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

person standing with windmill background

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

 

 

 

 

Voice

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Of all the elements of writing (fiction), the one which I hold highest is Voice. Maybe your characters are two dimension cut-outs or your plot is like a train rolling down the tracks or maybe your setting is paint by numbers… if the voice is compelling you’ve got me.

It shows up in the characters…it shows up in the author. And there isn’t much anything you can do to build it in my opinion.  Which comes across as “either you got it or you don’t.”

Talent.

I’m not sure that’s the case. I’m sure some authors’ voices appeal more to my taste. Some, dear reader, appeal more to your taste. But I think more than anything else in writing, your voice is like fingerprints… we all have a voice.  The trick is to use it. Believe in it. And protect the hell out of it. And if your voice doesn’t appeal to every reader. Amen.

When I write a thousand words in an hour without any thought of where it’s going just listening to the characters and tapping away at the keys, and then cycle back and see there’s only some typos to touch up, maybe a little extra depth, etc, but damn this is pretty good!  That isn’t a random act of fate (okay, maybe it is)… it isn’t a  mistake.  It isn’t the 9-iron you blade thin from 140 yards out that rolls up and tucks in next to flagstick. It’s the power of Voice, without the shackles of critical writing…free of re-writing and style manuals.  It is the artist. It is me.

If I leave well enough alone…

 

April Writing Stats

April 1 —  1,038 words

What I Am Watching – I Am the Night

Last week, I binge watched the TNT mini-series I Am the Night. The fact that I binge watched it, probably tells you that I enjoyed it.

<Possible Spoilers>

The Black Dahlia connection was what got me to the couch, but it isn’t what kept me there. After all, there have been plenty of Dahlia stories over the years. I Am the Night shares the downright creepiness of all of the Dahlia stories, but it’s really where it departs from the typical Dahlia telling that it shines.

You see, the Black Dahlia is only flimsily connected to this story. In fact, if you haven’t heard the name George Hodel before and you come at the series without any of the hype, you may not catch on to a Dahlia connection until late in episode 2 or maybe episode 3 (I don’t recall).

This is really the story of Fauna Hodel, and her search for answers to her mysterious origins. And let me tell you, those mysterious origins are almost as creepy as anything else you heard about the Dahlia case.

The acting is strong.

It’s a period piece. I like period pieces.  The fact that it is set in the 60’s and not the 40’s is one of those departures I mention above.

It’s attached to a historical unsolved crime.

Those are all reasons I loved the show.  But my recommendation comes with a caveat… if any of these things bother you to a point you can’t enjoy a story, think twice.

Inter-racial relations.  Incest. Mutilation. Queasy sex.

It’s a very uncomfortable story, but it is fascinating and you will be rooting for Fauna by the end.

— TD

If you need a reprieve from the darkness, my books about corrupt NCAA recruiting schemes and a murdered nun with a shady past pale by comparison.

Universal links:

Everything is Broken

and

North County Girl

 

What I am Reading – Longarm

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Yes, I read Adult Action Westerns (blush). For those that don’t know, the Adult signifies that there are typically two or three scenes per book that would make Larry Flynt blush. Yes, it’s formulaic. And they usually have very little to do with the story. And for this reader they are uncomfortable to get through.  But…

These are the modern day equivalent of the Pulp Western. The action part of the books is fun. They can pretty pretty easily be read in a single night (they’re usually 40-50k words). And in the right hands, the storytelling is strong.

The traditional publishing companies dropped all the Adult Action Westerns several years ago, at the same time they all but finished publishing Westerns in general. Longarm was one of the most popular of the lines. It followed the adventures of U.S. Marshall Custis “Longarm” Long over approximately 400 novels…all written under the Tabor Evans, pseudonym.  Because, they are written by many authors (and more often than not, it’s impossible to discern who the writer is), the quality can be uneven.  But one of my favorite modern pulp yarn spinners, James Reasoner, has written a great many of them, and I have set about collecting those.

For those who aren’t aware of Reasoner, he, by his own count, has written over a million words a year, 14 years running.  As a result of this productivity, he has has had over 300 of his novels published during his career. Many, like Longarm, under an imprint’s pen name. As you might (or should) expect, that much practice has made Reasoner a very skilled storyteller.

The book I just completed, Longarm and the Border Wildcat (#229), was no exception. Longarm is assigned to the Texas border town Del Rio to essentially as body guard to U.S and Mexico diplomats meeting there to agree on border disputes.  Longarm is partnered with a Texas Ranger, who is all Texan. Of course, all hell breaks loose when a group of outlaws raid the town from south of the border.  And I won’t spoil any more of it, other than to say it’s one of the better ones I’ve read in the genre (certainly the series), and that Longarm’s “relations” do have a bearing on this story…so grin and bear it and read the “50 shades”-stuff.

Side note – 50’s crime paperback legend Harry Whittington wrote a handful of Longarms early in the run. I lucked out and found a few of these collectibles at a reasonable price on eBay, and they are on their way.  I look forward to reading to see how they stand up to the Reasoner entries.  Lou Cameron penned Longarms are generally pretty good as well.

— TD

More Sugarman

A little more on Sixto Rodriguez. I was fortunate enough to see him (front row, center) about five years ago with one of my oldest friends.  It was a fantastic experience. The positivity that emanated from him was contagious. Many of his songs are not exactly shiny/happy songs, but he delivered them with joy. He was a man, who truly loved his art and performing for his listeners.

