A little while ago Jason Duke offered up a prize for a writing contest. A hundred bucks. I agreed to be one of the judges and yesterday (only one day late) submitted my picks.
But really, every story entered was very good. I had a feeling they would be. Every flash fiction challenge I read is full of really well-written stories. Every issue of ThugLit. Everything on Twist of Noir. Needles, the actual ink on paper magazine put together by our own Steve Weddle and Scott Parker had really, really good stories.
So, now here’s my question. Is this crime fiction too well-written?
The only time I’m ever pulled out of one of these stories is when it’s told from the point of view of some uneducated thug or a hooker who’s been living on the streets since she was twelve and they use a word like “purchase” instead of “buy.” What’s that expression about not using a ten dollar word when a ten cent one will do?
Or, the famous Faulkner line about Hemingway, that he’s, “never used a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” I’ve always imagined that Faulkner thought it was an insult and Hemingway took it as a compliment.
But it’s also the characters. Sometimes I wonder if maybe we’re all using too many of these down-and-out, desperate characters (I include myself in all this, too, of course). So many strippers and hit men and mob thugs. And hanging out in so many dive bars. Often it feels like a Bukowski novel, but Bukowski actually lived that life.
So, I wonder, why doesn’t more current crime fiction involve characters more like the people writing it – middle-class, educated, pop-culture savvy? Able to use Google and a cell phone?
The crime world is pretty much the same as the rest of the world, it’s filled with everyone from down-and-out, desperate, homeless people to absurdly rich, worldy, successful people. And there’s a middle-class in crime, too. And cops who aren’t dysfunctional or burnt-out or damaged.
It may be more challenging, it may be riskier to try and make these kinds of characters interesting enough to carry a crime fiction story, but the payoff would be greater, too (maybe not in sales, I admit, but in literary quality maybe).
Sometimes I read Texts From Last Night – they’re funny and sometimes telling. Mostly college kids. A lot of texts about binge drinking and anonymous sex and plenty about drugs – they mention their dealers a lot. It makes me think that maybe there are crime stories on campus and in the suburbs that aren’t being told. Those drugs got there somehow and sometimes college kids run out of money.
Of course there are plenty of examples of crime writers having characters a lot like the people in their lives. Victor Gischler’s Pistol Poets has some great stuff on campus. Robert Stone has written some fantastic stuff about middle-class people who get involved in drug smuggling.
So, what’s some of your favourite crime fiction with characters a lot like you?