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#0581: Willa Cather to Thomas A. Boyd, February 21 [1922]

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ Dear Mr. Boyd1;

I do like you, and I am interested in your literary supplement3. But I wonder if you know how many demands there are on a poor writer's time, and how perplexing some of them are? One has, in common decency, for instance, to answer the letters of nice old ladies who ask foolish questions before one replys to those of hustling young newspaper men whose friendliness might be of pecuniary value to one. Can't you s see that that very fact makes them come last? Publicity has got to be such a brazen game these days, that one has much ado to keep one's self respect, anyhow. You'll admit it would be much less cheap to go out and shout about a new hair oil or a tooth paste than about one's own books.

In your editorial "A Revaluation"4, all that you say5 is t true, and yet I don't think you make it clear why it is true. Of course a writer of imaginative literature must not be literal; he must be able to be literal, he must know everything he touches well enough for that. But if he is an artist he will not be literal, because no artist can be. If he has the proper equipment to be a writer of fiction at all, he will never have to puzzle as to how far he should be literal; he has a selective machine in his brain that decides all that for him. If he has not [illegible] such an instrument, he had better choose another profession.

An artist uses any particular scene or incident not to show how much he knows about it, or because it is in itself interesting. He uses it because of a certain effect of color or emotion that it will contribute to his story as a whole, because it is in the mood of the story, or helps to make the mood. Therefore, in writing this scene, he will use as much detail as will convey his impression, no more. If he has the right kind of memory,-- and the novelist's memory is quite as special a thing as the #musicaian's #musician's-- he will remember only the details of any event which contributed to the major impression the event made upon him. The writer does not "efface" himself, as you say6; he loses himself in the amplitude of his impressions, and in the exciting business of finding all his memories, long-forgotten scenes and faces, running off his pen, as if they were in the ink, and not in his brain at all. If he is an artist worth the name, what he remembers is right, what he has forgotten was superficial, accidental, and is better forgotten.

With best wishes always Willa Cather