The Non-Fiction Novelist

Helping at-work writers to become novelists

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Drugs: The Author’s Other Drug of Choice – Part 2

Drugs: The Author’s Other Drug of Choice – Part 2

This guest blog from former workmate Gerry Karey, who blogs at Unhinged, grew out of a blog I wrote about alcohol and authors titled Don’t Drink and Write.

When I posted the blog on my Facebook page, Gerry commented:

“What about pot?”

To which I answered: “What about it?”

He took the challenge and looked at famous authors and their drug proclivities.

We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.  — Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

thomspons

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me. – Hunter S. Thompson

That’s quite a picnic hamper. Mescaline, acid, cocaine, uppers, downers, screamers and laughers, oh, my.  If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there.

Thompson was one of several mid-twentieth century writers who celebrated the use of drugs, particularly hallucinogens, and inspired and influenced a cultural movement.

Thompson is credited as the father of Gonzo journalism, a blend of fact and fiction. He may have captured the gestalt of the era as well as any writer. You just couldn’t believe everything you read, but it was an exhilarating, crazy ride.

A 2005 biography is entitled, Hunter S. Thompson: An Insider’s View of Deranged, Depraved, Drugged Out Brilliance. Thomas somehow managed to live until he was 68 when he committed suicide.

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me,” Thompson once said. Until it didn’t.

Jack Kerouac was the key figure in the “Beat Movement.” A draft of his seminal, stream-of-consciousness novel, On The Road, was written in just three weeks and typed on a continuous, one hundred and twenty-foot scroll of tracing paper sheets that Kerouac cut to size and taped together.

It is a fascinating read. But great literature? Maybe not so much.

Kerouac continued to writes books and poetry, but nothing he wrote equaled the impact of On The Road.  How could it?

Drugs were very much part of the scene in On the Road, but Kerouac’s personal drug was alcohol. He died in 1969 at the age of 47, as a result of an internal hemorrhage caused by cirrhosis.

boroughs

“Whether you sniff it smoke it eat it or shove it up your ass the result is the same: addiction.” – William S. Burroughs

Major writers of the Beat era, all close friends of Kerouac, were Allen Ginsberg (LSD), Ken Kesey (psychedelics), William Boroughs, who was addicted to heroin, and Neal Cassady, who died of a drug overdose. “Whether you sniff it smoke it eat it or shove it up your ass the result is the same: addiction,” Burroughs said.

Other 20th Century writers who experimented with or used drugs: W.H. Auden, Jean Paul Sartre and Philip Dick (amphetamines). “Drug misuse is not a disease, it’s a decision…an error in judgment,” said Dick, who also used marijuana, mescaline, LSD, sodium pentothal. Hubert Selby, was addicted to pain killers and heroin that were first administered after surgery; Stephen King, who managed to kick his addiction to cocaine and other drugs; and Aldous Huxley, mescaline (see Huxley’s The Doors of Perception).

Would Dick have created his fantastic fictional worlds without drugs?  Would Hunter Thompson have been Hunter Thompson? Would any of those writers have achieved what they did?

Neurobiologist R. Douglas Fields asks: “Can the creative product—a song, painting, poem, or book—justify the sacrifice and harm that will accompany conducting the creative pursuit under the influence of drugs? If we accept the use of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, and alcohol by rock musicians to achieve creative breakthroughs and delight us with their performance, what does that say about us in being willing to accept the destruction of another human being for our entertainment?”

“Drugs are a waste of time. They destroy your memory and your self- respect and everything that goes along with your self esteem,” songwriter/musician Kurt Cobain said.  Cobain struggled with heroin addiction and depression. He committed suicide in 1994, at age 27.

I do not know if this survey will persuade anyone not to use drugs (with the exception, perhaps of marijuana as a reward after a long day of writing). That’s not my intent. But I will reiterate Larry Kahaner’s advice to aspiring writers – all writers, for that matter:  “Write a lot and read a lot. Those are the only habits that work all the time and every time.”

There are no short cuts.

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Drugs: The Author’s Other Drug of Choice – Part 1

Drugs: The Author’s Other Drug of Choice – Part 1

This guest blog from former workmate Gerald Karey, who blogs at Unhinged, grew out of a blog I wrote about alcohol and authors titled Don’t Drink and Write.

When I posted the blog on my Facebook page, Gerry commented:

“What about pot?”

