As today is American Independence Day (and because, quite frankly, having just blogged here yesterday, I don’t have a clue what else to do), I thought I’d model today’s post after those gigantic assortment packs of fireworks your neighbors like to buy in order to celebrate the holiday like the Allies attacking the beach on D-Day. You know, assortment packs like this one:
None of the following subjects of conversation, in my estimation, are weighty enough to build an entire post around, but in combination they just might make for a decent read. (Hope springs eternal.) So without further ado, I hereby offer this hodgepodge of ruminations, some only tenuously related to the writing life, each representing an individual item commonly found in said fireworks assortment . . .
(Oh, and BTW – If these amateur munitions are illegal to set off within Los Angeles city limits, why does my South Pasadena neighborhood already sound like a Battle at Gettysburg reenactment every night after 6 PM? Can somebody please tell me?)
Firecrackers – Long-Overdue Responses to Recent Murderati Posts
Maybe some of you have noticed that I’ve been conspicuously quiet lately regarding the posts of my fellow Murderati authors. It’s not that they haven’t moved me to think, I promise you. It’s just that I’ve been busy as hell and haven’t been able to find the time to offer my reactions. Alex’s recent post about how much output is too little for an author trying to make a living in today’s e-book dominated marketplace, and David’s ensuing response to it, have been particularly deserving of my attention.
So I’ll offer my thoughts on the subject now.
David wrote: “. . . with each book, I’ve tried to write, if not a masterpiece, a book that at least tries to measure up to the greatest books about crime that I’ve read: The Long Goodbye, Cutter & Bone, Bellman & True, Nightmare Alley, Dog Soldiers, God’s Pocket, Clockers, The Long Firm, to name a scant few.”
I can so relate to this. I think I do the same thing — but not all the time. Sometimes, I know damn good and well that my WIP at the moment is something well short of a masterpiece, and that’s perfectly fine, because all I’m really aiming for is a small gem. Small gems are masterpieces in their own right, relative to their most applicable genre or sub-genre.
I don’t think every author should be expected to set the bar at “masterpiece,” each and every time out. But he should settle for nothing less than his best work, within the parameters of the kind of book he’s attempting to write. That is what I’m always committed to doing, and like David, I obsess endlessly over every word in the pursuit of that goal.
Could I write faster than I do at present? Oh, yes. Faster and better? Uh, no.
If I thought I could afford to publish (or contract to have published) anything that didn’t represent the absolute best writing I’m capable of producing, I might be willing to speed things up a little and take my chances with the resulting work. But that’s a risk I’m just not prepared to take. You only get one chance to impress with most readers; blow that chance by giving them something to read that was rushed into print simply to meet a determined annual rate of output and you’re screwed. One book a year or five, mediocrity is not going to buy you the loyal readership you seek.
Roman Candles – A Personal Summer Reading List, Pretense-Free Edition
The following are five books I hope to read this summer, simply because I think I might enjoy them, and not because any are likely to make me a better person, or give me a greater appreciation for the use of florid language in stories altogether lacking a plot.
THE SISTERS BROTHERS – Patrick DeWitt
This just sounds like too much fun not to read.
THE END OF EVERYTHING – Megan Abbott
I’d read this one for the title and cover art alone.
DIAMOND RUBY – Joseph Wallace
Baseball and a smart, headstrong young woman who knows how to play it, both in a YA novel suitable for adults. What’s not to love?
CLAIRE DEWITT AND THE CITY OF THE DEAD – Sara Gran
Sara Gran will be reading from this at the NOIR AT THE BAR party in Los Angeles later this month. I hope to have the book read in time for her to sign my copy.
IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS – Erik Larson
I read Larson’s THUNDERSTRUCK and couldn’t put it down. This book sounds even better.
Missiles – Books I Know I Should Read, But Will Probably Never Get Around To Cracking
I’d be a smarter, wiser, more culturally informed person if I read these “must reads,” I’m sure. But I fear time’s running out.
1984 – George Orwell
To answer your question, yes. I am ashamed.
ON THE ROAD – Jack Kerouak
Please don’t hate me, Stephen. But poetry has always given me the hives.
