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THE POWER OF NEGATIVE THINKING

July 5, 2011

In the summer of 1957 I was all of 19.  I got a dream job, associate editor at a literary agency, and immediately dropped out of college to keep it.  The agency (Scott Meredith) was a hybrid, representing some solid professional writers while making big money as a slush mill, charging reading fees and encouraging the hopeless.  I was there for eight or nine months, and I learned something useful every single day.

One of the best lessons came from the guy in Shreveport, Louisiana.  He gave me a stunning and enduring lesson in the Power of Negative Thinking.

Yeah, negative thinking.  We hear a lot about the power of positive thinking, but negative thinking’s every bit as powerful.  We’re all of us at the effect of it, and none of us more than this dude.

He must have been around 40, and he’d made a lot of money in the oil business.  Now all he wanted to do in the world was write something and get it published, but his first letter explained why that was a hopeless proposition.  “No editor will ever buy a story from me,” he assured us.

Oh?

And he sent in a story that demonstrated his thesis well enough.  I don’t remember it, but it wasn’t something you could send out.  Still, he was not a bad writer.  His sentences had life in them.  He was by no means untalented.  So one of us wrote him a letter over Scott’s signature, explaining why the story didn’t work, but assuring him he was a good writer and we’d like to see more of his work.  (We told that to everybody. Didn’t matter if you couldn’t write your name in the dirt with a stick.  As long as your checks cleared, we’d encourage you.  But in his case it happened to be true.  He was a good writer, but this wasn’t a good story.)

He wrote back.  It was all a fool’s errand, he said, because no editor would ever buy a story from him.  So he had a proposition for us.  Suppose he sent in a story, and one of Scott’s big-time authors put his name on it?  Our client could keep the money, and he’d pay him a fee on top of it.

Someone asked Scott.  “We draw the line at that,” he said, which impressed the hell out of me, because it was the first I knew that we drew the line at anything.

The guy wrote back with another proposition.  Let the big-time writer supply the story, to be submitted under Shreveport’s name. How would that be?  We drew the line at that, too, and he said in response that neither ploy would have worked.  “No editor would like a story I wrote,” he said, “and no editor would buy a story with my name on it.”

But the one thing he wanted in life was a sale to a national magazine.  Did we have any ideas?  We suggested a radical approach.  Why didn’t he try writing a story that would prompt an editor to write a check?  And, since he didn’t seem to care what he wrote or where he published it, why didn’t he take aim at a soft target?

At the time, the true confession magazines were the most receptive market for new fiction.  (They purported to be non-fiction, but they weren’t.  Think Reality TV.)  The stories didn’t carry bylines, so name value wasn’t a consideration. A lot of writers made a decent living writing confessions, and many of them moved on to solid careers.

One day a woman sent in a pair of stories as her first submission to us.  I grabbed them out of the slush pile, and within 72 hours we’d sold both of them and signed her as a pro client.  (Her name was Barbara Bonham, and she went on to do very well writing confessions, along with romance novels and nurse novels and a biography of Willa Cather.)

The Shreveport guy thought that was a terrific idea.  And he went right out and bought every confession magazine he could find and read them all cover to cover.  He was a fast reader and a fast writer, and it wasn’t long before his efforts bore fruit and a thick envelope landed on Scott’s desk.  (And, once the check for the reading fee had been extracted, it wound up on mine.)

This was a story written after a careful analysis of the market, a story designed to maximize its chances of selling.  Right?

First thing I noticed was the length.  It was 12,000 words long.  Now confession stories at the time all ran 4-5000 words.  Some but not all of the magazines would include a double-length story, running 8-10,000 words.  I don’t believe any of them ever published anything 12,000 words long.

Another thing I saw right away was that the story was written from a male viewpoint.  Most of the confession magazines would use an occasional story with a male narrator, but never more than one per issue, and it was never the double-length story.

A 12,000-word male-viewpoint confession.

But so what?  I didn’t have to look at the word count, or note the male narrator, to realize our friend had written something we could barely sell as birdcage liner.  All I had to do was look at the title.

