Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Bastard Hand sold...

... and it's only about time, right?
In January, I got an e-mail from the editor and publisher of the remarkable New Pulp Press, saying that he'd read the first two chapters of The Bastard Hand (posted over there to the right) and was interested in seeing the rest. I'd previously shopped the book around to a few literary agents, without success-- "too offensive", some said, or "too difficult to market", or even just "Not for us". Frankly, I'd given up on finding a good home for it.
And then along comes New Pulp, a publisher that exists for the sole purpose of putting out weird psycho-noir that doesn't even have a nodding acquaintance with the mainstream. The editor took about a month to read The Bastard Hand before getting back to me with the good news: he loves the book, he GETS the book, and he wants to publish it.
I'm very very pleased about this whole thing. I knew from the beginning that The Bastard Hand wasn't something that would ever find a big market; it's just not that kind of book. But after examining other books that New Pulp has put out, I'm thrilled to be associated with them. They are a publisher of integrity and particular vision and I think they're a perfect match for The Bastard Hand.
Look for the novel to appear in January of 2011.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Stranger

You probably know the basic story: Mersault, a Frenchman living in French Algiers, commits a murder for no immediately discernable reason, stands trial, and is confronted by a world which sees things considerably different than he does. The Stranger a short, simple story, fast-moving and engaging. But of course there is much more to it than that.
Mersault is notable for his strangely detached personality. He feels emotions just like anyone else, but he’s usually only capable of registering them on an intellectual level. For him, there is only the moment that he lives in, and the very immediate future. He doesn’t understand regret. He doesn’t understand the need of other people to inject false meaning into the universe. And he doesn’t understand that he is different than them. It’s this last that plagues him during his trial, when he finds himself unable and unwilling to pretend, to play-act grief at his mother’s funeral for instance or to create a plausible reason why he shot his victim three more times after he’d already killed him. These things, Mersault tells us, are entirely pointless. He is not a bad man—he’s just incapable of seeing the world for anything other than what it is, and, like a visitor from another planet, he can only view the false pieties and surface-y emotions of those around him with a curious, clinical detachment.
On one level, you could argue (as the prosecution in the novel does) that Mersault is a sort of sociopathic monster, incapable of real love or kindness. But it’s not really true—he does feel those things, and does take pleasure from making someone else happy (he agrees to marry Marie because he knows it will please her, he expresses sympathy to Salamano when his dog disappears, he writes a letter for Raymond) but the satisfaction he derives is temporary and inconsequential.
I was in my twenties the first time I read The Stranger. I read it again about ten years later. And now, another ten years on, I just read it again. The book has a strangely cumulative effect; I find more and more to appreciate in it the older I get. Albert Camus denied being an existentialist, but The Stranger is certainly an existentialist work, and some readers find it dark or depressing—I think those readers miss the point. To me, the ending is almost uplifting (granted, in a strangely impersonal way) in it’s acknowledgement of the “gentle indifference of the universe”, and the realization that the only meaning that exists is the meaning you have given things.
“To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Stick and move

My friend Christian is a writer of very elegant and imaginative fantasy, and he’s also a formidable practitioner of the martial arts. He’s a friendly, outgoing guy, wouldn’t hurt a fly. And yet he’s more than capable of removing my ass, shooting a few hoops with it, and very politely handing it back to me.
When demonstrating these skills, he likes to say, “Stick and move, man. Stick and move.”
I mention all that by way of talking about something completely different.
Lately I’ve read a handful of “suspense thrillers” by some modern writers. Best-seller types. Huge names. I won’t mention who they are, because I don’t like talking ill of other writers (even when my comments will have less than NO effect whatsoever on their success). Suffice to say, they are writers who are active now and each new release is accompanied by book tours, media coverage, and commercial accolades.
I’ve learned to HATE these books.
The reason: in my reading mix are a great many old titles, reprints, put out by a handful of small-to-medium sized publishers, Hard Case Crime being the most commercially successful of them. Writers of paperback originals in the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s, guys like Gil Brewer, Day Keene, Peter Rabe, Charles Willeford, etc. You read a few of those books, you really start developing a hunger for them. My hunger led me to seek out new writers, one’s still doing it, who perhaps mirror the raw story-driven brevity of those guys.
And I’ve found that, yes, there are some writers out there now who fit that bill. But not a single one of them has seen the best-seller lists—or if they have, they haven’t stuck around long enough there to get overly comfortable.
The problem with these best-selling suspense novels is simple. Bloat. Bloat, bloat, bloat.
Here’s my two-cents on the subject: a suspense novel should move fast. It should be the sort of thing you can devour in one or perhaps two sittings. I mean, that’s the very nature of suspense. Sure, there are going to be exceptions to that rule. But for the most part, the suspense novels that knock me out are almost always fast-moving, lean, without baggage.
Let’s leave out the pages and pages of inner soliloqueies, shall we? Let’s leave out the unconvincing and uninteresting love interest. Let’s leave out the psychoanalysis. Let’s get back to the STORY, whattaya say?
I’m just gonna say it: in most cases (and again, there are exceptions), a good suspense novel should come in at no more than, say, 250-300 pages. My own first novel, The Bastard Hand, breaks that rule, I know—but if I knew then what I know now, it would be a good 50-75 pages shorter. I think the novel still works, but I can tell you that I’m unlikely to write anything that long ever again.
Stick and move, Christian says. Damn good advice for writing a suspense novel. Stick and move.