Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Keeping It Real....crime writing edition. 

Crime and mystery authors are unique among the various purveyors of literary articulation in that they are the only writers of fiction that routinely have their credentials challenged in respect to their authenticity. No one thinks GRRM grew up battling dragons. If perchance you do then I know a good therapist. I doubt many people think Stephen King has vampires and demonic clowns playing UNO in his basement.  And I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that very few people thought Tom Clancy was a deadly merc with a high confirmed kill count. But time and time again I've watched as folks will question crime writers about their two fisted adventures. Here are some actual questions I have been asked about my own work.

1. Have you ever killed anyone.

I love answering this with an enigmatic "No comment."

2. How many fights have you been in ?

Now for me this question is somewhat justified. I have had my chair of alcohol inspired confrontations. But I am the exception not the rule. The master of hard boiled noir fiction Raymond Chandler was a failed oil executive. I dare say he probably never gut shot anyone with a 1911 Colt. His contemporary Dashiell Hammett actually had some legitimate investigatory experience. But for my money Chandler's story are a lot more fun.

3. Can you pick a lock? 
I wish the answer to this was yes. 

4. is your main character you?
If I did half the stuff Nathan Waymaker does in my debut novel not only would I end up in jail my mother would die of embarrassment.

5. Can I write crime fiction if  I'm not a real tough guy/gal?

 This question always makes me a little sad. Sure real world street cred and an intimidating reputation are cool. (Let's not fool ourselves and say otherwise) but they are not required. The imagination is just as important to the crime writer as it is to any other scribe in any other genre. William Irish was an agoraphobic alcoholic with mommy issues. Yet he was able to write some of the darkest most morally complex thrillers in the history of mystery fiction.  Robert B. Parker looked like he could kick your ass but he was also known as a gentle gourmand who was more comfortable cooking for friends than busting heads. 
  The art of crime writing does not require a hands on apprenticeship. There is a famous story about Sir Laurence Olivier on the set of the Marathon Man. During one scene a haggard Dustin Hoffman comes on to the set. He informs anyone that will listen that since his character was up all night being tortured he had stayed up all night as well. According to the legend Sir Laurence had looked at Mr. Hoffman and said:
"My dear boy why don't you just ACT."
If I can paraphrase Sir Laurence. 
Just write. No tough guy/gal  certifications required.


Thomas Pluck said...

I love this. I get a lot of these, too. I've had my share of stupid violent experiences, and I only train in fighting because I like it. I never got any good! I'm a big ol' tomato can and I am the first to say it. My author photo with the hands up is meant as a joke to all the "tough glare" crime fiction author Glamour shots.

Jay Stringer said...

True words.

There's a moment in The Way of the Gun that stuck with me. Del Toro's character says, "these days, they want to be criminals more than they want to commit crime." And James Caan says, "that's just the way of the world."

Too much time spent on the pose. The image. The spin. The persona. On playing tough guys or wise guys or rebels. Not enough time spent on the page, putting in the real tough work.