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…
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