"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those, who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in the human condition." --- Graham Greene
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I know I’ve come late to Chuck Palahniuk and my only knowledge of “Fight Club” was the film, which I loved. Reading the novel was sort of my introduction to Palahniuk. I’d heard of him, heard a lot of things about him but never actually gotten around to reading him. What made me want to read him was a list of “writer’s tips” that a friend of mine had sent me. I figured I’d start with something I was familiar with. “Fight Club” was that book.
Obviously a satire in a lot of ways, there is quite a lot going on here which really made me sit up and take notice. The film is very faithful to the novel but there were things in the book that either the film didn’t cover or I just missed, one of those things being the commentary on my generation (formerly known as “Generation X” now known as “Middle Aged”). Seeing that the novel had been originally published in 1996, it’s not hard to see why this book resonated with so many people. Palahniuk definitely touched a chord with those born in the 1960s. This is apparent in this quote: "We are God's middle children....with no special place in history and no special attention". or "We're the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we'll be millionaires and move stars and rock stars, but we won't. And we're just learning this fact. So don't fuck with us.", or this: "We don't have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but what we do have is a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives. We have a spiritual depression." He captured the mood of the times perfectly, especially for those who felt out of place, disaffected, lost & rudderless. I suppose that was part of the point of this book, other than the obvious commentary on the nature of masculinity for a “generation of men raised by women”. There are a lot of allusions to the “feminization” of the culture, particularly evident in the protagonists “nesting instinct”.
A nihilistic message to be sure, with the Fight Club’s proto-fascist leanings, ideas of discipline and support group-like mentality. It is masculinity run amok, in a sense, with a message of having to utterly destroy (either society or self) in order to rebuild. It is also a wicked condemnation of consumer culture, where "people work jobs they hate so they can buy things that they don't need." I don’t know whether or not this is the author’s own personal view or not but it’s not hard to see why this book struck a chord with so many at the time--and will continue to do so, so long as there are those who feel outside of things.
Palahniuk’s writing style is very bare bones, very minimal, but powerful nonetheless. Part Noir, Part dystopian nightmare, it’s the “Noir” element of the story that really pleased me, something I didn’t really pick up on while watching the film.
This may all be old news to many but it’s the first time I got the chance to see what he had to offer. I was impressed.
Rating: * * * * 1/2
Saturday, October 23, 2010
I absolutely loved the Coen Brothers film of the same name. The novel is even better, even though the Coens did a fantastic job with it. Pretty damn faithful. But if you haven’t read this novel, do yourself a favor and do so immediately.
Those who saw the film already know the plot of this. For those who didn’t, “No Country For Old Men” is about a welder named Llewellyn Moss who discovers the carnage of a drug deal gone bad out in the desert while hunting. Among the carnage is a satchel full of money. He decides to take it. This decision has lethal consequences not only on himself, but his family and a bevy of other players as well.
To me, this novel is a sort of dark and twisted update of an old Western. It has many of those elements but it is brilliantly disguised by contemporary concerns. There is also a strong “Noir” element to this book as well, which made it a very enjoyable read to me. McCarthy’s prose style in this novel is sparse, stark, and very stripped down. You get one sense reading this novel, right from the very first pages: Bleak.
It is definitely one of the many “Post-9/11” stories to come along. It seems to me the theme of this book is the question of how one battles unrepentant evil when many people simply cannot believe that unrepentant evil even exists. It is also a novel about a changing society and how it continues to sink into darkness. It also seems to question at times the role of God in society, where people who have such strong beliefs in that nature are often met with surprising results. How could God allow such evil to exist?
If you enjoyed the film, you will love the novel. Highly recommended.
Rating: * * * * *
Friday, October 22, 2010
The problem, I think, is that there's almost no understanding in the serious critical establishment, and when I say that, I mean in the journals — everything from Harold Bloom to Ploughshares to — pick your poison, the Antioch Review, etc. I read these things. Do the people who publish them read me? That's a good question. If they do, a lot of them probably don't admit it. If their literary friends come over, they might put my books under the bed like... lit-porn. You people may have faced this; some friends will come over and say, "Oh, you read him? Really? You read Stephen King? Well, all righty. Guess we won't be coming here again." -- Stephen King
Any artist has stood at the edge of this chasm at one point or another. In literature it is known as “The Great Divide”, that is, the ongoing battle between “Literary” fiction and “Popular” (read: Mainstream) fiction. Before I even get started, I first want to say that I fully understand both sides of this “debate”. The arguments have been made ad infinitum among writers and lovers of fiction. I don’t know if age has anything to do with it or simply my constantly changing opinions on things but lately I’ve grown weary of this debate. Nevertheless, I’d like to add my two cents to the discussion.
