Down in Devon


So you sit in this exquisite 17th century house, which has very small rooms because people were smaller then. The diet. They rarely ate meat, couldn’t afford it; illegal to hunt, to peach. Or fish the stream running through. Set the mastiff on you, or crush you in the mantrap. You’re expendable. A peasant.

The small rooms induce, though, some sort of restraint into your prose, and your work is getting shorter. Is that better? How many pages a day do you need – to pay up, cover it all, put some aside for the many, many rainy days to come, in Dorset? To walk the prehistoric Chesil Beach?

Looking at the pieces. The “drafts”, the long queue on the flickering computer screen, at – what, 2am? Who’s awake in Dorset, at 2am? In Hardy’s Dorchester? The Dorset Insomniac. . .

Here’s one. On Emmett and his Danish Reading Pipe, he got it in Greenland. You can stuff enough aromatic baccy in the bowl for a long, long read in those Arctic Circle nights, your pipe your fireplace. But then – what? A brick, a kilo, of Jordanian hash?

Well, hell, all the books he read, and he read many. Oblamov, for one. That is a long novel about economy, really, the subject of all real Russian novels.

Here. This one. The girl who went to the Altamont Festival in a hearse. She was fourteen. Couldn’t get too far on that one. A couple paragraphs. No frequency.

What’s this one? “When I read the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books, I feel like no book I’d ever write would be reviewed in these pages.”

And some real fiction. Carlos Leon, sixty years old, found shot dead, at 9 in the morning, in a rooming house in the Excelsior District. Those in near-by rooms reported hearing him say, before he was shot, “May God forgive.”

Another. An elderly woman, found dead on the floor in her house in an upscale community. None of her neighbors could recall seeing her in five years.

A third, and a fourth. Must make fiction from these.

In some way even he may not have intended, Richard Brautigan’s advice, given years ago at a San Francisco streetcar boarding platform – to just make up things in a resume – was liberating.

But liberation can have its pitfalls, its sudden rapids. And then the long, long plunging waterfall, the no-return.

Don Skiles is the author of Miss America and Other Stories (Marion Boyars), and The James Dean Jacket Story and Other Stories (Cross+Roads Press). His work has appeared in West Branch, Central Park, Gargoyle, Asylum Annual, Floating Island , Chelsea and The Door Voice, and other publications. He lives in San Francisco.