To which I answered: “What about it?”

He took the challenge and looked at famous authors and their drug proclivities.

Here’s Part 1 of his report.

“Drugs are a bet with your mind.” –  Jim Morrison,  1943-1971, poet, songwriter.

baudelare

Charles Baudelaire: Proud member of the Club of Hashish Eaters

In the 19th Century the drugs of choice for writers and poets was opium and hashish, expanding to a cornucopia of substances in the 20th Century.

Why the link? R. Douglas Fields, a neurobiologist, writes on a Scientific American blog: “Statistics show that among all categories of creative artists, writers suffer by far  the highest incidence of bipolar disorder. . . Cured of their mental illness, such artists and writers would be gutted of their creativity and stripped of the means to realize it.”

And many artists who have “healthy minds choose to accept the Faustian bargain an induce madness with drugs to reach new summits in their art. . . some artists are willing to endure the self destruction of devastating mood disorders and psychosis of mental illness to fuel creative works of art by deliberately inducing these mental states with drugs to unbalance an otherwise health brain.”

OPIUM

Cultivation of opium poppies for food, anesthesia and ritual  purposes dates back to the Neolithic Age. It was a potent form of pain relief for thousands of years. Widespread use of opium continued through the American Civil War, before giving way to morphine, which is processed from opium.

In 19th Century Britain, opium was cheap, legal and widely available. Morphine was commercially available by the early 1820s.

English essayist Thomas De Quincey, 1785-1859,  tried opium in 1804 to relieve the pain of a toothache, taking it in the form of  laudanum – as many Victorians did – a tincture of opium dissolved in alcohol. The effect was immediate and transported De Quincey to another realm.

He wrote that the pain vanished and he was “swallowed up in the immensity of those positive effects which had opened before me — in the abyss of divine enjoyment thus suddenly revealed. Here was a panacea for all human woes: here was the secret of happiness. . .  happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat pocket: portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint bottle: and peace of mind could be sent down in gallons by the mail coach.

 De Quincey was addicted within a few years and tried kick the habit with little success.

 De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater  (1821) launched a fascination with drug use and abuse, writes Robert Morrison,  Queen’s National Scholar at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. De Quincey “invents recreational drug taking, but he also details both the lurid nightmares that beset him in the depths of his addiction as well as his humiliatingly futile attempts to renounce the drug.”

John_Keats_by_William_Hilton

John Keats: Opium Guy

De Quincey described the dark side of opium addition in Confessions, noting the states of gloom “amounting at last to utter darkness,” and lurid nightmares of persecution, violence, incarceration, and death,” Morrison writes.

However, De Quincey overbalanced “on the side of the pleasures of opium; and…the very horrors themselves, described as connected with the use of opium, do not pass the limit of pleasure.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote that his poem, Kubla Khan, was composed one night after experiencing an opium-influenced dream, before which he read a work describing Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongol ruler and  Emperor of China Kublai Kahn. Lord Byron, John Keats and Percy Shelly all used opium.

Did it help make them great poets?

M.H. Abrams for his senior honors thesis at Harvard in 1934 wrote how an opium-using poet, “utilized the imagery from [opium induced] dreams in his literary creations . . .”

The great gift of opium, Abrams wrote,  “was access to a new world; one which ordinary mortals, hindered by terrestrial conceptions, can never, from mere description, quite comprehend. It is a world of twisted, exquisite experience, sensuous and intellectual.”

Before your reach for the pipe or the laudanum, consider Althea Hayter’s 1968 book, Opium and the Romantic Imagination.  Hayter suggests that opium use reveals “some of the semi-conscious processes by which literature begins to be written.”

Opium-induced dreams may have inspired the Romantic poets, Hayter writes, but opium works “on what is already there in a man’s mind and memory.”  What separates the Romantic poets from the run-of-the-mill opium users – and less talented writers –  is being able to communicate these visions in a poem.

Opium might provide “that heightening of experience that every poet wants to feel and then to impart. . . But it can never be a substitute for innate imagination . . .”

Although opium may present the writer with unique material for his poetry, “it will probably take away the will and the power to make use of it.”

Opium won’t transform you into the next Byron or Shelly. Not even close. Opium’s better known cousin today is heroin, which is derived from morphine. Heroin will not put you on the road to literary brilliance, but it can kill you. You certainly don’t need me to tell you that.

