter. This means that ten times in every book there are euphemistically described sexual incidents. Generally the incident is a straight fuck between a man and a woman, but sometimes it’s a near fuck with a lot of foreplay, or sixty-nine, or a lesbian interlude, or a girl masturbating. (Boys don’t masturbate in these books, they masturbate on them.) This means that up to today I have described sexual congress or orgasm or some sort of sexual act two hundred and eighty times. It may not surprise you to hear that I’ve tended to repeat myself.
I’m losing the thread again. Ten chapters, five thousand words each, one sex scene each. Once you’ve established which of your four basic plots you’re going to use, the necessity to find somebody for your viewpoint character to get into bed with every five thousand words helps enormously in working out the details of the individual book. You say to yourself, Okay, here we are in Chapter 5, which is told from Maud’s point of view, since her chapters are alternating with Adolf’s. Are there any characters established in the first four chapters with whom Maud could possibly go to bed in Chapter 5? No? Well, what if we went to a bar, see, and got sloshed, and started to tell her troubles to the bartender. Then the bar closes, and the bartender says...
So. Given the formula, and (as Rod says) the ability to write a grammatic letter, you too could write dirty books for a living.


Paul Trepless got drunk, angry, laid and maudlin, in five thousand words.
You write it, I can’t. He sits around his house, see, feeling sorry for himself and frustrated and all, and gets to drinking. Then he drives in to New York and goes to Times Square and picks up a spade hooker and pays her twenty dollars and has a very unsatisfactory fuck, during all of which the hooker gives every appearance of laughing at him and not giving a damn whether he notices or not. Also, she won’t take off her bra. So then our hero drives in his drunken state back out to his home on Long Island and begins to feel very sorry for himself, and cries himself to sleep.
And wakes up and it’s Monday morning and he’s got a fucking fuck book to write by Thursday.
I did Chapter 1, though, by God. I now have Chapter 1 and nobody can take that away from me. I also kept the garbage I wrote Saturday, but I doubt that any of it is useful.
As for the rest of it, I burned it all Friday. No, I kept a couple pages I thought I could use, like the beginning of the


chapter with Dwayne Toppil and Liz, that I used part of in Paul’s flashback.
By the way, now that I have actually done a chapter we can continue our seminar on writing sex novels. Wait till I get my pointer, pardon the sexual reference.
Got it.
Now. If you will notice, not a hell of a lot happens in fifteen pages. The hero goes home on the train and his wife has left him because of something he didn’t do. Also there’s a sex scene in a flashback. Not very much. How do we manage to stretch that for fifteen pages.
Well, there are several ways. One of the several ways is to say everything twice, like I’m doing now. What I’m doing now is saying everything twice, which is one of the ways we get fifteen pages out of practically no action at all, plus flashback.
And this is another.
One-sentence paragraphs.
One-phrase paragraphs.
They fill up the page.
They fill it up something beautiful.
I know a guy.
This guy writes sex books.
Every sex book he writes is full of sex scenes like the following.
“Deeper!” she cried.
He thrust.
And again.
And again.
All of which gets you to the bottom of the page in jigtime.
It fills up the page and requires no effort.
Also, if you are writing a paragraph and you see that that paragraph is going to come to an end way over at the right end of the line, you add a few more words, it doesn’t matter


what words, just enough to make the paragraph round the corner.
And get you another line.
These are all trade secrets now, so pay attention. This is better than answering one of those ads in the crappy magazines that says EARN BIG MONEY WRITING.
I think I’ll start the Infamous Writers School. How to write soft-core pornography for no fun and little profit.
Make big money. Graduates of our system earn ten grand a year and have a tendency to feel they are becoming invisible.
Another way to get fifteen pages out of a paucity of plot is the interior monologue, also known as God Christ He’s Thinking Again. Characters in sex novels think all the time. They stand around with their fingers in their noses and think for pages on end. Sometimes they think about what to do next, and sometimes they think about what they’ve just done, and sometimes they think about something somebody else has done, and sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly what they’re thinking about.

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