Category Archives: Raymond Chandler

There Are Really No Dull Subjects, Only Dull Writers

H. L. Mencken? Raymond Chandler? Woodrow Wilson? Richard Le Gallienne? George Horace Lorimer?

dulcimerDear Quote Investigator: Successful scribblers believe that all writing should be engaging. A popular adage places the onus squarely on the shoulders of the author:

There are no dull subjects, just dull writers.

This expression has been attributed to the curmudgeon essayist H. L. Mencken, the detective novelist Raymond Chandler, and others. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance located by QI appeared in “The New York Times” in April 1921. The English poet and author Richard Le Gallienne employed the saying within a book review. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The first duty of a book, however serious its theme, is to be entertaining. Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is entertaining—otherwise it would long since have been forgotten. There are really no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.

Currently, Le Gallienne is the leading candidate for creator of this saying. The main rival candidate was George Horace Lorimer who was the editor of “The Saturday Evening Post”, a very popular long-lived periodical. Lorimer used an instance in December 1922, and he often receives credit. He did help popularize the expression, but evidence indicates Le Gallienne’s use occurred earlier.

Raymond Chandler did use the expression in 1944, but it was already in circulation. Also, the statement was attributed to H. L. Mencken by 1970, but he died in 1956. Thus, this linkage was probably spurious.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1921 April 24, New York Times, Section: Book Review & Magazine, A Transcendental Laborite: A Review by Richard Le Gallienne, (Book Review of “The Passion of Labour” by Robert Lynd, Scribner’s Sons), Start Page BRM4, Quote Page BRM4, New York. (ProQuest)

When in Doubt Have a Man Come Through a Door with a Gun in His Hand

Raymond Chandler? Apocryphal?

clinch05Dear Quote Investigator: The novelist Raymond Chandler was famous for his literary crime fiction. He once discussed the techniques he employed to craft his hardboiled fiction and supposedly offered advice similar to the following:

If your plot is flagging, have a man come in with a gun.
When stumped, have a man come through a door with a gun.

Did Chandler really give this counsel?

Quote Investigator: In April 1950 Raymond Chandler published an essay titled “The Simple Art of Murder” in a magazine called the “Saturday Review of Literature”, and he reflected on his background as an author in pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. The tales about police officers, journalists, and detectives sometimes lacked realism Chandler said because they occurred during a compressed time-frame and involved an artificially close-knit group of people. Here is an excerpt with boldface added: 1

This was inevitable because the demand was for constant action and if you stopped to think you were lost. 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.

So Chandler did write a remark of this type, but he was not presenting it as advice. The weapon flaunting tactic was an occasional expedient he resorted to while writing for the pulps.

There is some confusion surrounding the citation for this statement because Chandler wrote another more widely known essay with the same title several years earlier. In December 1944 “The Atlantic Monthly” published “The Simple Art of Murder”; however, that piece did not contain the quotation. 2

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1950 April 15, Saturday Review of Literature, The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler, Start Page 13, Quote Page 13 and 14, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz)
  2. 1944 December, The Atlantic Monthly, “The Simple Art of Murder” by Raymond Chandler, Start Page 53, The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Massachusetts (Verified on paper)

I Only Write When Inspiration Strikes. Fortunately It Strikes at Nine Every Morning

William Faulkner? Peter De Vries? Herman Wouk? Somerset Maugham? Jane Yolen? Raymond Chandler? Anonymous?

NineAM10Dear Quote Investigator: As a writer I find the following quotation about motivation both amusing and invigorating:

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.

I have seen these words attributed to the satiric New Yorker writer Peter De Vries, the Nobelist William Faulkner, and playwright-novelist Somerset Maugham. Who do you think originated this quip?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in 1966 in a “Washington Post” profile of the bestselling author Herman Wouk who was best known for the novels “The Caine Mutiny”, “The Winds of War”, and “War and Remembrance”. Wouk ascribed the remark to William Faulkner. The phrasing differed from the version provided by the questioner, but the underlying joke was the same. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 1

For a writer with so many books to his credit, he finds writing an exceedingly difficult process of “gritting one’s teeth and putting down one word after another.” He averages 1500 to 2000 words a day and likes to quote William Faulkner: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”

This Wouk profile was reprinted in several newspapers including the “Des Moines Register” in Iowa 2 and the “Springfield Union” in Massachusetts. 3 Faulkner died in 1962, four years before the story was published, and QI has not yet located any direct support for the attribution.

