10/23/2012 05:23 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2012

Six Characters in Search of a Stenographer: Where Writers Get Their Ideas

If you are at all interested in novels and novelists you have probably read an article about, or interview with, one of your favorite authors in which the author declares: "I don't really write my books, my characters write my books, they talk to me and I just take dictation." Readers seem to love hearing this from novelists, if we take as evidence the fact that so many fictioneers, not to mention a few literary authors, have spouted this line at least once in their careers. It is a statement that portrays the writing process as almost mystical, practically magical, and downright mythic, putting writers and their process on an existential plain somewhat above the mundane.

It is, of course, an absurd notion and a damn silly thing to say. After all, Pirandello did not write Six Characters in Search of a Stenographer. Writers write their own work, it comes from them and not from some rarified literary ether where characters live. Writers deserve all the credit for what they produce -- or all the blame.

This stenographer-author notion may come from the fact that when you are writing well, when the words are just flowing out almost faster than you can write them down, it does indeed feel as if something supernatural is going on, but this is more akin to the art of a good jazz musician or improvisational comic, than to the channeling of a psychic. Everything that a jazz musician, or a comic does comes not from somewhere out there, but from somewhere in their brains -- and only from their brains -- repositories of a myriad of experiences both personal and researched, as well as knowledge and opinions based on the information received and the experiences deposited.

Good writers do not channel in from some higher plain, they are simply human creatures who have a talent for expression and a talent, as Noel Coward would have said, to amuse. Everything they write is an expression of their selfs.

For example:

In 1979 I was in London with a famous American animator, staying at the Hyde Park Hotel in Knightsbridge. 

One afternoon the hotel's Major Domo informed me that, "Mr. Samuel Beckett is staying with us while he is in town doing several BBC Radio plays." 

I asked if the Major Domo thought Mr. Beckett would autograph a book of his plays for me. Assured that this could be arrange, I immediately left the hotel and went to a bookshop and purchased a copy of Ends and Odds, a small book of plays and sketches, and turned it over to the Major Domo upon my return.

The next day the Major Domo handed me back Ends and Odds, autographed by Samuel Becket. 

I was thrilled and decided to go into the hotel bar for a drink to savor this, the first autographed book by a famous author I had ever received.

I started to look through Ends and Odds and was fascinated to see that in Beckett's "Radio II" radio one-act play, the lead character was named, "Animator." Wow, I thought as I looked up from the book. "Wow," I probably said out loud when I realized that Samuel Becket was sitting alone across the bar directly opposite me drinking a beer. 

I immediately got up and went over to him, apologized for disturbing him, but explained that I was the person who he autographed this book for, and I just wanted to thank him. He graciously accepted my thanks. I then told him that I was in London with a famous American animator and I couldn't help notice that one of his characters in "Radio II" was called "Animator" and I was just wondering if the character made cartoons? Beckett looked up at me as if I was an idiot. "No, no," he said. "By 'Animator' I mean the one who animates the discussion." "Oh," I said, chagrined, then beat a hasty retreat.

Despite having been an idiot, this autographed copy of Ends and Odds has become a proud possession and meeting Becket a cherished memory. It should not be surprising, then, that years later when I was writing a scene in my satiric Hollywood based-thriller, Blood is Pretty, involving my hero, the Fixxer, and his "Watson," Roee (who is also an avant-garde playwright) the experience of meeting Beckett popped out of my head and became the basis for the following dialog between my characters:


"Penne with Moroccan lamb and mint."
      I opened my eyes. It was Roee announcing the "simple" pasta dish he had prepared for dinner. "Did the lamb really come from Morocco?"
     "It's not the lamb that's Moroccan, it's the sauce. Which should include zucchini, but as I know how much you hate zucchini...."
     "Your indulgence of my dislikes is appreciated."
     "And I know you are not a wine lover, but I have found a rather nice Chenin Blanc that I would deem it a tragedy for you to pass up."
     "Well, if you can indulge my dislikes I can certainly indulge your likes. I will have a glass. And after dinner I would like you to join me for a little job."
     "Oh." Disappointment expelled with the word.
     "You had plans?"
     "I was going to watch a video tape of Waiting for Godot."
     "Can it wait?"
     "I have borrowed it from a friend."
     "Can he wait?"
     "It is Beckett directing Beckett!"
     "Well, he's dead. I suppose waiting is not a problem for him."
     "Fine. I will wait."
     Roee began to leave as a commentary on my request.
     "I met Beckett once."
     Roee turned back to face me, as I knew he would. "You did not!"
     "In the bar of the Hyde Park Hotel in London. He autographed a book for me."
     "Which you have conveniently lost."
     "No. You'll find it in the Bs."
     Roee went over to a bookcase. "Which one?"
     "Small blue book. Ends and Odds, I believe."
     Roee pulled the book out and opened it up. His eyes widened slightly. "With your background, this could be a forgery."
     "Yes, but for what reason? The only person it has ever impressed is you."
     Roee looked at me, raised his eyebrows, nodded his head, and closed the book. "Let's have dinner."
     "Good idea. I'm starving."

I can assure you that Samuel Becket did not look upon the Fixxer as an idiot. They probably had a wonderful, intelligent conversation, and most likely many laughs as Beckett drank his beer and the Fixxer drank his vodka tonic with a lemon twist. However, if it had not been for that young idiot, who has become, I hope, less idiotic with time, my character would not have been able to reveal this little moment in his past, which I hope the reader finds to be an intriguing hint into the nature and history of the mysterious Fixxer.

Blood is Pretty is available as both an eBook and an audiobook with a print edition coming soon.