Ok. I know, I know. I haven't posted an update on my first attempt at a novel in quite a while. My writing time has dwindled the past two weeks due to a sick wife, then a sick son, then the ever present day-job deadlines.....Ok, fine. Those are excuses everyone has so I'll throw those out the window. I do have a problem that I'm sure everyone else has had but I don't know how to handle it.
My story has....blossomed from the original idea and I want to run with the new concept. It's nothing extremely major but my main character's motivation has changed. I feel like I should rewrite the majority of what I have and shuffle a few things around to make it work. I know, I should just write everything and then rewrite later but the beginning of the story really needs to change. (Plus, I hate the stuff I wrote in the beginning. It's amazing how even a little experience can really make you a better writer.)
I've been debating how to proceed for about a week and it's time I just make a decision and get back to writing. How do you handle a change to your story that affects everything that preceeds your current train of thought?
Sometimes it seemed like the boys had been put on earth to torment her. She didn't know where they came from or where they went when they tired of their pranks. Today it was white rice in her bird feeders and she hurried to get every last grain out before the light faded. Birds choked on rice. Apparently, the boys were not uneducated.
Of course, none of this would be happening if her husband were still around. Hank had died last fall from long undetected skin cancer that eventually ravaged his body. After surviving two tours of Vietnam and a heart attack, a small brown dot on his lower back finally brought Hank to his knees.
She had been against moving out to the Virginia countryside, preferring something less isolated, but Hank was a quiet man who valued reading alone more than neighborhood dinner parties. It had hardly been a year since that first Friday night. Hank had woken her up when he racked his shotgun at the foot of their bed. “Evelyn, I heard voices outside. Stay here,” he whispered. A moment later she heard the shotgun roar in the night, barely making it to the window in time to see the two boys run into the wall of trees in the backyard. The youngsters left them alone after that but, like a dog smelling weakness, they slowly started again after Hank died.
She spent this night like most others, lying in Hank’s mattress dent, long gone cold, watching the trees sway in the breeze; the insects finally putting her to sleep with their monotonous banter.
* * *
The five high school graduates stood on the edge of the tree line watching the front of the house, known throughout school as an easy mark for late night fun. They’d decided to go on a camping trip out in the woods, drinking warm beer stolen from their fathers’ supply and talking up their latest female conquests. This was the last night they would all be together before each went their separate ways.
Johnny Turner was the real star of the group. Before football had become his life he dreamed of being a doctor, so when every college football coach in the country offered him a scholarship, he shocked some when he chose the University of Virginia. His senior year English teacher, Ms. Robinson, had guided him at every turn, offering advice and support when ever he asked for it.
“What the hell are we doing Derrick?” Johnny asked.
Derrick handed him two rolls of toilet paper and a can of shaving cream. “Loosen the fuck up Mr. Perfect,” he said softly. “What’s so scary about throwing some fucking toilet paper?”
On Derrick’s signal they scattered through the yard, adrenaline coursing through them. Johnny joined in, throwing his toilet paper over a large dogwood in the front yard, wrapping it up like a child’s mummy costume on Halloween. Derrick was spraying “fuck” and “cock” in shaving cream on the car parked in the driveway. They all quickly ran out of toilet paper and ran back to the tree line to admire their work.
“Dude, look at the hairy balls I sprayed on the car,” one of the other boys said as they all quietly laughed.
“JT, I dare you to spray a smiley face on the front door,” Derrick whispered in the dark.
Johnny rushed across the driveway, shaving cream in hand, the high of the adrenaline still with him. He reached the front porch and softly stepped up the five wooden steps to the large oak door. Just as he lifted the shaving cream from his hip, the front door flew open and a brilliant white light engulfed his vision.
* * *
Evelyn Robinson pulled the heavy front door open intending to fire a warning shot that would scare off those damn boys once and for all. Bringing the shotgun up as she rounded the opening door, she was startled by the dark figure standing in front of her. The shotgun blast pushed her back into the dark house as she tripped and fell over the threshold, the gun skittering away across the hard wood floor.
