But Mister... You Don't Look Like An Author
by Theodore A. Tinsley
From WRITER'S Digest, May 1934
Ted Tinsley, and God have mercy on our soul, looks like an investment banker. Put
him behind J.P. Morgan's desk, and all the moneyed widows and orphans in the country would just naturally
flock to him. Tinsley is that rare soul, a third generation native New Yorker. He is a charter member
of the AFG and current treasurer.
The June issue of Black Mask carries his latest novelette. He is the creator of "Jerry Tracy" and
about a million and a half words of published fiction.
LET'S start with Article One in the popular American credo concerning authors
and things auctorial.
Lights! Camera! It's a miserable day, raining like the very devil, and you revolve moodily
in your mind two mutually incompatible facts A, the need for a social evening in the definitely
near future; and B, the disgusting emptiness of your pockets.
So, anyhow, it's raining; you sit down and drink two full quarts of a cheap, blended rye,
you write a lot of words on paper and next morning you take the completed mess to your friend, Bill
Mizzenmast, editor of Turgid Tales. You take the Ms. to Bill because Bill borrowed a couple
of bucks from you the week before to pay for his share of the beer and the knockwurst and he'll
probably be in a chastened mood. As a matter of fact, it turns out that he is. He sneaks one look at
your title, "The Kid from Singapore," he sneaks another took at the cold, fishy and definitely
reproachful gleam in your eye and he says hastily: "Not a bad yarn." He doesn't pay back
your two bucks, the hound, but you get a check for the story.
So you're an author.
In fact, you're a very famous type of author. You're the public's preconceived opinion
of all professional writers. Which is to say that you are a venal fellow with dank, unpleasant hair
and blood-shot eyes, a creature of furtive midnight habits, an oaf utterly devoid of creative talent,
who makes a fat living by the immoral use of a battered typewriter coupled with a low and primitive
type of animal cunning. The public knows that your printed stuff is terrible because at this very moment
in the public's upper left-hand bureau drawer is a manuscript that has been pronounced a masterpiece
by no less an authority than the local dentist and register of deeds. Only a vicious compact between
you and your friend, Bill Mizzenmast of Turgid Tales, prevents this suppressed amateur
masterpiece from seeing the light of day on a newsstand.
So, anyhow, you're an author. You're an eccentric wart on the neck of society, something to be avoided
You finally turn up at a social function. You are invited to a publisher's afternoon tea,
so called because it is usually held at the death-bed of the afternoon and tea is never served. You
climb into your best bib and tucker and, against your better judgment, off you go. You sidle into a
foggy and overheated room and smile glassily at a lot of other guys and gals. The place is filled with
the sound of very jolly and very spurious-and very, very bogus-mirth.
You are immediately waylaid by a dazzlingly beautiful girl, a graduate of Bryn Mawr-oh,
all right!-she's a suetty blonde, quite bosomy in black satin and she really works in Gimbel's basement.
You chat feebly with her. The fatal moment arrives. She asks you what you do for a living and you tell
She says: "Oh!" and gives you a peculiar cloudy look. You don't like that look.
You like the "Oh!" even less. Her startled little ejaculation seems to be quite definitely
soiled with disappointment and unbelief. You ask her gruffly what the hell's the matter with her, is
she sick or something?
And she says:
"But, darling, are you serious! I'd never have known! You
don't look like an author!"
Aha, now we're getting warm! What does an author look like? You decide to find out. You
lead your blonde to a remote corner and she purrs gently, "Don't! Folks'll see us!" but she
relaxes and you sit for your portrait. She speaks as follows:
"I-I dunno... I always kinda thought... Well, somehow, kinda flashy and handsome in
a dissolute way. Grey at the temples, sorta. Puffy eyes, kinda deep an' full of-uh-glamour. The kinda
eyes that makes a goil feel like a frightened little boid watchin' a soipent... A tweed suit all rumpled
an' baggy and-uh-interestin'. And-oh yeah-smoking a pipe... Kinda fatherly an' awful sympathetic; but
bold eyes like I said-make a goil breathe deep an' feel that she might hafta-"
"Have to fight for her honor, perhaps?" "Oh, my goodness! Not e-x-a-c-t-1-y."
But your blonde is lying. She's looked you over and she knows you're no writer. She'll
sneak away in a minute and try to pump the host to find out what your racket really is.
Ah, welladay... We authors...
Are authors human? I'm afraid they are. I know one guy whose jaw looks tougher than a manhole
cover and probably is. We Digest readers are all aware what a real writer looks like by now,
so we know that this particular bird will never, never make the grade with the girl from Gimbel's.
He's a fascinating combination of a hard-bitten soldier and a sympathetic father-confessor. He's probably
given more help and more good advice to more people than the late Horace Greely. He can tell you real
incidents about living people and living things that would permanently curl your eardrums-but you'd
have to be a heck of a good friend of his and be very deft and tactful in your approach. Human? That
bird is more human than the entire male population of a third class city.
I know another guy. He's probably the friendliest, most enthusiastic, most likeable writer
that ever rose to his feet at a banquet to make a long, rambling three hour speech. The girl from Gimbel's
knows him only by hearsay. And also she knows (from reading Winchell) that he writes like this:
The publisher, desperate for delayed material, transports him to a lonely shack out in the country,
provides him with a pine table and a typewriter, four cases of liquor, canned groceries, two armed
guards and a stenographer. The author, working himself up gradually to creative fervor, flings his
clothes from him garment by garment, until he is full-length and nude on the pine table, screaming
out a masterpiece of action material at the top of his inspired lungs, while the pencil of the stenographer
flies dizzily and the two armed guards tilt back in their chairs and smoke placidly... A year or two
ago this lovely scenario was current hearsay. Actually, the author is a mild-mannered, inoffensive
citizen who gets a haircut every two weeks, pays his taxes, is kind to his wife and relatives, is a
sociable companion, a swell talker and an ace writer. Human? Weary much so.
Take any of these, professional word-mongers. There's the guy with the jolliest laugh in New York;
it sounds like what musical comedy producers used to refer to quaintly as a mirthquake. The only drawback
to this particular writer is that two consecutive glasses of beer make him morose, downcast and viciously
unhappy. Keep him away from German beergardens and he's a grand human being in caps... Or the lanky
lad with a famous mustache who knocks on your door at 4:00 A.M. and barges in with seventeen people
all anxious to cheer your loneliness. If you're a writer you don't mind a visitation of this sort because
it's so obviously motivated by good intentions. You can't punch a guy in the jaw who is so emotionally
and sincerely friendly, so damned human that it hurts...
They're a grand legion, these impecunious, flibbertigibberty hirelings of the typewriter
and the dictaphone. I hope I don't upset you but editors are, too, for that matter. Although, to be
strictly truthful, editors are apt to be a wee bit persnicketty, apt to fall short of the full bloom
of perfection in mind and body that is the heritage of all us noble authors.
For instance, the charming, urbane and cultivated editor of a nationally famous detective
magazine is actually and sincerely of the belief that a dry Martini is a drink fit for a gentleman.
Outside of that I find no fault in the man. Then there is another editor with a peculiar interest in
ducks. Unlike Mr. Joe Penner of the radio, this little guy is not interested in the sale of the quacky
web-footed creatures; his devotion to ducks is inspired by something more subtle, more-shall I say?-recondite.
But ducks or no ducks, I can assure you most emphatically that he is a human begin you'd like to know.
And so, by easy stages, we meander back to our original text for today's sermon. Are authors
human? Come to think of it, I'm one of 'em myself. So I wouldn't know. What do you think?