HASHISH

Confession, and I can say this because I am not planning to run for office, I smoked pot and I inhaled. I never attempted to write while I was high. I never wanted to do much of anything, as I recall.

Napoleon’s troops discovered hashish in Egypt and brought cannabis back to France where it became a popular recreational drug.

The Club des Hachichins (Club of Hashish Eaters), active from 1844 to 1849,  numbered Charles Baudelaire and Alexandre Dumas among its members. Baudelaire reportedly didn’t personally use hashish much, but observed the effects of the drug.  In 1860 he published  Les Paradis Artificiels  (Artificial Paradises).

“It sometimes happens that people completely unsuited for word-play will improvise an endless string of puns and wholly improbable idea relationships . . . But after a few minutes, the relation between ideas becomes so vague, and the thread of your thoughts grows so tenuous, that only your cohorts… can understand you.”

Been there, done that.

“At first, a certain absurd, irresistible hilarity overcomes you,” he wrote.  “The most ordinary words, the simplest ideas assume a new and bizarre aspect. This mirth is intolerable to you; but it is useless to resist. The demon has invaded you…”

The senses become “extraordinarily keen and acute . . . In sounds there is colour; in colours there is a music…” Baudelaire wrote. All is “complete happiness. There is nothing whirling and tumultuous about it. It is a calm and placid beatitude.”

Every philosophical problem is resolved. Difficult questions become clear and transparent. “Man has surpassed the gods.”

Eventually you come down, of course, and Baudelaire concluded that while hashish enhances the imagination it is highly dangerous to subordinate all such processes to the drug. For the creative artist to believe that they can create only when “high” is a disaster.

Based on my limited personal experience, the last thing I wanted  to do when high was sit in front of a typewriter (did I mention that it was a long time ago), and write. Taking Baudelaire at his word, I think it unlikely the legalization of pot will lead to a literary renaissance in Colorado. However, it may become the most blissfully happy state in the country.

End of Part 1

Watch this blog for Part 2 of Drugs: The Author’s Other Drug of Choice

 

Don’t Drink and Write

Don’t Drink and Write

By Larry Kahaner

This blog is aimed at new writers. If you’re an experienced writer, or an alcoholic, or both, don’t bother reading any further. Well, okay, you can. But what follows probably won’t  resonate with you. You’ll most likely sniff in defiance and pronounce it nonsense. Or, you’ve already handled the situation.

http://moreintelligentlife.com/

image from: Intelligent Life magazine

Many new writers try to emulate  their favorite authors. They somehow think that by using the same pen, the same notebook, following the same schedule and oddball habits (I only write in my pajamas with the cuddly bear on the front) that this will bring them the same success as those they admire. As I’ve said many times, the only habit that aspiring writers should copy from those before them is to sit down and write. Write a lot and read a lot. Those are the only habits that work all the time and every time.

One of my sins is bluntness but I can’t help it. Many times I’m asked during interviews about when I write, how I get my inspiration, where I get my ideas and I try to be polite… I really try… but sometimes I just can’t pull it off. I usually blurt out that these things don’t matter. As gently as I can I note that we all walk differently, we eat differently, we talk differently. It stands to reason that we all write differently so why copy anyone else? I’m usually marked as a nasty individual who offers no help to the nascent scribe. It’s not how I want be remembered.

Which brings us to alcohol.

So many brilliant authors drink too much. Many are functioning alcoholics and this penchant for drinking has led many newbies to believe that drinking is a prerequisite for perfect prose. How can you blame them when well respected authors boast of their alcoholic intake in quotes that we love to put up on our walls?

“Too much champagne is just right.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I began to think vodka was my drink at last. It didn’t taste like anything, but it went straight down into my stomach like a sword swallowers’ sword and made me feel powerful and godlike.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” – Oscar Wilde

Goodreads has 442 quotes about drinking. There’s even a top ten list of 15 great alcoholic writers.

Why do writers drink? That same reason that anyone else drinks. “Boredom, loneliness, habit, hedonism, lack of self-confidence; as stress relief or a short-cut to euphoria; to bury the past, obliterate the present or escape the future,” notes Blake Morrison, writing in the Guardian.  Morrison also points out that in Olivia Laing’s book The Trip to Echo Spring, about six famous alcoholic writers, that there may not be a simple answer as to why many famous writers drink but I believe the above short list takes a strong cut at it.

