Monday, May 29, 2006

Write What You Don't Know, Damn It!

In my recent mini-rant about one of my contributors from hell, Heidi (Hey, she's got her own planet, and she does a great web comic!) wrote:

"How do you tell someone that their life sounded boring?"

And that's a very good question. Of course, often it's not the life that's boring -- it's the writing.

There's much commotion right now abou SPADE AND ARCHER, Joe Gores' upcoming prequel to the stone-cold Dashiell Hammett classic THE MALTESE FALCON and much hype about the fact that Hammett was a real-life San Francisco private eye, and Gores was a real-life private eye (well, a repo man).

Oh, the synchronicity!

Oh, the absolutely perfect suitabilty!

Oh, the bullshit.

Fact is, the reason to look forward to SPADE AND ARCHER (and make no mistake -- I AM looking forward to it) is not what either Mssrs. Hammett and Gores may have done before they became writers. It's not what they were -- it's what (and how) they wrote that matters.

I mean, what picklehead would dismiss Chandler or Macdonald (or a slew of other great P.I. writers) simply because they weren't private eyes in a past life? In fact, in many ways Marlowe and Archer are far more "real" -- or at least more believably developed -- than Spade (or even the Op or Dan Kearney) ever was.

Because when it's just you and a book, the real-life experiences of the author are vastly overrated. It's what's on the page that counts, not how it got there. You ask me, talent and creativity and research (and a genuine understanding of people) trump mere experience any day. Gimme a good honest writer with vision making it up over a bad writer without a clue rehashing "reality" any day.

"Write what you know" is possibly the worst advice to give a new writer, particularly if -- experience aside -- they don't know shit.

Go ahead, write not just what you know. but for god's sake write what you can find out or imagine or feel as well and you may be a writer yet. If you can't do that, and only have "what you know" to lean on, don't bother wasting our time.

So look forward to SPADE AND ARCHER because Joe Gores is simply a great writer -- not because of anything else.

(By the way, it's sort of funny to watch the Fedora Brigade lick their lips over the outcoming SPADE AND ARCHER -- many of these same "purists" were jumping all over Robert Parker for daring to finish off POODLE SPRINGS, claiming he had "no right.")

Friday, May 26, 2006

Feelin' Kinda Blue...

Ho-hum, another day, another jerk.

What is it with some wanna-be writers? Despite my best efforts to be cordial and helpful, some folks won't take "maybe" for an answer.

The latest is some yabbadoo who claims he's a real-life private eye, and wanted to know if he should submit his story as fiction or non-fiction. The way he worded his query, I wasn't sure exactly where he was considering submitting his story, so I offered some general advice and suggested that unless it was a particularly amazing true story, that it might be an easier sell as fiction, since that would also allow him to tweak events to make it the best story possible.

Well, this guy got all upset, claiming I was trashing his story before reading it and that he hadn't asked for my advice and that our guidelines were misleading (A-HA! He was thinking of submitting to us!) and I was full of myself and what had I ever done in my life and blah blah blah blah... Eventually I got tired of this and suggested he stop pestering me.

So far he's written me twice more, each message a little more insulting... Sigh.

It's not like he's the first writer like that I've ever had to deal with since starting the site, but the thought that he won't be the last really is really bumming me out today.

Then there's yet another writer who's snail mailed me, asking me to print out and send them guidelines. This sort of thing is particularly annoying, since this is a web site. We do all our editing and publishing through the internet. Everything we do is through the internet, and everything we have to say is right there for all to see.

So when I get queries, requests, short story submissions and even unsolicited novel-length manuscripts via snail mail, it just confuses me and becomes a bigger hassle than I'm willing to deal with these days.

Sorta like the site itself.

Somedays I just feel like pulling the plug. I dunno. Maybe I'm burning out.

Or maybe I just need a vacation, a few beers with friends. Or maybe just a quick shot to the head.

Anyone here planning on heading to BLOODY WORDS?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Book Spat Guf-faw!!!

Tired of mysteries that seem to spin out the same old tired clich├ęs, one after another? Bored with the same old same old private eye schtick? Had enough of books with all the fizz of that half-empty bottle of club soda in the back of the fridge left over from last Christmas?

