I follow a lot of crime fiction blogs, groups, and websites. So, of course, it came to my attention that Raymond Chandler’s birthday was this past week. Might have thought of it myself if I hadn’t been busy juggling a dozen literary balls at the same time. And in some way they all seem to relate to Chandler.
A couple years back I referenced his essay The Simple Art of Murder (1950) in a review of a terrific debut thriller (The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris, available now in paperback.) I’d written my own first novel, and was looking forward to attending ThrillerFest that summer to see if I might generate some interest. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My book wasn’t like the classic detective fiction of Raymond Chandler. But my protagonist did have some of the qualities he discussed.
“He is a lonely man… He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth…”
Last summer (a year and several rewrites later) I signed a publication contract with Bold Strokes Books and am now busy (yet another year later) preparing to launch Calvin’s Head in September. There are guest blogs to write, print and radio interviews to schedule, bookshops to contact, readings and launch events to arrange. Not to mention progress to be made on a second book.
I attended Mystery Writers of America University in Philadelphia in June, and have become a MWA member. I went to ThrillerFest again in July and joined International Thriller Writers Debut Author program. As author John Morgan Wilson told me at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in May, a first novel is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and it’s important to do everything you can to promote it.
“The detective story for a variety of reasons can seldom be promoted. It is usually about murder and hence lacks the element of uplift.”
Last September at the mystery convention Bouchercon in Albany, Raymond Chandler’s name was invoked a great deal. It’s also where I had the pleasure of meeting author Alison Gaylin, who had just won the Shamus Award for Best Private Investigator Novel (paperback original) for And She Was, her first book featuring PI Brenna Spector. I bought it, read it, loved it, and it inspired my final revisions in more ways than I can count. In the spring I read the second book in the series: Into the Dark. And this week I took a day off to finish Stay with Me, her last novel in this fantastic trilogy.
I’m quite sure Chandler would have been as impressed with Gaylin as I am. Not only does her heroine search for hidden truths with wit, she manages to write about murder and still provide the reader with an “element of uplift.” I admire her interest in rare psychological conditions (such as hyperthymestic syndrome, the ability to remember every detail of every day) and her smart use of literary or pop culture references, from Jack Kerouac or Jules Feiffer to NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. And a keen sense of humor, something she definitely has in common with Chandler.
Last year at this time I was reading The Lady in the Lake, which I’d picked up in a New Hampshire library sale. I realized that although I’d seen plenty of film versions, I’d never actually read one of his books. I was surprised how funny he could be, in a dark cynical way.
Also, the book was not as violent as Robert Altman’s adaptation of The Long Goodbye, where a psychotic mobster smashes his girlfriend’s face with a Coke bottle. “It was supposed to get the attention of the audience,” Altman is quoted as saying. “Remind them that there is a real world out there…a violent world.” True enough, considering I remember the scene so vividly forty years later.
“It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in, and certain writers with tough minds and a cool spirit of detachment can make very interesting and even amusing patterns out of it.”
I’ll be thinking of those possible amusing patterns in a couple of days as I drive down New Hampshire and across Vermont to New York, where Bold Strokes Books is hosting a five-day writers retreat for its authors. One session I’ll sit in on is called Cracking Up: Using Humor in Fiction Writing. I’ve got this screwball romantic suspense screenplay I wrote back in ’89 that might just work better as a novel down the pipeline. But first I need to get back to book #2. Yes, still juggling!
This summer, like the last two summers and all he months in between, I’m living the dream of being a writer – and loving every moment of it!