Friday, April 15, 2011

Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming, and I

Saturday, April 9, 2011 - Long Beach, CA

Lying in bed after a nice night's sleep (about nine-and-a-half hours worth!). Trying to make up for lack of sleep during the week with long weekend sessions of course doesn't work very well, but it works better than not trying to make it up. I feel pretty good, in other words, groggy, but much more centered and rested than I've been in recent days ...

For the last hour I've been lying in bed reading. After abandoning Hemingway, I've started what I think could be an extensive examination of what are are often foolishly dismissed as "pulp" writers. A while back I reread The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. Last week I picked up that thread and for the first time read Farewell, My Lovely, another one of his classic crime novels. Right now I'm about forty pages into Casino Royale, the first of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. Why am I doing this? For entertainment partially; I'm discovering that I need to immerse myself in the kinds of adventures these authors offer as  a counterpoint to my currently numbing day-to-day life. However, there's something else going on as well. I'm also trying to learn a thing or two about writing, about storytelling, as well as use these kinds of books to take stock of where I am now as a writer. Let me explain.

When I first completed Mother Earth, the second novel in my Backwaters saga, I finally began accepting who I am as a writer. When it comes to writing I essentially have one gift: the ability to say a great deal in relation to the number of words I'm putting down; my sentences are crisp and with each piece I'm becoming freer from indulgence. This makes what I write an "easy read," according to many. People have also told me that my writing is addictive, that they can't put my books down once they start them. All this, I think, springs from a philosophy I have that words have no meaning beyond the story they are there to tell; they have no worth in themselves. Every word in a story should move the story along - if a word is not doing this it serves no purpose and should not be there. If one can write in this manner the words no longer get in the way of the story and reading becomes something more like watching a film, or better yet experiencing real life; a reader feels he or she is living in the universe of the story, instead of just having it described to them. So many writers don't get this; writing for them is at least partially an explorations of their egos, of obsessions they've convinced themselves that everyone else shares or at least should share with them. I think that's way so much "serious" literature is so boring - it's no longer about storytelling but words, technique, the writer's own unacknowledged neuroses. Writers who fall into this trap I feel not only waste their own time, but the time of their readers. many "great" writers, especially those from the so-called "modern" and "post-modern" eras need to (or needed to) pull their heads out of their asses and learn one basic truth, which is that it's the story that matters not the story teller.

Now back to my current reading (finally!). The Chandlers and the Flemings of he world know how tell a story that not only reaches a great number of people in its own time, but can also transcend its time and grab people in the future - and I want to learn, really learn, the secrets behind such feats, secrets that I'm convinced are ancient and unchanging. I mean, what was Homer if not a pulp writer of his time? In other words, I want to be a "popular" writer, as well as a "serious" one. It's taken me a long time to admit this, but I'd rather be the Dumas of my time than the Hugo. Or maybe that comparison is not quite on target. What I want to do is open up people's minds to the bigger questions of life while really reflecting my culture in a way that doesn't shut out the average literate person. And I want to have fun while doing it. More importantly, I want the reader to have fun. John Fante meets Ian Fleming? Knut Hamsun meets Ray Bradbury? Why not? Isn't that more or less what Homer is in the end and he seems to have turned out alright ...

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