Naturally, the “cool factor” has everything to do with this discussion. There have always been snobs on either side of the divide, in every artistic milieu, and it’s this “cool factor” that I grow weary of the most the older I get. I had written an article about this recently so there’s no need to get into it fully here but this can’t be discussed without bringing that up. The truth is, in all artistic pursuits, there is always the huge divide between what is considered “serious” and what is considered “commercial”, something simply created to make money, without any care whatsoever of its artistic merit. For the most part, this is true. There are plenty of things out there that are nothing more than “product”, designed to make a quick buck, manufactured as if on an assembly line in order to cash in on the latest trend. The radio, record stores, book stores, televisions and movie theaters are full of them, and it’s not hard to see it. This is all well and good. Not everyone seeks something “deep” all the time. Sometimes people simply want to be entertained, to find something to “escape” their day to day problems and aggravations. In other words, there is a place for this stuff, despite what one may think about them personally.
There are those who seek the more “serious” works, those works that do not have pure profit motive in mind. Works that make one think, contemplate, and quite possibly change the way they see things after experiencing it. Works that do something to enhance the culture and bring something new and interesting to the table. But not all works that are deemed “serious” are actually that serious. It’s often perception and taste that dictates what is considered a “serious” work of art. Whether it be music, painting, literature, poetry, etc, beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder. Even among the more “serious students” of art, the opinions on certain works and their creators vary to a very high degree. There are plenty of works of art that the self-proclaimed experts often deem very important and “cool” which are nothing more than pretentious and self-conscious attempts at currying favor from the “in-crowd”. To these folks, liking anything at all popular is to like it “ironically”, therefore maintaining their cool quotient among their chosen peer group. I think you get the idea.
But let’s be honest here and being honest with oneself is essential in this business. The overwhelming majority of us who attempt to create anything in this life, to some degree, seek some sort of recognition for what we do. Why else would we plaster ourselves all over the internet with blogs, websites, Facebook pages, etc. Not everyone may be seeking “fame” per se, but I think it’s fair to say that anyone engaged in such endeavors are seeking some kind of acknowledgement, otherwise, one could simply make music, write, paint, etc in the privacy of their own homes and never allow it to see the light of day or even show it to anyone. So let’s just cut the crap and be honest that it’s fair to say that many of us are seeking some kind of recognition and/or audience for what we do. That’s the first thing to get out of the way. Even the most hip, with-it, anti-commercial, ironic, artist is seeking to be acknowledged in some way and it would be nothing but a load of BS if he/she tells you otherwise. So let’s leave all the pretentious platitudes where they belong.
Does this mean every artist is seeking “fame and fortune” as it is generally understood? Of course not. I am one of them. I don’t seek to be “famous” but I will admit that I would love to one day make a living off of my writing. I would be a very happy man if I were able to simply earn what my day job pays me and to have a loyal group of readers that appreciate what I do. At the very least, anyway. I would be dishonest if I said I didn’t seek that, and if I were somehow lucky enough to earn better than a “decent living”, I sure as hell wouldn’t complain. The truth is, we all are looking to make a living off our creative endeavors. Who the hell wants a day job?
For those who desire to make a living at what they do, it is important to recognize that it’s not an easy road to take. It’s a rough business and there are no guarantees. Some are never able to make a living off their work. There are and were plenty of “famous” writers who never made a living solely from writing. It’s is those rare few who are able to do so. Not everyone is going to be a Stephen King or Dan Brown, though I am sure there are many who desire to be. That’s fine, if that is what your goal is. It’s definitely a very high bar to set for yourself, but I say go for it if that’s what you desire.
What kind of writer do you want to be? Are you seeking a mass audience? Are you seeking a loyal and devoted cult following such as the one Chuck Palanhiuk has made for himself? Are you seeking readers or are you seeking pats on the back from your literary peers and critics? Are you looking to simply make a boat load of money or are you seeking to offer something meaningful to the culture? Are you looking to simply entertain or are you seeking to have your say on the pressing issues of this world? All of this is something to consider when you decide that writing is what you want to do. Naturally, there is no definitive answer to any of this. It all depends on the individual and there is no shame in any of these choices. But it is a choice you have to make.
