Friday, November 5, 2010

Mark Twain and the Topic of Weather

Recently, my friend and Abingdon author Rita Gerlach (Surrender the Wind) introduced me to a little known book by Mark Twain titled The American Claimant published in 1892. The only parts I’ve read so far are the prologue and his appendix, and I must confess, they are the most innovative I've ever read.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Editors tell you to never write a prologue. That’s because most authors use them as a back story dump, and most people don't read them. If you can write a prologue like Twain’s, have at it.

In this post, I’ll kill two birds with one stone—yes, a cliché I know—but quite apropos in this circumstance. Editors also tell you to never start a novel describing the weather. Who cares if giant raindrops reflect back your tears?

And an appendix is usually unnecessary in fiction. But I didn’t realize that Mark Twain felt as vehement about the topic of weather as I learned in his prologue. This is unusual, but I want you to read the whole thing. I needed a laugh this morning.

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No weather will be found in this book. This is an attempt to pull a book through without weather. It being the first attempt of the kind in fictitious literature it may prove a failure, but it seemed worth the while of some dare-devil person to try it, and the author was in just the mood.

Many a reader who wanted to read a tale through was not able to do it because of delays on account of the weather. Nothing breaks up an author’s progress like having to stop every few pages to fuss-up the weather. Thus it is plain that persistent intrusions of weather are bad for both reader and author.

Of course weather is necessary to a narrative of human experience. That is conceded. But it ought to be put where it will not be in the way; where it will not interrupt the flow of the narrative. And it ought to be the ablest weather that can be had, not ignorant poor-quality, amateur weather. Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article of it. The present author can do only a few trifling ordinary kinds of weather, and he cannot do those very good. So it has seemed wisest to borrow such weather as is necessary for the book from qualified and recognized experts—giving credit, of course. This weather will be found over in the back part of the book, out of the way. See Appendix. The reader is requested to turn over and help himself from time to time as he goes along.
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How clever! How wry! How sardonic! Mark Twain in all his glory. In the Appendix to The American Claimant he offers the reader “Weather for Use in This Book.” Evidently, writing about weather was a problem in his era too.

Did I ever tell you that my paternal grandmother was his second cousin? Yep, Missourians all.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone! (And yes, I know the exclamation point police are on their way. I just heard the sirens.)
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This is day #19 in our 30-day Prayer Challenge for the Christian book industry. Please share your prayers and thoughts with us in the comment section below.


  1. Wonder what the word count is for weather alone in that? Too funny.

    What a cool ancestry to be able to claim.

    Still praying for the industry.
    ~ Wendy

  2. We had a good laugh reading this at the dinner table, didn't we, Barbara? I love Mark Twain, and his appendix to the weather at the end of the book is as equally hilarious to read as his prologue. It shows that in his time weather prose was quite wordy and flowery. In fiction weather can set the mood of a scene, but it must be used with a deft hand.

    For anyone who wants to read The American Claimant here is a link.

  3. Thanks, Rita, for the link to the work online. I clicked over and checked the appendix. Twain has several weather quotes, including one from Genesis. Heehee! Find it here:

  4. Love Twain, love especially his later works, including this one (and The Mysterious Stranger). Thanks for sharing this, Barbara. I laughed, then I looked out the window to check on the weather.

  5. Wow! You're related to Mark Twain? Even a distant relationship with him is something worth bragging about. Does that family history have anything to do with why you got into this field?