First, though, you need to know that confession stories were remarkably tame.  They got kind of racy twenty years later, but back in the 50s they were anything but. The traditional formula was Sin, Suffer, and Repent, with the sinning off-stage and vague, the suffering considerable, and the repentance profound.

But for the fact that the poor little narrator may have gone to bed with someone once, there was no sex here, and what passed for it was White Bread all the way.  The world of the confession story was a world in which child abuse and incest simply did not exist.  Nor did interracial relationships, or homosexuality, or drugs, or orgies, or masturbation or sex toys or, well, much of anything.  Oh, maybe a little shrimping and felching, but—

No, no, no.  None of that!

No coarse four-letter words, to be sure. No clinical language, either. No colloquial terms for the sex act.

So what was the title of his can’t-miss-’cause-I-studied-the-market 12,000-word male viewpoint story?

I DIDDLED MY WIFE’S SISTER!

Swear to God.  I’m not improving on it, because how on earth could I?

“No editor wants to read what I write.  No editor will ever buy a story from me.”  That’s what he truly believed, deep in his heart of hearts, and he told us as much in his first letter.  And, for all that he yearned to see his work in print, he wanted even more to prove himself right.

And it worked.  We sent his story back, and he expressed dismay but not surprise, and we never heard from him again.

Why am I telling you all this?

Sometime in May, shortly after A Drop of the Hard Stuff was published, I began starting each day by posting an affirmation for writers on my Facebook page.  On June 24, I celebrated my birthday by joining Twitter, and since then each day’s affirmation has gone out to both my Twitter followers and my Facebook friends.

At one point I posted a note on how to work with affirmations, and just the other day I sent this out to the Universe:

How to pick daily affirmation: Go down list. Find one that’s (a) palpably false (b) saccharine pap (c) nauseating (d) all of the above. That’s the one. Now post it.

Maybe it’s time to explain all this relentless positivism.  It goes back at least to the early 1980s, when I developed the affirmations (and listed them in a book, and made a tape, and wrote magazine columns about them) as part of my interactional seminar, Write For Your Life.  Just about everything in WFYL wound up in a book with the same title, but there was one story I left out, the story of the self-defeating scribe of Shreveport.

Now it was a wonderful story, and it went over well every time my wife and I presented the seminar.  But I left it out of the book because a lot of people were buying and reading the book before they took the seminar, and I didn’t want to dilute the story’s impact by telling it beforehand.

Well, it’s been 25 years since the last WFYL, so why hold back?

Tell the truth now.  Have you been diddling your wife’s sister?

You haven’t got a wife?  She hasn’t got a sister?  Makes no difference.  Each of us has a ruling negative principle to which we’ve proved as loyal as the Shreveport Schlepper to his.  Any of these ring a bell?

I’m not good enough.

It’s not safe to let people know the real me.

Writing is a struggle.

I’m boring.

I’m too old.

No one wants to hear what I have to say.

I’m stupid.

Success would separate me from the people I love.

I’d go on, but you can figure out yours on your own.  And why not?  It’s been running in your head all your life.

All. Your. Life.

Affirmations are designed to turn that around.  Just thinking about them is useful.  A tape for repeated listening can be very helpful.  And, especially for people like us to whom the written word is so consequential, there’s a process for writing affirmations that’s genuinely transformational.

Which is to say that it works.  Even for you, in spite of the fact that you’re not good enough, not to mention old and stupid, and no one could possibly want to hear what you have to say.

Yeah, right.

It’s a simple process, but takes more words to explain than I feel like writing, and why should I? See, I’ve already written them. The whole process is explained and illustrated in Write For Your Life, available now as a HarperCollins eBook.  There are other links at the upper right for my other Books for Writers, and one for the Affirmations tape, available now as an MP3 file.

Uh, these affirmations.  This whole process.  You really believe in it?

Hmmm.  Now that reminds me of the story about the Tarheel who was asked if he believed in the baptism of infants.  “Believe in it?” he said.  “Believe in it?  Hell, man, I’ve seen it done!”

