Studying the Masters of Crime/Detective Fiction. Part 4 – 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.

Studying the Masters of Crime/Detective Fiction

Part 4 – 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.

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.

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 Crime/Detective Fiction Part 3 – 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.

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.

Leonard’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.

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.

Studying the Masters of Crime/Detective Fiction Part 2 – John D. MacDonald

This post is the second 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.

Studying the Masters of Crime/Detective Fiction

Part 2 – John D. MacDonald

Just the name of his fabled character, Travis McGee, starts your imagination working overtime to picture this man. McGee was the opposite of Sherlock Holmes as described in my earlier post on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was more of a playboy who lived on a houseboat, bedded beautiful women, and took half of the profit from stolen goods that he recovered.

MacDonald himself was a well-educated man a degree from Syracuse University, my hometown, and an Ivy League MBA. He then entered World War II as a first lieutenant in the army.

MacDonald’s literary career started by happenstance. While away in the war, he mailed a short story to his wife who submitted it to Esquire Magazine and it was rejected. She then submitted it to Story Magazine and they accepted it for $25. When MacDonald found out about it upon his return, he spent the next four months cranking out 800,000 words of short stories and losing 20 pounds.

His eventual sale of a story to Dime Magazine was the first of nearly 500 stories to various magazines, some of which would fill an entire issue with only his stories under various names.

MacDonald’s career flourished during the period from 1953 to 1964 during which he almost single-handedly crafted the hard-boiled detective genre.  His signature character, Travis McGee, made his debut in 1964 in the novel The Deep Blue Goodbye. This swaggering Florida figure who lived on a houseboat named the Busted Flush was the prototype for many private eyes that came after him like Jim Rockford, Thomas Magnum, and others.

MacDonald wrote 21 McGee stories over the next 21 years with every title containing a color within it.  Like Sherlock Holmes, McGee had an educated sidekick on some of his books named Meyer who was an economist and Ph.D. Most of the McGee stories took place in Florida.

MacDonald’s most famous film adaptation was from the Novel, The Executioners, which became the movie, Cape Fear which premiered in 1962 and was remade in 1991.

As I look at my own work, I see some unintended similarities. I have written private eye novels that take place in Florida. My detective lives in a trailer instead of a houseboat. He also has an educated attorney as a sidekick. I say that these similarities are unintended as I read my first John D. MacDonald book after I wrote my first novel. I must have had this blueprint internalized before I began my writing from adaptations of MacDonald’s model.

I have read many of Mr. MacDonald’s books since the first. You can see his prowess as a writer grow continuously throughout his works. I can now claim him as a role model due to the quality and prolific nature of his work.

Studying the Masters in Crime/Detective Fiction

This post is the first in a series that I will be 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.

Studying the Masters

Part 1 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

When I look at crime/detective fiction, I view Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as one of the pioneering architects in the genre. His novels and collections centered around his Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson characters are timeless.

Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born in Scotland in 1859. Like his Dr. Watson character, Doyle was a physician. After serving as a ship’s surgeon in West Africa, Doyle became an opthalmologist with a practice in London.

Like many writers, he had a hard time finding a publisher for his work, but finally was able to publish A Study in Scarlet, his first Sherlock Holmes Novel, in 1886 earning 25 pounds for the rights to the story. The publisher further abused their new client when the sequel was published, so he left them.

Sherlock Holmes was a character that was modeled after a professor that Doyle had studied with. As for Dr. Watson, as I read more about Doyle, I realized that this character is somewhat autobiographical. Watson is the first person narrator in most of the Sherlock Holmes tales. I believe this equates to Doyle telling the story himself through Watson.

What struck me as I made my way through the Sherlock Holmes stories is how masterful Doyle was at making the complex deductive process that Holmes employs seem simple to the reader and, by extension, Dr. Watson. He will make an observation about a character that is astonishing and comes across as a wild guess, but then deconstructs the process he went through to make the deduction making it sound so simple that anyone should have been able to deduce the conclusion.

I also like that Doyle’s characters have flaws. Both Holmes and Watson were prone to depression. Holmes was also a drug addict. It resonates with me that Doyle made Holmes a musician. This is something that I’ve done with my own private detective character.

Doyle was not always enamored with his Sherlock Holmes character and threatened to, and actually did, kill him off in one of his works. Outraged fans, however, convinced him to resurrect Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of his most famous works, in 1901.

Doyle also penned other notable non-Sherlock Holmes works including The Lost World, and his Professor Challenger stories.

Doyle’s life away from writing was fascinating as he was a political activist, good friend to Harry Houdini, follower of spiritualism and an intermittent Freemason who resigned, rejoined, and resigned again from the society.

As I look at the life of this fascinating man and pioneer in the genre of crime/detective fiction, I am amazed at how his work holds up today and how the standard that he set for writers in this genre is still valid nearly 150 years after his era. This is not necessarily true of other authors of that time period.

Please look for upcoming posts on other authors that I consider masters in the crime/detective fiction genre.