I've read the story carefully
and, Frances, I'm afraid the price for doing professional work is a good
deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You've got to
sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things
that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at
dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you
have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you
have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in
short, you have only your emotions to sell.
This is the experience of all
writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the
child's passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted
his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway's first stories, In Our
Time, went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and
known. In This Side of Paradise, I wrote about a love affair
that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a hemophile.
The amateur, seeing how the
professional, having learned all that he'll ever learn about our writing,
can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three
uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming -- the amateur thinks
he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his
ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate
and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your
heart and putting it on pages for people to see.
That, anyhow, is the price of
admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or whether it
coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is "nice", is
something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature,
will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those
professions that wants the "works." You wouldn't be
interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.
In the light of this, it
doesn't seem worthwhile to analyze why this story isn't salable; but I am
too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my
age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more
Your old friend,
P.S. I might say that
the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and
charming. You have talent -- which is the equivalent of a soldier
having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.