Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Bloody Muddle

John McFetridge

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of James Crumley. Great stuff. I’d never read Crumley before so I started at the beginning with One to Count Cadence and he was really good right out of the gate. The novel has a great voice.

The one that gets mentioned the most, of course, is The Last Good Kiss and people usually talk about its great opening line, "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon," and the book is full of those kinds of lines.

This one stopped me:

“Stories are like snapshots, son, pictures snapped out of time,” he said, “with clean, hard edges. But this was life, and life always begins and ends in a bloody muddle, womb to tomb, just one big mess, a can of worms left to rot in the sun.”

Now that’s just a great definition of a story – a snapshot with clean, hard edges.

From now on when I think of where to start the story I’ll think about the snapshot with the clean, hard edges. I won’t start the story in the “bloody muddle” before and I won’t keep going out past the hard edge.

It’s a little trickier than just that, of course. The temptation in crime fiction would be to start with the crime and finish with the solution – those would be the easiest clean, hard edges. But most crime fiction, most literature, is trying to be more like life, so there’s probably going to be a little of the “bloody muddle,” a little of the, “big mess,” that is life.

But how much?

It’s always a personal choice, of course, so finding the right balance is part of finding your voice.

On an unrelated note; CBS announced its schedule until the summer and there was no sign of The Bridge.

A news report said:

CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler said the fact that "The Bridge" missed this latest chance to join her schedule is simply a factor of CBS having "more content then we had real estate for." She says CBS has 18 episodes of "Flashpoint" and 13 episodes of "The Bridge" to draw on when a time slot opens up.

The Bridge should air in Canada sometime after the Olympics. It may yet show up on CBS in the summer, or maybe even on a cable network, the way Southland is now on TNT.

Here’s hoping.


pattinase (abbott) said...

You'd think NBC would try and get it. Certainly would be fresher fare than a retread of Rockford Files. I wonder if they think Americans would have trouble with that Canadian accent.

John McFetridge said...

Things are weird in the TV business, Patti. CBS has ordered pilots of new Hawaii Five-O and Cagney and Lacey.

Dana King said...

It amazes me they'd order 13 episodes of a show they hadn't committed to airing. Makes it easier to see why they claim they can't make any money, though it still pales compared to the cluster NBC has created at 11:30.

I like the concept of the bloody muddle. That's what always worries me most when writing a story: the middle sometimes to lack focus. Maybe that's how it should be, things mixing up so the hero (and reader) have to find the right thread to lead them to the ending.

Mike Dennis said...

The Bloody Muddle. What a great phrase, John! I would add that the very lack of clean, sharp edges is what makes noir fiction so believable. It imitates life: ordinary people crossing the line, then getting caught up in the consequences of their ill-advised actions.

Steve Weddle said...

Good stuff.

Maybe they'll put THE BRIDGE on later in mid-season so that it can stand out by itself.