KINDRED – Octavia Butler
The late author was a good if distant friend before her passing, but I never read her, acclaimed as her speculative fiction was.
HARRY POTTER AND THE (Fill in the Blank) – J.K. Rowling
Yes, this is absurd. My wife and children live and breathe these books, I can’t take three steps in our house without tripping over a hardcopy of one of them, and yet I’ve never gotten more than a third of the way into the first installment. Am I nuts?
THE GREAT GATSBY – F. Scott Fitzgerald
If I could get the image of Mia Farrow (whom I’ve never cared for) as Daisy Buchanan out of my head, I might find the will to give this classic a try. But I can’t. I just can’t.
Sparklers – Reading Just for Fun – What a Concept!
It’s been a long time since I’ve tried any form of fantasy fiction, but the HBO series GAME OF THRONES got me to thinking about reading at least one of the books by George R. R. Martin on which the show is based.
So I bought myself a copy of the first, aptly titled A GAME OF THRONES, and I haven’t put the damn thing down since. Epic tomes of this dimension usually intimidate me all to hell, but I’m racing through this book like my life depends on it. Martin can flat out write: you name it — memorable characters, crisp prose, smart and funny dialogue that rings true — it’s all here. Reading for pleasure has never been so . . . well, pleasurable!
Questions for the Class: What would your own literary Fourth of July “fireworks assortment” look like?
Those aren't fireworks, those are AK-47s.
Thank you for succinctly summarizing my thoughts better than I did. A small gem? A perfect goal. I agree, you just want to write the best book, and reader loyalty is never a given.
I'll be brief, because this is one of those days where obligations grab you in so many directions, but the fireworks:
I'm reading Donald Ray Pollock's KNOCKEMSTIFF and Bonnie Jo Campbell's AMERICAN SALVAGE, two of the best story collections I've ever read. Both showcase hardscrabble Midwesterners — Pollock in southern Ohio, Campbell in western Michigan (not far from Megan Abbott territory), and they both touch on the ravages of meth in those regions. But they also just plunge deeper and more darkly into the American soul than anything I've read lately.
I've got Don Winslow's KINGS OF COOL to read before I introduce him at the Book Passage Mystery Con later this month. I'm still reading Charlie Stella's JOHNNY PORNO — talk about a gem. I'm taking it slow, because I don't want it to end.
I've turned my sites toward B. Traven, the author who wrote the TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. He's quite a character in his own right, and wrote some of the most amazing novels of the dispossessed while living in Mexico — working class masterpieces. I'm starting with THE DEATH SHIP, about a stateless wanderer who gets a job shoveling coal on a freighter the insurance company has decided to scuttle.
And for fun in the non-fiction realm, I'm reading Jonathan Kirsch's A HISTORY OF THE END OF THE WORLD, about the Book of Revelations, and how it came to be (and the much larger tradition of apocalyptic literature it represents).
Have a great 4th, Gar. Tell Sara I send a big hello when you see her.
There was a blast last night from our neighbors that rattled the windows. It sounded like a water heater exploded. And yes, fireworks are illegal. It's gonna be a long, long, long night.
Part of why I love my job is I love my homework! I just finished reading Greg Rucka's ALPHA, and now I have to choose between Jess Walter's BEAUTIFUL RUINS, Cornelia Read's VALLEY OF ASHES, Rebecca Cantrell's CITY OF BROKEN GLASS, and M. J. McGrath's THE BOY IN THE SNOW. Not everything I read is a winner, but these are sure bets, each and every one of 'em.
Did I mention I love my job? Heh.
I, too, have never read THE GREAT GATSBY. Don't care about the time, don't care about the drama, and I duck like mad when people talk about it. I'm going to have to. I know. I've never read Faulkner or Joyce, either. Does that make me shallow? Probably. But there you go, that's the way I roll.
For fun, I'm seriously feeling driven to re-read Terry Brooks' "The Word and The Void" trilogy. Something about that has been nagging at me, and not just because he was in the shop recently. I'm also strongly considering re-reading, well, pretty much anything by Patricia McKillip. Her use of language always makes me happy.
And with that, Happy Fourth of July!