Writers and their cocktails

Standard

Drinking

Photo: Esquire.com

As suggested by my last couple of posts, I’ve been reading a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald. This, naturally, got me thinking about authors and alcohol. While Googling the subject, I came across a great post on a website called The Kitchn. It lists the the favorite cocktails of famous authors. This should be required reading for anyone who enjoys a good book and a strong libation (preferably at the same time). Here’s the list as it appears on The Kitchn (click here for the full article)—complete with nice literary quotes. Indeed, drinking should be educational.

Ernest Hemingway: The Mojito – Hemingway is associated with a number of cocktails (he was, after all, a heavy drinker), but none more so than the Mojito. According to Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide, the mojito was invented at La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba, where Hemingway drank them.

 “My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita.” – Ernest Hemingway, a signed quote hung on the wall of La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba

William Faulkner: The Mint Julep – Faulkner’s Mint Julep recipe, as seen in Rowan Oak, the estate where William Faulkner lived from 1930 until his death in 1962, consisted of whiskey, 1 tsp sugar, ice, and a sprig or two of crushed mint, served in a metal cup.

 “Isn’t anythin’ Ah got whiskey won’t cure.” – William Faulkner

Scott Fitzgerald: The Gin Rickey– It’s rumored that Fitzgerald’s passion for gin stemmed from his belief that you could not detect it on his breath. Traditionally a rickey is made with gin, but it can also be made with scotch or rum.

 “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Raymond Chandler: The Gimlet – The gimlet didn’t catch on in America until Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe introduced it in The Long Goodbye.

 “A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s lime juice and nothing else.” – Terry Lennox in Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye

Ian Fleming: The Vesper Martini – In Fleming’s Bond series, the Vesper Martini is the first drink Bond ever orders – and the only time he orders it. The Vesper differs from Bond’s standard cocktail of choice, the martini, in that it uses both gin and vodka. Bond would later be known for ordering vodka martinis. (Interesting side note: in total, Bond orders 19 vodka martinis and 16 gin martinis throughout Fleming’s novels and short stories.)

 “A dry martini… One. In a deep Champagne goblet…Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?” – James Bond

Truman Capote: The Screwdriver – Capote is said to have called the Screwdriver—made with vodka, orange juice, and orange slices—”my orange drink.”

“In this profession it’s a long walk between drinks.” – Truman Capote

Edna St. Vincent Millay: The “Between the Sheets” – The story goes that Edna St. Vincent Millay, while writing and drinking late one night with Edmund Wilson and the poet John Peale Bishop, asked the men to hold her in their arms, one holding her lower half, the other her upper. Thus, the seductive “Between the Sheets” cocktail, which is basically a Sidecar with rum.

“Ah, drink again
This river that is the taker-away of pain,
And the giver-back of beauty!” – Edna St. Vincent Millay

John Steinbeck: The Jack Rose – Also known as “Jersey Lightning,” the Jack Rose is for “the brandy drinker who also happen[s] to be a champion of the working class,” according to Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide. It was Steinbeck’s favorite drink.

 “I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.” – John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley

Jack Kerouac: The Margarita – Kerouac is said to have developed a taste for margaritas during one of his many trips through Mexico, a country and culture he loved.

 “Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” – Jack Kerouac

Tennessee Williams: The Ramos Gin Fizz – Are you from New Orleans? Apparently folks there still drink this famous Southern cocktail in honor of Williams. The drink was featured many times in his writings. The standard recipe contains egg, cream, lemon and lime juice, sugar, gin (of course), and a bit of orange flower soda water.

 

Muses Aren’t Real, and Now is Always the Best Time to Write

Standard

FountainPen

“Writing a book is an adventure,” wrote Winston Churchill in 1949. The man knew a thing or two about writing. He wrote four bestselling works of nonfiction and a novel before he turned 26. Never one to tackle anything in a half-hearted manner, he completed his first book (85,000 words) in roughly two months. There were some nights he wrote so long and hard, his hand cramped to the point where he could no longer hold a pen.

Why mention this? Because Churchill, in my mind, exemplifies the writer’s discipline at its very best. He wanted to write, and so he did. There was no waiting around for inspiration or searching for the muse. There was simply a desire to produce.

