November 30th, 2007

writing literature vonnegut asshole

(no subject)

WGA strike update: There are offers on the table. Whether anybody likes either of them remains to be seen.

Also, David Letterman gets points for being one of the good guys.

As does the Office's Steve Carrel, who I am informed via the internets "informed NBC he is unable to report to work because he is
suffering from 'enlarged balls.'"

And now to the batcave gym, Robin!
writing one-eyed jack

Well, I don't know what I am going to stack up against today. I am getting tired of it all.

So I have some quibbles with the biography of Doc Holliday I'm reading now (and more on those when I do the book report), but it just earned its keep.

As a writer, I find that when I'm working with a historical person, there comes a moment when one tiny detail, one little anecdote, makes them snap into reality for me. Pop. The telling detail. The perfect thing. Bang, the person makes sense, and I know them, and I can write them properly.

I've had a hard time finding one of those for Doc. He's so mythologized, and we have so little of himself in his own words, that it's hard to get a handle on him. He's contradictory, elusive, sharp-edged. Loyal to his friends, terrible to his enemies, soft-spoken until he's as foul-mouthed as a cat, kind to women and children, and a right bastard when in his cups. Maybe a bit bipolar, to apply a modern buzzword.

Anyway, in the midst of a discussion of how Doc's friends and enemies in Tombstone viewed him, there's a passage on his relationship with the town's children, with quotes from a few people who apparently viewed him with great fondness as kids, bringing us to this line:

[Billy] Hattich said that Doc was friendly, generous, soft-spoken, and a favorite with the town's kids because he always carried candy in his pocket.  (Gary L. Roberts, Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend, p 160)

And my first thought is, aw. That's kind of revealing, right there.

And then my second thought is, well of course.

...horehound.

ow.
writing gorey earbrass unspeakable horro

You son-of-a-bitch, if you ain't heeled, go and heel yourself.

Book Report #81: Gary L. Roberts, Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend

Wow. I have some mixed emotions about this book. On the one hand, it's solidly researched, chock full of detail, footnoted to within an inch of its life, fat with primary-source quotations, and much of a usefullness.

On the other, it's oddly schizophrenic. Which is somehow appropriate for a biography of Doc, who has been both hagiographized and villainized. legended and undermined over the years, with the changing fashions of the day. 

In the first third of the book, Roberts seems eager to find ways to reinforce the legend of Doc as gunslinger and bad man, rummaging newspaper reports for shreds of support for some of the legendary stories of Doc's murderous exploits. When the scene turns to Tombstone, though, his primary interest evolves, and at that point, he begins constructing a case for Wyatt Earp's blamelessness and "political naivete" that I find a little hard to swallow, laying the cause of the whole cow-boy/law-and-order meltdown squarely at Doc's door while maintaining that the Earp brothers enjoyed unrelieved popularity among the townsfolk before that nasty business on Fremont Street.

But then, in the final act, Roberts becomes unabashedly partisan for Doc, constructing a narrative of his time in Colorado that leaves him innocent in all particulars of any scrapes in Denver or Leadville.

Also, Roberts has an unpleasant biographical habit of presenting speculation as fact. A few instances of the phrase "may have" would have saved him a lot of sporking as I read.

How odd. And I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

Still and all, a very useful book, presenting a much more coherent and in-depth narrative than the Tanner previously reviewed.

And it does present a fabulously contradictory picture of a man who I actually find pretty consistent in his behavior, when the legendry is boiled off the bones. And maybe I can sum up what you need to know about John Henry Holliday in a couple of quotations. Which is to say, he wasn't the ruthless gunslinger and blackguard of legend; nor was he merely Wyatt Earp's loyal dogsbody.


An old friend, Lee Smith, said of him in the Atlanta Post-Appeal of July 8, 1882--decrying the mythmaking and inflated body count even as he worked to expand the myth himself: 

"[Holliday] will be credited with the killing
of every man in that section so long as he lives there,
who dies from being shot down with a shot-gun."


The irony of Roberts quoting that line when he engages in a bit of just that his own self is interesting, indeed.

And yet, as Holliday himself is supposed to have said to Johnny Ringo in Tombstone in October of 1881:

"All I want of you is ten paces out in the street."


Oh, yeah, and the huckleberry thing? Some sources report Doc saying exactly that, although under slightly different circumstances, and with a coda. *g*

("I'm your huckleberry. That's just my game.")