Raymond Chandlers guide to answering questions from journalists

Picture Post is for people who move their lips when they read. Surely they can get anything they want to know about me from my English publishers, Hamish Hamilton Ltd. The questions you quote from them would seem to me to indicate the intellectual level of the editorial department of Picture Post.

Yes, I am exactly like the characters in my books. I am very tough and have been known to break a Vienna roll with my bare hands. I am very handsome, having a powerful physique, and I change my shirt regularly every Monday morning. When resting between assignments I live in a French Provincial chateau on Mulholland Drive. It is a fairly small place of forty-eight rooms and fifty-nine baths. I dine off gold plates and prefer to be waited on by naked dancing girls. But of course there are times when I have to grow a beard and hole up in a Main Street flophouse, and there are other times when I am, although not by request, entertained in the drunk tank in the city jail.

I have friends from all walk of life. I have fourteen telephones on my desk, including direct lines to New York, London, Paris, Rome, and Santa Rosa. My filing case opens out into a very convenient portable bar, and the bartender, who lives in the bottom drawer, is a midget. I am a heavy smoker and according to my mood I smoke tobacco, marijuana, corn silk and dried leaves. I do a great deal of research, especially in the apartments of tall blondes. I get my material in various ways, but my favourite procedure consists of going through the desks of other writers after hours. I am thirty-eight years old and have been for the last twenty years. I do not regard myself as a bad shot, but I am a pretty dangerous man with a wet towel. But all in all I think my favourite weapon is a twenty dollar bill.

Raymond Chandler, the master of letter writing, to his Hollywood agent, who I’m sure was very greatful for his answers.

If you only read one collection of letters, read Raymond Chandler Speaking

Emma Thompson on her writing process

”I hoover; I find odd places to polish. Places that I haven’t seen in a long time; sometimes part of my own body. And there’s a lot of crying in fetal positions.”

Read more on Emma Thompsons writing process here.

Things I do now that I write almost-full-time

Almost-full-time: having taken the decision to write full-time but being unable to say no to other jobs.

Things I do now that I write almost-full-time:

1, Over-watering my plants.
Me, walking back and forth in the hallway, talking to myself: “Think, Katarina. How hard can it be to come up with a personality for the love interest? A Startrek fan? A lover of cute youtube videos on cats? Dark childhood trauma?”

And if you absolutely must walk back and forth in your hallway while talking to yourself, it often feels nice to pick up the watering can and water your plants.

The result: three half dead chili plants and one really grumpy basil plant. Still no personality for the love interest.

2, Spend three hours thinking up names for the cool and cynical best friend
Margareta (Maggan)

The result: minus three hours and still no personality for the love interest. But with a shortlist for Names for the cool and cynical best friend.

3, Look into my closet and think: “This could do with a re-arranging.”
The result: no re-arranging of closet. I’m not crazy yet.

4, Make lunch
Google slow-food recipes and then settle for a salad. But if this writing don’t turn out OK I could always turn this into a food blog.

5, Send text messages to all my friends
The following is an average a day during the week:

My sister: 4 (answers: 1)
Isak: 13 (answers: 7)
Carina: 0 (since she’s just been with me to the US, I’ve decided to give her a break for a while)
Simona: 2 (answers 2)

The result: no love interest for the personality, and all my friends now remember to turn of their phone during work hours.

Broken Wheel

The real reason for our Iowa roadtrip: the impossible task of finding Broken Wheel, existing somewhere out there in my imagination amongst the corn in southwestern Iowa.

The closest we could come was Clarence, Cedar County. So we drove past Cedar Rapids, past prosperious small towns with white fences, large houses, golf courses (!) and three curches. “This must be Hope”, Carina said and I was inclined to agree with her. Honestly, a golf course?

So we kept going. The corn fields replaced each other, silos came and went, a train rail suddenly appeared and with it, large freight trains that passed by every other ten minutes.

We arrived at Clarence. It’s basically just a Mainstreet, surrounded by a few streets lined with trees. Half of the stores are closed; there’s a lawyers office that doesn’t seem to be doing all that good, and a café that’s open four hours a day, wednesday through sunday.

The diner is a bar and is not called Grace’s. In stead, it has some sort of racing theme, with a torned checkered flag. Everyone in Clarence seem to be here on a Saturday. We buy coffee and drink it on the bench just outside.

A local keeps us company. He seems to have start drinking at breakfast. “I’m somewhat of a local historian”, he tells us. “My wife use to tease us for it. But this used to be a great town to grow up in. My mom could give me some dollars and send me of on my bike to the store to get bread. Who does that nowadays? And there were stores. We used to have three gas stations! And now? One.”
“What does people do around here?”
“Hard to say. Lot’s of people commute. It’s more of a sleeping town.”
It’s a quarter to six. The evening sun is shining over corn. Freight towns are passing. We drink weak coffee and the local and I smoke a cigarette.
“It used to be different”, he says. “Nowadays we’re hardly a thousand people here and most of the stores are closed.” He nods to himself and takes a step to the side, wobbly. “I love to talk about how this town used to be.”
Me and Carina gets ready for the final goal of the day: taking a photograph of us amongst the corn. You can’t come all the way to Iowa and not photograph yourself amongst the corn. But before we go, we have to check out his car. We admire it as should be and say things like what a good deal he made, and when we leave he tells us again how nice it was that we stopped by. “Very nice!” he says again. “You should come back soon.”

And who knows? Why not?

A few minutes later we find our corn, and we find a broken wheel. Carina thinks it must be a sign. Clarence in Cedar County, and a broken wheel at that. I think it’s one of those times in life when the line between fiction and reality becomes blurred; like standing on King’s Cross Station and seeing platform 9 3/4, or being happily in love and imagining sunsets on the beack.

Or standing in the corn fields in the evening sun in a make believe completely real town in south western Iowa and see Grace and Sara and George and Tom and know that they exist out there somewhere, living happily ever after.

The Quest for Broken Wheel

Corn and country

One of my best memories from Iowa is when we set the GPS on “least use of freeways”. Country was playing on the car stereo and corn followed us along the way. In the northern part of Iowa, the corn was some one meter high and still green; the further south we got, the higher it went, and the drier it was. I played A soft place to fall and leaned back against the car seat. Now and then, the corn was interrupted by roads, always completely straight, like someone had just drawn them up with a ruler. I guess it’s possible to do that if all you’ve got is flat ground.

No other song is so intimately linked to Iowa and my book as A soft place to fall by Allison Moorer. I still love it, which is probably a good thing seeing as I have it tattooed on my shoulder. Literal people sometimes point out to me that the shoulder is not a soft place to fall on. “That may be so”, I reply, “but it just felt indignified to tattoo it on my stomach.”- “Or your ass”, some less polite people might reply.

A soft place to fall is part of the movie soundtrack to The Horse Whisperer and what might be my favorite movie dance scene ever (after Dirty Dancing, of course. No one puts Baby in a corner). It’s also the starting shot, the first flicker of an idea, to my book The Readers of Broken Wheel recommend. For a long time I used the song title as a working title (“So you used your working title as a tattoo? Shouldn’t you have waited for the final version?”)

And here I am. Amongst corn and a soft place to fall and straight roads and anti-abortion signs which shows up depressingly often in this Christian Iowa, reminding me not to idealize it too much.

I still  think all of us need it sometimes, a soft place to fall. And I still think that often, it’s all we’re ever looking for.