now in the very words of Mr. Burroughs...
"I have been working at odd moments on another
the 'improbable' variety of
- Edgar Rice Burroughs to
Thomas Metcalf, 1912.
If youíve written a good story,
donít lose faith in it if it does not sell -- but first be positive that
it really is a good story.... Even now, I often have a difficult time finding
publishers for my latest books. I get lots of rejections.
When I first started in to write, I was sort of ashamed
of it as an occupation for a big, strong, healthy man, so I kept it a secret.
No one helped me. No one knew what I was doing -- not even my closest friends.
Now Iíve come to the conclusion that writing is a Ďpretty niceí way to
make a living.
There is a vast difference between seeing life and living
life. I believe I have done the latter. In fact I donít think I could have
written much if I hadnít. (ERB had served in the US Cavalry in Arizona,
been a gold miner in Oregon, a policeman in Salt Lake City, a cowboy in
Idaho...) [But]...It is necessary for nearly all of us to acquire part
of our Ďexperienceí second hand. Yet this should never be permitted to
overshadow the greater art of imagination.
Plots are in the air. All you have to do is to reach out
and take them. But first you must learn to know what plots are, and grab
them; not the similar-looking, but the utterly different, incident germs.Ē
I want to write of distant places, but Iíve never traveled
and they tell me one should never attempt to write about lands he has never
seen. Well, most of my stories are laid in Africa, and Iíve never been
Donít drive the story to a predetermined finish, just
because thatís the way it came to you. Let your plot go where it will.
If it goes in the wrong direction, you can always pull it back. On the
other hand, you may stumble on a far better climax than the one you first
thought of. Donít get the idea that youíre through with a basic plot when
youíve written one story from it. Keep it and sprout another -- or three
or four. Itís easy!
Get the habit of work and quit being an ďinspirationalĒ
author -- which is merely another name for a loafer. Donít wait for ideas
to come. Go after them. Donít write every now and then. Write every day,
if only for a little while. Be a worker, not a poseur. The only real ďliterary
peopleĒ are those who work at it. Those who make good are the ones who
keep so busy that they have no time to show off.
I resolved to give my imagination free rein. the result
was the Martian stories, stories of the Moon, and of the Earthís core.
I had a lot of fun inventing the different languages -- those in use among
the apes, the people of Mars, and of the Moon.
Unless you yourself , can get genuinely interested in
a story, how can you hope to interest others in it?
Things should not be too easy for your hero. He must fight
to win, and the better the fighting the more appreciated is the winning.
If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a
hundred, you have the odds in your favor. Play the long shots. Itís better,
of course, to write one good script than a hundred poor ones, but usually
you must write a hundred poor ones before you can do one good one.
When you write a story, remember that you are undertaking
to entertain several million people. You wouldnít go before an audience
of fifty with a poorly prepared speech. Why ďdash offĒ your message to
When a professional diver enters the water there is no
splash -- just a clean-cut cleaving of the water. Thatís the way you should
slip into your story; no fussing, no fooling around, no labored explanation.
The first thing in the morning, I go over what Iíve written
the day before, correcting it. Iíd advise the beginner not to waste too
much time changing a word here and there but to see what he can do to make
the plot better. Polish that rather than merely the form.
A rocket looks pretty going up, but no one watches the
stick come down. Let your climax and finish be simultaneous. If Harry breaks
an arm rescuing the heiress, donít tell how his arm became healed. Heís
got the girl, and thatís all we care about.
[One firm ERB rule: He would read no oneís manuscript,
not even his own relatives.]
All great writers were once where you are now. Perhaps
some day youíll be where they now are.
Life would be much simpler if there were not so many rules.
I imagine I have broken every rule of English grammar several thousand
times and being at heart a purist, I should be desolated if I was aware
of it, but as I do not know a single one of these rules, I am saved much
...although I hate work, I am discontented and unhappy
when I am loafing, being cursed by that thing which I so often deplore
in my stories -- subservience to that hardest of all task masters, Time.
The story on which I am now working (That Damn Dude/The
Brass Heart/Terrible Tenderfoot/Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County), is
a modern Western, located on a dude ranch in Arizona. ... There are a couple
of reasons why this story may have value in addition to whatever entertainment
qualities are inherent in it. In the first place, my early experience and
inclinations were such that I should have written Westerns exclusively.
For some time during my youth I worked as cow puncher, afterward I soldiered
in the 7th United States Cavalry in Arizona, and later still I ran a store
in a cattle country in Idaho.
I think that it is rather necessary these days, as it
always has been to create a lovable, or at least an interesting character
around which to weave your story. That is, if you intend to continue writing
and keep your public interested. An a main character with serial possibilities
is a good idea. Remember, the public is becoming more and more serial-minded.