This brings us to “The Great Divide” in literature. What side are you on? Should you even take a side? Why must it be looked at as an either/or proposition? I’ve been in countless discussions on this matter. Many serious minded writers simply will not read anything that is deemed “popular” and/or “commercial” fiction. Likewise, I’ve met others who are avid readers of commercial fiction who wouldn’t even dream of reading anything remotely “literary”. Their reasons vary, of course, but the common denominator seems to be that each side looks at the other with absolute disdain. The literary crowd look down their noses at the popular crowd and the popular crowd looks at the literary crowd as pretentious. In some ways, each side is certainly valid----at times. Not always though, and this barrier has often deprived each side of some interesting writing, in my view.
One of the most important things a writer can do is to read widely. And I mean widely. There is much to learn from all kinds of fiction. It doesn’t matter what kind of writer you aspire to be. Whether you want to be the next Salman Rushdie or the next Stephen King, it is important to read as many authors and types of fiction as you can. In fact, I say reading a lot of non-fiction books as well is as equally important, especially if you are one that wants to write historical fiction. There is much to learn. You can learn both positive and negative things. Everything from how a story is constructed, to the different way novels are built to what not to do in your own writing. Limiting yourself to only one thing will only limit the infinite possibilities you have at your disposal. To me, it’s like lovers of music, especially musicians. Are you really the type that listens to only one kind of music? What kind of musician would you be if you only listened to one style? The same thing goes for any type of art. Limiting yourself to only one thing and shunning the rest is detrimental to your growth as an artist. It doesn’t mean you have to like everything, of course, but sometimes exposure is enough to help along your own ideas, to keep your mind open to the different possibilities you can then incorporate into your own style and your own vision, in your own way. There is no shame in this.
Let’s look at this notion that “if it’s popular, then it must be bad”. Ridiculous, for the most part, but sometimes true, admittedly. It really depends. But how many immensely popular writers exist that are far from terrible? Ernest Hemingway, for one. An immensely popular writer, considered one of America’s best writers. Has been read by millions and sold a boat load of books in his day and continues to do so, 40 plus years after his death. Then there are those writers who sort of straddle the line between popular fiction and literary fiction: Cormac McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, Niccolò Ammaniti, Jonathan Franzen, Steig Larsson, Isabelle Allende, Nick Hornsby, Massimo Carlotto, Toni Morrison, and dozens and dozens of others. Writers like these seem to have some “crossover” appeal. They are commercial writers of popular fiction books yet there is something “literary” about them. I have a feeling it’s really a matter of packaging, especially to the “in-crowd”. I’m sure you’ve noticed this: certain types of fiction are published in the now popular “trade” editions while others remain in the old, but former universal format of the “Mass Market paperback”. It is my firm belief that had some of these author’s books been packaged in the old “drug store” format, many of the “in-crowd” who do read these authors would shun them without a second thought, dismissing them as “commercial” or “popular”. Just give something an artsy cover, make it appear as if it’s “quality”, you can fool some into thinking what they are reading is more “serious” literature. Meanwhile, they are merely popular fiction in disguise. The fact of the matter is you have to read them to know for sure. I can guarantee you that if Stephen King’s books were packaged in this manner, instead of the old mass market paperback format, with its generic looking cover art, the in-crowd would have a very different opinion of him and he would be “ok” to read. I think you get the idea.
The point is, if you are a writer of fiction, you should expose yourself to many different things. This is no guarantee that you will like everything, of course. Hell, I sure don’t. There are plenty of good, well written “popular fiction” books out there as well as many shitty “literary fiction” books. It’s all a matter of choice, in the end, and opinion. There really isn’t any rule for any of this. If you aspire to write literary fiction, by all means do so, and read many literary writers. But you should also read the popular writers as well, without embarrassment, without shame, without any justifications. You can read Stephen King and still aspire to write literary fiction just as much as a musician can aspire to compose classical piano pieces and still listen to pop music. There is no shame in that, nor should there be. In many cases, these distinctions are artificial anyway. Many “genre” writers have written some excellent books, this includes Sci-Fi (Samuel L. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury), mystery/crime writers (Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, Andrew Vacchs, Lawrence Block) as well as fantasy (J.R.R. Tolkein being the master of the genre in my opinion). If you are a writer of genre fiction, or aspire to be, would you reject reading Hemingway, Henry Miller or Dostoevski? If you aspire to write literary fiction would you reject reading Stephen King or Dan Brown? Many, on both sides of the divide, would, in a heartbeat. Why? Each side of the divide can bring something to the table. It’s really just a matter of how you use what they give. Each side can learn a little something from the other.