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77 Comments
  1. I remember you mentioning this guy very briefly in Telling Lies, and it is affirming to learn just how self-defeating he was.
    I constantly tell myself I’m a slacker, and other writers ask me how I write so much. Well, part of that is thanks to you, who said “you can’t write FIVE lousy pages a DAY?!” in Telling Lies… that’s 1250 words. A flash story a day, or 5 pages of a novel. I aim for that, and if one lousy page comes out, at least I’ve done something.

    • Even one page a day is a decent-sized novel in a year. Publish a book every year and people think you’re in the same league with the Octomom.

  2. GMH permalink

    love it! thank you for making me laugh today! xo

  3. I’ve been using writing prompts to help narrow my focus. For me, the hardest thing is choosing a direction when the possibilities are somewhat unlimited. When I write pieces for newspapers, I have no problem because I already have a story laid out for me; all I have to do is figure out a good way to tell it.

    Over the past few days, using a writing prompt, I wrote a draft of a sci-fi short story that I don’t hate. I’ve gone back and reread it several times and I still don’t hate it. It still needs work, and I’m not sure it’s something worth sending out, but it’s a sign of progress. Old habits and emotional afflictions die hard.

    Today, I started a horror short story about a hoarder. Onward, as you-know-who would say.

  4. Molly Swoboda permalink

    Thank you from the bottom of my insecurities. (For the record, I never diddled my wife’s sister.) ~m

  5. Absolutely true about positive tweets. I love to post positives ones… Someone once told me, “The only people who never publish are the ones that quit.” I’ve kept that in my heart. First book is coming out this August. 🙂

  6. I love the Matt Scudder series, will there ever be another one written?

    • Hope so, Linda, but certainly not for a while. The most recent one, A Drop of the Hard Stuff, came out in mid-May. I’d thought I was done with the series, then got the idea for a book set back in time, when Matt was less than a year sober. Will there be more? Hard to say. Time, I suspect, will tell…

  7. Affirmations work best when said out loud, don’t you think? I’m a life and relationship coach, because someone helped me, I grew happy, and I share my experiences with others. Not sure, but I think hearing those affirmations in our own voices “tape over” those negative ideas playing in our heads.

    • Kozie, I’ll give you a hard and fast answer: It depends. Saying them aloud works for some people, hearing them on a tape works for others, and writing them—with a negative response column, because you don’t want merely to accentuate the positive, you also want to eliminate the negative, and God rest you, Johny Mercer—writing them in this fashion is hugely effective, and esp. so with writers. But it depends.

  8. Thank you once again, Mr. B. Just because I happened to pick the suckiest publishers in the universe for my last several works and made just under ten cents for the effort is no reason for me to stop doing what I know I’m really, really good at.

    • Susan, I’d hate to have to judge the competition for suckiest publisher. And I agree completely; when you know there’s something you were put here to do, you really don’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter.

  9. Darra Ross permalink

    I have an MFA in Creative Writing and for the life of me can’t write anything beyond some angst poetry. The line in my head? “There are no stories in my head.” I’d love to get past that, because I’m a good writer. However, when I read other writers’ books I am just amazed at how they work out a plot and keep me riveted, with maybe even a surprise tweak at the end. Without a story to tell, how does it all happen? And, once that is under control, how do you make yourself actually DO it?

    • Darra, my guess is that there’s an underlying negative thought behind (or beneath, I suppose, if it’s underlying) “There are no stories in my head.” Let me sleep on that and see if I have anything to suggest come morning.

      • Darra Ross permalink

        I look forward to your sleep-induced suggestions!

      • Well, I didn’t sleep yet, but Lynne and I brainstormed a little, and our hunch is that you’re creative imagination is stifled by the belief that if you look within yourself you won’t like what you find there. An affirmation that addresses this thought might be efficacious. Some possibilities? “The real me is well worth knowing.” “It’s safe to discover who I really am.” “Deep down inside I’m a miracle of imagination.” Try these or devise your own. If there’s one that really makes you cringe, go for it.

      • Darra Ross permalink

        Thanks Lawrence… that’s a chunk to swallow! However, I will give the idea of affirmation a go and see what happens. I like the “miracle of imagination” notion. Can’t hurt, can it?