I’ve been a writer, journalist and published author for many years and I know many writers. Some of them drink a bit more than most, but that may be because they’re my friends. Self-selection and all that. But to a man and woman, they report that alcohol doesn’t help their writing. In fact, it hinders it.

Here’s one comment from a dear friend and prolific book author:

“I feel free and creative when I write in the company of wine. But the next day, usually, my grammar, syntax and coherence of prose look like crap.”

From another, whose non-fiction books are terrific, well-written and well-received. I asked him whether drinking helps his writing and he responded:

“I hate to sound like a prude, but I feel most free and creative when I’ve done a thorough job of reporting and know what the fuck I’m talking about.”

Does alcohol have a place in an author’s arsenal? Certainly, as a relaxer, a way to unwind after a day of hard writing and as social lubrication. It also can offer a short-term creativity kick. Another author friend who writes a blog under the moniker Thriller Guy offers this:

“… say you’ve got a problem that you can’t figure out – your character has been captured by an evil CEO and Our Hero is imprisoned in a laboratory where the resident mad scientist and his minions are threatening to suck the very essence out of his body. (Think Neo in The Matrix) How is Our Hero going to escape? TG can tell you from long experience, if you don’t know how to get your man (or woman) out of this pickle when you head into this scene, the answer is probably not going to just jump into your head. Trying to hammer out a solution to a problem like this can drive you nuts. What you need to do is to stop trying to figure out the answer, and let your subconscious come up with a solution. To do this you need to stop your brain from working so hard, to let the well fill up, by itself. Send the kiddies off to bed (if there are any kiddies) kiss the wife goodnight, (if there is a wife) pour yourself a stiff drink and settle into your chair. Then have a couple of more drinks. You can noodle away at the problem while you’re sitting there, but only in a general way. Drink too much, stagger off to bed, and go to sleep. And if you’re lucky, the next morning, when you go back to work, the answer will pop into your head. Almost unbidden. Ditto if you’re trying to come up with a title, solve a plot problem, searching for a “voice” to tell your story, a structure on which to build your novel. You need to stop trying to solve the problem, and let your writer’s brain solve the conundrum on its own. This is actually one of the few thrilling moments when being a writer seems almost like magic.”

He’s right.

Believe me, I like a martini in the evening. Occasionally, a few more, but I must tell you that of all the professional writers I know, the ones who write drunk do so in spite of their drinking and not because of it. They are functioning alcoholics, or close to the edge of it, who, if they weren’t writers would trudge off to the office every day, slightly hungover and put in a day’s work despite their condition. Think Mad Men. They drink because their body requires it, not because it makes them more creative. In fact, I often wonder how much better the words from Hemingway, Cheever, Poe or London would have been without their booze. We’ll never know.

I’m sorry to burst your romantic bubble but drinking doesn’t help writing. It hurts, and not  just the writing but your life in general. I leave you with this, an excerpt from the Handbook of Medical Psychiatry, 2nd Edition, edited by David P. Moore and James W. Jefferson. Sadly, it describes many famous drinking writers to a ‘T.’

“When alcoholics do drink, most eventually become intoxicated, and it is this recurrent intoxication that eventually brings their lives down in ruins. Friends are lost, health deteriorates, marriages are broken, children are abused, and jobs terminated. Yet despite these consequences the alcoholic continues to drink. Many undergo a ‘change in personality.’ Previously upstanding individuals may find themselves lying, cheating, stealing, and engaging in all manner of deceit to protect or cover up their drinking. Shame and remorse the morning after may be intense; many alcoholics progressively isolate themselves to drink undisturbed. An alcoholic may hole up in a motel for days or a week, drinking continuously. Most alcoholics become more irritable; they have a heightened sensitivity to anything vaguely critical. Many alcoholics appear quite grandiose, yet on closer inspection one sees that their self-esteem has slipped away from them. Most alcoholics also display an alcohol withdrawal syndrome when they either reduce or temporarily cease consumption. Awakening with the ‘shakes’ and with the strong urge for relief drinking is a common occurrence; many alcoholics eventually succumb to the ‘morning drink’ to reduce their withdrawal symptoms.”

Sound like any writing heroes of yours? Yeah, I thought so.

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