It’s time to bridge the divide and make up your own mind and use whatever tools you get in your own way and stop worrying about what others will think. You are the master of your own creation, not a peer group. Forget all about the so-called “guilty” pleasures. Pleasure isn’t supposed to be rife with guilt. Just enjoy things for what they are and use them in your own way. You may find what you create will be that much richer and interesting, and quite possibly offering something new to whatever genre you decide to work in. Who knows? You may even be able to create a whole new category yourself? It’s happened before...
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
A mammoth of a novel but well worth the read. What a fantastic book this was. Author David Trueba is well known in Spain as a screenwriter and this book is his third novel, the first to be translated into English.
Trueba’s writing style is straightforward but rich. He sets the mood beautifully from the first page and carries it quite well throughout the nearly 600 pages. “Learning To Lose” is ultimately a novel about dodging guilt and the fear of failure. 16 year old Sylvia has just celebrated her birthday. She is accidentally hit by a car, suffering a broken leg. Behind the wheel is a talented young soccer player who just arrived in Spain from Buenos Aires, and he is ready for stardom both on and off the field. Across town, Syliva’s father and grandfather are finding their own lives suddenly derailed by a violent murder and a secret, obsessive affair, with a Nigerian prostitute. The novel follows each of their lives and the ultimate consequences of their choices and actions. What follows is a truly wonderful story, one which keeps you engaged throughout.
It’s not hard to see that the author has his origins in screenwriting since the prose is very cinematic in a lot of ways. It isn’t hard to imagine this as a film, and what an interesting film it would make.
I’m hoping his other two novels eventually wind up in translation for the English speaking audience. Trueba is truly a gifted writer, one worthy of the world’s attention.
Rating: * * * * *
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Ok, another old book, this one also from 2007. “My Arrival is Marked by Illuminating Stains” is actually an anthology of sorts. It compiles my first 5 poetry chapbooks, all of which are no longer available. They include “Standing on Lorimer Street Awaiting Crucifixion” (Alpha Beat Press 1996), “The Terror of Your Cunt is The Beauty of Your Face” (Black Spring Press 1999), “Street Gospel Mystical Intellectual Survival Codes” (Budget Press 2000), “Scrape That Violin More Darkly Then Hover Like Smoke in The Air” (Black Spring Press 2001) and “Existential Labyrinths” (Black Spring Press 2003). I have no idea why these chapbooks have such long titles. Blame Bukowski for the influence. For more information about these chapbooks individually, one could find them in the numerous “Writing Life” posts scattered across the blog.
Being that all of these early poetry chapbooks are no longer available, I wanted to collect them in one volume --- for posterity purposes, mainly --- but to also have them available for those who may want to read them some day. So if anyone is interested in reading some of this early writing, follow the link. It would be greatly appreciated, of course. ;-)
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Here is a link to a book review/interview conducted and written by the very talented Garry Crystal. It was done earlier this year. This is for those who have read the posts I’ve written about this book and despite whatever flaws I still may find with it, I still want people to read it---naturally. It is my “first born” so to speak. If this article provokes your curiosity, you can obtain the novel here.
Once again, I want to thank Garry Crystal for his time and efforts in doing the interview and writing this article. While you’re here, also check out Garry’s articles, all of which are thought provoking, insightful and extremely well written. You can find his writing here. Garry is also working on a novel, one in which I hope will see the light of day soon. The world needs more talented writers like him.
Thanks again, Garry---for everything.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Trying to squeeze in some editing time between doing apartment renovations and running around to shows in both Manhattan and Brooklyn this weekend. Being that I finally got the painting done, I had one good day to sit and concentrate on editing the latest manuscript. The only thing needed now is some rewrites at the beginning, to sort of “punch it up” a bit; then the laborious process of going through each page and fixing it on screen before printing out another draft. The “reading” draft as I call it; the one where I pass it on to some trusted readers who will give me an honest assessment of what I have there. Of course, everyone will have their own criticisms of it but what I usually look for is something that they all have in common. If one person says this, another says that, ok. Each person is different. But if all of them wind up finding the same flaws....well, then I would obviously have to rethink whatever it may be.