    • Darra,

      I used to have the exact same problem – for years – until I realized that plot comes from anywhere. You can start with a very, very simple plot, almost from random words: Cat gets stuck up tree. Person comes to get him down. Cat happy. All is well.

      Then I would flesh it out. How did the cat get up there? Who’s the person? How big is the tree?

      I promise, before you know it you get a magical cat up a 50 story tree, and a person who can fly rescues it, because its fur is made of special diamonds that shoot the only lasers that can destroy the alien ship.

      Once I figured out that my imagination needed a very, very simple framework, it allowed me to start with “boy meets girl” or “girl loses job” or “man buys toupee”. Everything works. Start with something simple and make it brilliant.

      My guess is, once you get started, it’ll pour out of you like water.

      • Darra Ross permalink

        Thanks Ceil… great idea. I can certainly give it a try. Maybe I always saw it as a great big thing instead of reducing it to a simple idea. You make it sound far less complicated than I visualized!

    • Mike Flynn permalink

      Remember what you are seeing is the final product, while what you are writing is a first draft. You may as well compare a pile of auto parts to a Porsche. The one doesn’t much look like the other; but whoever built the Porsche started out with the parts.

      • Darra Ross permalink

        Good point! I’ve had some experience with putting complicated things together so your analogy makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing it! I’m glad I took the chance to speak out on here, I’m getting some great feedback.

  10. I mentioned when you’d decided to “retire” from novels that you’d certainly earned the right, that novels of the quality you produce(d) would endure. But no one is happier than I that ADOTHS remained.

    I discovered your work when my high school English teacher introduced me to WD (I quit reading when Nancy Kress took over) sometime around the time when 8 Million Ways to Die hit the paperback shelf.

    Then, some years later when I went back to school as an English major on the delayed-entry program, I adapted your short story “Click” for presentation to my Hum Com class (with your generous permission, of course).

    My point? It’s good to have you back.

  11. Robert J. Cassinelli permalink

    Not a fiction writer (never took a creative writing course – although I have an honors degree in English – composition and linguistics), but love the magic of the written word. What about those of us who have, at the very least, decent writing skills, but cannot persuade the “powers that be” our cogitations and ruminations on important issues are worthy of consideration? As an example I offer this: My master thesis was on the fit of the acquisition of WMD into the social-cultural-political-economic fabric of the then nuclear free Iran (my background is likely germane in terms of my knowledge of what was occurring at the time – but not so much here). I have certainly used that thesis as a point of departure for presentations in a variety of fora; but to say there is little or no interest is to beg the statement. One publisher told me it was “too academic;” another said it was “too accessible and academics wouldn’t buy it.” Okay, confusion, confusion, confusion!!!!!! That thesis has been fermenting in my brain for lo these many years as a book, to no avail! Any suggestions? And no, I cannot afford self-publishing (story there!). And I won’t even begin to talk about the issue of terrorism in the modern period (once taught a course I created: “The Rhetoric and Philosophy of Terror.” End result – taught one semester, kudos from students urging it be available to all at longer than the original 8 weeks it was taught, but budget cuts, etc., etc.).

    • Confusion indeed—since self-publishing is essentially free, it’s hard to grasp why you can’t afford it.

      • Robert J. Cassinelli permalink

        How is self-publishing “essentially free?” All the self-publishing entities here want money up front (a reasonable request as I see it) and then something on the back end when the book is printed. Perhaps such businesses are free there, but in my hometown they are not. And with a limited income (fixed retirement/social security), a mortgage underwater (another story there), and classes cut because of the budget mess (as the old blues songs says, “Don’t get me started talkin’!”), I don’t have a great deal of discretionary income (the usual savings to cover the time when there is not income coming my way). As I have always been a positive person in the main, I certainly would appreciate any insights you may be willing to provide. I still believe my book on WMD is worth being published (especially in view of Iran’s place in geopolitics around this issue for the foreseeable future). i also believe my book on the ills of our now broken education system is worth seeing in print as well (nearly 40+ years as an instructor, teacher, professor have given me some insights). Again, whatever thoughts you would be willing to provide will be appreciated.

