Page images


By Arnold Patrick


AMONG many other books, Peter

B. Kyne is the author of "The Go-Getter", a short story which has been used by organizations both business and social across the country as a gospel of salesmanship and success. If Mr. Kyne occasionally becomes bored or amused by being considered the fountainhead of wisdom in matters of personal efficiency, if he is staggered when he finds himself the patron saint of "Go-Getter" Clubs and aspiring young clerks, he has only his personality to blame. He is that individual, not so rare in the United States, a successful Irish-American. He takes his own abilities and those of his countrymen seriously up to a certain point, then he is saved from Dr. Frank Cranism by his ready and virile humor. These two qualities — a worship of success and an ability to laugh - brought brought to bear upon American life, backed up by experience as soldier, lumber salesman, storekeeper, traveler, make his stories important to the masses. Nor does he overlook the importance of the masses to him. The creator of Cappy Ricks, the author of "The Enchanted Hill", "The Pride of Palomar", "Never the Twain Shall Meet", believes in his public and the debt he owes it. He is self educated for the most part, and he believes in self education. He has given this public of his what it desires and he intends to go on doing so. I have seldom encountered a writer so articulate in analyzing his own methods as this grey eyed, romantic yarn spin

[ocr errors]

ner. He loves to tell or to write a story, and he dramatizes life, his friends, himself, in a manner authentically and charmingly Celtic.

"When an editor buys a story from me for a good price, he expects it to help his circulation. If I give him a product which is some abstruse expression of myself, and not a good story or a serial with as much pull as I can give it, I'm not an honest business man. If a stocking manufacturer sells an inferior product, he is soon called to account. Why should it be different with writers? The construction of a serial is definitely a technical job. It must be planned so as to give the editor a long first instalment, several shorter ones for the middle part, and a fairly lengthy final section. Each of these must have its punch, and its holdover quality, or it will not bring circulation to a magazine. I'd rather destroy twenty five thousand words of a story than fail an editor on a first instalment. That faith to him, and through him to the public, seems more important to me than all this talk about art. What's a definition of art, anyway? Here's one definition

[ocr errors]

And Mr. Kyne settled back to tell a story. It seems that a friend of his youth, a small-town tradesman who had allowed himself to take on the marks of success at the waistband, one day encountered the author on the street. He had just come from seeing a film version of one of the Kyne romances. His eyes were brimming with tears. tears. "It's great, Peter, great! I

congratulate you. It's art, Peter, art!" ("Well, it wasn't, you know", Mr. Kyne confided. "They had made the most awful sentimental bunk out of it, all sob stuff.")

"Come now", said Mr. Kyne to the melted but content representative of the bourgeoisie. "What do you know about art?"

"I know all about art, Peter", was the reply, as with a stout finger the gentleman indicated the central portion of his abdomen. "When a thing gets me here, Peter, it's art."

"If he'd been a little more highbrow he'd have gestured to his heart - but he wasn't far from right", said Peter B. Kyne.

Like most other members of the "six figure" group of writers, Mr. Kyne did not spring full armored into fiction, but had stirrings of imaginative impulses as a lad. He was born in California in 1880, of farmer stock, with the chores and the delights of a farmer's boy. In the small country school taught by his cousin, now principal of a large school on the west coast, spelling was more important than in these days of advanced education; spelling bees were still in vogue. But the exercise which appealed most to young Peter was the using of all the spelling words of the week to form a "composition" on Fridays. Peter, one week, had asked if he might write his in the form of a story, and had received an affirmative reply. He gave his imagination full sweep. It chanced that the visiting member of the county school board arrived. Would he stay to hear the compositions read? He would. Small Peter was filled with anticipatory thrills. He was sent home on horseback - for that was how the farmer boys went to school in those days to fetch a hot dinner for the educational dignitary. This he carried back precariously but success

fully; and the worthy gentleman, content after a comforting meal, listened to a score of childish flights. When Peter had finished reading he called him forward solemnly. "Peter," he said, "whatever else you may do in life, if you become a writer, you'll be successful!"

