Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Decisions, Decisions: Art or Commercial?

I'm starting to hate NaNoWriMo and it hasn't even started yet. Problem is, I have one crime novel idea that's very serious and character driven and a gritty noir blast. I also have an idea for a spy adventure that's a fun romp. I want to write something that I can then sell; I think the spy story will sell better than the crime novel, but the last thing I want to do is write something purely commercial that has no artistic qualities. That's what I like about crime fiction, it's commercial but not terribly so; it's the one venue where the literary novel and pulp can coexist. When I think of doing a spy story, despite some of the themes in what I have in mind, I don't think of art, I think of crass commercialism and it makes me not want to write that book. Considering I haven't broken into the market yet I should write something that stands a good chance of bringing money into the house, but part of me would rather write the book that will be more of a struggle. But haven't I struggled enough? Shouldn't I write a book that might be more readily accepted by the public? Regardless, the spy story will be done under a different name than Brian Drake. Drake does serious work; the other guy does the fun stuff. Maybe I'll have to flip a coin and decide that way.

Monday, September 28, 2009

NaNoWriMo This November

I missed last year's NaNoWriMo but want to try it this year. For those of you just joining us, that means "National Novel Writing Month" wherein, all across the country and maybe even the world, writers have the month to pound out a 50,000-word manuscript. I used to write without any outline or plans other than maybe a few sentences of what a story might be about, but these days I need pages and pages of notes. Luckily, I have a ready-to-go outline based on a screenplay project that fell through a few months ago but is prime for prose. So I'm going to use that for this year's project and hopefully be able to get it done. Fifty-thousand words isn't a lot and if you give it the beans every night for a couple of hours, say 2000 words a day, you can get it done.

Of course the book will be hard-boiled and two-fisted and full of the normal ingredients of said subject matter, but when I pitched the story to the film producers they liked how I wanted to make the characters the focus, instead of the action, and that's what just might make this story work. It's a typical revenge tale. If you've read anything by Mickey Spillane, whose work primarily influenced the outline, or saw the movie Death Wish, you know what road I'm taking, but I'm going to try and do it a little bit better.

Who knows, maybe it will be good enough to send out. I already have one novel in circulation but there's no law that says you can't have TWO making the rounds.

Unless the story winds up a big load of suck. If that happens I'll try again next year.

But part of the fun of NaNoWriMo is sharing the experience with others. If you plan to participate, feel free to leave comments and share your experience. If nothing else we can all have a few laughs.

BTAP Publishes First Brian Drake Story

On Saturday I was delighted to see that the web zine "Beat to a Pulp" had released my latest short story, "The Red Ruby Kill". Working with the crew at BTAP has been terrific and it's great to be a part of their effort to bring short crime and mystery fiction to eager readers.

I have published other short stories under my real name and other pen names, but this is the first under the name "Brian Drake" and I'm very excited to see it launched.

Click below to enjoy it for yourself and thank you for doing so.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lawrence Block Can Do No Wrong

I celebrated my 34th birthday last month and as a present to myself picked up a book called One Night Stands and Lost Weekends, a collection of Lawrence Block’s early short stories (in the One Night Stands section) and three novellas about private eye Ed London (in the Lost Weekends section). Block is one of my favorites and never ceases to amaze me. His writing is crisp and economical and free of clutter. As I writer I look at his pages and want to frame them--This is how you do it, I tell myself.

In his introduction to the book, Block has very few kind words to say about his younger days (does anybody?), but he’s selling himself short. In the first few stories, obviously you can see where he was learning and refining his craft, and certainly making the usual learning-writer mistakes that he eliminated in later years, but, wow, he was good even when learning.

Everything he writes sucks you in like a hurricane. He wrote a book called Such Men Are Dangerous and I read that in ONE DAY. These stories have the same hypnotic appeal.

