How writers channel their lives to their work

“Most fiction is shaped by geography and permeated by autobiography, even when it is trying not to be,” Ross MacDonald (Kenneth Millar), in the introduction to Archer in Jeopardy, a 1979 omnibus of three Lew Archer novels, published in 1979.

There’s an old saying you should “write what you know.” But, for many fiction writers, it goes beyond that.

Writers, whether they intend to or not, show what is going on with their lives.

Take, for example, the James Bond novels and short stories by Ian Fleming. “The early novels have an engaging style that concentrates on mood, character development, and plot advancement,” Raymond Benson wrote in The James Bond Bedside Companion. “In the later novels, Fleming injected more ‘pizzazz’ into his writing.”

Toward the end of his run, Fleming had other issues. In April 1961, the author suffered a major heart attack, according to the Ian Fleming Publications website. Fleming stories written after that time reflect a fascination with death, especially the 1964 novel You Only Live Twice.

Nor was Fleming alone. Paddy Chayefsky had a dark outlook about humanity. Characters played by James Garner in The Americanization of Emily, George C. Scott in The Hospital and William Holden in Network are, in effect, alter egos for Chayefsky.

This post began with a quote from Kenneth Miller, aka Ross Macdonald. His Lew Archer often probed troubled families to solve a mystery. Miller himself channeled his own troubled life when writing his Lew Archer stories.

Writing fiction is hard. Doing it well takes talent and effort. Even though who do it well may not be able to make a sale.

Regardless, the authors tell more about themselves than they perhaps intend. As Kenneth Millar observed most fiction “is permeated by autography.”

1964: Flint before there was Flint

Publicity still from The Americanization of Emily (1964)

Publicity still from The Americanization of Emily (1964)

Fifty-one years ago, James Coburn played a suave, womanizing character.

However, it wasn’t Derek Flint from Our Man Flint. That film wouldn’t be released until January 1966. Rather, it was a publicity still for The Americanization of Emily, which came out in 1964.

The ’64 movie was a light movie that took on heavy topics, thanks to screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. James Garner and Julie Andrews were the leads but Coburn made a big impression in a secondary role.

In the publicity still for the movie, Coburn evokes the Flint character he’d soon portray. Take a look for yourself.