Monday, January 17, 2011

"Hardboiled Academics" Postscript

Last Friday, I had another piece up on the Mulholland Books website -- this one entitled, "Hardboiled Academics." The piece was built around my discovery that there are (and have been) a lot of crime writers with academic/scholarly backgrounds. Why is this and how does this background influence crime writers? In retrospect, the path from academia to crime fiction makes sense: people like to read; they read through school; they keep going to school; they take up writing because they like to read; and so on.

I pitched the idea to Miriam Parker, the marketing director at Mulholland, and she liked it, so I wrote the lead-in section and then asked a few other writers to share their thoughts. One passed, but Kenneth Wishnia and Bill Crider responded. Miriam contacted Denise Mina and Megan Abbott, and they both threw in their two cents (or bob), and the piece was born. (And thank you to everyone.)

I would like to answer my own question, but I think I'll let my thoughts fester a little longer. A while back, I thought that my academic work had made me a better reader, and that I could bring these skills to bear when writing and evaluating my own fiction. Now I'm not so sure. I also have this idea that I can generate a certain beat in my prose after years of careful (or at least, slow) reading (and sub-vocalizing). I'm not so sure about that either. I'll think about it some more.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Graphic Adaptation of Richard Stark's The Outfit

Okay, I'm back. The holidays bore into my reading and writing time, but I survived. More importantly, Richard Stark's supreme heister Parker is back -- in The Outfit, the second graphic novel adaptation of a Parker book by Darwyn Cooke.

Cooke first adapted Stark to the graphic novel with 2009's The Hunter -- the first Parker novel (1962; the source for the films Point Blank and Payback). I liked this first adaptation pretty well, but I like the second one even better. (By contrast, The Hunter is a stronger novel than The Outfit.) I'm no authority on graphic novels, but Cooke's illustrations reflect the speed, menace, and seedy appeal of the source novels. Cooke's style in both books also smacks of the style of some illustrations from the period when the books were written -- that 60s hipster type of illustration.

The Outfit tells the story of Parker's effort to get the mob -- the Outfit -- off his back. The middle portion of The Outfit features these great faux outtakes from period magazines such as The Lowdown: Crime Confessions Weekly and Turf and Sport Digest. The outtakes tell capers in short form. Parker, to hit the Outfit where it hurts, has his heister acquaintances knock off various operations, which are recounted in these magazines. This technique provides a fresh way to tell a story within a story.

Finally, Cooke goes a long way to echoing the spirit and emphases of Richard Stark (Donald Westlake's best-known pseudonym). Parker is a loner, but honest and loyal in his way. He also functions as a hard workingman criminal, in contrast to the soft and corporatized mobsters of the Outfit. It sure is refreshing when Parker solves a problem with a gun. When Westlake died, it was a real blow to me and a lot of other readers. On and off, for a couple of years, and then later again, I got a lot of nourishment from Stark's Parker books. It's great to experience a faithful version of Parker in this new form.