She lifted herself back up and walked slowly back to the front door. She saw a foot in the doorway before she turned the porch lights on. As she stepped through the doorway more of the body came into focus. Suddenly, she stopped, staring at her intruder’s blood spattered high school letter jacket and the name “J. Turner” printed over the left breast pocket. When she recognized the raw and bloodied remains of Johnny Turner’s face, she wailed into the quiet night.
She stumbled back to the foyer and found the shotgun laying next to the coat closet door. Laying her back against the wall, she slowly slid down to the floor. Her hands trembled as she reached for the gun, pumping a round into the chamber. The smell of gunpowder was still strong but the barrel had already cooled when she placed it under her chin, the trigger just barely within reach. She closed her tear filled eyes and saw Hank, waiting.
(This is my submission to the Flash Fiction Challenge started by Patti Abbott, Gerald So, and PowderBurnFlash. I'd like to thank Patti specifically for encouraging me to participate and giving me a paragraph of her own to work with. This is my first finished story since I've started writing earlier this year so any advice, good or bad, would be much appreciated! I had an absolute blast doing this!)
One of the first books I picked up when I began exploring the world of Crime Fiction was They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. Written in 1935 by Horace McCoy, it was a short book that I found on someone's "Best of List" at Amazon.com. I had no real idea what the story was about, it just seemed like an interesting title, but it was written in the early period of the genre and I wanted to start there.
More of a novella than novel, the story begins with the main character, Robert, standing trial for murdering a woman named Gloria. Each chapter begins with a snippet of Robert's trial and finishes by explaining the path that brought him there. Robert and Gloria were two wannabe actors trying to make it big in Hollywood during the Great Depression. Robert is fresh faced and determined, while Gloria has been run through the grinder and tires of the rat race. (Gloria is not some you take home to mom.) after a random meeting on the street they become hesitant friends and decide to enter a couples only Dance Marathon to earn some cash. A Dance Marathon is exactly what is says apparently; couples must dance, (or be in some sort of motion,) 24 hours per day with only a 10 minute break every two hours.The fact that these Dance Marathons were real and the misery the contestants go through just to make a buck was the most horrifying part of the story. Crowds came to watch these things which make it seem like the first real seeds of reality TV.
At the time I had never read anything quite like it. Thinking back now, and having a broader base to compare to, I would say it is in the same vein as James M. Cain's work, meaning it's completely dark and brutal. If you are looking for an old school, black as night noir, pick this up and enjoy. It's definitely a classic that should be mentioned up there with the greats.
(This story was turned into a Sydney Pollack film bearing the same name starring Jane Fonda as Gloria. I've never seen the film but judging from the trailer below it sure seems to capture the tone.)
When Donald Westlake passed away recently I had only read one of his stories, The Hunter, which was absolutely fantastic. Since that was written under his Richard Stark persona I went in search of a true Westlake stand alone. After reading numerous blogs dedicated to remembering Mr. Westlake I found his story The Ax was highly regarded by nearly everyone. So I ran out to my local library and scooped it up immediately.
Although it was written in 1997, the basic premise of the story is extremely relevant to our current economic climate. Burke Devore is a married, father of two trying to find another job in the paper manufacturing business after being laid off nearly two years ago. After becoming disillusioned with the resume/interview process, he devises a devious plan to improve his odds in locating a new job. He will kill those that he considers his competition. Then, he will kill the man who currently holds his dream job, giving himself the inside track.
I loved the premise of the story but I think the style with which it was told turned me off. I think it may have been too heavy on the first person internal dialogue for my tastes. I would estimate about 90% of the story is told from inside Devore's mind, which is probably fine for most people, but I found it boring to be honest. I'm usually a big fan of first person narration but I got tired of hearing his rationalization for each murder. I understand Mr. Westlake was trying to get the audience to empathize with Devore's state of mind but it just came off as self pity rather than empathy.
