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the Author is permitted
to speak


Thorne Smith

TO me it is only too depressingly apparent that no one save myself is going to take this little effort of mine at all seriously. However, I am taking it quite seriously enough to make up for this lamentable lack of faith on the part of the passing reader.

Most people probably do not consider it a difficult thing to write a few hundred words about oneself. In fact, the difficulty to them lies in writing less than a thousand words. But I consider it difficult. I consider it hellish. And this for the reason that those words have still to be written. They stretch endlessly before me like milestones along a weary way.

How to deal with them?

Well, in the first place, when an author starts in to write about himself, his chief preoccupation is to make himself appear whimsically modest and retiring in the eyes of the reader. Whimsical, by the way, and quizzical, are words that should be drummed out of the dictionary. But to return. When an author writes about himself he almost invariably endeavours craftily to conceal from the reader his monumental vanity and egotism.

I shall make no such humiliating concession.

Without so much as turning a hair I freely admit that I am one of America's greatest realists. And I'm not at all sure that this calm statement of fact does not take in all other nations, including the Scandinavian.

Like life itself my stories have no point and get absolutely nowhere. And like life they are a little mad and purposeless. They resemble those people who watch with placid concentration a steam shovel digging a large hole in the ground. They are almost as purposeless as a dignified commuter shaking an impotent fist after a train he has just missed. They are like the man who dashes madly through traffic only to linger aimlessly on the opposite corner watching a fountain pen being demonstrated in a shop window.

Quite casually I wander into my plot, poke around with my characters for a while, then amble off, leaving no moral proved and no reader improved.

The more I think about it the more am I convinced that I am a trifle cosmic. My books are as blindly unreasonable as nature. They have no more justification than a tiresomely high mountain or a garrulous and untidy volcano. Unlike the great idealists and romancers who insist on a beginning and a middle and an ending for their stories mine possess none of these definite parts. You can open them at any page. It does not matter at all. You will be equally mystified if not revolted. I am myself.

The Jovial Ghosts, my first novel, started out to be a short story. My wife needed clothes so that she could appear covered if not clad in public. After I had done the first ten pages I suddenly realised I had written a swell first chapter for a book. I told this to my wife. She sighed and went back to bed. Some months later I bought her a frock of sorts and she sallied forth to see what changes had taken place in the city during her enforced absence from it.

In The Jovial Ghosts there is a dog called Oscar, and on the lawn of my one-acre estate there is the tallest, wildest grass in all the world. Once I saw the tail of a dog progressing through this grass like a periscope through the waves. This quaint spectacle set me thinking about a tail without a dog, and a dog without a tail, and legs without a body, and a body without legs and all sorts of odd manifestations. Thus Oscar came into being. I still like him and wish him well.

Dream's End, my first serious novel, done years ago, is considered by many my funniest. I don't speak to these people, though.

The idea for The Stray Lamb struck me in the middle of heavy traffic while crossing Fifth Avenue. An officer flung me from his sight, telling me never to cross his part of the Avenue again as long as either of us lived. I sneaked past him the next day.

So this is about all. My favourite hobbies are fountain pens, safety razors and not hearing Roland Young talk about goldfish during an earthquake. I also have a fondness for billiards, which I do not play. My chief recreation is making appointments to give little talks and then going away somewhere else. This has greatly endeared me to my publishers.

The words have at last been written. I come to an abrupt end.

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