  12. If you’ve got the work in a word.doc file you can self-publish on Kindle for no money at all. And if you’re not resourceful enough to find out how this works and follow it through, well, metaphorically speaking, I’d say you prefer diddling your wife’s sister.

  13. Robert J. Cassinelli permalink

    I will certainly look into that; but being of a different generation, I have a deep aesthetic “need” (“want”) for the feel of a page turning. Your idea is certainly worth pursuing at this point as I ain’t gettin’ any younger! Thanks!

    • Lulu.com will let you create printed books from digital files for no money up front, then buy as many copies as you like for yourself, or sell on Amazon or through Lulu. They also offer design services, for a fee.

      http://www.lulu.com/publish/books/

      There are some video tutorials on the site.

  14. OMG! Nurse romances! A few years after you were at Scott Meredith, I was a junior-assistant-editor-slave (or whatever they called the least important editorial employee) at Bantam. I worked down the hall from Grace Bechtold who was the doyenne of Nurse Romances and the person, I understand, who discovered that market and grew it. She was funny, smart and very very cranky.

    One of my tasks was writing cover copy for the month’s list—and that included the blurbs for Gracie’s nurse romances. I needed to get her OK before I could send the copy on to Production & had to gauge her mood before approaching her—especially a whippersnapper like me—or else get my head handed to me and my copy ripped to shreds (sometimes literally).

    Funny times. At least in memory. I was more or less terrified of her but GB sure knew what she was doing. She made Bantam a ton of money as the list of nurse romances grew from 2 to 4 to 6 a month & no doubt helped lead to the creation of the entire romance genre.

    • When I was at Scott’s, I knew I wanted to write a novel, but found the prospect scary. It was all I could do to sustain my short stories for more then 2500 words. The pro man, guy named Jim Bohan, said the easiest market out there was Avalon, an imprint of Thomas Bouregy. They published inexpensive hardcover genre fiction for sale to lending libraries. (Remember lending libraries?) A nurse novel, Jim told me, would be easy to sell to them. For, IIRC, $450, but it was a way to learn how to write a book and get paid in the process. I got hold of a good example of the genre and realized that my inability to read the thing probably precluded my writing one of my own.

      Ages since I thought of that, Ruth. Thanks!

  15. Really glad to have you back writing about writing. I miss all the pep talks in WD. Back then they were the only reason I kept believing I could succeed.

    • Thanks, Mel. I think this blog will turn out to be mostly about writing. I’ve missed the WD column myself over the years. I don’t expect to blog often, but every once in a while I’m likely to find something I want to inflict upon my fellow writers.

  16. barbaraAnn permalink

    Just started , A Drop of the Hard Stuff, last night! Loving it!

  17. Mike Flynn permalink

    Telling Lies…, Writing the Novel… Still got them on the shelf, and I still browse through them occasionally. Never hurts to remind yourself of things. I was disappointed when you gave up the WD column, but I also liked Nancy Kress, who is also a sharp cookie and (I have to say) better looking. But in any case, I have eleven novels and story collections, plus a couple score short fiction now – and you get at least a part of the credit for your clear writing on the craft and for your own novels and stories as exemplars.

  18. Guess what? I found a copy of “Random Walk” for $2 yesterday in a flea market. Didn’t know you once had hair and didn’t know you had written “Random Walk”. Was disappointed to see I got ripped off; it can be had on Amazon.com for $.01. But you’re worth every penny…

    My purchase makes my collection of LB books almost complete – about 75. This after I tossed all my Bob Parkers, Mike Connellys and John Sandfords.

    And I miss Jimmy Armstrong too… His was a great place and he was one heck of an interesting guy, though I was more fascinated by one of his waitresses for a time.

    • Ah, yes. Jimmy had some lovely waitresses. ‘Twas one of them introduced me to the Irish theater that morphed into the Morrissey Bros. after-hours in Ginmill. We’re friends again, after having lost track of each other for years.

