If you get stuck, just write like Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy

I’m not sure how I came to know the writings of Pulitzer Prize winner, Cormac McCarthy.

I’ve searched my memory banks, to the extent I still have any, and the best I can decipher I first read either Suttree or Blood Meridian. My best guess is that it was Blood Meridian because it came out in 1985, and I remember discussing it about that time with my next door neighbor who was a McCarthy fan. I think I also read Child of God in the mid 1980s.

I give you this background to point out that I read McCarthy prior to his more recent works such as All The Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men. I loved the movie made from No Country though. As is my practice, when I find an author I love, I buy his books here and there, now and then, and ferret them away, not knowing if I will ever read them, but warmed by their presence.

Enough background on my history with McCarthy.

No Country for Old MenThis occasional series focuses on the styles of great writers with a view toward encouraging authors to learn from their work and apply the lessons to their own work. To this end, I use the words of the authors themselves. Today, let’s look at the first paragraph of No Country for Old Men.


I sent one boy to the gas chamber at Huntsville.  One and only one.  My arrest and my testimony.  I went up there and visited with him two or three times.  Three times.  The last time was the day of his execution.  I didnt have to go but I did.  I sure didnt want to. He’d killed a fourteen year old girl and I can tell you right now I never did have no great desire to visit with him let alone go to his execution but I done it.  The papers said it was a crime of passion and he told me there wasnt no passion to it.  He’d been datin this girl, young as she was.  He was nineteen.  And he told me that he had been plannin to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out he’d do it again. Said he knew he was goin to hell.  Told it to me out of his own mouth.  I don’t know what to  make of that.  Surely dont.  I thought I’d never seen a person like that and it got me to wonderin if maybe he was some new kind.  I watched them strap him into the seat and shut the door.  He might of looked a bit nervous about it but that was about all.  I really believe that he knew he was goin to be in hell in fifteen minutes.  I believe that.  And I’ve thought about it a lot.  He was hard not to talk to.  Called me Sheriff.  But I didnt know what to say to him.  What do you say to a man that by his own admission has no soul? Why should you say anything?  I’ve thought about it a good deal. But he wasnt nothin compared to what was comin down the pike.

Tell me if I’m wrong, but after that intro, I suspect what was comin down the pike was one bad motor scooter, as we say in East Texas.

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  • I have no idea how anyone could read that intro and not wish to read the story. I surely couldn’t. McCarthy is stunningly good. I hope that just a tiny bit of him has rubbed off on my own writing…a lofty wish…I realize.

    • Steven Wayne, it would be hard to find a better writer than Cormac to emulate. I loved this intro and felt the same as you.

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