The other problem I had was the ending. I kept thinking the wife would be a major factor in the ending but instead she's left to a rather dull subplot. I was just waiting for some twist or something to turn what seemed like a straight forward story, upside down. That never happened and I was a little disappointed.
Now I'm sure that for those that have read The Ax, and loved it, I'm going to be burned at the stake. Maybe I don't have a refined eye for good writing yet. Maybe I haven't been in that situation and therefore couldn't connect with Devore. Maybe I wouldn't know great storytelling if it crawled up and bit me on my ass. Whatever the reason I just could not force myself to like the book. Let the flaming commence!
Sorry I don't have a forgotten book this week. I was going to review The Ax by Donald Westlake but I'm sorry to say I can't give it a positive review. Mr. Westlake is certainly not forgotten so I didn't have much of a case for adding The Ax to this week's round of Forgotten Books. I will definitely have one next week and I'm almost done with a post summing up my Inauguration experience. My apologies again.
Since Monday night I'm up to about 2500 words in my manuscript. That's not even close to meeting my goal of 1000 words per day, but I think the lower output has been caused by the slow evolution of finding my routine when I sit down to write. I have the itch to rewrite and move things around every time I pop open the laptop but I'm learning to control that.
When I first started thinking about writing the #1 piece of advice was write everyday, no matter what it is, just write something. I can see why that is so important. Now each time I write, I can see what I was lacking the day before and correct that in today's new additions. I can see that cycle occurring over and over until you get comfortable and know where things are getting hairy as you go along. It's never perfect the first time through but at least you can spot it earlier and correct it faster. (At least I'm guessing that's how it works)
The one thing I've found to be a slight hindrance is late night writing. My brain does not work nearly as fast after 10pm as it used to. I've taken a few lunch breaks to write and I've found it flows much better than late at night. Nights are the the only large amounts of time I have so I guess I have to fight through it.
I'm having a great time doing it so I must be doing something right. Thank you all of you for the tips and encouragement. They are greatly appreciated!
It's hard to label The Gutter and the Grave by Ed McBain forgotten since it was re-released by Hard Case Crime in 2005. I would make the case, however, that McBain's Matt Cordell should be in the discussion for the greatest PI put to paper.
The Gutter and the Grave was firsted published under the title I'm Canon - For Hire in 1958 by the great Ed McBain. Matt Cordell (in the pre-Hard Case edition known as Curt Cannon) is a successful private investigator in New York City until one day he comes home to find his wife in bed with one of his operatives. After pistol whipping the man, he loses his license and his wife. His life spirals out of control and finds him disgraced and alone on the streets. That is until Johnny Bridges, an old friend from the neighborhood, finds him on a park bench, drinking another day away. Initially asked to help Johnny find out if his business partner is stealing from him, Cordell is sucked in to a murder mystery when the partner is found dead, with Johnny's initials scrawled in blood next to him. From there Cordell reluctantly takes the case and the story takes twists and turns, with the truth a hard thing to come by.
The premise is nothing too original but Cordell as a character is the real highlight. As with any hardboiled detective worth his salt, he is tough as nails but soft as butter when it comes to woman. Through out the book Cordell has numerous run ins with woman, with some looking to change him and others looking to use him. He also had a brutal side, as evident by the pistol whipping, that seemed to be mostly uncommon for the PI's that preceded him.
I'd be interested to see if Cordell had some influence on Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder. Both are brilliant detectives but horrible events in their lives have turned off their will to care. If, as Raymond Chandler said in The Simple Art of Murder, "Dashiell Hammett gave murder back to the people that do it for a reason, not just to provide a corpse", McBain gave the hard stuff back to PI's that do it for reasons other than just quenching their thirst.
The Gutter and The Grave is the only full length novel featuring Matt Cordell, with six short stories collected in 1958's I Like'em Tough. It's a real shame considering, in my opinion, Cordell could have been one of the greats of the genre had he been fully fleshed out.