      • My passion there for a while was a firey Brazilian. Jimmy in his travels seemed to have a certain affinity for the cariocas… I always check to see if she’s around when I’m in the city. She was working at Druids which place was, I think, the model for a certain Mick’s bar.
        I appreciate your support for we rejected. I’ve gone direct to Amazon and Smashwords. I’m too … experienced… to seek approval when I get it regularly with my column.
        I’m looking forward to finishing my LB et al collection to start from book one and go through them all at a feverish pace in a snowy winter.

  19. This post just made my day. Good point — the power of negative thinking — and funny as hell. I needed that during this dreary Oklahoma heat wave. Many thanks, Mr. Block. Onward and inward,
    Pat Browning
    Author of Absinthe of Malice (Krill Press 2008)
    Still working on Book #2

  20. Read your blog post and something popped in my head. I even checked my ears for leakage – it seemed so profound; it felt like it might have been a physical thing.

    Spent a whole two nights on a final edit, made up a submission package at 3 am and sent it off.

    my affirmation? – Do it. Do it now and don’t look back.

  21. Susan Jelliff permalink

    Mr. Block – Thanks for the blog. It’s nice to read about other writers who are out there slogging away, not just the big-timers who are making the bucks. Writing is such a lonesome pasttime, it’s easy to get those negative thoughts. Four unpublished novels later, I’ve decided that Amazon is the way to go. Oh – please hurry and get the latest Keller ready for Nook. I tried to download it, and they told me no dice.

  22. Kathy Maggio permalink

    You speak to my soul in this piece. I am one of those over apologizing people…you know…the annoying woman at the corner table. I have written since a child, but have beaten myself up over writing in patches. Life has hit me with a few 18 wheelers, and my stories disappear into the vapors. Right now I am trying very hard to write every night, but am having difficulty proceeding.

    I miss your WD column so much.

  23. In my experience, the annoying woman’s rarely at the corner table. She’s almost always on an end stool at the bar.

    Kathy, you’ll be fine. If “The Power of Negative Thinking” had a real impact, you’d probably get a lot out of Write For Your Life—and if I were more of a hard-sell guy, I’d put a link for it right here. But I’m not, so you’ll have to hunt for it. (Hint—try the lower left or the upper right.)

    I evidently miss the column myself, since I seem to be doing it again. But not for WD. Right here, for all of y’all.

    • Have you ever come to Toronto, Ontario, and with WRITE FOR YOUR LIFE?

      • Thanks, Gretchen. I’m glad you found your way here; keep coming back!

        I’ve been to Toronto several times, had signings at Sleuth of Baker Street, attended Bouchercon when it was held there, and on one occasion read at a prestigious literary gathering. (I suspect a lot of folks wondered what the hell I was doing there.) And no, we never brought Write For Your Life there; we only offered the seminar for three or four years, in the mid-1980s.

  24. Kathy Maggio permalink

    Thanks for responding. I actually have that book, but read it long ago. Thanks for reminding me. I will get it out and pick out some special portions to keep with my muse at hand.

    Thanks so much for this blog. It feels safe here.

  25. Thanks, Pat, for the link on DL. LB, I have your Writing the Novel, thought I had Telling Lies, but can’t lay hands on it. I’ve loved affirmations for many years. Slacked off on using them, gotta start back. Read your WD columns, and very glad you started this blog.
    Sylvia

  26. Brenda permalink

    Thanks for a wonderful post. I think I really needed it right now.

  27. Mott permalink

    I wish I could think of a stronger word than “Thanks”, but it’s what I have and it fits best. So, for this blog in particular, Thank You.

  28. Wonderful to find your blog! I’ve been a longtime fan. I had the pleasure of taking your “Write for Your Life” workshop in, hmm, sometime in the mid- to late-1980s, but I can’t recall the year. It was in St. Louis, Missouri.

    My wife and I also scooted up the road to Kansas City, Mo. (actually, I think Overland Park, KS) to see you at a signing-reading at a Border’s Bookstore a few years back.

    Border’s appears to be going and gone — glad you’re still around writing and delighting us all. I’ve read nearly all of your novels over the years, enjoyed them, and want to thank you for your life’s work. Good to know a great story teller of your caliber.

