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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cormac McCarthy

My favorite author, Cormac McCarthy, was born on this day in Providence, Rhode Island – 1933. He had no interest in literature until he was in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska, and had nothing to do but read. Soon after, he began to write. “I never had any doubts about my abilities. I knew I could write. I just had to figure out how to eat while doing this.” For years he lived in poverty, often unable to pay rent.

When he finished his first novel, The Orchard Keeper (1965), he sent it to Random House because it was the only publisher he had ever heard of. Albert Erskine, who had edited Faulkner, liked the manuscript and agreed to publish it. McCarthy barely sold very few books, but won awards and grants, which gave him money to keep going. He turned down regular jobs — and even speaking invitations. He moved to Texas. He said: “I ended up in the Southwest because I knew that nobody had ever written about it. Besides Coca-Cola, the other thing that is universally known is cowboys and Indians. You can go to a mountain village in Mongolia and they’ll know about cowboys. But nobody had taken it seriously, not in 200 years. I thought, here’s a good subject.” He wrote a few more novels, but they continued to sell poorly. He mostly lived in run-down motels, which were so dimly lit that he carried around a good light bulb so that he could see better to read and write.

When Erskine retired McCarthy switched publishers. His new editor arranged to have 30 pages of McCarthy’s new manuscript published in Esquire, and suddenly everyone wanted to read it. All the Pretty Horses (1992) won the National Book Award and was a best-seller. None of his previous books sold more than 5,000 copies in hardcover; All the Pretty Horses sold nearly 200,000 copies in its first few months. His other novels include Blood Meridian, The Crossing, No Country for Old Men, and The Road.
Ah, to be born without a doubt of one’s ability.

Blood Meridian: “I venture that no other living American novelist, not even Pynchon, has given us a book as strong and memorable.” Harold Bloom.

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