I don’t want to go too much into the stories because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but if you haven’t taken the time to pick up the collection it’s really worth your attention, and I’m glad it’s available (and some of his earlier novels, too) because his work in recent years hasn’t really fired me up. Not that the books aren’t good, but he’s continued with the Matt Scudder series even though I think he was done with the character at the end of Eight Million Ways to Die. The ending of that book brought tears to my eyes, and has been only the second book, this far in my lifetime, to do so (the other was Charlie Mike by Leonard B. Scott, a novel about the Vietnam War, which stunned me). What’s even funnier is I remember where I was and what I was doing when I read that ending. I had been working the overnight shift at a radio station at the time, and was able to read a lot while waiting to go on with hourly news updates, and had to wipe away those tears and compose myself before I opened the microphone! I gave two or three of the post-Million Scudder books a chance, but they lacked the punch. It was too hard an act to follow even for Block; however, if you hadn’t read Million and started with those particular books, you’d be greatly entertained.

Despite Block’s self-critical analysis of his early work, it’s awesome that he’s released the old material. Of course, digging into these short stories makes me want to re-read Eight Million Ways to Die; however, I should probably re-read the four Matt Scudder books leading up to Million. That would be a killer way to enter the upcoming winter season.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Good Luck, Dan Brown

I’m going to stray from my usual hard-boiled coverage and talk about the Dan Brown Juggernaut that his is latest book, The Lost Symbol.

And for reasons you may not expect.

When The Da Vinci Code broke records and received it’s own zip code at our small town enormous magabookstore (yes, I’m gleefully mimicking Mr. Brown’s horrific, repeated redundancies; you’re welcome!), my writer friends and I could not believe that such poorly written muck could be such a huge hit.

I do not like to bash other authors; really, I never intend to talk about a book I don’t like, but in this case I must point out that Mr. Brown is not the greatest wordsmith ever to fill a page. His writing is clunky and full of the kind of amateurism that most authors grow out of or are beaten out of by mentors. Obviously Dan Brown had no mentor. He never read Fitzgerald or Hammett or Hemingway. He never learned how to really use words. It’s like he just throws crap on the wall to see what sticks.

He isn’t even covering new territory or taking the thriller novel in new directions; he’s using left-over Robert Ludlum tricks. Ludlum relied on government-military-corporate conspiracies, expert assassins, exotic locales; Brown focuses on religious conspiracies but uses all the other gimmicks. There's nothing new in what he writes.

But apparently it’s working anyway.

My writer friends and I could not believe that we remain undiscovered while this guy becomes a multi-millionaire with ONE BOOK. In the end, we decided if he could do it, so could we, though one or two of us secretly, quietly, hoped that Brown would get his ass handed to him in the plagiarism suit that followed Da Vinci’s runaway, surprising success.

Despite my unfavorable opinion of Brown's writing, today I have come to defend Brown from what I think are circumstances no writer should face.

(Get ready for MORE italics, something the author in question uses often and for no apparent reason…)

Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol, faces a challenge that may be too great even for the powerful, brilliant mind of the heroic Robert Langdon--back again after the terrific, thrilling adventure in The Da Vinci Code--the book must save the publishing industry from certain, irreversible doom!

If you haven’t noticed, the economy sucks right now; the publishing industry is facing as much trouble as everybody else, maybe even more so, for reason we won’t get into here.

Big Publishing needs a big hit. A really big hit. A home run. The industry needs a hit like Mary needed Jesus, like Langdon needs his next clue, like a flower needs water, like people need air, dig?

And that means Dan Brown is expected to deliver the kind of results no author should ever be asked to deliver; can he withstand the pressure?

No matter how well Brown’s book does, it won’t be good enough. Expectations and hopes are too high on the part of Big Publishing. In the end, I doubt Brown’s reputation will suffer. His writing career will continue unabated, but who needs this stress? Who needs critics and publishing insiders pointing out that if you’re book doesn't do amazingly, exceptionally, outstandingly well, you’ve failed the entire industry which desperately--like a heroin addict looking for a score in the sleazy, dilapidated part of town immersed in misty, white fog--needs people to buy books. They need people to buy Dan Brown’s new book and maybe, possibly, hopefully, oh please oh please oh please, buy other books, too.

That’s too much pressure, man. Too much.

Good luck, Dan. If you can’t stand the heat, go count your money. That always makes me feel better. Oh, wait...