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 if possible.

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 her.

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?