While that process is taking place, I will return to the shelved first draft that I had written earlier in the year. My goal is to have both these novels completed by the end of the year, so I can begin the submission process and start work on some other ideas I’ve been jotting notes down for. Once I get closer to the final drafts for both of these books, I will write more on what they are about, etc. But since they both need some more work at the moment, I will refrain from doing so, at least for the time being.
All I can say is that for those who have read my first novel, “November Rust”, both these books are drastically different in style. Definitely more streamlined. As to whether they are more “accessible” or not, that’s something yet to be seen, I guess. All I can say is that in comparison to “November Rust”, both of these novels are far more “mainstream”, if I can use that word to describe them. Anyway, more work to be done. More on the way....
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
A brief “stroll” around the blogosphere this morning revealed to me the incredible amount of contrarians that are out there with regard to the arts. It is simply incredible. There is nothing more annoying to me than those who feel they are one of the “chosen few” who dole out advice to aspiring artists that try to make them feel that their efforts are futile. Some suddenly “make it” and feel it’s their job to then discourage everyone else from following their dreams and/or pursuing their goals. You have to ask yourself why one does this? Why, after making it yourself, would you then hold out your hand to try to prevent others from achieving the same? “I made it, guys, but no, there’s no more room for anyone at the party. I kindly suggest you give up your futile attempts at creativity and go home. You don’t belong here” is what they seem to be saying. They dole out advice railing against the very things that helped them along. In one particular case, I read how an aspiring artist should shun the social media because it doesn’t do one bit of good----of course, this advice, coming via the social media.
Listening to these types is dangerous for artists (both young and old but particularly the young) because it is designed to make them feel inadequate and give up their goals. See, it may have worked for them but it won’t work for you, my friend, seems to be the message. I deserved it, you don’t. The shame is that there are probably plenty of people out there, those without the belief in themselves, who will take this advice to heart and simply give up. As a creative person, how often have you been told by at least one person over the course of your life that you simply “don’t have it”, as if their’s is the final word on the subject? More insecure people may take this to heart. The rest of us soldier on, regardless.
None of the above has anything to do with me personally. No one criticized me, or came down on me in anyway this morning. Simply clicking on a random link lead me to reading this diatribe and it got me thinking about how many shitters there are out there. These are the types you must beware of. Ignore them. Totally. Completely. They serve no purpose whatsoever. They merely exist to discourage others, give bad advice and set themselves up as the kings/queens of the hill they desire themselves to be. But in a world of 6 Billion people, what is this one point of view other than that? One point of view. One solitary voice in a very big world. Ignore it.
So here is one more solitary voice in a very big world: Don’t give up. No matter what others tell you. Have faith in what you do. Along the way you will meet some very good people, positive people who will try to help you, encourage you, believe in you. You will also meet the shitters, the contrarians, the ones who think it’s their duty to push everyone else out of the way. These are the one’s to avoid, at all costs. Experiencing them is a good thing, though. It shows you who to keep your distance from. Ignore these folks and soldier on. Never, ever allow one person to prevent you from doing what you love.
Monday, October 4, 2010
First it was Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe series. Then came Dashiell Hammett, of course, then other well known writers of the genre: Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, John D. MacDonald, Carroll John Daly but I think it was Mickey Spillane’s “Mike Hammer” series that I enjoyed the most. Then there were the more contemporary writers: Lawrence Block, Loren D. Estleman, and the best of the bunch, Andrew Vachss. There have been tons of others, of course; a whole slew of “Hardboiled” crime fiction writers whose books I fell in love with in my late teens and early twenties. “Pulp Fiction” as it’s known today and even has some sort of cachet now, thanks to Quentin Tarantino and his film of the same name. Tarantino’s film gave the genre that “respectability” that didn’t really exist back then, save for a handful of die hards that no one ever really cared about. It was “Genre Fiction” after all, not to be taken seriously at all by the literary establishment. The trouble is and was that this type of fiction was never supposed to be ranked among the literary greats in the first place. They were for entertainment, first and foremost. It wasn't supposed to turn the world upside down. It was never meant to aim for the Pulitzer Prize or any other “respectable” literary awards or accolades. They were fun. But some of these books were very good, despite the “genre” tag stuck to them.