Well I started typing last night around 10pm and looked up at the clock a little later and found I had been sent through time to 1am. I enjoyed the experience and time didn't crawl by so that's a positive. The words didn't flow as smoothly as I had hoped but I fought through it and came up with a decent 1000 words. I found the hardest part to be describing locations. The dialogue came pretty easily but trying to describe a house or an office was pretty laborious.
Looking back now I think I was focusing on getting everything perfect where I should have just poured it out and edited it on rewrites. I'm definitely going to stick with it today but I'll probably rewrite a little of last night's work.
After a lingering cold, Holiday distractions, and lingering fear/doubt I think tonight is the night I put pen to paper, fingers to keys, and lips to bottle. Chapter 1, Page 1, Paragraph 1, Sentence 1, Word 1, it all starts tonight. The stars have aligned and the time is now. Besides, now that I've said it out loud I have to do it.
When I first started creating a list of crime/noir writers I had to read, Cornell Woolrich was right at the top. Trying to find just the right story to start with was much more difficult than the others on the list. He didn't have Archer or Marlowe serials that let you start at #1 and move on from there. I originally chose "It Had To Be Murder", the story that would become Hitchcock's Rear Window, but could not find it at my local library. "The Bride Wore Black" was checked out. Ditto for "I Married A Dead Man". My last available option happened to be "Rendezvous In Black". As it turned out, I don't think I could have picked a better place to start.
The story begins on May 31st and Johnny Marr is meeting his bride-to-be one last time before they tie the knot the following day. Just as everything couldn't be better for Johnny, his every dream is shattered in an instant. From this point forward he is hell bent on inflicting the same amount of loss on those that took everything from him.
With the engine started, the story is then broken into five "rendezvous". Each episode is centered around a character that may have been directly or indirectly involved in Johnny's moment of horror. In an ironic twist, the rendezvous always ends on May 31st, the same date they took everything from Johnny.
This is where Woolrich really earns his Master of Suspense moniker. Since you have no idea how Johnny will be introduced into each story, you are left to assume the worst of every character introduced. There is also this ticking time bomb always in the background as May 31st looms. The last rendezvous is the strongest of the group. He takes his time crafting a simply horrifying scenario (albeit slightly ridiculous) that is so vividly told, it felt like I was watching the last scene unfold on a movie screen in my mind. Intertwined through the story is a detective who follows in Johnny's wake of destruction, trying to piece together the random events. This adds another layer of suspense as he gets closer and closer but always seems to just miss saving the day.
The beginning is a bit slow and hard to follow, but as events unfold it is a dark suspense story of never ending love and unflinching revenge. By the end you may not approve of Johnny's actions but you can't help but share a little understanding of his motives. While Cornell Woolrich is definitely not forgotten, I think "Rendevzous in Black" may not get the credit it deserves.
When I find an author I'm interested in, I usually start with their first book and slowly move through their library, rarely reading the same author back-to-back. Since I've started reading stories by authors who are long gone and have a small library to choose from (Chandler, Hammett), I find myself being even more strict when choosing my next book off the pile. I have to fight the urge to run out and grab every Marlowe and Continental Op book and devour them in one sitting. I guess I don't want to feel that disappointment knowing that I have no new Chandler to read.
I assume I'm in the minority but what are your habits when it comes to reading a new author's backlog? Do you read serials in order or just skip around?
1. Write a novel. Last year my wife set goals for everything she wanted to do before she turned 30 (sorry babe). That inspired me to set some goals before I turn the big 3-0 in 2009. Writing a novel is at the top of the list. I wrote quite a bit when I was younger, but mostly little 4 page Batman short stories and book reports I chose to do for no one in particular (I did a write up on the Warren Report....I was 12....damn you Oliver Stone). I know it's a bit ambitious but everybody starts somewhere. Hopefully I can stick with it and have a least a first draft done by July 30th.
2. Start interacting in the Crime Fiction community. This blog was inspired by Duane Swierczynski, Scott Parker, and Patti Abbott. Hopefully I can follow in their footsteps and either add something to the conversation or start a conversation worth discussing.