(i.e. comic strip, radio, movies). ... I believe too, that the leading
character or characters of a story should have a romantic setting or go
through romantic adventures...mild or hair-raising ones...if you wish to
hold your readers. But be the adventures mild or wild they should be romantic.
... Romance isnít dead...never was dead...and never will be dead as long
as man exists! We need it, so we will always demand it!...
(Tarzan) was just a character that happened to catch the
publicís fancy; interest in him grew until it astonished me. As a boy I
love the story of Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome, and I love, too,
the boy Mowgli in Kiplingís ďJungle Books.Ē I suppose Tarzan was the result
of those early loves. Perhaps the fact that I lived in Chicago and yet
hated cities and crowds of people made me sense, my escape from unpleasant
reality. Perhaps that is the reason for his success with modern readers.
Maybe he takes them, too, away from humdrum reality. Mrs. Burroughs calls
me a low-brow. I guess I am, but then so are the most of us, arenít we?
Perhaps that is another reason why Tarzan appeals to the mass of people
rather than to a select few.Ē
My sales dropped off considerably during the depression,
as the sales of most books did, because few people had the price of a book
but almost everyone had a radio and the radio offers excellent entertainment.
Who knows but what future generations may cease reading books altogether
and take for their mental amusement the screen, radio and television? Itís
a changing world. ....the writer has become too nebulous a personality
today...screen and radio stars have taken his place. This is because the
starsí faces are kept constantly before the public. My face and the faces
of other authors are not kept before the public...probably for the very
good reason that we, as a rule, are not beautiful to look at. Today it
is the exteriors and externals that count, not ideas that come out of oneís
I have no illusions of the literary value of my books,
but I have the satisfaction of knowing that I gave my readers the best
that my ability permitted.
I find that a considerable part of my work in writing
fiction has nothing whatsoever to do with fiction. It is based upon the
belief that highly imaginative fiction, such as I write, demands the retention
of a youthful and elastic mind, to achieve which one of my principal aims
in life is to keep my body physically fit and my mind responsive to a diversity
of simple stimuli.
For me, temperance is essential to good work. Simple amusements
are the most desirable, and so far I have successfully avoided the acquisition
of any sort of a hobby. My own observation leads me to believe that a single
hobby is too narrowing an influence for a fiction writer and I should rather
suggest the greater value of an interest in many things. I find that it
is better to have a little knowledge of many things than an expert knowledge
The fiction writer should read most anything but fiction.
He should be able to find entertainment in every form of sport...he should
enjoy a variety of games and other activities that keep his mind young
The fiction writer to whom I refer should be what my two
sons call monkey-minded -- that is, have the tendency to caper erratically
through the forest of human knowledge, swinging form tree to tree, tasting
the fruits of many.
(The fiction writer)...would not take either himself or
his work too seriously. Except for purposes of entertainment, I consider
fiction, like drama, an absolute unessential. I would not look to any fiction
writer, living or dead, for guidance upon any subject, and, therefore,
if he does not entertain, he is a total loss.
The man who takes himself and his work too seriously is
certain to attempt something for which he is not fitted, with the result
that he soon loses whatever following he may have created, or if he is
a beginner, he never achieves any such following.
The reader has a right to expect entertainment and relaxation...He
does not wish to think...the fiction writer who wishes to be a success
should leave teaching to qualified teachers and attend strictly to his
business of entertaining.
I have been successful probably because I have always
realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell
an interesting story entertainingly.
Publicity is essential to success...(but)... I have no
patience whatsoever with the man who does a rude, unkindly or discourteous
thing for the purpose of obtaining publicity...who begs or buys publicity...who
makes a fool of himself in order to obtain it. It is perfectly proper for
your publishers to buy publicity for you. That is their business, not yours.
I was not writing because of any urge to write
nor for any particular love of writing. I was writing because I had a wife
and two babies . . . . I loathed poverty and I would have liked to put
my hands on the party who said that poverty is an honorable estate. It
is an indication of inefficiency and nothing more. There is nothing honorable
or fine about it.
I consider him (J. Allen St. John) one of the greatest
illustrators in the United States, and he is as fine a man as he is an
artist. -- ERB 1937
ERB used many methods for producing stories: "I have
written longhand and had my work copied by a typist, I have typed my manuscripts
personally; I have dictated them to a secretary; and I have used the Ediphone
(purchased in the early '20s). Voice writing makes few demands upon the
energy...the greatest advantage lies in the speed...I can easily double
my output... I can choose my own time for dictating without encroaching
on the time of another...." In all methods, he stressed it was necessary
to check the manuscript carefully after it was typed; errors were always
present, but he had found that fewer corrections were needed when a manuscript
was transcribed from a voice recording.
I find that it rests me to take a little vacation
from the highly imaginative occasionally and write some other sort of yarn,
as I believe that I come back to my own particular class of fiction refreshed
and with a new view point thereafter.
