Mike McCrary guest blogs this week. Mike has written the novella Getting Ugly, the novel Remo Went Rogue, and now his newest book, Genuinely Dangerous. He knows how to tell a tale at a breakneck pace, and the violence in his books, of which there's plenty, comes mixed with a lot of dark humor. I asked him to talk about this violence/comedy mix and some of the books and films that combine these elements that have influenced him most.
Coming up with something truly (I mean truly) original is almost impossible, in my opinion at least. I mean it’s 2016 (almost 2017) and if you consider all the books, movies, TV shows and whatever other form of storytelling that’s been released into the universe over the last 50 or 60 years, the idea of coming up with something that’s never, ever been done before is more than a little daunting.
Most writers I know are all taking the stuff they love, the stuff that inspires them, and mixing it up, filling in the gaps and slapping it with their own spin. Oh yeah there’s that thing I read last year that I dug, that movie from childhood, that character from that thing, that idea I had in the shower, while droping the kids off, yeah all that, all of that could be something.
It’s possible that all that together might not suck.
They take it all, run it through their own personal, messed up view of the world, hit chop on the blender, rewrite, chop, rewrite, oh wait that thing I saw the other day, delete that shit, rewrite and then serve along side a big-as-your-face tumbler of booze.
I tend to tilt towards crime fiction that blends humor with action, violence, lots of profanity and questionable people making questionable decisions. Always try to keep it fun, entertaining and never boring.
Quick bit of backgroud so some of this make sense. My new book, Genuinely Dangerous, is about a down and out filmmaker who decides the way back into Hollywood is to embed himself with a crew of criminals and film a documentary as if he’s a war correspondent. What could go wrong?
So here’s a few of the millions of pounds of books and movies that have inspired all of my stuff and in particular, Genuinely Dangerous.
Survivor (Chuck Palahniuk)
This was a huge influence. I’m a big Palahniuk fan and this is one of my favorites. I -- like a lot of people -- saw Fight Club in my twenties while I was drifting to figure myself out and working a dead-man-walking corporate gig that I hated. That movie expressed everything that I felt and could never express. I devoured the book and haven’t looked back since. A lot of it is just the way Chuck writes. I’d read him if he wrote a book on knitting. I re-read Survivor while I wrote Genuinely Dangerous and then realized the whole thing, the whole story I was doing, could be done as a satire. A dark comedy.
This changed everything. Broke it wide open. Thanks, Chuck.
Severance Package (Duane Swierczynski)
I stumbled upon Severance Package in an LA bookstore one day. Something about it caught my eye and it changed my writing life forever. I was doing screenplays and never even considered writing books, just didn’t think it was for me and didn’t think my writing would work with books.
Within a few pages my jaw dropped. It was like getting permission. Severance Package is fast, violent, funny, filled with big action, amazing, and I had never read anything like it. I stepped back thinking, Wow. This exists in the world? You can write books like this? I had no idea.
It took several years for me to try writing books, but you can circle me stumbling across Mr. Swierczynski as the moment that the universe said it was okay for me to do so.
Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert)
This is more a writerly type book. Nonfiction, but for me, it’s essential for any writer that’s gone down that dark path of writer-angst. Even if you haven’t gone that way, you should check out Big Magic anyway, perhaps most of all, just to keep you off that path. She does a great of job of balancing compassion with shut the fuck up. I found this book (audio book actually, it’s fantastic) at a time when I needed it and it turned a lot of things around for me.
Also cheaper than therapy. Just saying.
Big Maria (Johnny Shaw)
This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Period. If you write funny, you try to do this. That’s all I’ve got on this one.
Savages (Don Winslow)
If Severance Package was the catalyst, then Savages was the tipping point for me. Like with Duane’s book, Savages was a moment where I thought this is something I can do. Not in any way suggesting that I’m Don Winslow or Duane Swierczynski, but what I am saying is that those books were the call to join the party.
Don introduced me to the idea of attacking the page. He’s not writing this thing to wisk you away to a land of balloons and unicorns. He’s telling you a story and he’s not asking permission to do so. The book demands your attention from page one and doesn’t stop until the last body drops.
Rock N Rolla (Guy Ritchie)
Guy Ritchie going back to the kind of stuff I love him doing. The movie never got the recognition I thought it deserved. To me, it’s just as good as Snatch or Lock, Stock but I never see or hear people throwing it in there.
It’s a great lesson in mixing comedy, crime and crazy while keeping it in its own lane of reality. It’s also a masterclass in how to keep multiple stories going on multiple levels and all running at the same time.
Hurlyburly (David Rabe)
Loved this little movie with a big cast. Based on a play and it views like it’s based on a play. Very dialogue driven with some rock-solid performances. It’s a great dive into the Hollywood mindset, both exaggerated and real, and has all the moral ambiguity you’d want and expect from a movie biz tale. It was great to revisit the film while working on Genuinely Dangerous.
Kind of like visiting old friends from LA.
Bonnie and Clyde (Gene Wilder)
This is obviously a classic crime film that we all know and love, but for me the key for Bonnie and Clyde was the small part Gene Wilder played. This is what would become a catalyst for the book.
A guy completely out of his depth with a group of criminals, but too caught up in his own shit to fully realize that he’s in a really dangerous situation with really dangerous people. Gene stole part of that movie and I had this idea that he should have his own story.
So there ya go. Not enough internet available for me to name all the stuff that’s inspired me to write. I’ve left out the obvious stuff like Tarantino, Chandler, Agatha Christie, Jim Thompson, Gillian Flynn, Elmore Leonard, Choose Your Own Adventure books, Mash, Judy Blume, Dr. Suess…
You get it.
Genuinely Dangerous is available here.
Outstanding post. I have thought for years the key to writing anything is execution. We’ve been through just about every idea there is. All that remains are variations and mash-ups. I’m not to proud to admit the ending of my first PI novel was flat until I remembered the climactic scene from the movie Three Days of the Condor. Inserting that idea into my context fixed things up right quick.
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