I literally have hundreds of these novels, from the really well written ones (Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Lawrence Block, Jim Thompson, Andrew Vachss) to the shit ones, churned out to make a buck (Brett Halliday, etc) and although my favorite authors tend to be the more serious, literary writers, I would be dishonest if I didn’t say that these books didn’t have an impact on me. Especially Mickey Spillane. Spillane’s writing was crude, to be sure. It was straightforward, simple and sometimes appalling but that’s not what you read him for. You read him to be entertained and boy did his “Mike Hammer” series entertain the hell out of me. It also amused me to a large extent due to their “Cold War” hysteria and laughable anti-Communist tirades (the best example being “One Lonely Night” which is my favorite of Spillane’s. Pure “Red Scare” propaganda, at the height of the McCarthy era to boot). I remember even getting crap from the “serious” mystery/crime readers at the time for liking Spillane’s books. “They were crude!” “Horribly written!” “Right Wing propaganda!” they would shout. I would respond, “So what? They’re entertaining.” Just because I read them, didn’t mean I subscribed to the ideology behind them, or any of the books of the genre for that matter. I enjoyed them for the stories, plain and simple.
Sometimes, aficionados of the genre took themselves a little too seriously, I thought. As with any group, there tends to be a small circle of “experts” who climb into the Ivory Tower and start making proclamations and judgements, where only their opinion and point of view is to be considered. Take it easy, folks. None of this stuff is that serious, ok? All right, you may say that I, myself, am taking a sort of “elitist” tone here by dismissing many of these books as inferior to literary fiction and not ranking it as important to the culture at large. You’d be right. They’re not. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t enjoy them and appreciate them for what they are---and keeping it in perspective as well. These kinds of books have their own awards to bestow (The Edgars) and that’s all well in good. Who cares? What are awards other than one group of people patting themselves on the back anyway? In the larger scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter all that much. Yes, it’s an honor to be acknowledged by your peers, sure, but I think it’s more important to be honored by your readers, who enjoy what you do, free from any intellectual pretensions. Many a great writer never received any awards at all. Henry Miller being one of them.
Raymond Chandler was probably the best writer of the genre. He consciously tried to raise the bar. Chandler had a more literary background than most of the others and it’s apparent when reading his novels. The writing is good, witty, crisp and at the same time entertaining. It is only fairly recently that Chandler has been lifted to the upper echelon of the literary establishment. Dashiell Hammett as well. (This is apparent by how their books are now marketed. The versions I have are simple, drugstore paperbacks. You can now find them in the more “serious” “Trade Paperback” editions---a sign that these are more “quality” books. It works too, especially among the young intelligentsia who tend to believe that a book published in this manner is somehow more “literary” than a news rack paperback, despite the fact that not too long ago, all paperbacks were of the news rack type. I guarantee you that if you were to take the most commercial of writers---Stephen King, for example---republish the books in the “Trade” format with more artistic covers, you can bet your bottom dollar the “intelligentsia” would gobble them up as being “ok” to be seen with). It is clear that Chandler had higher aspirations with his writing and his novel “The Long Goodbye” was the most obvious example. More than just a hardboiled private eye novel, Chandler attempted to write a novel about loyalty and friendship. It seemed, to me at least, that he transcended the genre with this one. It would have been interesting to see where he would have gone had he lived to write more. But Chandler had his beginnings in the Pulp magazines (i.e. Black Mask, Dime Detective) where authors wrote for a penny a word. It was a way for many a writer to make a living and I highly doubt many of them had any more of an aspiration than that. This is not to say that they didn’t care about what they were doing, but I’m sure they had no pretensions of being the next Nobel Prize in Literature recipient. They were writing for a certain audience. A popular audience. Many of these writers did the same.
As with anything else, there comes that desire to be taken seriously. A lot of these mystery/crime/detective fiction writers want to be taken seriously as writers. They did what any “marginalized” group would do; form their own little circle to support what they truly believe in. Of course some of these writers are mega-bestsellers in their own rite. They don’t need or care (I’m sure) whether or not they are taken seriously by the establishment and the universities. They are writing for the popular culture. No shame in that if that’s what you set out to do from the beginning. To compare these novels and authors to the literary authors is like comparing apples and oranges. They’re just different. Coming from a different place with different goals in mind. Contrast Edgar Varese to Lady Gaga. Two totally different approaches; two entirely different goals. It’s that simple. I am not one who goes for trying to lift the genre to the levels of “serious” respectability by writing 300 page polemics on the social impact of crime fiction in the United States and how it reflects the culture on a sociological level. I’ll leave that to those with the literary pretensions. It’s just not that heavy.
