Saturday, March 27, 2010


I’m big on biographies and non-fiction accounts in general. I like people who don’t quite have it all together, yet seem to make out on some higher level or at the very least, have a profound impact on others.

Several months ago, I read a biography on John Steinbeck. It brought me back to required reading in High School with books like The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. Do I like everything he wrote? Hell no. My point is the man put some thought into his writing and refused to rest on his laurels. To illustrate, below is a letter he wrote in reference to style:

"When a writer starts in very young, his problems apart from story are those of technique, of words, of rhythms, of story methods, of transition, of characterization, of ways of creating effects. But after years of trial and error most of these things are solved and one gets what is called a style. It is then that a story conceived falls into place neatly and is written down having the indelible personal hallmark of the writer. This is thought to be an ideal situation. And the writer who is able to achieve this is thought to be very fortunate.

I have only just arrived at a sense of horror about this technique. If I think of a story, it is bound automatically to fall into my own personal long struggle for technique. But the penalty is terrible. The tail of the kite is designed to hold and in many cases drags it to earth. Having a technique, is it not possible that the technique not only dictates how a story is to be written but also what story is to be written? In other words, style or technique may be a straitjacket which is the destroyer of the writer. It does seem to be true that when it becomes easy to write the writing is not likely to be any good. Facility can be the greatest danger in the world. But is there any alternative? Suppose I want to change my themes and my approach. Will not my technique, which has become almost unconscious, warp and drag me around to the old attitudes and subtly force the new work to be the old?

I want to dump my technique, to tear it right down to the ground and start all over."

I read and re-read this passage. I put into context the MAJOR player Steinbeck was at the time. It didn't matter. He was ready to take a mutinous stance in regards to his previous execution of the craft. He knew he was liable for the words he put on paper. He knew he was shortchanging himself, and his readers, if he didn’t take new chances. If not prepared, he was at least willing to do something about it.

What it says to me is when something you’re writing doesn’t sound good, look good or feel good, try another way. Yeah, you could continue to mope around your house like a pansy with their diapers full of crap. Instead, how about re-thinking what you’ve been doing...or not doing. Lengthen a sentence. Shorten a sentence. Build your vocabulary. Buy a bad ass thesauruses like The Synonym Finder. Re-read your favorite authors. Put one of their books in front of you, type out a paragraph or two.

Do all of it.


Friday, March 26, 2010

The Big Adios

Okay knuckleheads, you should be doing more writing and less web surfing the way it is. But if you're a crime fiction and movie nut, you might want to head on over and check out The Big Adios. You can shoot the shit about books and movies. You can fraternize with well known authors like Tom Piccirilli and Max Allan Collins, just to name a few.

You can get further behind on your novel or short story.

So do yourself a favor and grace them with your presence. It's one of those forums where everyone is mondo cool, egos checked at the door. And if you're one of those types who signed up in the past but haven't been there in awhile, they just added an "off topic" section as well.

And while you guys and gals are there, I'll be here, working and not writing.

Yeah, just go on believing that.

See ya on the flip side.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction Part 3: Police Capture Man Dressed As Woman After Wild Chase

This guy has pizzazz...

From the St. Pete Times/

By Robbyn Mitchell, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Thursday, March 18, 2010

TAMPA — Jermonte Jerome Thornton had been out of prison only nine months after serving more than a year for a cocaine conviction.

When Tampa police moved in Wednesday afternoon to arrest him on a warrant that could return him to prison, Thornton fought back, officers said.

Police said Thornton led officers on a dramatic two-hour chase in which he rammed three police vehicles, nearly knocked down a tree, was shot by police, invaded a woman's apartment, donned her clothes and wig to disguise himself, then vaulted off a second-floor balcony.

Police sicced a dog on Thornton, 27, and finally arrested him.

The chain of events began about 2 p.m. when police surrounded Thornton's car at a Sulphur Springs address. He rammed three vehicles, then a tree, almost knocking it over and putting officers in danger of getting run over, police said.

Cpl. Bryon Hoskins and Officer Tim Bergman shot into Thornton's car, hitting him once. But Thornton rammed his way out of the blockade, police said.

Officers pursued Thornton to Scruggs Manor Apartments at 11201 N 22nd St., where he ditched the car, they said.

Then he ran into the nearby Lenox Place Apartments, trailing blood the whole way.

