What I Am Reading – Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins writes a lot. He writes a ton of movie/tv tie-ins. He writes about hit men (see his Quarry novels). He writes a lot of Mickey Spillane (what do you call it when an author completes the unfinished work of a deceased legend?). He writes graphic novels (Road to Perdition…of Tom Hanks fame). Probably massive amount of other stuff, that I am forgetting. What I always turn to MAC for, however, is his Nate Heller books.

Heller is a PI that somehow finds himself involved in nearly every high-profile “crime” case in the 20th century. I’ve read cases involving Chicago gangsters, the Roswell incident, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, Marilyn Monroe’s death, and, now, the Black Dahlia case. I haven’t read all of the series, and I certainly haven’t read them in order, but visiting with Nate is nearly alway a good time.

Of course, this encounter with Nate was spurred on by my recent watching of I Am the Night. I’ve also ready Jame Ellroy’s Black Dahlia a couple of times, and have seen the movie based on it. Point being, this particular case isn’t new ground for me (or most anyone). Still MAC’s take on it is original and very readable. It does deal with the standard uncomfortable material, but some doesn’t come off completely weirdo.  And, as far as I know MAC’s whodunnit is a completely original proposition. (Which I will not spoil).

I never really know where the historical stops and the fictional picks up in a Heller book, and this one was no different.  I think that is a good sign for an historical fiction writer.

If you have any interest at all in Historical Mysteries or P.I. fiction, you should give this series a look:

http://www.maxallancollins.com/books/

By the way, in the Longarm post I mentioned that I had scored a handful of Harry Whittington penned Longarms. I’ve made it through the first one Whittington wrote, and it was just great, pure pulp fun. I’d even go so far to say that the Larry Flint material was light for a Longarm… which is okay by me!

–TD

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Influence

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This is going to be one of those typical, rambling, Tony’s been drinking the Faulkner Kool-aid again posts.

Last post I mentioned James Lee Burke as my literary hero. Oddly, I don’t really see much influence in my work. That comes with the caveat, that I don’t consciously set about writing like Burke or MacDonald or Spillane or Parker or whoever.

But reflecting on some of my creation, I am able to see some of the fingerprints, and as much as I’d love to write as rich and deep as Burke does about his setting, it just doesn’t seem to be in my toolbox yet. (Writing deep about setting is something that I set about, and I’m pretty happy with… I’m just not a master).  But leaving Burke behind for a moment…

John D. MacDonald is my favorite author, and I love his Travis McGee series. Having grown up in Florida, finding the beach-bum salvage consultant whose adventures occurred in familiar locales was a joy to my teen-aged self.  He was a bit of a loner (save his chats with Meyer and his many escapades with the fairer sex), who lived a pretty spartan existence upon his houseboat.  It’s impossible not to admit that some of this seeped into Fuzzy Koella.

But there’s another P.I. with whom Fuzzy shares more genetic code — Jim Rockford of the TV’s Rockford Files.  Rockford, too, is an offspring of McGee (acknowledged by the creators)… Rockford isn’t in the houseboat, though. He’s in some, probably non-compliant, trailer out by the Pier. Fuzzy’s in a renovated maintenance shed at the marina.  Ok, so they’re all beach bums… but McGee handles himself just a little (lot) better than Rockford and Koella.  Where McGee often gest the best of his foes when it comes time for bare knuckles, both Rockford and Fuzzy are, well, sort of bumbling fools and often end up getting their ass kicked. Hell, Rockford rarely carried a gun…when Fuzzy does he’s more likely to end up losing it in the fracas.

I didn’t set out to write “my” Rockford, but I’ve watched all the episodes. I’ve read all of the McGees multiple times. It’s impossible that some of the influence would not seep into my stories, unless I actively guarded against it. And why would I want to do that?  I love those stories.

