Posts Tagged ‘the long goodbye’

It’s important to read in the genre you’re working in and to be aware of what’s influencing you, for one really good reason: you never know who you might be ripping off.

Someone told me recently that something I’m working on reminded them of Raymond Chandler. I’d never read Raymond Chandler, so this seemed odd to me. I started reading one, and I’ll be damned if there weren’t some downright spooky resonances.

I’ve consumed three Chandler books almost right in a row. And I love them, if only for passages like this:

The other part of of me wanted to get out and stay out, but this was the part I never listened to. Because if I ever had I would have stayed in the town where I was born and worked in the hardware store and married the boss’s daughter and had five kids and read them the funny paper on Sunday morning and smacked their heads when they got out of line and squabbled with the wife about how much spending money they were to get an what programmes they could have on the radio or TV set. I might even have got rich– small-town rich, an eight-room house, two cars in the garage, chicken every Sunday, and the Reader’s Digest on the living room table, the wife with a cast-iron permanent and me with a brain like a sack of Portland cement. You take it, friend. I’ll take the big, sordid, dirty, crooked city.

— The Long Goodbye

I have a weak spot for authors who both amuse me and reach down into the back of my brain and pull out the things that I’m most afraid of. To hell with serial killers and zombies, I’m scared of stagnant small towns and feeling trapped. Maybe that’s why I’ve always liked Stephen King so much: most of his horror stories are set in sleepy Maine towns populated by the sort of people I remember from my childhood. I’ve never actually thought about that before. I think King even says at one point that what is scary is not monsters under the bed but the monsters that lurk inside other people.

What I admire about Raymond Chandler (sometimes in stark contrast to Stephen King) is his ability to use a few words to their maximum. There isn’t a wasted word in a Chandler novel, even when he’s using odd similes and metaphors to describe people and feelings. Somehow Chandler manages to make phrases like “purring like four tigers after dinner”* work, whereas authors like Leslie Charteris tend to just sound silly. (The incessant descriptions of how charming and handsome his hero is really don’t help.)

So, lessons learned. Read. Be aware of what’s influencing you so that you can manage that influence. And: it is a good and necessary thing to show your work to the right people. Terrifying, but necessary. An intelligent and interested reader will point out things you didn’t notice with your nose up next to the words. They will sometimes force you to do a lot of rewriting, but that’s the price of making a good story.


*Tigers don’t actually purr.


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