The story’s told in my family that, at the tender age of five, I finished watching “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and then questioned my mother: “Who did the dancing for Cagney?” Once upon a time I was savvy. Sure.
Now I’m not so sure. I’ve undertaken a short-fiction series of hard-boiled detective stories. Does it push the envelope? Does it attempt to reinvent the genre for 2013 and beyond? Does it go where hard-boiled noir has never gone before?
It’s not even close. The series is a throwback. It’s a period piece without a period, even. It takes place in a nebulous age that ranges from 1926 to 1960. The central P.I. doesn’t even have a name, for crissake. He refers to “dames and mugs and gats.” And of course he never ages.
Sure, the series is infused with all the hard-boiled trappings, and then some. Dark, fatalistic, dire–a real feel-good genre for those who feel good when they lose the girl, shoot their client and don’t get paid.
Taking the hard-boiled genre, dating it, and squeezing it into compacted form? It’s a gas. Easier said than done, but one blast of a rollercoaster ride, nonetheless. I could do worse. A whole lot worse. Sure. For better or worse, this is where the spirit’s taking me. I’m creating from the heart and the gut. I can afford to write from the gut–I’m no commercial success.
It’s gotta be painfully obvious I’m not striving to outdo or out-shock or out-pulp anyone. I’m actually trying to reinvent my own wheel my own way. If I can live up to the ideas conjured up in the head when reading Hammett, if I can approach that feeling in your gut that you get from cracking the pages of Chandler–wouldn’t that beat all for one hell of a triumph?
Sure. Sure it would. It would thrill me to death to pull it off. I wonder if Hammett and Chandler would appreciate the effort. Would they respect the result? Would they tip their hats to me, perhaps raise a shot glass and wish me the best? Or would they scratch their heads in disbelief, wondering why on earth I wasn’t crafting the latest police procedural or teen vampire yarn?
One thing I know for sure is this: if Hammett and Chandler were alive today, they’d be very, very old. And probably none too savvy at that. Probably no more savvy than I am.