    • Thanks, Gary. We offered Write For Your Life several times in St. Louis and it always went well. A woman named Violet Kimball was our organizer there. Lovely lady, of whom we’ve long since lost track, more’s the pity…

  29. I’m a logical thinking human being with a great sense of a forward view, however I sometimes don’t see the obvious thing that’s standing in front of me.

    Reading your blog post, pointed me to look and I saw. Now I finally know why its been such a hard struggle for me to write, it’s my negative thoughts and doubts that are holding me back. I’ll certainly try to cancel them out with positive thoughts. Succeeding in that I’ll be able to progress better and become the writer I want to be, instead of struggling in the mud without a way out.

    You have my eternal gratitude for the insight.

    • Thanks so much for sharing this. Negative thoughts may indeed be standing right in front of us, but they’re rarely obvious; they’ve become part of the way we see the world. Awareness is the first step in reversing them, and it’s a big one.

  30. sewcraftyme permalink

    Hello again Mr. Block

    After promising myself that I wouldn’t write to you in case you would think me a stalker, an addled one at that, I received “The Power of Negative Thinking” in my inbox this afternoon.

    I laughed, I cried, and I wondered how long you’d been living my life.

    I know you can’t be unaware that infants are baptized. I was born in what some call the South, some call the North, a small town in Ky and within 5 days for reasons any family member ever felt the need to share with me, within 5 days we were living in a cave in Harlan County, Ky.

    My father was 68 and married to Mom who was all of 22. Yes, I was 8 days old living in a cave.

    Life didn’t improve from there for me but you know I learned, somewhere, early on to live by the philosophy that no matter how badly I had it, somewhere, someone had it worse than me.

    That and books which I could read at age 4, again by no reason that anyone can figure out, with no teaching, kept me from becoming one of the demented abusers I was raised by and with. I like to think it was intervention, divine or otherwise.

    My father was a Southern Baptist Minister, I was his twelfth child and according to his Bible, that meant I was the spawn of Satan. That also meant of all his children I was not sent below the baptismal waters to be anointed with the forgiving waters of the rivers where he regularly dunked the other infants he had access to. Not only those he had procreated but those in his church. So I can assure you that while I was not worthy enough to experience this myself, I have seen it performed many, many times.

    I have still not been dunked below the waters of forgiveness and I don’t think I ever shall be. If I need to be the kind of person that my family was in order to have that honor bestowed on me I prefer to take my chances as I am.

    I enjoyed the reading of the Blog entry that arrived in my inbox and Thank You once again for sharing. Your talent continues to enrich my life and I still find Thank You inadequate.

    If after reading this, you feel its too personal to post to the blog that’s fine with me. I write daily and I’m told daily I should write and sell my life story but really as you say in TPONT “I am too boring” and I’ve been there done that and its my sincere wish that most others not know that such a world exists or that I existed in it. I survived and I grew stronger and in the end, really isn’t that all that matters?

    Ila in Maine

  31. sewcraftyme permalink

    Hello again Mr. Block

    After promising myself that I wouldn’t write to you in case you would think me a stalker, an addled one at that, I received “The Power of Negative Thinking” in my inbox this afternoon.

    I laughed, I cried, and I wondered how long you’d been living my life.

    But truly you can’t be unaware that infants are baptized? I was born in what some call the South, some call the North, Dayton, Ky and within 5 days for reasons no family member ever felt the need to share with me, within 5 days we were living in a cave in Harlan County, Ky.

    My father was 68 and married to Mom who was all of 22. Yes I was 8 days old living in a cave.

    Life didn’t improve from there for me but you know I learned, somewhere, early on to live by the philosophy that no matter how badly I had it, somewhere, someone had it worse than me.

    That and books which I could read at age 4, again by no reason that anyone can figure out, with no teaching, kept me from becoming one of the demented abusers I was raised by and with. I like to think it was intervention, divine or otherwise.