Like my favorite historical figure, I don’t believe a muse is necessary when it comes to writing. Actually, I don’t even believe in the muse, nor do I believe in waiting for inspiration to strike. You can wait for that wonderful moment of clarity, when all your thoughts coalesce into a glorious narrative that’s ready to spill forth on the page, but you might end up waiting a long time.

Search the web, and you’ll find plenty of blogs and articles offering tips on how to summon your muse. The time spent reading such advice could be spent tackling a blank page. Writing is all about discipline. If you want to write something, you have to sit down and do it. Such a pragmatic view might be blasphemous to some. “You can’t force or hurry art,” one might argue. Frankly, I don’t approach my writing as high art; I approach it as a job.

This less-than-romantic attitude is, in part, the result of my background. I’m a journalist by trade, having spent more than a decade working on daily newspapers. I took great pleasure crafting well-honed stories under tight deadlines. Also, the fact I don’t write fulltime might have something to do with my attitude. I have a “day job” to pay the bills. My writing-and-research time is limited to several hours on the weekends and a few precious hours each night after my wife and kids have gone to bed. I don’t have time to sit around waiting to feel inspired.

All the inspiration in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t buckle down and force yourself to put words on a page. Waiting for the muse to send a message, is—in my opinion—a delay tactic, an excuse not to do the hard work. Mind you, this is not to say I’m a writer without influences. As a non-fiction author, I’m influenced by Cornelius Ryan, Antony Beevor, Barbara Tuchman, David McCullough, William Manchester, and Rick Atkinson—historians who relate history not in dates and facts, but compelling narratives that rival the best novels. In my early years, when I thought I might write fiction, Stephen King’s command of story and pacing had a huge impact.

But the one writer whose influence has remained constant throughout the years is Ian Fleming. This might seem strange for one who writes the sort of books I do, but I’ve always admired Fleming’s straightforward approach. He honed his writing skills as a reporter for the Reuters News Agency, learning to write fast and well. As an author, he tackled his books with a journalist’s discipline—not waiting for inspiration or the whisperings of a muse, but working feverishly to get the words out.

Fleming was a man of habit. Once he established his writing routine, he stuck with it and never deviated, writing for three hours every morning—no excuses. He knew the importance of getting a story out quickly. Here’s what he advised a friend who was contemplating writing a book:

You will be constantly depressed by the progress of the opus and feel it is all nonsense and that nobody will be interested. Those are the moments when you must all the more obstinately stick to your schedule and do your daily stint . . . Never mind about that brilliant phrase or the golden word, once the typescript is there you can fiddle, correct and embellish as much as you please. So don’t be depressed if the first draft seems a bit raw, all first drafts do . . . Don’t let anyone see the manuscript until you are very well on with it and above all don’t allow anything to interfere with your routine. Don’t worry about what you put in, it can always be cut on re-reading.

Nothing about muses or inspiration there. “Stick to your schedule and do your daily stint” is what he says. That, I think, is the best writing advice one can give.

Our time on this planet is a finite thing, so if you want to write—just do it. Time waiting to feel inspired or searching for your muse is time wasted. If inspiration is something you really need to get started, just think how great it will feel to hold that completed manuscript in your hand.

 

How James Bond got his name

Standard

Ian Fleming was born on this date in 1908. Many dismiss Fleming as a mere pulp writer, but I disagree with this assessment. He was a master stylist and a damn fine thriller writer. His opening to Casino Royale is a personal favorite:

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high-gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it. James Bond suddenly knew that he was tired. He always knew when his body or his mind had had enough and he always acted on the knowledge. This helped him to avoid staleness and the sensual bluntness that breeds mistakes.

In honor of Fleming’s birthday, I thought I’d share the above video. It’s from an interview he gave at his Jamaican hideaway, Goldeneye, where he wrote all the Bond novels. It’s a wonderful little snippet in which he explains how he named his iconic character.

Fleming died in 1964, a victim of his fun–but excessive–lifestyle.

And in other Bond news, click here for details on the new 007 novel coming out this September. Set in 1957, two weeks after the events detailed in Goldfinger, it will actually feature original, never-before-published content by Fleming. Can’t wait!