Then might I humbly suggest going to Helena Handbasket?

Donna Moore's subversive new private eye novel ...GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET is just what the librarian (or possibly the mental health specialist) ordered, a kick in the balls to the same-old same-old, a welcome blast of recycled air that doesn't take anything -- much less the tried-and-true conventions of the mystery genre -- seriously.

Make no mistake here -- we're talking full-tilt parody here, a full-frontal assault on just about everything you've come to expect in crime fiction, a bungee jump down the rabbit hole of literary predictability.

You'll laugh, you'll giggle, you'll snort whatever you're drinking through your nose. But mostly you'll groan... and ponder if the author is all there. Moore comes off like an unholy cross between Raymond Chandler and Alfred E. Neuman, leaving no pun unspun and no turn of phrase unstoned. In Moore's world no cow is too sacred and no play on words too painful.

Certainly, Helena herself isn't quite right -- she makes Honey West look like a nuclear physicist. Imagine Dan Turner and Mae West's bastard love child, a man-hungry bozo with a penchant for martinis, gourmet food, designer shoes and zero aptitude for detective work, plunging head-on into a convoluted and complicated case that will have your head spinning and your gut convulsing with laughter -- and recognition.

Moore lovingly makes her way down a checklist of the genre's usual suspects and most beloved stereotypes, ticking them off one by one, and letting the air out of each and every one.

The elderly cop due for retirement?
The crime-solving cat?
The psycho sidekick?
The long-suffering secretary?
The cop boyfriend?
The enigmatic FBI profiler?
The obsessed serial killer?
The missing loot from a long-ago jewel heist?
The mysterious next-door neighbour who smells of cheese?

Check, check, check. They're all here, all deliciously grilled and lambasted over a low heat of bufoonery and lampoonery. Also along for the ride are a slew of characters with monikers like Smilla daCrowde, Evan Stubezzi and Fifi Fofum.

This is Ms. Moore's first novel, and it's clear she'll go far. Maybe even as far as Siam.

But don't take my word for it. Here's what someone much more important and beloved in the mystery world than me said:

"Of all the books of which I've read this year which are very many because I'm the world's (and possibly the universe's) number one mystery reviewer and this is a mystery novel which I did so read (so there) even if it was very quickly because I'm a speed reader and even though as I said I'm a speed reader I understood every single word even the big ones and I don't care what smart alecks whose names I won't mention sometimes say about of which my syntax is occasionally fractured I would have to say that ...Go to Helena Handbasket is one of those many mystery books that I have read and it was most delightful and a real page turner of a roller coaster ride that I couldn't put down all night long and I would give it five big stars and all I can say is Moore, Moore, Moore."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

More Papers, Please

Just to clarify, it's not that I don't don't think some self-published stuff isn't good. It's just that so little of it, judging from what I've seen, is. And as a reviewer and host of a web site, I've read a lot of fiction -- both traditionally and self-published). An AWFUL lot.

Glen wrote:

"The publishing houses don't always know what's going to sell, and just because something doesn't sell doesn't mean it isn't good. On your own site, you say Max Allan Collins is having trouble finding a publisher for his series. Is he any worse a writer than he was in 1976, 1986, or 1996?"

No, but he does get published fairly regularly. Now, if he were to self-publish a Nate Heller book (the series he's currently having trouble selling), I'd be one of the first to buy one. Because he's got a proven track record and the man can definitely write compelling and entertaining prose.

But just because someone can't get published doesn't automatically make them as good a writer as Max Allan Collins.

Hell, forget Max Collins. Most self-pubbed writers aren't even as good as Dick Collins.

And JD Rhoades asked:

"Kevin, how many illegals have you actually dealt with in real life?"

I live in Southern California and work with the public and am by nature pretty gregarious. I go to bars and cafes and malls and markets and use public transit. How many do you think?

Or is there a quota I have to reach before I'm allowed to comment?

By the way, I notice that your Jack Keller books (LOVED the first one, looking forward to the second) aren't self-published. Quality aside, why do you think you got a publisher and so many self-pubbies didn't?

