Studying the Masters – Part 12 – Mickey Spillane

Mickey SpillaneThis post is the twelfth in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

 

Frank Morrison ‘Mickey’ Spillane born in Brooklyn in 1918. He wrote several novels featuring his detective character, Mike Hammer which have sold more than 225 million copies internationally. He also received an Edgar Allan Poe Grand Master Award in 1995.

Spillane was in the Army Air Corps (predecessor of the Air Force) during World War II and became a fighter pilot and a flight instructor. Spillane, an active Jehovah’s Witness, was married three times.

Spillane started as a writer for comic books. While working as a salesman in Gimbels department store basement in 1940, he met tie salesman Joe Gill, who later found a lifetime career in scripting for Charlton Comics. Gill told Spillane to meet his brother, Ray Gill, who wrote for Funnies Inc., an outfit that packaged comic books for different publishers. Spillane soon began writing an eight-page story every day. He concocted adventures for major 1940s comic book characters, including Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman and Captain America.

spillane1

In 1947 Spillane decided to boost his bank account by writing a novel. He wrote I, the Jury, his first Mike Hammer tale, In 19 days, which sold 6 1/2 million copies in the United States alone. Spillane’s Mike Hammer character originally started out to be a comic book character.

Although not very shocking by today’s standards, Spillane’s novels featured more sex than those of his contemporaries. Interestingly, the violence was more subdued than most detective novels of the time.

spillane2In all, Spillane wrote 45 novels, 11 of which were completed or are being completed by Max Allan Collins between 1947 and 2016. At the time of his writing, critics were tough on him because of the amount of sex in his work. This later became tempered and his work has since gained a great deal of respect in the crime/detective genre.

Studying the Masters – Part 11 – Dashiell Hammett

This post is the eleventh in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.


hammettSamuel Dashiell Hammett, an American author, wrote hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. He was also a screenwriter, and political activist.

He is best known for the characters Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon) and Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man). Many regard him as the best mystery writers of all time.

Hammett worked for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency for seven years with a break during which he served in World War I.

Like many writers of his time, Hammett became an alcoholic before working full-time as a writer inspired by his work with the detective agency. He was first published in a magazine in 1922.

Raymond Chandler (see Part 4 of this series) is often considered to be Hammett’s heir apparent. He spoke of his mentor in the following quote:

“Hammett was the ace performer… He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of, The Glass Key, is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before”

Hammett was also known as a left-wing activist and a member of the Communist Party USA. Despite this in early 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hammett enlisted in the United States Army. He served as a sergeant in the Aleutian Islands, where he edited an Army newspaper.

After the war, Hammett’s activism led to him serving time in prison and being blacklisted as a result of McCarthyism.

In the 1950s Hammett became reclusive until his death in 1961.

Hammett wrote four novels during the period of 1929-34. He then wrote related screenplays from 1936-43. His short fiction spanned nearly 40 years from 1922-61.

He was truly an architect for the hard-boiled detective fiction genre.

Studying The Masters – Part 10 – Michael Connelly

michael connellyThis post is the tenth in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

Michael Connelly is best known for his Bosch series. Heironymous “Harry” Bosch is a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. He has been featured in 19 novels by Connelly, who has also written nine novels not featuring Bosch along with several short stories. His Bosch character was adapted into a series for Amazon. His novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, was adapted into a well-known film.

lincoln lawyer

Connelly has won every major mystery writer award. He is a graduate of the University of Florida and having lived in Florida since age 12. After graduating, Connelly worked with newspapers in Daytona and Fort Lauderdale covering the crime beat.

black echo

After three years at the Los Angeles Times, Connelly wrote his first published novel, The Black Echo (1992), after previously writing two unfinished novels that he had not attempted to get published. He sold The Black Echo to Little, Brown to be published in 1992 and won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for best first novel. The book is partly based on a true crime and is the first one featuring Connelly’s primary recurring character, Los Angeles Police Department Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, a man who, according to Connelly, shares few similarities with the author himself.

hellConnelly named Bosch after the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, known for his paintings full of sin and redemption, such as the painting Hell, a copy of which hangs on the office wall behind Connelly’s computer. Connelly describes his own work as a big canvas with all the characters of his books floating across it as currents on a painting. Sometimes they are bound to collide, creating cross currents. This is something that Connelly creates by bringing back characters from previous books and letting them play a part in books written five or six years after first being introduced.

