Raymond Chandler on the Detective Archetype

“In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. 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, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.

If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.”

(From “The Simple Art of Murder” by Raymond Chandler, 1950 – Full Essay Here)

Origin Stories

One of my favorite categories of movies is the Origin Story; the tale that’s usually told after several movies in a franchise have been released and the moguls have all decided they want to eek a little more green from a well-trod establishment.

I already raved about X-Men: First Class because I think it’s the best origin story to come along since Batman Begins. There is just something about learning the history of your favorite characters that, if done right, adds a new and exciting layer to the mythos you’ve been enjoying for years.

Batman Begins remains the standard against which all other origin stories should be compared. As well as being handled by someone who is proving himself to be one of the best directors on the planet, it fleshes out a fascinating and compelling background for a character that has been a childhood mainstay for countless people since his first comic book appearance in May 1939. It serves as a solid foundation for its sequel, The Dark Knight, and will hopefully do so for the next (and final) installment as well. Continue reading

“A Dream of Waking” at BestScienceFictionStories.com

Rusty over at BestScienceFictionStories.com was kind enough to post a small blurb about my short story A DREAM OF WAKING.

It’s a great website with a ton of cool sci-fi stories, so if you’re into that sort of thing you should definitely head over and check it out.

What Ever Happened to Holden Caulfield?

I would like to believe that one of my favorite characters of all time (from one of my favorite books of all time) remained in the exact state as he was depicted throughout the novel. His was a rebellion of a young person well past the Peter and the Lost Boys stage of life and entering the realm where things are ordered to start making sense. Continue reading

Screenplay vs. Novel

Writing a novel is much different than writing a screenplay. With a book, you have to actually describe the world for the reader, inserting crucial details along the way to create a sense of place; this makes it easier to imagine the world your characters inhabit.

A screenplay allows you to breeze over all that mumbo-jumbo with pointed little descriptions like “dark room” or “big guy”. It’s up to other creative personnel involved with the film to bring the writer’s world to the screen. If you’re lucky they won’t change too much (spoiler alert: everyone’s unlucky in this regard).

There are bonuses and drawbacks to writing in either form. Screenplays are definitely faster since you’re not messing with all those pesky words. However, you run the risk of improperly conveying your ideas to a producer or director if too much is left out. It’s a tough balancing act that a lot of people tip one way or the other, resulting in a rejection. Novels let you build a world into which readers can escape from their everyday lives. They are a commitment: screenplays can be read in 1-2 hours, but novels take longer, forcing you to stay inside the pages for days or even weeks.

Movie audiences are also looking for different things than novel readers. It is sometimes okay to get through 100 pages of a book with no huge action as long as the world is so richly detailed you forget you’re bored. Movie patrons would have left their seats after half an hour.

Both formats are fun for their own reasons. I prefer novels at the moment because I just finished writing one and it’s a blast. Now I get to take a break and help a friend write a screenplay, so I’ll get to experience the best of both worlds; the long and short of it, so to speak.

Experiment

Two of my short stories were just published online (link to multiple formats here).

I’m surprised it took me this long to remember these little guys, especially after I reread each one and was reminded how much fun I had writing them.

I set the price at 99 cents each as opposed to free because I received various bits of advice from people who know better that any time you release a book (or story) online for free, you get 1-2 weeks of fairly decent exposure followed by a sharp decline into obscurity. The line of reasoning (if I were to make the stories free now) goes that if everyone who reads my free stuff wants to buy something else and nothing is available, then I lose the opportunity for a potentially absurd amount of additional sales. Since I am still a good month away from publishing ASHES, releasing them for free now would rob me of that precious 1-2 weeks of publicity.

It makes sense so I’ll give it a shot. There is a proven technique of releasing the first book in a trilogy for free to drive sales of the other two books. Since ASHES is the first book I’ve ever written, I don’t have that option so I dusted off two short stories and gave them each a good edit before shoving them out into the real world.

I weighed heavily the aspect of charging close friends and family even 99 cents for a short story, but if I want to make it as an ebook author I have to start somewhere. Besides, if you don’t mind waiting a few weeks, they’ll be free (for a short while) when ASHES is published. Also, I only get 35 cents from each sale, so that might make you feel better.

On Revising

When I initially set out to write my first novel, I was expecting to hit a brick wall of tedium when it came time to revise the first draft. Who wants to edit what they’ve already written? I thought nothing could be more empowering than pulling words from the ether and mashing them together to form sentences. It turns out that making those sentences even better is just as gratifying.

There are two different ways a writing session can go: either you feel the flow and the words mostly write themselves, or you have to force yourself to hammer out a chapter so you can meet your word count for the day (if that’s how you set your goal). For me, the first draft of ASHES was about 60/40, respectively. At the time I was hoping it would have been more like 80/20 (or even higher), but it turns out that when you’re just trying to get into the habit of writing every single day, keeping the flow going can be difficult.

What happened as a result is that I ended up with a book of which 60% I was really pleased and 40% I vehemently denied ever writing. So, fearing the worst, I sat down to work on my second draft. It was magical. Stubby, blunt little sentences transformed into descriptive paragraphs that not only painted a better picture of what my characters were going through physically, but also emotionally. The revision process helped fortify a flimsy world into a solid entity that (I hope) is much easier to imagine. My characters are more genuine, the dialogue is more realistic, and the world as a whole is more believable.

I guess the bottom line is that no one should be afraid to revisit their work, even if they believe it to be of the highest quality. Every time I look at a passage from ASHES I see something I can adjust to make it better. To me, this is the essence of writing: not the initial creation stage as it stands alone, but the process as a whole, revisions and all. It is both extremely fascinating and satisfying, and I hope others have experienced it as well.