To continue the analogy, many self-pubbies, like illegal immigrants, don't even try to go through traditional channels. Yes, the game may be rigged and the deck may be stacked and the odds are against you, but to trot out another cliche, you cannot win if you do not play.

I also possess a bit more first-hand info about the American immigration process than some of you might -- I'm an immigrant (and was fingerprinted four times by Homeland Security, which should make all of you feel much safer). For that matter, I've also self-published.

And Robert S.P. Lee said...

"I did the self-pub thing on a small level as more of a calling card. Like handing out a business card."

Which, if you ask me, is a far more realistic and useful view of things -- although it is one hell of an expensive way to do business cards.

Too bad far too many self-pubbers suffer from the delusion that they're going to do an end-run around the industry and become hot-shit best-sellers without ever going the traditional route.

It ain't gonna happen. No matter how many stars Harriet gives you ("you" here not necessarily being you, Robert)

You wanna play in the big league, eventually you're gonna have to lace up and get on the ice.

Friday, May 19, 2006

May We See Yor Papers, Please?

So, nobody's buying my comparison of self-publishing and illegal immigration?

Consider this:

Regardless of merit, most self-pubbies, like most undocs, think they DESERVE it.

"It" being all the rights, benefits and respect of publication or citizenship, respectively.

In both cases, there are regular channels which may, unfortunately, take an oppressively long time, but most self-pubbies and undocs hope to bypass all that by doing a runaround, dissing the very system they actually want to be considered part of.

In both cases, there may be actual legit reasons for jumping the queue, but they're fewer and farther between than most are willing to admit.

In both cases, far too many people are blinded by their sense of entitlement, and a certain amount of denial.

For example:

"I think self-publishing is the pulps of our generation."

Nope, millions of people actually read the pulps each month. Most self-pubbed novels sell less than a hundred copies in their lifetime. And often half of those are bought by the authors themselves.

Unless, of course, you're comparing the quality of the vast majority of self-pubbed books with the quality of the vast majority of pulp stories that -- Black Mask, Amazing Stories, Dime Detective et al notwithstanding -- were pretty dreadful.

I've actually gone into the archives and read some of those old pulp stories, and man, they WERE awful. Mind you, they were often still better written (and edited) than most of the self-pubbed books I've read.

"If you've written eight or more novels and have been completely roadblocked by 5+ more years of rejection..."

Maybe it's time to figure out why... eight books in five years? Doesn't leave much time for editing, does it?

"If anything, self publishing is the talk radio of publishing."

Granted, there is a Rush Limbaugh quality to far too many of the self-pubbed books I've read -- a mean-spirited sense of moral superiority and entitlement (plus a whiff of paranoia); a sort of pre-emptive bite at the hand they want to eventually feed them.

"There's a small number of houses that control publishing, not letting anything they don't like get published."

And what they don't like, mostly, it seems, is books that don't sell (and bad writing).

"Self publishers get different viewpoints out to the public, doing what the publishing houses say they do bu don't."

If you're talking fiction, I can count on one hand the number of original viewpoints I've come across in self-pubbed novels. Most self-pubbed books I've read suffer from being too much like everything else; not from being too different.

What are the different "viewpoints" being suppressed by the big publishers? And are they really being suppressed, or do they just think they're not sellable? Over the last few years, major publishers have published the non-fiction rantings of everyone from good ol' pill-popping Rush and Bill O'Reilly to Michael Moore. And fiction probably has an even wider range.

Look, I'm not saying there are NO good reasons to take these short cuts, but in the vast majority of cases it seems to me that impatience and an avoidance of scrutiny, be it editorial or bureaucratic, seem to be the dominant factors. Yet, in both cases, it's the self-righteous cries of unfairness that seem to be heard the loudest -- and cause so much hostility.

Let's face it -- for all the complaints and self-serving rhetoric, nobody really wants to abolish the system (or the country) -- they just want to be part of it... RIGHT NOW. Because they think they deserve it.

Think about it:

Legal immigration can take a long time, if it comes at all.
Traditional publication can take a long time, if it comes at all.

Editors=immigrant officials
Vanity presses=coyotes
Impatience and a sense of entitlement=impatience and a sense of entitlement
The submission process=the submission process.