Europe has shown an increase in this type of fiction, especially in Italy. Many novels have been released in the past decade or so that would easily fit the “Noir” category here in the United States. Many of these novels are well written, exciting stories, and it seems that some of them are trying to move the genre into new and interesting directions. Many of them seem inspired by American films, especially Quentin Tarantino’s and the Coen Brothers. Perhaps this approach may trickle down to American authors as well, those who desire to take the genre into different places, discarding the old clichés while remaining rooted in the past. There are some interesting things happening.
I can’t say that I enjoy all of these kinds of books (face it, many of them are crap), but I will always have a soft spot for them being that I have read and enjoyed so many of them in my younger years. One should not dismiss them simply because they are considered “genre” fiction. There’s some interesting writing there, if one is willing to open up and look. There is something inherently “American” about the genre to begin with and despite the fact that I don’t really go for all the “critical studies” of this kind of book, there is something there that defines our culture at large. To dismiss them out of hand is to deny this peek into that aspect of our culture. Sometimes they reflect a very ugly side to our culture. Perhaps this is why many don’t want to know about it.
Call it “Pulp”, “Crime” “Hardboiled”, “Noir” or whatever else. There are some good reads there. Who cares if it’s “genre” fiction? Just like any other category, there are good ones and there are shit ones. Decide for yourself by exploring them and don’t just take someone else’s word for it, especially if they never held one in their hands.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Different writers work in many different ways. There really isn’t any “correct” way to approach it, in my opinion. Just whatever works for the particular individual. Certain writers like to write a couple of pages and then rework those pages over and over before moving on. Ernest Hemingway was known to do this, as well as many others. Others like to write out the whole story, then go back and begin the rewrites from the beginning. This is how I usually work. I feel that by writing this way, you keep the momentum of whatever story it is you’re trying to tell; and since I usually don’t have the whole story planned out from the beginning, I find this is the best way to go about it. A lot of the time, what I initially planned turns into something else by the time it is finished. Of course, this means the rewrites and the editing will be somewhat extensive, since how I would initially conceive certain characters become completely different by the end of the novel than they were initially thought of in the beginning. That’s ok, though. For me. Other writers may have a definite idea of their story, their characters, what they want to happen, etc. My approach is definitely not the best way to go if you are one who already knows from the beginning what story you want to tell. But we all work in different ways.
There is also the matter of style. Some writers are naturally gifted prose stylists. Other’s aren’t. I don’t consider myself particularly “gifted” in that area, although I had tried that route once before. I simply do not have the ability to create very stylized prose in the manner of say the Italian novelist Gesualdo Bufalino or American writers such as William Faulkner or John Gardner (or a Michael Haugh, whom you all will soon be hearing about if there is any justice left in the publishing industry). These writers have a natural gift for very stylized prose and if you’re one of those writers, bless you. I simply do not have that gift. This is not to knock myself but to be realistic. My writing style is more straightforward, simple, much like what you are reading here. Many of my favorite authors are simple writers, although I do love and appreciate the more stylized, talented writers such as Julio Cortázar or Juan Goytisolo or Milan Kundera, for example. It was simply a matter of recognizing what I could do as opposed to what I really couldn’t do all that well. Once that realization is made, things become more clear and so is your ability to move forward. A writer friend of mine once put it this way, and the analogy couldn’t be more perfect in my eyes: “You’re trying to play Dizzy Gillespie without first learning Louie Armstrong”. It wasn’t meant as an insult but clear constructive criticism, the type that most writers need to hear in order for them to think about what they’re doing or trying to do. That really sunk in because I knew it was the truth. You have to recognize your limitations but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for excellence. What dogged me for a very long time was I was shooting for the moon before learning to walk. It took a long time to figure out what kind of writer I wanted to be. Now that I know, the world has opened up, as well as the ideas I have for upcoming projects.
