Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Facing January

I had this idea that in 2015, I might return to writing this blog after a long, desert-wandering absence. I've been writing about my reading on Goodreads -- see the feed to the right -- but thought I might expand here with some further observations (but not in this post). I also, uncharacteristically, wrote a long semi-commissioned "fan review" recently on Patricia Highsmith's strange and unique story collection, The Animal-Lover Book of Beastly Murder. I'll post an announcement when it's published.

As I was working on the Highsmith piece -- and finding a little creative reinvigoration -- the film adaptation of her 1964 novel, The Two Faces of January, hit the theaters. It's been a while since I read the book, but the film nicely captures the novel's desultory criminality and morbid, complex attraction between the two male characters, Rydal (Oscar Isaac) and Chester (Viggo Mortensen). The film aims to tie up the plot a little more neatly than Highsmith's novel, but let's blame the film industry for that. If I recall correctly, Highsmith's American publisher (Harper) actually turned down the novel, which irritated Highsmith to no end (naturally), and she had to change publishers. She felt vindicated when the novel ended up winning the Gold Dagger for Best Foreign Novel from the UK's Crime Writers' Association (CWA).

The film also uses its locations -- notably Crete -- especially well. Highsmith readers/critics rightly focus on her strange characterization, but it's worth remembering that she made great use of locations and geography -- Greece in Two Faces, but also Venice in Those Who Walk Away and Tunisia in The Tremor of Forgery.

Highsmith was one of my original inspirations for getting serious about my own writing. Her book on the craft, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, may not be exactly useful, but I found it interesting. (For instance, she remarks (to the chagrin of editors and agents everywhere), "I like a slow start.") Her works gain depth by breaking certain rules: notably, motivation is never quite clear, and characters are not exactly consistent. Arguably, these characteristics make her novels seem both more artificial and more realistic. Perhaps this dynamic keeps some of us reading.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Return of the Prodigal Blogger... and Westerns

I am still alive, but the blog has now gone its longest without a post since it launched in 2007 (I am getting old as my blog languishes). So, I am back (though I will be as errant as ever throughout the year) with an explanation, a short reading report, and some small news.

First--and I have said this before, but I think my intent might stick--I am setting aside my war reading (and I'm going to take "Writing on War" off my masthead soon). To be an engaged citizen of sorts, I believe that it is important to be historically informed and perhaps know a bit about the experience and cost of war. That said, I've come to believe that my extended dive into war writing -- fiction and non-fiction -- was not entirely healthy for me, or it reflected something unhealthy (it was perhaps both causal and symptomatic).

So, since September, I've been reading all over the place, but not crime/mystery fiction so much. I've been reading some metaphysics and also Westerns. My agent has in mind that I might write a Western (he also had me write a synopsis of a post-apocalyptic Stephen King meets Michael Crichton sort of novel; everything is up in the air). I'd read a few Westerns before, but not many, and so I've been reading some lately -- and enjoying them much more than I had expected: Elmer Kelton, Louis L'Amour, Glendon Swarthout, and others.

First and foremost: L'Amour and Swarthout, what I've read so far, write really well: sharp prose, good characterization and action, etc.  I think I was put off by the excessive branding (and sheer volume) of L'Amour, but it turns out -- at least based on the two titles that I read (Hondo and Down the Long Hills) -- that he deserves his reputation.  In general too, in the Westerns that I've read, I've liked the heroic nature of the main characters and the lack of irony. I might just be on a sincerity kick.

Small News

On February 24, Crime City Central will be podcasting a story of mine, "Bridget's Conception." If you're amenable to the audio delivery of stories, please listen and let me know what you think.