Friday, October 30, 2009

It Was Short, But Sweet.

I've moved Needle City over to Wordpress, and you can find the new Needle City here.

Please join me there. I was feeling that Wordpress was more user friendly. It might lose a little in the translation, but it will gain at the payout window, trust me.

See ya there.

And, you know? Thanks for reading me and this blog.



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Can Confess Now: Yes, I've Read Joyce's Uylsses.

I know, this is a blog about noir fiction and writing. I just... just needed to get this out of my system.

I've read Uylsses. No, I do not think it was good. Why did I read it? Well, it's the book everyone talks about but I never could find anyone but one person who ever read the damn thing. You see, I had just finished reading Joyce's short story, The Dead. I can lay the blame for my decision right at the feet of this very paragraph, perhaps one of the greatest paragraphs ever written by anyone, ever:
"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

I mean, look at that thing. It's a work of art. That incredible alliteration: soul swooned slowly. It's lovely. The entire rhythm of, "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling..." isn't just literature, it's poetry, man. It's really so incredible, it chokes me up to read it.

So, I figured, yeah... I can do Uylsses.

Wrong. Now, I'm well aware of the reams of paper written on this novel. I came to it completely aware of its place in the canon. I opened it knowing that people have even graphed out the journey that Bloom and Dedalus take on that fateful day. I got that it was based on Odysseus. But, people, this book is just... well, the most convoluted piece of work every committed to paper. I had, in preparation for my journey, bought the Cliff Notes to go with it. Hey, I'm not proud, but when even Clif Notes tells you something along the lines of, "Well, even we cannot be sure what this chapter is supposed to mean, or its relation to Odysseus's journey", you know you're in for it. Outside of a few parts of the novel, including the final section from Molly's POV, the book is one of the most self indulgent things I've ever come across in art, and that includes The Phantom, Andy Warhol, and Guns n' Roses's Use Your Illusion 1 & 2.

However, that aside, I do feel it really is one of the most important things ever written. I can hear everyone throwing drinks at their screens, taking this blog off of their bookmarks, etc. Hear me out. It came to me one evening when I was ranting about the thing to my wife:

The book is not in and of itself great, but it is great because of all the doors that it opened for those that came after it.

Think about it. We wouldn't have Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Bukowski, etc. No Virginia Woolf or Getrude Stein, either. No novels that pushed boundaries, both in form and content. Joyce really blew the door in, and he did it at just the right time. Good? No. Watershed? Most definitely yes.

Anyway, I've read it. Now at least I'll always have something to talk about at parties.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I'm Feeling A Bit Strangled Today, So Here's a Blues Clip.

Yeah, so what with struggling with a plot that keeps growing tentacles that threaten to choke the life out of yours truly, and 500 new words that I swear would only make sense to a being from Galaxy 451 in the Nexus cluster, IF they were amped out on their equivalent of roofies and cheap Bolivian vodka, I decided to send you this great blues clip for your weekend enjoyment.

Mr. Furry Lewis, singing "When I Lay My Burden Down". It's so god damned good, it makes my heart weep for the beauty of it all. And hell, man, don't we all, at one time or another, wish that we could lay our burden down?


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Character Development and You.

How do you develop your characters? Do you do a general outline of their life? Do you write about that tragic event that happened to them when they were ten or eleven?

I'm ashamed to admit it: I don't do those things. I just go for it, learning about my characters as the first draft grows, allowing their reactions to form who they are. That's probably why I go through SOOOOO many drafts. I mean, of course I have a general idea of who my main characters are, but I really let the story tell me the rest. Their reactions to the dramatic stresses that are the plot, that's where I do the work.

However, I remembered this one exercise I read about, quite awhile ago. I can't remember in which of the hundred or so books on writing I own I read it in, but it was a cool thing, and thinking about it made me post the question: how do you develop your characters?

Have you tried doing a diary, from their POV? Let them really go to town on whatever they want to talk or rant about? Like I said before, I'm not much for writing exercises; I'd rather just jump in and thrash about, hoping to stay afloat. However, this exercise sounded like fun so I thought I'd put it out there.