There’s another popular P.I. whose shadows can be seen filtering into my stories.  Again, I’ve read all of the Spenser’s. I didn’t really see the influence (other than, yes, we both write/wrote P.I. stories) until my father referred to Jimmy Alou as the Hawk character.  “The sidekick with the gun.”

I’m gonna go all Harold Bloom, and suggest that influence goes back much further and is inescapable. Bloom somewhat controversially suggests that all Western literature can filed into one of two camps. Cervantes. Shakespeare. I tend to agree with him, though I think there is more cross pollination of the silos than he seems to suggest.

So, while Fuzzy Koella is IMO of the Shakespearean school, a mostly “lone wolf” internal looking character, the Fuzzy/Jimmy relationship is very much a result of the Cervantes literary tradition… they are Quixote and Pancho.  Spenser and Hawk are as well (though I’m not sure Spenser is quite as easily identifiable as Quixotic).

Anyway, not that I’m claiming I’m on par with Cervantes (and yes I’ve read Don Quixote in its entirety — I recommend it) or Shakespeare, but it is an interesting reflection to me. Robert B. Parker started his famous Spenser series very much as a throwback to Chandler/Marlowe and by extension Shakespeare, but when Hawk strode into the series there was a  noticeable pivot. I think, nowadays, most writers draw on both schools throughout their stories (as I do, without really realizing it), but to my mind Spenser hopped in the Cervantes silo when Hawk came along and the series never again was Chandler-esque. Parker left Shakespeare behind until he was approved to write some Marlowe novels by the Chandler estate.

Wow. You can’t say I didn’t warn you!  Of course, none of that Cervantes/Shakespeare stuff touched on the sidekick with a gun…which is a trope of the P.I./detective sub-genre (Spenser/Hawk, Dave/Clete, Cole/Pike, Easy/Mouse).  I read a lot of P.I. fiction. The only reason I don’t read as much of it as the most hardcore Romance reader reads her/his favorite genre is because there simply isn’t as much of it. The point being I crap out those tropes and the structure without even thinking about it. I’ll leave that up to the reader whether that is a good thing or not. I’ll just continue to follow Fuzzy around, and watch him stumble into danger with or without Jimmy along.  Until, of course, Fuzzy’s told me all the tales he needs told…

–TD

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James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke is my favorite living writer (and he is a writer…he continues to write into his 80s). He’s also my literary hero. Those two things aren’t necessarily inclusive, but  for me Burke is both things.

The hero part comes from his persistence in getting his novel The Lost Get Back Boogie published. Burke was published in his twenties and met with some critical acclaim for his literary novels. Then, he went nearly a decade without being published. Boogie was rejected over 100 times by editors before finding a home with LSU Press. It went one to be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.  His next novel was The Neon Rain, a literary detective novel which paved the way for his best-selling career. He’s also my hero for being a “literary” genre writer. He is without any doubt in my mind the greatest living  American writer of prose. Seriously, I’d put his craft up against Pynchon, DeLillo, Morrison and McCarthy any day. Burke comes out on top in this reader’s mind.

In today’s environment of ghostwriting and collaborative, Patterson-esque writing, it would be easy to conclude that 80+ year old Burke may go down that path. But only if you have never read his work. His voice (see yesterday’s post) is so compelling, so unique that it simply cannot be replicated.

No, we will know when Burke has stopped writing. Unfortunately, it will be when he has passed.

There are plenty of reasons that he is my favorite writer that has nothing to do with him being my hero, though.

He writes vividly of setting. (One of those settings being lush, south Louisiana)

His characters are colorful, larger than life beings.

He writes unapologetically of the violent tendencies of man. And he does so in a way that makes you realize that the violence victimizes the inflictor as much as the victim.

His explorations of evil are downright Biblical.

He believably covers themes of the struggles of the poverty stricken in the face of greed.

He does all of the above in the mystery/crime genre framework.

 

April Writing Stats

April 1 – 1038

April 2 – 1072

Total – 2110 words