Film Noir Friday – The Big Clock

bigclock     For the first time in forever I tuned into TCM’s Noir Alley and watched The Big Clock (last Friday), a film that has been on my to watch list almost as long as it’s been since I’ve watched Noir Alley.  I wasn’t disappointed. I wasn’t exactly knocked off my feet, either. That’s okay.

<possible minor spoilers>

The film stars Ray Milland in a made-to-order noir protagonist’s role. He’s an investigative reporter for a crime rag with a knack for finding missing/wanted persons. He has an overbearing boss (Charles Laughton).  And they both have an eye for the seductive blonde (Rita Johnson). Milland is, of course, married.  The blonde is a bit of a femme fatale until she is murdered. And the ensuing cat and mouse game includes Milland’s character actually being faced with finding… himself.  It’s a bit gonzo, but fun. And I may be the only person that feels this way, but I believe Milland was made to play a noir protagonist’s role. His facial expressions perfectly exhibit the tightening vise. (See The Lost Weekend!). Even so, Laughton steals the show as a truly despicable villain.

The Big Clock isn’t the purist of films noir, but I’m really not interested in that.  It’s noir-ish enough, and it’s a fine (if not great) film.

— TD

 

Cover Reveal

I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted anything, but this is exciting. Right?  And, yes, this is some re-branding.  And, yes, I’ve re-titled the current book again. Hahaha. This one will stick, because y’know COVER.

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Toni Morrison

Whenever we lose someone like this, I grieve.  I know it’s silly I’ve never known Ms. Morrison, and she’s just a person like any other of us.  But, that is the thing with the best of our artists. I feel like I did know her through her work.

I haven’t read all (or even most) of her books, but the ones I have read were all terrific, challenging, thought and emotion provoking reads.  It probably comes as no surprise that Song of Solomon was my favorite of her books. After all, it is the only of her books told from a male perspective (unless I’m mistaken?). Yes, I’m a walking cliche.  But I think it also says something about Morrison’s mastery.  Just last week we had discussion about this in a small group of writers…specifically about the challenge of writing the opposite gender (or race, culture, whatever other stumbling block). Morrison like many, many authors before and after her proves it can be done. And done well. I’m guessing she didn’t use sensitivity readers. 😉

The other thing that I think often is lost in our seemingly current “issue” of writers writing outside their physical gender, identified gender, skin pigment, or cultural upbringing (again and whatever other…) is the ability of the writer to write from their own expertise (i.e. skin pigment, gender, etc.) and show the story in a way that it is accessible to an audience outside of those confined barriers.  Toni Morrison is one of the reasons I am fascinated by literature about the African-American experience (along with Richard Wright, probably the biggest reason).

So, she did a lot of things well. Not the least of which was creating beauty. When Jill told me she had passed it was like a kick in the gut. She will be missed.

Years ago, I wrote a blog about what I was reading…specifically because I was making an effort to read more widely.  I posted on a couple of Toni Morrison books:

Song of Solomon

Beloved

You’ll find that blog as unedited, rambling and stream of conscious as this one. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

Have you read any Morrison?  What book would you suggest I start next (I’ve read Solomon, Beloved, and The Bluest Eye)?

–TD

 

I have a deadline

Okay, It’s a self-imposed one. However, now that I’m feeling snowball pick up speed (and snow) on the writing, I figured it’s time to set some goals.  Well, really just the one.  I’m mulling a production schedule and I have some ideas, but I’m nowhere near ready to share those.  I may never be.

But, I will publish the current book I’m writing by September 30th.

The other thing I’m considering (as always) is changing the title. None of my working titles have survived, but I do like having one.  I don’t always start with one, but one emerges in the early goings. This usually is a result of some turn of phrase triggering a song connection.  In the case of Everything is Broken, the working title was Heaven Ain’t Bad. It was triggered by some dialogue between Fuzzy and Sample (I leave it at that as to spare people the spoilers). I made a connection to the Townes Van Zandt song “You Are Not Needed Now”, and that was enough to give me a working title I was happy with. Then I wrote the scene with the little boy and his mama and the broken seashells, which my son later identified as the theme of the book (!)… I made a connection with the Bob Dylan song “Everything is Broken.” (I am a huge Bob Dylan fan for those of you who do not know me in person).

North Country Girl was originally “Girl of the North Country”, which of course is a more obvious and famous Dylan tune.  I grew tired of the more obvious nod, plus it was more words to fit on the cover, so I settled on North Country Girl, which I think sounds better anyway.

The current book, as loyal readers may recall, has the working title God’s Golden Shore.  Again, this was triggered by some dialogue. This time between Fuzzy and a local mob Don, which recalled lyrics to the Traditional folk song “Man of Constant Sorrow”.  But, sigh, I had a book signing a couple of weeks ago, and I was paired with a couple of authors, who wrote faith-based memoirs. I admit to a little blushing standing beside them with my somewhat racy covers (and books a little on the saucy side).  It dawned on me that a book titled God’s Golden Shore would fit nicely with my fellow authors’ stacks at the book signing. Eh, maybe not such a good idea.

So… I’m leaning towards Dyin’ Southpaw’s Blues.  It would probably be the closest to a “genre appropriate” title I’ve managed.  Sorry, I’m not a fan of “The Case of…” or “Murder at…” type titles.  At any rate, I’m almost certain God’s Golden Shore becomes Dyin’ Southpaw’s Blues, but no guarantee that Dyin’ survives.  And yes, it is a nod to Georgia bluesman Blind Willie McTell’s Dyin’ Crapshooter’s Blues.

What d’ya think?

TD

www.palmettopulpmill.com

Heinlein’s Rule #1

That’s right. I’m back to #1.

Life has been rough for…well, a few years honestly. I’ve lost people I love… and of late a job that I loved.  If I’m completely honest, I may have some depression that needs tackling.

One of the symptoms, I’m aware of is the lack of interest in doing the things I truly enjoy. Which, is all my way of saying that my writing has been very spotty over these last couple of months. I think it was fine in the early goings of dealing with my latest life turn — the job loss. For one, my focus has been (and still is) finding the new source of income.  But… as time has gone, I’ve realized that 1) I could have managed a lot of writing during the hours I haven’t been job searching and 2) I love to write. It certainly could help with my mindset.

So, I’m back to Heinlein’s Rules.  Those incredibly simple set of rules. Most, of which if you read just on the surface without any real reflection, will result in you saying, “Duh. No shit Sherlock.”   But here’s the thing, they are simple to understand, and probably easy to follow… but it’s also incredibly easy to “fall off the horse.”  But I’m here, and I climbing back into the saddle. Right on #1.

You Must Write.

And for me that means every day.

Today? That meant 800 words this morning, when I woke up (not by design) at the insane hour of 2:30 a.m. It involved heavy, cycling back to get back into the story…and I’m sure the early going will be slow, and require more heavy cycling.  That’s okay. It’s all part of working towards adherence to Rule #2 – Finish what you start.

I’ve gotten some feedback from readers and writers of late. Asking when the next story is coming. Telling me they like this blog. Of course, none greater than my wife, Jill.  All of it is really, really appreciated. My purpose in all of this is to “entertain myself”… but that is always immediately followed by “and hopefully others.”

So, thank you others. The support is helpful.

— TD

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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

 

 

 

 

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