I hope you will like THE BANDIT
OF HELL'S BEND, now running in Argosy-All Story, which is one of my vacation
stories. It ought to be reasonably logical, or as nearly so as my style
of fiction ordinarily is, since I soldiered in Arizona in the 7th Cavalry
a great many years ago, and was a cow puncher in Idaho before that. However,
styles change in cow punchers as in other things, and the puncher of the
movies is not at all the sort of person I knew in Idaho and Arizona thirty
- -ERB letter to Maurice B. Gardner, Sept. 12, 1924
I was much interested
in your letter of October 11. You may rest assured that I do not want to
get Tarzan into politics. If you will analize the story to which you take
exception, you will discover that my star villain is not a good Red, but
an ambitious criminal whose purpose is to use the backing of the USSR to
achieve his own selfish ends.
You will also appreciate that
I must have a villain, and inasmuch as the Soviet government does not protect
my rights in Russia and permits the pirating of my books without royalty
payment to me, I might as well hop onto Russia as anyone else because the
sale of my books in that country brings me no income.
--- ERB letter to Lester Anderson October 14, 1933
The surface of
Mars was formerly physically identical with the earth, and, as similar
conditions doubtless still prevail on both planets, there is no reason
to question a like evolutionary development of fauna from identical life
spores. Clouds, winds, snow and marshes that astronomers have discovered
on Mars indicate an atmosphere. Vast reclamation schemes by means of intermediate
aqueducts presuppose that there are rational inhabitants high``ly developed
in engineering and agriculture, and naturally suggest further considerable
The enormous waste spaces on
the planet, combined with our knowledge of human nature, postulate nomadic,
war-like, predatory border tribes. The constant battle for survival has
rendered the Martian merciless almost to cruelty, and ages of military
service against the apaches of the Martian deserts have made him loyal,
just, fearless, and self-reliant. I visualize the Martian of the dominant
race in Mars as distinctly of human type, with strong features and intelligent
expression, a large chest and slightly less pronounced muscular development
than ours, owing to the rarer air and lower force of gravity on Mars. The
Martian might fairly resemble the intellectual spiritual composite of Spencer,
Caesar, de Lesseps, and Geronimo.
So many people have written that I was a failure in
business before I began writing that most people take it for granted the
statement's true. Contrary to public belief I never was fired from a job.
If Sears, Roebuck & Co. records go back far enough, I'll bet they show
I was a good departmental manager for them.
--ERB Chicago Daily Times, 1939
I work just the same as any manufacturer . Sometimes
I get disgusted with myself. When you've written a book about a character
and told all yo can about him and then have to write about twenty more
it gets to be a chore. I'd rather write along different lines... historical
novels, for instance, but I've been typed! ... I guess I've always wished
I could do the things Tarzan does, but now it's to late in life....
--ERB Honolulu Advertiser, 1940
The less I know about a thing the better I can write
about it. -- ERB
Somewhere along the line I went to Idaho and punched
cows. I greatly enjoyed that experience, as there were no bathtubs in Idaho
at that time. I recall having gone as long as three weeks when on a round-up
without taking off my boots and stetson. I wore Mexican spurs inlaid with
silver; they had enormous rowels and were equipped with dumbbells. When
I walked across a floor, rowels dragged behind and the dumbbells clattered;
you could have heard me coming for a city block. Boy! was I proud!
After leaving Orchard Lake
(Michigan Military Academy), I enlisted in the 7th U.S. Cavalry and was
sent to Fort Grant, Arizona, where I chased Apaches, but never caught up
with them. After that, some more cow punching; a storekeeper in Pocatello,
Idaho; a policeman in Salt Lake City; gold mining in Idaho and Oregon;
various clerical jobs in Chicago; department manager for Sears, Roebuck
& Co.; and, finally, Tarzan of the Apes.
Rice Burroughs Still Lives
--ERB in an Autobiographic Note in Amazing Stories, June, 1941
On March 19, 1950, alone in his home after reading the
Sunday comics in bed, Edgar Rice Burroughs died. By then he had written
ninety-one novels, twenty-six of which were about Tarzan. The man whose
books have sold hundreds of millions of copies in over thirty languages
once said "I write to escape ... to escape poverty".
the Author of Tarzan -- Glenn B. Gravatt Writerís Monthly, December, 1926
An Interview with Edgar Rice Burroughs In Which He Frankly Discusses His
Methods and Gives Sound Advice
Isnít Dead by Oliver Poole Writersí Markets and Methods, March, 1938 --
An interview with the author of Tarzan.
to The Red Book Magazine, July 27, 1927
to Blue Book Magazine, June 13, 1930
to Collierís The National Weekly, June 30, 1930
is Fictionís Purpose, Writerís Digest, June 1930
of Adventure, Richard Lupoff
BILL HILLMAN .
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