I often think about that…love my art and sharing with readers.  That is what it’s all about.  The purpose = entertain myself and (hopefully) others.

— TD

 

 

Searching for… Discouragement

I’ve seen a lot and heard a lot about artists getting discouraged over the last couple of weeks.

It reminded me of something I took away from the film Searching for Sugarman.

<Possible spoilers to follow>

This documentary on the surface tells of one South African man’s search for the truth about South African pop icon, Sixto Rodriguez, a late sixties American musician who released two albums that nobody listened to in the States.  In South Africa, though, somehow those albums arrived in country during apartheid, and Rodriguez became the “voice of a generation.”  Bigger than Elvis.  Part of the allure was the urban legend, that Sixto, so depressed over his lack of success, committed suicide on stage at his last concert.  (In this day and age, the legend would be de-bunked before it was told to the second person.) Of course, the narrator discovers the error of this legend, and locates Rodriguez living very humbly in his hometown, Detroit.  A South African tour is planned and Rodriguez performs to sell-out crowds of 30,000 +.

It is fascinating and unbelievable and the kind of story you would call Disney out on… and it’s evidently (mostly) true.  And Sixto Rodriguez is a musical genius. I still remember the first time I played Cold Fact for my brother, Dennis. He nearly fell off his chair, he was so blown away.  It was one of the few times where our musical tastes aligned.

Dennis’ favorite Rodriquez tune:

As fascinating and uplifting as the film is.  One thing is left unsaid.  For something like thirty years, there was no new Rodriguez music. Actually longer, because even though his obscurity has faded away, we are still left with only those two masterpieces. It may be that Rodriguez continued writing music and playing… though it’s pretty much portrayed in the film that none of his neighborhood friends knew he was a musician.  The point is one is left with the conclusion that so discouraged by his lack of “success” Rodriguez stopped creating.  And that is a tragedy…not just for Sixto Rodriguez, but for any artist.

I don’t think that was an intended take away from the film, but it’s a bittersweet theme I acknowledge more with each viewing.

Discouragement comes at us from all corners. In the news of late, we see a lot of bullying of YA authors by so-called Social Justice Warriors with the intent of convincing the authors to pull their work off the publishing schedule.  My friend, Carrie-Anne Brownian, recently blogged on this, and it’s worth a read.

There’s always a plethora of posts (and stories told to me) by authors depressed by critical feedback they’ve received (which by the way is essentially what the bully mentioned above is…overly critical feedback based on Advanced Reader Copies). Some of these posts are so discouraging, because it’s obvious the creators are doubting themselves to the point of nearly quitting…or at the very least giving up the current work in progress.  Good Lord, do not do this! (and that is the only thing in this post that should be considered advice)

Then there’s low sales or rejection letters. All I can say on that is the sure-fire way to fail is to keep the work in a drawer.  Yes low sales can be discouraging. The flip side is true, too.  When you see a bump in sales, it’s like free-basing on dopamine.  And you know what?  For the most part, I can’t figure out what causes spikes and valleys.  I do know not writing…not creating…not putting it out there, will kill sales.  But I also think you have to be okay with the lack of visibility, the fact that no one cares (like you), and the lean times, because in the end, writing is fun and tracking sales is not so much.

So what do I do?  For one, (I wrote on this in the Resistance post) I recognize that ultimately what keeps me from my work is internal.  Not external.  So, I tell myself that those who attempt to tear me down, generally, do so to try to bring me down to their level.  And I avoid these people and exercises. If some external force keeps me from my writing that’s on me, not them.  I recognize that sales are mostly out of my control, so I don’t set goals around sales.  My goals are things that are completely under my control.  And I write the best I can and put the work out to find my audience, and realize that I will get better through writing (practice).  If I keep doing that, hopefully, no one will look back and say what happened to the last 10/20/30 years…how come there is no work?

That he not busy bein’ born is busy dyin’ — Bob Dylan

–TD

 

 

 

 

So Far, So Good

Today.

I started out this morning with a full cycle. What does that mean?

I went all the way back to the opening of God’s Golden Shore. And read forward with my hands on the keyboard, adding depth as needed, correcting typos, but mostly getting myself deeply grounded with the story and characters again.  I’m happy to say I think I’ve got something here. Really wasn’t much I needed to add, and for someone who never returns to his work once it’s hit The End… I gotta say I enjoyed reading it.

I did completely dumpster fire the second to last scene I’d written. It was a sequel I’d written of Fuzzy contemplating his next step, but it read like Mr. Writer not grounded with his character and trying to figure out, “Where to next?”.  So I scrapped the entire scene, and moved forward.  Made some minor revisions/additions to the next scene that needed to be made due to losing the sequel.  Then I hit the white page and powered on for about 700 words.

Then the house stirred with activity, and I spent some time with family.

When I got back to my machine, I started a short story on a whim. And dropped another 800 words. I’m not sure if it’s a complete flash fiction piece or the beginning of a longer short.  But I had a lot of fun with it.  Totally, out of my comfort zone, as it’s genre-less/mainstream. No idea what I’ll do with.  Probably part of the fun.

Basically, it’s fun.  Always important to remember that.

Plus, I got to write this post. <grin>

–TD