And just to walk the walk, here's a little bit from Mallen's diary, the protag from my latest book(s):

June 1, 2008

I never thought I’d be someone who would bother with a diary, or journal. Like there’s a difference between the two, yeah? I couldn’t even tell you–… and who are “you”, anyway? Who is this person I’m supposed to be writing this to? God, why the fuck am I doing this?

Oh yeah, I remember now: rehab. Or, to be more precise, my failed rehab. Fuckin’ rehab, man. What a joke. No, it’s not, it’s not a joke; it’s some serious shit with serious people trying to get seriously well. No joke, man, remember that.

So, who the fuck will I write this to? He told me I was supposed to write it to somebody, but who? Mom? Nah… she wouldn’t want to know I’m an addict. Chris? Shit, she wishes she’d never met me or had a kid by me. I bet she wishes she could open up her beautiful head and rip that bit of nasty memory right out of it, man. Yeah, I bet that’s what she wants. And fuck it, man, she’d be right, yeah?

And then there’s Anna.

Anna knows. She fuckin’ knows, man. What does that knowledge do to a little girl, anyway? Knowing that your dad/daddy/pops/old man/whathefuckever is a junkie?

Should I write it to the old man? To old “Monster Mallen”, the scourge of The Fillmore? The most bad-ass cop that ever rode for the S.F.P.D? The bastard that broke open a backdoor to a coke den with his bare hands by ripping the motherfucking Master padlock off with a roar that legend tells scared the piss and shit out of everyone in a four block radius? Should I write this to him?

I don’t want Anna to know this stuff. Or Chris, really, even though she’s seen some of it. Well, a lot of it. Fuck it, I’ll write it to Pops. Monster Mallen. He might understand some of it, the pressures, etc. He never broke, but maybe he’ll understand how his son did.

And maybe, maybe he won’t hate me too bad for it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crime Writer Quotes Tuesday.

Some of my favorites to help you through your day:

“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”
- Raymond Chandler

"If you have a story that seems worth telling, and you think you can tell it worthily, then the thing for you to do is to tell it, regardless of whether it has to do with sex, sailors or mounted policemen." - Dashiell Hammett

"Readers are what it's all about, aren't they? If not, why am I writing?" - Evan Hunter (Ed McBain)

"Ideas come to people who are receptive to them." - Lawrence Block

"I start with the story, almost in the old campfire sense, and the story leads to both the characters, which actors should best be cast in this story, and the language. The choice of words, more than anything else, creates the feeling that the story gives off. " - Don Westlake

“It's a damn good story. If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check.” - Erle Stanley Gardner

Monday, October 19, 2009

You must read this guy.

And I totally mean that. Dennis Tafoya, a new hardboiled thriller writer, wrote this incredible book named Dope Thief. I'm reading it now, and it's impossible to put down. The protag, the setting, tone, are all spot on. And it's Tafoya's debut!

Here's what Kirkus had to say about it:
"An impressive debut by a writer savvy enough to understand that the way to a reader's heart is often as not through flawed characters."

I'm tellin' you, this is a book you don't want to miss. I'm really floored by Tafoya's writing. It's gritty and real, and as you can tell, I'm in love. It's about two guys who pose as FBI agents and rip off drug dealers, and what happens when it all goes very, very bad.

Buy it. You won't be sorry.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It Was The 3rd "Trilogy Saturday" at Our House Today

I decided a few months ago we needed to view all the "big" trilogies in film since Star Wars, one a month, on every third Saturday (I think it was my way of making the end of summer keep moving for me). Today was the Bourne Trilogy: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum. It was a blast, as these are three really great films to watch, especially all at once.

We started a few months ago. Here's the menu we've been following:

Aug: The Matrix Trilogy. If a trilogy ever tanked faster, you find it and tell me. Such a great start, such a great tank. A perfect way to start.
Sept: The Pirates of the Carribean Trilogy. SO much fun, but it sort of starts to heave under its own hubris.
Oct: The Bourne Trilogy. Rocks, rocks, rocks. Really, one of the top trilogies in film.
Nov: The Star Wars Trilogy. Yes, the first three films, not the second three toy commercials.
Dec: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. This had to go here, as this is our annual Xmas-day thing. We sit down and watch about nine hours of Middle Earth, every Xmas day. It's a brilliant way to spend the holiday, especially when it includes a coffee table laden with picnic foods and wine.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Okay, So Let Me Get This Over With.

