Thursday, December 31, 2009

Snobbery With Violence

I’ve just read Colin Watson’s “Snobbery With Violence,” a classic study of crime fiction and its sociological relationship. Though originally published in 1971 and focusing primarily on British writers it remains an entertaining and interesting examination of the genre and how it reflects taste and attitudes of society.

Watson, of course, was himself a purveyor of the craft and noted for a series laced with satire. His primary purpose in “Snobbery” was to illustrate how popular crime fiction echoed the temper of the times in which it was written and he does an admiral job with examples from the beginning of the 20th century down to novels of Leslie Charteris and Ian Fleming.

This is not meant to be a review of his book. I simply intend to point out some factors which still hold true and may be of interest to my fellow writers.

For instance, Watson points out crime fiction is divided into two main categories—the mystery (detective story) and the thriller.

“The detective story stimulates, or is supposed to stimulate, the intellect because it contains a puzzle. People who cannot be bothered with puzzles do not read it. It diverts because it presents a situation outside the normal experience of the reader.” He adds, most importantly to its success, is the solution of the puzzle by the end of the book. But: “We do not like the outcome of a detective novel to be easily predictable.”

The thriller, on the other hand, need not include a puzzle. But it must have action, the more the better. Confusion and suspense add to the mix. “Just as there is no reason to doubt the assertion by some women that they like to go to the cinema to have ‘a good cry,’ one recognizes the fact that very many people feel better for a good chase or a few good murders.”

Another point which may be of interest to modern writers, who even more than those of the past find themselves in the position of having to promote themselves rather than having it done for them by their publishers, is found in the example of Edgar Wallace.

In the 1920s Wallace was the acknowledged king of thrillers. He churned out 173 books between 1906 and his death in 1932 and was responsible for 25 percent of British book sales at the height of his career. He was not a great writer, but he was a master of self-promotion.

As noted by Watson, “He took care always to be accessible, easy to interview, and unfailingly opinionated. He readily contributed articles on whatever matters happened at the moment to be uppermost in the bird-brains of Fleet Street.”

Friday, December 18, 2009

Is It Just About Money?

Recently on a writers’ site people were discussing what might happen if the electronic novel supplanted the printed version. I was surprised when several suggested writing would become merely a hobby because it would virtually eliminate the incentive of making money.

Really? I won’t go into my reasons now for believing e-novels have potential for enhancing opportunities for both readers and writers. But money? Is that the only reason people write? Don’t get me wrong, I like money as much as the next guy. But if you want to make money writing fiction isn’t the best way to do it.

Like other creative people, it’s in the nature of writers to crave recognition. And money certainly compliments other forms of recognition. A few people in our own generation have become very wealthy as a result of their fiction. But many more supplement meager earnings from fiction with a day job.

And that’s been the case historically. Recognition for many, many more didn’t come until long after their deaths. Now surely all of us would prefer to have some of that acclaim and gelt while we’re around to enjoy it. But, realistically, we have to abide with the facts.

Even Poe had little recognition and lived in poverty most of his life. Joyce? He died in financial straits. F. Scott Fitzgerald, now considered one of America’s leading writers, didn’t make much money from The Great Gatsby or Tender is the Night, which are now considered his best novels. In fact, it wasn’t until after his death his books won him wide recognition.

The same is true of many others. Katherine Anne Porter, a major voice in 20th century American literature, supported herself with journalism and hack writing. Her first book, Flowering Judas, met with only modest sales and it was nearly 10 years later that she published a second book. Isaac Barshevis Singer, born in 1904, dropped out of rabbinical school after only two years and supported himself for most of his life as a journalist, translator and proof reader. Championed by Saul Bellow and other writers, he published his first novel in English in 1950, won fame and, eventually, a Nobel Prize.

I could go on and on with this analogy. But you see my point.

Few of us write fiction because we expect to get rich. We don’t write because of lack of ability to do something else. We write it because we want to—and that doesn’t demean it to the limit of a hobby. Not that there’s anything wrong with hobbies. But a hobby is something we do primarily for entertainment; a diversion from the trials and cares of every day life. Anyone who tries it will soon learn writing fiction is not always entertaining. It’s hard work and anything but a diversion.

If your goal is to make money from writing, then you’d best consider options other than fiction.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Release Coming

I just signed with my publisher, Whiskey Creek Press, for the fourth novel in my Sticks Hetrick mystery series. I don't have a publication date yet, so I can't say more about that at this point.

There are few things a writer likes more than a new contract. Need I say I'm thrilled to have a new book in the offing.

BEING SOMEONE ELSE begins with the discovery of an out-of-state reporter found murdered in the restroom of a sleazy bar. Most of the patrons scatter before police arrive on scene. Of the few who remain, none is willing to admit having seen or talked to the victim. When contacted, even the man's wife can't answer why he was in Swatara Creek.

Later the team learns of the murder of another out-of-stater in an adjoining county and the disappearance of a popular Catholic priest. Is there--as Stick's friend State Police investigator Reuben Riehm suspects--a connection between the cases?

More later.

For those who haven't read the series, now would be a good time to read SOMETHING IN COMMON, CRUEL CUTS and CORRUPTION'S CHILD.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Anybody Want to Buy an Old Typewriter?

I have a cherished Remington Quiet-writer my parents bought for me way back in the 1950s. They probably intended it strictly for schoolwork. It got much more use over the years as I pounded out several novels, countless articles and short stories, a play, letters and tons of other documents.

None of those novels ever sold and the play was such a terrible mess I wouldn’t even discuss it today. Many of those articles and short stories did sell and helped me learn a bit about the writing process. Though it had its faults, I loved that quirky old machine and kept it even after replacing it in the 1970s with an electric model which cost much more and wasn’t half as good. Like most everyone else I’ve turned to a computer now (I think I’m on the fourth one as a matter of fact) and it has its virtues. But I’ll never be as fond of any computer as I am of that old Remington.

I don’t really want to sell my typewriter. I mention it only as the result of reading in the New York Times yesterday morning how Cormac McCarthy plans to sell the Olivetti he’s used since 1963. McCarthy has been much more successful at the writing trade than I ever expect to be and he’s won a slew of awards attesting to his skill. He’s replaced his typewriter with another just like the old one (no computers for him) and he’s selling the Olivetti for a good purpose.

In case you want to place a bid, McCarthy’s typewriter is being auctioned off at Christie’s on Friday and it’s estimated it may fetch as much as $20,000. Proceeds will benefit the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit interdisciplinary scientific research institute with which he’s affiliated.

Don’t bother making any offers for my typewriter. It doesn’t work very good anymore and its hard to find ribbons. But I still have a lot of fond memories of the service it did provide for many, many years. Come to think of it, I may still have that electric in the attic if you want to make a bid on that. Anything up to and including $20,000 will be considered.