Writing advice from Ian Fleming

Standard

IanFlemingJacketPortrait

Literary snobs will argue Ian Fleming’s Bond novels are nothing more than pulp fiction: tawdry sex and violent action slapped around a sketchy plot. Unto them I say, go bury yourself in [select literary title of your choice and place it here] and end your high-brow prattling. Like Sherlock Holmes, James Bond has moved far beyond any genre to become an icon. More than fifty years after the publication of Bond’s first adventure, Casino Royale, the books are still being read and enjoyed. I’ll argue a work has literary merit if it can stand the test of time and continue to entertain decades after its release.

Today is Ian Fleming’s birthday (he was born in 1908). A lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking did him at the age of fifty-six. In between nicotine and alcohol, there was plenty of sadomasochistic sex. He was a man who lived life on his own terms—and although he died young, he had a good time getting there. When I discovered the Fleming novels in my early teens, I was instantly hooked. The drinking, smoking, women, exotic locales, sex, and violence filtered through the prism of the 1950s and 1960s made for an entertaining cocktail. I’ve been a fan of Fleming ever since. The aforementioned literary elitists will dismiss Fleming as a hack, but I consider him a great stylist. He never wasted a word.

His opening to Casino Royale remains a favorite:

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high-gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it. James Bond suddenly knew that he was tired. He always knew when his body or his mind had had enough and he always acted on the knowledge. This helped him to avoid staleness and the sensual bluntness that breeds mistakes.

Before becoming a novelist, Fleming honed his writing chops as a correspondent for Reuters. He applied his journalist’s eye for detail and ability to work under tight deadline pressure to his books, usually producing a first draft in about six weeks at his Jamaican home, Goldeneye. Fleming’s biographer, Andrew Lycett, describes Fleming’s writing routine in Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond:

He was not a man to tackle such projects half-heartedly. Every morning after a swim on the reef, he breakfasted with Ann [his wife] in the garden. When he had finished his scrambled eggs and Blue Mountain coffee, he kissed her and made his way across the small veranda into the main living-room. He shut the big doors, closed the jalousies, and opened his big roll-top desk. For three hours he pounded the keys at his twenty-year-old Imperial portable typewriter. At noon he emerged from the cool of his retreat and stood blinking in the heat of day. After lunch he slept for an hour or so, and then, around five, he returned to his desk to look over what he had typed earlier in the day. When he had made his corrections he placed his manuscript in the bottom left-hand drawer of his desk. Ian was a man of routine, and that writing regime, now established, continued for the next dozen years, whenever he was at Goldeneye.

To a friend, who was attempting to write his memoirs, Fleming offered the following advice:

You will be constantly depressed by the progress of the opus and feel it is all nonsense and that nobody will be interested. Those are the moments when you must all the more obstinately stick to your schedule and do your daily stint . . . Never mind about that brilliant phrase or the golden word, once the typescript is there you can fiddle, correct and embellish as much as you please. So don’t be depressed if the first draft seems a bit raw, all first drafts do . . . Don’t let anyone see the manuscript until you are very well on with it and above all don’t allow anything to interfere with your routine. Don’t worry about what you put in, it can always be cut on re-reading.

Sound advice, methinks.

Writers and doubt

Standard

FountainPen

Every writer struggles with doubt. It’s a terrible moment to read something you’ve put down on paper only to realize there’s a total wreck on the page. Of course, it’s not always that bad—hopefully. The next time you’re fretting over the quality of your work, consider this letter penned by a first-time author to a friend:

I had the idea that one could write a thriller with half one’s mind, and I simply wrote 2,000 words a day to show myself that I could. I didn’t read it through as I wrote it, and when I returned to England and did so I really was appalled.

The dialogue, a lot of the descriptions and the main characters are dreadfully banal and three-quarters of the writing is informed with what I can only describe as vulgarity. Such good action moments as there are in the story have been more or less thrown away and so far as I can see the element of suspense is completely absent.

After riffling through this muck you will probably never speak to me again, but I have got to take that chance. For God’s sake don’t mention this dreadful oafish opus to anyone else, and for heaven’s sake believe, as I am sure you will after you have read a few pages, that this is not mock humility.

The author goes on for another couple of paragraphs and rips his work to shreds. Long story short, the manuscript wound up in the hands of UK publisher Jonathan Cape, who thought highly of the story and the writing. So it was, on April 13, 1953, Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, made its debut.