    My father was a Southern Baptist Minister, I was his twelfth child and according to his Bible, that meant I was the spawn of Satan. That also meant of all his children I was not sent below the baptismal waters to be anointed with the forgiving waters of the rivers where he regularly dunked the other infants he had access to. Not only those he had procreated but those in his church. So I can assure you that while I was not worthy enough to experience this myself, I have seen it performed many, many times. I have still not been dunked below the waters of forgiveness and I don’t think I ever shall be. If I need to be the kind of person that my family was in order to have that honor bestowed on me I prefer to take my chances as I am.

    I enjoyed the reading of the Blog entry that arrived in my inbox and Thank You once again for sharing. Your talent continues to enrich my life and I still find Thank You inadequate.

    If after reading this, you feel its too personal to post to the blog that’s fine with me. I write daily and I’m told daily I should write and sell my life story but really as you say in TPONT “I am too boring” and I’ve been there done that and its my sincere wish that others not know that such a world exists or that I existed in it. I survived and I grew stronger and in the end, really isn’t that all that matters?

    Ila in Maine

    • Ila, Flannery O’Connor wrote somewhere that anybody who has survived childhood has enough material for a lifetime of writing. We all of us use what we’re given, whether by writing about it or by not writing about it. Thanks for this comment; I got a lot out of it, and I have a hunch I’m not the only one.

  32. stunatra permalink

    This is probably the most inspiring story about writing that I’ve ever read. Thank you for sharing it!

  33. Zsuzsi Kovács permalink

    Hello Mr. Block,

    I’m a Hungarian girl and I’d like to let you know that I love your books! Bernie always makes me laugh. I’ve been learning English for about 1 year so I hope I don’t make any mistakes. I can read your novels in Hungarian yet but I’m busy enough to read them in English soon.
    Much health, happiness and inspiration
    Zs.

    • Zsuzsi, thanks so much! My books have been doing well in Hungary thanks to the good work of my wonderful publisher at Agave, Varga Balint. I hope to visit your country again before too long. My great-grandfather, Leopold Block, was born in Budapest, and I’ve just learned that he was an engineer and played a role in building the Berlin-to-Istanbul railroad…Whether you read my books in Hungarian or English, I’m happy to have you reading and enjoying them.

  34. Zsuzsi Kovács permalink

    I hope we’ll be able to meet in Hungary once in a lifetime! 🙂
    Zs

  35. Bea permalink

    Just read Drop of the Hard Stuff and loved it! The first of your books I’ve read – so I’m delighted that I have so many more to look forward to. Also delighted to have found your blog – I just knew you had to be an inspiration to us all~

    Thank you~

    Bea

  36. Phil P. permalink

    Hi Mr. Block —

    I really enjoyed the collection Hellcats and Honeygirls, and was wondering if one of your John Dexter novels, No Longer a Virgin, will ever go back in print? It’s rumored that this was another collaboration with Donald Westlake.

    Thanks,

    Phil P.

    • Thanks, Phil. Hellcats & Honey Girls, Subterranean Press’s triple volume of my three collaborative novels with Donald Westlake, sold out and has not been reprinted; the individual novels (A Girl Called Honey, So Willing, and Sin Hellcat) are available as eBooks.

      I had nothing to do with No Longer a Virgin. “John Dexter” was a house name at Nightstand, apt to appear on any of their books; I just today saw a book of mine, with “Andrew Shaw” on the front cover and “John Dexter” on the title page. I believe NLAV was a book Westlake wrote as Alan Marshall; I recall this because the title, created at Nightstand, truck him as singularly inappropriate. “She was no longer a virgin on page one,” he complained.

      I can’t imagine that anyone will want to reprint it, but one never knows…

      • Picked up a copy of “Telling Lies for Fun & Profit” at the Univ of Toronto booksale yesterday for $3, sat it next to my porcelain reading chair and, after reading a chapter switched my first and second chapters in Mojito…

      • Phil P. permalink

        It was great to talk to you the other day at the NY Pulp Fiction Expo, but I left forgetting to ask you about the John Dexter book so I ended up here.

        Thank you kindly for the info on that book, and the quick reply. You’re the best! Peace,

        Phil

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