I am happy to say that this year turned out to be very productive for me. I’ve completed two first drafts for novels. It’s an accomplishment of course but hardly the end of the road. Both manuscripts need work; a lot of work. In one, things must be added in order to make the story more coherent and guide it naturally from where it started and how it ended. Not that big a deal, really. I already know how I have to do this and it isn’t really all that much writing to do. The first draft I just completed on the second novel is very rough at the moment, again because the story turned in a completely different direction from what was originally intended; so a lot of things need to be rewritten and/or removed completely, scenes that no longer work, bits of dialogue that now seem out of place, fixing up a certain character’s personality, and of course, tightening up the prose. A lot of work, indeed. But the story is complete, and a first draft, no matter how rough, is still an accomplishment in and of itself. Many times, a story or book idea doesn’t even make it that far.
For those who are familiar with my first novel, “November Rust”, you will find that these two books are drastically different. Different in style, approach, and just about everything else. In comparison to “November”, the writing in both these novels is very stripped down and straightforward. It was a conscious thing. Gone are all the wild experimentations, the poetic passages, the stream of consciousness passages, etc. For those who have read it (bless the handful of you!), think of the more straightforward narrative parts and you’ll get an idea on how these new books are constructed. But that’s neither here nor there. The hard part is yet to come. To get these books as good as they can be and then of course, the struggle to place them somewhere once the final drafts are finished. I have no illusions that it’s going to an easy thing to accomplish but I am determined to try nevertheless. They will come out one way or another. If all else fails, I will issue them myself.
I have already begun work on the next novel idea---very rough pages written a few weeks ago, sort of a way to remember the idea, but I want to complete these two before moving forward. I’m very pleased with this new approach since the floodgates of ideas has certainly opened for me.
But like all other writers desiring publication that is not their own, the hard road lies before me. Who knows? Perhaps with perseverance and a little luck....
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Another fine example of “Mediterranean Noir” by the master of the genre, Massimo Carlotto. “The Goodbye Kiss” is a short, powerful novel in which there are no characters at all that are sympathetic. It’s far from the typical “Good” vs “Bad”. They are all bad---evil, corrupt and without any redeeming social values. Makes for a very grim read, indeed.
Giorgio Pelligrini is a former left wing revolutionary who is wanted in Italy for a string of crimes connected to his revolutionary activities. He had run off to Central America in order to follow his “true believers” in the revolution there back in the 1970s. Being forced to kill a fellow Italian revolutionary and growing disillusioned with radicalism, revolution and just about everything else connected with it, he decides he’s going to go back to Italy to try to "redeem" himself, but that doesn’t mean that he has given up his criminal ways. Now he’s interested in getting money and living the high life and resorts to all sorts of horrible crimes, getting involved with Albanian and Kosovar militants, Spanish anarchists, former cell mates, crooked anti-terrorist cops and other sorted characters to plan an armored truck robbery. In the meantime, he befriends a lawyer who promises him that he can “redeem” himself by taking advantage of a law that allows the system to consider him “rehabilitated” if he knew how to play his cards right. It is a story about a man willing to go to any lengths in order to achieve the guise of “respectability” in a society that appears to have lost the values it once defended so fiercely.
This is “Noir” at it’s best and I think fans old school hardboiled crime novels and the films of Quentin Tarantino would love this book.
Rating: * * * * 1/2
Friday, October 1, 2010
There seems to be a lot of “Noir” fiction coming out of Italy the past decade or so. “The Father and The Foreigner” by Giancarlo De Cataldo is another fine example. A very short novel, clocking in at 125 pages, it is a quick but entertaining read with a very interesting concept.
Diego is an employee at the Ministry of Justice in Rome who is the father or a severely mentally handicapped son. He meets a mysterious man named Walid at a clinic for handicapped children. Walid also has a mentally handicapped son. The two form a strong friendship, a bond created by both dealing with coping with their handicapped children. Walid lets Diego into his world, opening him up to his circle of friends but there is something strange about this Walid. Diego suddenly finds himself in the middle of a police investigation regarding his new friend. What is he? A terrorist? A spy? International criminal? All evidence points to Walid having some nefarious connections and the police want him to act as informant to gather information. Torn between his loyalty for his country and loyalty to his friend, Diego finds himself having to confront and reconsider his relationship to “The Other” and his own idea of “normality”.
It is a very entertaining read, although there are certain plot elements which remain unanswered. This is the book’s only flaw. So who is this Walid? You never really know for sure. But the focus here is on Diego and his view of what a “normal life” is and how his relationship with the mysterious Walid turns his world and sense of normalcy upside down.
This comes highly recommended. An interesting twist on the typical “Noir” story.
Rating: * * * * *