Truman Capote on Influences and Techniques

“I am a completely horizontal author…I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also longhand. Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsessions of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance. Then I type a third draft on yellow paper, a very special certain kind of yellow paper. I don’t get out of bed to do this…I balance the machine on my knees. It works fine…I can manage a hundred words a minute. When the yellow draft is finished, I put the manuscript away for a while, a week, a month, sometimes longer. When I take it out again, I read it as coldly as possible, then read it aloud to a friend or two, and decide what changes I want to make and whether or not I want to publish. I’ve thrown away rather a few short stories, an entire novel, and half of another. But if all goes well, I type the final version on white paper and that’s that.

At one time I used to keep notebooks with outlines for stories. But I found doing this somehow deadened the idea in my imagination. If the notion is good enough, if it truly belongs to you, then you can’t forget it…it will haunt you until it’s written.

I’ve never been aware of direct literary influence, though several critics have informed me that my early works owe a debt to Faulkner and Welty and McCullers. Possibly. I’m a great admirer of all three; and Katherine Anne Porter too. Though I don’t think, when really examined, that they have much in common with each other, or me, except that we were all born in the South. Between thirteen and sixteen are the ideal, if not the only ages for succumbing to Thomas Wolfe, though I can’t read a line of it now. Just as other youthful flames have guttered: Poe, Dickens, Stevenson. I love them in memory, but find them unreadable. These are the enthusiasms that remain constant: Flaubert, Turgenev, Chekhov, Jane Austen, Henry James, E. M. Forster, Maupassant, Rilke, Proust, Shaw, Willa Cathar…oh, the list is too long, so I’ll end with James Agee, a beautiful writer whose death was a real loss.”

 

From Wikipedia: Born Truman Streckfus Persons (September 30, 1924 – August 25, 1984), known as Truman Capote (pron.: /ˈtruːmən kəˈpoʊtiː/), was an American author, many of whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and the true crime novel In Cold Blood (1966), which he labeled a “nonfiction novel.” At least 20 films and television dramas have been produced from Capote novels, stories and screenplays.

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