Saturday, 16 December 2006

chester himes

I read two Chester Himes crime novels recently, A Rage in Harlem and The Real Cool Killers; they were okay, but not good enough to make me want to read the third book in the omnibus edition I had (The Harlem Cycle Vol 1 - Payback Press, a Canongate imprint, although the only time Canongate's name appears, on the info page, it's got an extra 'n' in the obvious place).

The most interesting thing in it was this, in the introduction by Melvin van Peebles, who had interviewed him as a journalist when they were both living in Paris (and whose name is bigger on the cover than Chester Himes's):

He pointed to the two neat piles on either side of the typewriter and explained that before he started one of his 'detective stories', or 'action novels' as he insisted on calling them, he would count out 220 pieces of carbon paper and 440 pieces of typing paper. He would then place a sheet of carbon paper between every two sheets of typing paper so that way he would have an original and a copy of each page that he completed. He would then put the untouched pile on the right hand side of his typewriter and begin to bang away. After he finished typing a page he would put it face down on the pile at his left.
'What's the significance of 220 pages?', I asked, fascinated. 'Are you into numerology or something?'
'Numerology my ass,' Chester laughed. He explained that his contract with the publisher required that he deliver a manuscript of at least 220 pages. 'When the pile on the right hand side begins to get low I know it's time to start winding the story up.'

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