This is where I work. It's the landing outside our bedroom. My wife found that desk for me on Craigslist and I am eternally grateful to her for it. She also found me that awesome chair from around the same period.

She's lovey that way.

The bottom drawer has this old, glued-on card that says, "1936 Boston Red Sox Baseball Cards". It's quite perverse how much I like that card. The desk has a deep history, as evidenced by the 1/8" layer of pockmarked varnishes on the top.

Those are three of my guitars (in their black cases) in the background: a 1974 Ibanez Les Paul copy, a black Epiphone acoustic, and an acoustic I bought back in 1983 called a Mountain. It has a real Martin top on it, and sounds very, very "warm".

Yes, I am a guitar geek when I'm not writing.

Anyway, that's where I struggle almost everyday with this writing thing I love so much.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Buddy Got His First Book Pub'd and...

... contract copies of it arrived at his house today. I wanted to blog about it because this guy has worked so hard, for so many years, to get to this place in his life. Yes, I admit to a certain amount of jealousy, because of course I wish it were me standing there, holding copies of my book. That's only natural, however, I am also filled with so much joy for him. My book is still being shopped by my agent, so hopefully I'll get there one day, too, but again: he's already there. His novel is a concrete object, with a certain mass and weight that occupies space. He's been hard at work building his author platform and he's doing a fine job at it. You'll find his blog and his website listed here on this blog. Please visit him. He's a great writer, and more of his books will be coming out, trust me.

This man is Ryan David Jahn. His book is Acts of Violence.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Great Auction For a Great Cause

Irene Goodman, of the legendary Irene Goodman Literary Agency (Yes, I admit, I'm biased) is having a truly wonderful auction in December on Ebay. Here's what she has to say about it:

I am very excited about my Ebay auction, which will take place from December 1st-15th. Authors will be invited to bid on critiques of partial manuscripts (around 50 pages plus synopsis). I will personally critique the top 25 bidders. All proceeds will go directly to the Foundation Fighting Blindness and the Deafness Research Foundation.

I'll provide the links to the auctions once they go live, never fear. To get a critique of your work by Irene is really the proverbial golden opportunity, one that will also benefit a couple of great foundations. Mark your calendar and check back for the links!

Short and Sweet

Today is about succinct writing. Hence, here's a link to a fantastic blog entry on the Upstart Crow Literary Blog on Writing Workshops. It's a blast.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Want a peek behind the curtain?

Yes, two posts on one day, however, I really wanted to link to a fantastic blog on the publishing world, Pimp My Novel. Eric's in the middle of explaining what goes on during the acquisition P&L (profit and loss) phase at a publishing house and it's not too be missed.


Rain, and setting a mood.

I woke up to massive amounts of rain today, beating on the roof like an angry army of squirrels. First big rain of the season, and if it weren't for the fact I had to go to work today, I would've gone out for a nice, long walk. I love the rain.

However, the rain made me think of mood, and how a writer can sometimes use weather to help create a mood in their writing. I set my novel, Unseen Damage, during a wet, rainy part of the year in San Francisco. I treat the weather in an anthropomorphic manner, making it one of the characters of the story, instead of just a backdrop.

Think about how powerful water is as a metaphor. A river can represent our journey through life, rain can be the cleansing agent not just for our bodies, but our souls. A great example of this, in film, is Kurosawa's Roshomon. Yes, I know... a film example on a writing blog? However, how Kurosawa uses rain in this film (and in all of his films, really) is a great lesson using weather not only as a mood setting device, but also as a metaphor for redemption. You can certainly watch this film and take away something you can later use in your writing.

I write noir novels, so my rain and weather tends to be dark, overcast, gloomy. However, you can certainly use a sunny day, wind, heat, or snow in the same way. Thinking about the weather world your characters inhabit opens up numerous layers of texture in your writing.