Connelly went on to write three more novels about Detective Bosch — The Black Ice (1993), The Concrete Blonde (1994), and The Last Coyote (1995) — before quitting his job as a reporter to write full-time.

The success of his Bosch series is, in part, attributable to publicity he received when President Bill Clinton was photographed coming out of a bookstore holding a copy of The Concrete Blonde. The two later met in Los Angeles.

Connelly continues to enjoy success with his Harry Bosch series as well as his standalone work.

I resonate with Connelly based on his approach to writing. He doesn’t always know where his story will go, although he has a general idea. Also, his characters are influenced by world events and change as his own life changes.

Studying the Masters Part 9 – Stieg Larsson

stiegStieg Larsson is best known for his trilogy that started with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I’m including him in my ‘Masters’ series because of the worldwide success of these books and because of his death at the relatively young age of 50. Actually, he died before the first book was published, so he never realized the success that his work would achieve.

In another example of an author that wrote what he lived, Larsson was an activist and journalist much like his character, Mikael Blomkvist, a mainstay in his trilogy. His other very notable character is Lisbeth Salander, a combination hacker, punk, emo, nearly autistic woman who has created herself based on her early experiences of abuse from a criminal father, witnessing violence against her mother, and abuse in the public child welfare system.

larsson books.pngLarsson’s books demonstrate his expertise in the areas of Swedish politics, business, and finance. This could sometimes make his books difficult to read in spots. The intrigue and the spirit of his characters, however, mad the books well worth the effort.

One thing that I particularly enjoy about Larsson’s characters is their flaws. Blomkvist is a bit of a womanizer, whose main love interest is a married colleague. Their affair is carried out, however, with the full knowledge and consent of her husband. Salander is flawed because of her past and, even though she is the ultimate heroine of the book, she never rises above those flaws completely.

4th larsson bookA fourth book in the Lisbeth Salander/Mikael Blomkvist series has been released by another author, David Lagercrantz. The book, while not terrible, does not contain Larsson’s spark that he gave his characters, especially Lisbeth Salander, who appears sparingly in this book.

Studying the Masters – Part 8 – Harlan Coben

This post is the eighth in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.


coben

Like many, I discovered Harlan Coben from his book, Tell No One. The book, written in 1995 is a mystery that grips the reader from the first pages. I have since become a fan of Coben’s, reading every book that he publishes. Like some authors in his genre, he has hits and misses.

tell no oneCoben has a 10 book series featuring the character Myron Bolitar. He’s not your typical hero. He is a Jewish attorney/sports agent who was a basketball star in college only to have his dreams dashed by suffering a career ending injury in his first NBA game. Although he has a day job, he is often enlisted to solve mysteries. Bolitar has a partner/sidekick named Win Lockwood. Lockwood is a cross between Christian Grey and Chuck Norris.

bolitar

The books in the Bolitar series are entertaining and have decent plots. They have spawned a YA series featuring Myron’s nephew Mickey Bolitar. These are definitely not as well written as they are virtually Myron Bolitar books with differently named characters. The pop references are not anywhere near contemporary teenage culture.

Coben’s standalone novels range from incredibly good, with Tell No One, to mediocre, with Missing You. Tell No One is a captivating mystery that starts out quickly and never lets up. Missing you, written from the point of view of a female, is a poorly crafted book with a chauvinistic perspective of how a female police detective would act.

Coben is critically acclaimed having won Edgar, Shamus and Anthony Awards. His style for most of his books is to have unexpected twists and turns that are rarely predictable.

My brush with his greatness is limited to being blocked by him on Twitter. I had followed and connected with other famous authors and received encouragement from them on my own writing. I tweeted a book announcement to Coben’s Twitter account and found myself blocked. I’d like to say that this was enough to convince me not to read his books, but that would be a lie.

Studying the Masters – Part 7 – Jonathan Kellerman

This post is the seventh in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.


kellerman

Jonathan Kellerman is a classic example of writing what you know. He has written a series of novels where the main character is a California psychologist that treats children. This mirrors his own life. He is a trained psychologist and has written 48 fiction novels to date along with 5 non-fiction works on psychology, crime reporting, and guitars (he’s also a musician).