Mind you, it could legitamately be argued that some illegal immigrants have made great contributions to their host countries. Most self-pubbed novelists over the last few decades haven't exactly contributed much to literature, although they sure have made a lot of noise about it...

Hmmmm... Imagine a half million of them marching in downtown Los Angeles, demanding to be published?

Roll me over, Domino

Although the 2005 bounty hunter flick DOMINO was supposedly based on a "true" story (just like The Amityville Horror or the Iraqi War), it's just a whole lot easier to turn off your brain completely and try to regard it as pure pulp fiction.

Which, come to think of it, is sorta just like The Amityville Horror or the Iraqi War.

Anyway, even then it's a hard slog. Still, it's easier to swallow this cinematic turd as a hopped-up cartoon than to try to take seriously the over-the-top pretensions of director Tony "Top Gun" Scott's "impressionistic interpretation" on the life of beautiful public school-educated English girl turned ass-kicking gun-toting LA bounty hunter Domino Harvey.

Yes, Domino Harvey was the daughter of acclaimed actor Laurence Harvey, and yes, after stints as a fashion model and pampered Beverly Hills brat, Domino Harvey did indeed become a take-charge Los Angeles bounty hunter, kicking down doors and hauling assholes back to jail. But evidently that wasn't enough for the ham-fisted film maker and his screenwriters, Richard Kelly and Steve Barancik-- nope, they had to get "creative."

First mistake? The miscast yummy-as-ice-cream Kiera Knightley as the hard, thin-lipped, chisel-faced Domino (in the DVD special feature interview, she looks like an ex-Hitler Youth member). The real Domino, while undoubtedly attractive in a chilly fashion-model Eurotrash way, was also saddled with a major drug problem, a penchant for violence and more issues than a magazine stand -- a far cry from the pouty-lipped, puppy-eyed girl-next-door Knightley, a usually more-than-competent actor, who portrays Harvey as an essentially good but mixed-up kid. Picture Bambi with a gun trying to over-compensate by screaming a lot.

Oooh, the angst...

But Scott's biggest mistake was dumping the psychological complexity and dark messiness of Domino's life, and trying to transform it into a dumbed-down, tricked-up guns-a-blazing caper flick that -- ironically -- came out a noisy, convoluted mess anyway. But whereas Domino's contradictions and complexity were the product of real-life, the film's sloppiness reeks of simple cinematic ineptness, weak writing and glaring artificiality.

So instead of something like the similarly themed, flawed but ultimately compelling character study of THE HUNTER starring the late Steve McQueen, we're subjected to a frenetic blend of redundant and frequently laughable dialogue, pointless montages, artsy-fartsy jump-cut edits, gratuitous violence that gives gratuitous violence a bad name, vapid narration and every other annoying ham-handed straight-outta-film school gimmick you can think of, the net result about as pretentious and unwatchable a film as you could get from a "name" director, possibly the stupidest crime flick since Brian diPalma's equally brain-dead FEMME FATALE.

Supposedly, before she died (of heart failure, in her bathtub, supposedly full of enough drugs to stun a rhinoceros, at the ripe old age of 35, shortly before the film was released), the real-life Domino gave a thumbs up to this portrayal.

Which may just be all the proof you need that she was seriously fucked up.

But no matter how fucked up she was, she deserved better than this...

(By the way, yes, I'm alive. Sorry about that... as I suspected, this blog stuff is as time-consuming as everything else in my life, but I will try to do better --HAH! I've said THAT before!!!! --- , on the off-chance somebody actually gives a damn...)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Is self-publishing the illegal immigration of writing?

And does it have to be?

Discuss it among yourselves...

I'll be back -- touch wood -- tomorrow to weigh in on this topic. And start to catch up on about a month's worth of thought-dreams.

And, as the rest of Southern California goes crazy on this, the day of the big boycott, I think this Canadian immigrant will piss off everybody -- I'm not only going to go to work and shop, but maybe I'll buy the new Los lobos collection.

After all, I'm a friggin' immigrant, too. And a one-time self-publisher.

Hell, let 'em wonder...