Give it a shot. Why not try writing a scene with your characters that takes place on a rainy day, then try it again with the same scene, but during a heat wave?

Use the weather around your characters to help build your world, make it more real. It doesn't have to be in the forefront, up in the reader's face; just enough to add another layer to the scene.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gotta love the Mondays in our lives.

Or not. This might be a bit short today as I'm working on getting my website together, which lives here.

Yes, it needs more content. I'm working on a links page to all sorts of helpful stuff for writers.

There's something going on at Nathan Bransford's brilliant blog (that was a fun alliteration to type) that I urge all of you to enter: His 3rd Sort of Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge.

Oh, and I'm also a Tweeter. You can find me on Twitter as robertklewis. Yeah, I know... very creative of me. It's been a challenge to live on the net under my REAL name. I've always used an alias of some sort. It feels very much like shaving all the hair off your head and body and walking down the noon day street, nude. Yes, really.

Oh, and nothing to do with writing, but definitely with the blues (another love of mine): Booker White doing "Aberdeen Mississippi Blues", via The Boing.

On yet another note, a quick "you must go here!" sort of thing: the greatest database of agents on the web, plus TONS of informative essays, AND a fantastic forum of helpful writers all pulling together to succeed in what is a crazy hard career choice. I give you AgentQuery!

And finally for today, a small but incredibly informative post over at Editor Unleashed on Authors who are tweeting, and getting it right!

See ya at the bar. I'll be the guy at the end crying into his highball glass.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Post #2: You need to read these guys.

I had no idea what my first real post should be after the intro post of yesterday. I was laying in bed this morning, a huge headache ripping my head to shreds, and it came to me: why not start off with a list of my favorite noir writers?

So, here we go (not in any particular order):

Raymond Chandler. Any list has to start with this man. He elevated what had been considered pulp to an art. His prose style was sharp, lean, his detective the moral compass for the story. His writing went far to define the elements everyone has come to think of as Noir. If you were to start somewhere with his work, I would say The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, and his incredible essay on writing, which can be found in The Simple Art of Murder.

Dashiel Hammett. This man gave us one of the most legendary Noir detective novels: The Maltese Falcon. You can't read Noir without reading this novel. And of course, if it weren't for this novel, we wouldn't have Bogie. You can't go wrong with The Thin Man or one of Hammett's greatest works: Red Harvest.

Frank Kane. Not well known outside of the people who really read magazines like Manhunt, this guy created one of my favorite all time detectives: Johnny Liddell. Liddell books always had the three B's: bullets, broads, and broken noses. You can start anywhere with Kane's work and be happy, though most, if not all of Kane's work is out of print and it can difficult to find. There's Hearse Class Male, Esprit De Corpse, and Slay Ride. And dig the totally hot covers!

Donald Westlake/Richard Stark. Westlake and his alter ego Richard Stark gave us one of the most incredible anti-hero protags in Noir: Parker, the man of dubious morals. Stark's writing is off the charts; his ability to plot, write dialog, and create a mood is really a text book on great fiction writing. You can read any Westlake/Stark novel and be okay, but here's a few to get you started: The Hunter, The Outfit, or The Mourner.

Ross Macdonald. No list would be complete without Madonald on it. His creation, Lew Archer, is one of the all-time great detectives. Archer is the moral witness to a world gone dark and crazy. He's tough, and always ready to do whatever needs to be done to right the scales of justice. Give The Drowning Pool, The Chill, or The Doomsters a shot. Trust me, you won't go wrong.

Of course, if you just want to dip only your gun muzzle into the water and get a good intro to Noir and tough detectives doing tough things, where a dame with great gams can drop a dime on you without batting a lash, try a collection of short stories such as The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, or American Pulp.

Get busy readin', or get busy dyin'.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Post #1, 10.10.09

Here it is: my blog.

I write Thrillers and Mysteries. I love Noir. I've also been a painter and printmaker. I've also made pitas.

Now I write, play guitar, and work a day job. I have an agent who rocks my world. My current manuscript is running around New York, looking for a home.

Welcome. I'm not an expert at this, so there ya go. I'll learn.

Pass the highball glass, will ya?