Jonathan-Kellerman_Alex_Delaware_Series

Jonathan Kellerman has been a huge influence on an aspect of my own writing. Kellerman has developed two characters, Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis that have stood the test of time. He takes these same characters and puts them in various situations where Sturgis is a Sherlock Holmes type homicide detective with the LAPD and Delaware is a consultant that often helps Sturgis solve crimes with his insight. Delaware is a more active ‘Dr. Watson’ type character and the 31 novels in the Alex Delaware series are told from his perspective.

Over the course of these stories, Delaware and Sturgis actually age and go through relationship changes. Another wrinkle is that Sturgis has gone from a closeted to an openly gay member of the LAPD. This was a source of oppression for him in the early novels. The more recent novels, however, much like our modern culture, has allowed him to be openly gay and successful.

One of the things that is different about Kellerman’s writing when compared to other writers in his genre is that his characters are not the story. The cases are the story and his characters react to them. You can take these two strong characters and put them in any crime situation and watch them react. I can relate to this as a writer. I have developed similar characters and I enjoy writing books that put them into new situations so I can watch how they react.

Besides his Delaware and Sturgis series, Kellerman has also branched off into another series with a strong female detective named Petra Connor. He has also collaborated on novels with his wife, Faye Kellerman, and his son, Jesse Kellerman.

Kellerman is also a strong advocate for more effective treatment of the mentally ill.

Studying the Master – Part 6 – James Patterson

This post is the sixth in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.


822-james-patterson

James was born in 1947. In the area of crime fiction, he is mostly known for his novels Alex Cross series. His books have sold more than 300 million copies and he is the first person to sell 1 million e-books.

Through his success, Patterson has become a benefactor for many universities, teachers colleges, independent bookstores, school libraries, and college students in the form of millions of dollars in grants and scholarships with the purpose of encouraging Americans of all ages to read more books.

Alex_CrossJames Patterson is a book writing factory. His most famous series, the Alex Cross books, number 23 so far. He also has penned 12 solo fiction works. He is really more of a brand than an author.

james-patterson-womens-murder-club-collection-11-books-set-pack-25213-pBesides these aforementioned books that he has written on his own, Patterson has co-authored numerous books in the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Private, and NYPD Red series. This co-authoring or branding of the Patterson name has earned him some harsh criticism. There are those that say he is only in it for the money. Stephen King referred to him as a terrible writer that is also terribly successful.

For my part, I think that some of Patterson’s standalone crime fiction, and some of the early books in his Alex Cross series are very good. Others of his more recent work are not up to the same standard. Nonetheless, there are those that will read whatever he writes. He is now hawking writing classes and offering to have a contest winner as his next co-author. This is a double-edged sword. While I would love the sales numbers that being under Patterson would bring, I would not want to live under the stigma of people buying my books only because they were co-branded by Patterson.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Studying the Masters of Detective Fiction – Part 5 – Agatha Christie

This post is the fifth in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

Image result for agatha christie

Agatha Christie was a famed crime fiction novelist who wrote 66 detective novels with the famed characters include Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She was born in England in 1890. During WWI Christie was stationed in a hospital. After the war, she married and settled in London. Her first novel featured Hercule Poirot. The book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was published in 1920. Christie is viewed as the best-selling novelist of all time with sales of approximately 2 billion books sold.

Like many writers, Agatha Christie was an avid reader from childhood. She enjoyed the works of Mrs. Molesworth, Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. She didn’t spend a great deal of time with other children (another trait among many writers).

16304

Her early novels focused on the Poirot character, but she tired of him, just as Arthur Conan Doyle tired of Sherlock Holmes. Christie was an avid fan of Doyle’s work and her early novels were heavily influenced by him. Unlike Doyle, she didn’t attempt to kill Poirot off. She instead shifted her focus to her Miss Jane Marple character beginning with the first work featuring the character in a collection of short stories titled The Thirteen Problems.

A short period of Christie’s life was a mystery in itself. She disappeared for about two weeks in December of 1926 after her husband informed her that he wanted a divorce. She was found in a hotel registered under the last name of her husband’s mistress. Doctors diagnosed her with amnesia, but little was ever publicized regarding what really happened.

Agatha Christie has been referred to as the “Queen of Crime”, and considered a master of suspense, plotting, and characterization. Other authors, in particular Raymond Chandler, were critical of her literary abilities and derisive of her work.