In 1971 the poet and novelist Reynolds Price was interviewed in “The Raleigh News and Observer” of North Carolina, and he presented a version of the jest credited to William Faulkner: 4

Someone once asked Mr. Faulkner if he wrote by inspiration or habit and he said he wrote by inspiration, but luckily inspiration arrived at 9 every morning. I know what that means. And there is a kind of magic about keeping the stride once you’ve got it going.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1966 November 13, Washington Post, Writing Is Workaday For Herman Wouk: Inspiration Strikes at Nine Every Morning by Meryle Secrest (Washington Post Staff Writer), Quote Page F3, Column 3, Washington, D.C. (Note: ProQuest database gives the incorrect author name of Meryle Secret)
  2. 1966 November 24, Des Moines Register, The Wouk Formula For Writing Success by Meryle Secrest (Acknowledgement to The Washington Post), Quote Page 16, Des Moines, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1966 December 11, 1966, Springfield Union, Herman Wouk Tells What Literary Success Means by Meryle Secret, (Acknowledgement Washington Post News Service), Quote Page 18C, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1991, Conversations with Reynolds Price, Edited by Jefferson Humphries, (A Glimpse into the Very Private World of a Novelist, Interview of Reynolds Price by Rod Cockshutt, Reprinted from The Raleigh News and Observer, Date: January 24, 1971, Section: 4, 3) Start Page 30, Quote Page 34 and 35, Univ. Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi, (Verified on paper)

They Haven’t Done Anything to My Book. It’s Right There on the Shelf

Raymond Chandler? James M. Cain? Alan Moore? William S. Burroughs? Larry Niven? Stephen King? Elmore Leonard? William Faulkner? Owen Sheers?

jamescain03Dear Quote Investigator: I have heard the following anecdote told about Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Stephen King, and Elmore Leonard. A journalist once visited the house of a popular author who had sold the movie rights to several of his novels to Hollywood. The quality of the resultant movies had been lamented by critics. The reporter attempted to commiserate with the writer by saying that Hollywood had ruined his books, but the author led the visitor into his study and pointed to a bookshelf:

They haven’t done anything to my books. They’re still right there on the shelf. They’re fine.

Is this story accurate? Who were the participants?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence for this tale known to QI was published in the New York Times Book Review in March 1969. The influential cultural critic John Leonard visited James M. Cain at his home in Hyattsville, Maryland. Cain had written several best-selling books in the 1930s and 1940s including: “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, “Mildred Pierce”, and “Double Indemnity”. These works were transformed into movies of variable quality. Leonard reported on the remarks of Cain: 1

All the early novels were made into movies. (Hollywood made $12-million from Cain; Cain made $100,000.) He has seen only two of the movies made from his books. “There are some foods some people just don’t like. I just don’t like movies. People tell me, don’t you care what they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf. They paid me and that’s the end of it.”

The citation above was located by top researcher Bill Mullins. In 1974 a book titled “Graham Greene: The Films of His Fiction” referenced the comments of Cain. The phrasing presented matched the version in the New York Times: 2

The American novelist James M. Cain once remarked that he had rarely gone to see the screen version of one of his novels. “People tell me, don’t you care what they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf. They paid me and that’s the end of it.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1969 March 2, New York Times, Section: Book Review, The Wish of James M. Cain by John Leonard, Quote Page BR2, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1974, Graham Greene: The Films of His Fiction by Gene D. Phillips, Series: Studies in Culture & Communication, Chapter 2, Quote Page 14, Teachers College Press, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York. (Verified on paper)