"He lost a considerable amount of blood in his car," police Chief Jane Castor said.

Police say he knocked on unit B207 and said: "It's me." Thinking it was her boyfriend, Tydarreia Watkins, 20, opened the door. Thornton, who police said does not known Watkins, forced her back into the apartment.

Following the blood trail, police narrowed Thornton's location to four possible apartments. When officers burst in the fourth door, a blur of pink went airborne over the balcony, Castor said.

It was Thornton, police said, wearing a pink dress, pink shoes and a woman's wig belonging to Watkins.

Thornton bolted north across the parking lot, which was teeming with officers. He scaled a fence and dashed across railroad tracks toward a wooded area, where he was caught by a police dog and officers.

Thornton was charged with aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, home invasion robbery and false imprisonment. Police had been looking for him because he was wanted on charges of armed burglary, battery and aggravated assault. Police say they found a gun in his car, so more charges may be forthcoming.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Five Big Ones

I was thinking last night (hold the sarcasm) about books which have influenced me over the years, in terms of my writing style. While there are several which I've liked and have gone on to read again a time or two, there are a few which I've read at least five or six times. Their voice, consequently, has had a profound effect on the manner in which I approach my writing. The list below is my top five- for now.

1. The Black Dahlia- Big book for me. Huge. So many times before Dahlia, I'd picked up a James Ellroy book in the bookstore, looked at his picture with those geeky spectacles and said "what the fuck could this guy possibly know about crime writing?" Then a few years ago my wife and I were getting ready to drive back to Kansas for Christmas. I saw the audiobook for Dahlia and thought what the hell, I'd give it a shot. We ended up listening to it on the way back and I was stunned. I still can't put my finger on what "it" is, but for me The Black Dahlia, and most Ellroy writing, has "it" in spades.

Since The Black Dahlia I've become an unabashed lover of Ellroy's writing and have gone on to read and re-read most of his work several times. Dahlia started it off for me and at any given time I would probably rate The Black Dahlia, LA Confidential or American Tabloid as my all time favorite read.

2. Double Indemnity- A stalwart book from a man I consider the definitive noir stylist. While many mention The Postman Always Rings Twice when referencing Cain, for me it's always been Double Indemnity. What is it about Cain? I think it's relateability. Often times in Cain's work, it's just some average chump who happens to fall for some lusty broad, who in turn brings said chump to their knees- a scenario any hot blooded male with lead in his pencil can relate to.

Ultimately, though, what I see in Cain's work is balls: Read what he wrote and then compare the sheer boldness of his themes, not only to his own time period, but also to our own times. The guy took mondo chances with his subject matter and his narrative voice was never forgiving. He pointed his pen in one direction and said, "stop me if you fucking can." Balls.

3. Horseman Pass By- Larry McMurtry is as far from being a hardboiled crime writer as you can get. But, he does have a knack for creating characters you can't help but love, whether you want to or not. One of the main characters, Hud, is a man who would fit into any crime story from any time period: A manipulative, self-serving asshole who's good with the ladies, bad with his family and through it all you find yourself admiring him for his charisma and charm- he's simply the man you'll never be. And I'll admit, having come from the desolate plains of Kansas, I can relate to the depressing, rural strides of life in this book.

4. To The White Sea- James Dickey was a major poet and one of the biggest liars who ever lived. He could also write some extremely surreal stuff, with his best known work being Deliverance- no slouch in its own right. To The White Sea is a viscerally poetic and dark story which takes place during WWII and though you may not get it the first time around, due to some heavy symbolism, I would ask you to give it another chance. For me it's one of those books I read and then shrugged my shoulders at- a little too flowery for my taste. Then I found myself thinking about it for days afterward. So I read it again. And again.

If you take a chance on this book, I think you'll agree its main character, Muldrow, is someone you'll never forget. The trek he embarks on is harrowing, and his persona is that of a man whose perserverance and hate never once falter. The ending is extraordinary.

5. The Day Of The Jackal- Forsythe tends to run hot and cold with his writing. Jackal almost starts out cold, but once you get past the first fifty pages or so of backstory, Jackal is a bored out, eight cylinder turbo charged beast which moves at a blistering pace. And because of the detail Forsythe applies, which surprisingly does not drag the story down, a burgeoning writer can learn a lot about character development (not to mention fake ID's, disguises, firearms and seduction of both the female and male variety).