"Strange", said Mr. Kyne, "what a small thing will turn a boy's head in a given direction. The man was probably no prophet; but he was the fire that lit the tinder."

Farm life was dull for a young man who had visions of adventure and literary prowess. Peter Kyne turned his efforts to business, and finally became clerk in the modest country store, where he worked for twenty dollars a month from 6 A. M. to 8 P. M. Here came the ladies to buy and their husbands to buy, and both to chat. Herwere whispered or shouted all the scane dals of the community, and to Peter came the wily proprietor of the local newspaper with a request for news. This was the aspiring writer's golden opportunity. He seized it, and for no remuneration sent in notes which soon grew into a column. However, the affairs of a small community rapidly lost novelty for a vivid Celtic imagination. War was declared on Spain, and Peter, lying about his age, entered the army at seventeen.

"It wasn't a question of patriotism", Mr. Kyne explained. "I wasn't foolish enough to think that we couldn't lick Spain without my personal assistance. It was simply an escape.

[ocr errors]

However, he admits that his soldiering as a captain of artillery during the late war had nobler motivation.

"The proprietor of the paper had asked me to write him, so I did. He published it with the line, 'From our Special Correspondent'. He also went to my family and secured from them

the letters I wrote two and three times a week to my mother. He published them all."

Then it was that Mr. Kyne first became a circulation builder, for the little paper prospered on the fruits of the youthful soldier's experience. Yet the only tangible result was the boosting of family pride. After the war, a six months' course in business college prepared him for work, first in a wholesale provision house, later in the wholesale lumber and shipping business. It was in the latter that he met the characters which were to give him the material for "Cappy Ricks".

"I don't often write a 'Cappy Ricks' story now, unless I get an idea for a particularly good one", he confided to me. "The old man must certainly be getting on in years. He's served me for a long time!"

Various business efforts, not too successful, culminated in an attempt to function as a lumber broker in California Street, San Francisco. In that venture Mr. Kyne lost everything. After a serious attack of pneumonia he turned to his old ambition and, propped up in bed, wrote a story which he sent to a syndicate starting a morning newspaper in San Francisco. They gave him a job, and he was able to pay the doctors and nurses. Presently he sent a story, "A Little Matter of Salvage", to George Horace Lorimer of "The Saturday Evening Post". Mr. Lorimer liked it, but took the precaution of writing to a friend in San Francisco to find out if the background detail was correct. Assured of Kyne's information and honesty, he paid $250 for it.

"We had paid the office rent, but not the stenographers that week", Mr. Kyne told me. "So when I opened the long envelope and the boys saw the check, they turned it over for me to

sign, went across the street and cashed it, and we paid the young ladies."

He wrote several more stories and sold them. On the strength of that, and of his job as a reporter, he married. Immediately he lost his job. Nothing daunted, he wrote an 8,000 word humorous sea story which he sold for $200 to the "Sunset Magazine". After this he did a series of ten sea stories built around his original characters, and from then on his career as an author was without serious interruption or financial worry.

I had always heard that the first characteristic of Kyne's method was the almost incredible swiftness with which he wrote. Ray Long of "Cosmopolitan" tells a story of the time when he was editing "The Red Book" which corroborates this fact. Kyne, in response to a telegram, arrived in Chicago from a San Francisco train on one of the hottest summer days of a warm year.

He demanded a typewriter, sat down, and by six o'clock that night had finished one of his best stories, "Hassayampa Jim". He often writes from six to ten hours at a stretch, occasionally for twelve. In this respect his method is similar to Zane Grey's and different from Joseph Lincoln's. Twice, he says, he has written over 13,000 words in twelve hours, the results being "The Three Godfathers" and "The Go-Getter”. Nor in these cases did he rewrite the copy. Not one of his many short stories has taken him more than two days to write, or more than two sessions at the typewriter. His first novel was completed in thirty three days. Although the actual production of a novel may stretch over a period of six or eight months, he considers thirty five days the average amount of actual time he puts on each.

This speed of production is largely due to the fact that Kyne spends so

« PreviousContinue »