Now, 126 years after her birth, Christie’s novels stand the test of time. Her plot twists and buildup of suspense are masterful and have influenced countless crime fiction/detective authors that have come after her.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Studying the Masters of Detective Fiction – IV – Raymond Chandler

This post is the fourth in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

 

raymond-chandler

Photo Source: http://www.famousauthors.org/raymond-chandler

Raymond Thornton Chandler, along with John D. MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett, and others, is considered one of the pioneers of the hard-boiled school of crime/detective fiction. He was born in 1888. After losing his oil company job during the Great Depression, he decided to become a writer. He published his first short story in 1933 in a popular pulp magazine.

thebigsleep

Chandler wrote The Big Sleep, his first novel, in 1939. This novel, along with another five of his seven novels, were adapted as movies. His protagonist, Phillip Marlowe, became so popular in Chandler’s writing that the character was adapted for a radio show and also played by Humphrey Bogart.

bogart-as-philip-marlowHumphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe
Photo Source: https://thegoodgreatsby.com/2011/09/12/the-less-than-deductive-detective/https://thegoodgreatsby.com/2011/09/12/the-less-than-deductive-detective/

Chandler was greatly admired for his prose by critics and fellow writers. Though not as prolific as some of his contemporaries, many of his works are considered important literary contributions.

Chandler was famous, and criticized, for his similes that became a staple for film noir detective films. Here are some examples1:

“From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.”

“To say she had a face that would have stopped a clock would have been to insult her. It would have stopped a runaway horse.”

“She’s a charming middle age lady with a face like a bucket of mud and if she’s washed her hair since Coolidge’s second term, I’ll eat my spare tire, rim and all.”

“His smile was as stiff as a frozen fish.”

“She was as cute as a washtub.”

“I called him from a phone booth. The voice that answered was fat. It wheezed softly, like the voice of a man who had just won a pie-eating contest.”

Here is my favorite:

“It was a blonde. A blonde that could make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”

I need to go back and read more Raymond Chandler novels if only to weave more Chandler-like similes into my own writing for my own entertainment and hopefully the entertainment of others.

Comments and thoughts are welcome.

1Source – Chandlerisms: A collection of similes, one-liners, and turns of phrase written by Raymond Chandler – http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/814495/posts

Studying the Masters of Detective Fiction – III – Elmore Leonard

This post is the third in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

Elmore-Leonard-001

Studying the Masters of Crime/Detective Fiction

Part 3 – Elmore Leonard

My introduction to Elmore Leonard was an interesting one. My first book had come out and I had my first review in a literary magazine. The reviewer liked the book and compared my writing to that of Elmore Leonard. I thought that was quite interesting based on the fact that I had never read any of his work.

Being the true book nerd that I am, I started reading his work beginning with his very first book. To my amazement, it wasn’t crime fiction. It was a western. In fact, his first five books were all westerns. They were written over an eight-year period from 1953 to 1961 and truly showed his evolution as a writer. These books seemed to feature a strong, silent, flawed main character. They also had abrupt endings in common.

big-bounceLeonard’s 1969 novel, The Big Bounce, was a crime fiction book that introduced his Jack Ryan character. Ryan is a flawed hero with a checkered past and a very shrewd character. He appears in several of Leonard’s books.

Other recognizable titles you might recognize from Leonard’s writing include Mr. Majestyk, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob. Leonard also created the character of Raylen Givens, featured in three novels, who became the basis for the television series Justified. Overall, Leonard had 26 of his works adapted as either films or television series.

justified

Many of Leonard’s stories feature Detroit as a backdrop. When he was nine, his father moved the family there and took a job with General Motors. Leonard went on to be a Seabee in the US Navy and studied writing when he returned.

Leonard wrote 49 novels over a 59-year career. He also wrote many screenplay adaptations for his work. Key among his works is a nonfiction book from 2007 titled 10 Rules for Writing. In this book, he revealed one of my favorite writing tips, if it sounds like writing, rewrite it. He preaches the practice of leaving out the parts that readers tend to skip.

Leonard’s own work lives by this premise. He writes sparingly. His dialog is crisp and to the point, just as the type of character he writes about would speak. He has masterful twists and turns in his stories and his endings often leave the reader wanting more.

I’ve gone back and have looked at my own writing in view of what the early reviewer said about it. It is quite flattering and I aspire to write like Mr. Leonard and would love to have even a modicum of his success. I also admire the longevity of his career. He died in 2013 at the age of 88, one year after completing his final novel and 50 years after completing his first. That is truly a long and fruitful career.