Tag Archives: detective

You Can’t Always Give Away What You Want

They say you can’t take it with you. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that it’s tough giving it away. But I’m not talking about money.

I’m talking about a subscription series. I’m talking about giving away a year’s subscription for free. And talk about a hard sell. Sure.

The subject is hard-boiled detective fiction. Very old school. Very retro detective. And I’m convinced there’s an audience for it. I know there’s a huge audience for it. An immense audience.

So I’ve got this subscription series I’m trying to get off the ground. Seemed to me that the easiest thing in the world would be to give away subscriptions. In a pig’s eye. Finding the audience, reaching the audience, selling the audience. It’s like being a marketing detective. Sure.

But what do I know? I must have misplaced my business doctorate or my marketing degree. I can’t even seem to find my blogging diploma. So I guess I don’t know much.

Hard-boiled fiction on a subscription basis is more than a bit unusual. Maybe that makes me a ground-breaker. On the other hand, maybe it’s not being done for good reason. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

What I can put out there are some dumbed-down metrics. I’m talking simple. Stupid simple. For instance, the number of “likes” on Facebook for three of the all-time big-boys of hard-boiled fiction top 60,000. Yeah, that’s gotta include some overlapping, but still. That’s an awful lot of likes. And that’s just on Facebook.

Then again, on the other hand, do your like Robert Downey Jr? I’m not sure why, but his following is split up on Facebook. He’s got a big-time following on his main page—we’re talking millions. But on his Italian fan page? A mere 17,000.

So what do you with that information? How do you interpret it? How do you boil it down, sift through it and make your calculations?

I don’t. I just sit down at the keyboard and write the next month’s stories. And I wonder how the hell to give it away.

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The Experiment Continued, Part 2

So my hard-boiled subscription series has been running for seven months now. Twenty-one yarns’ worth. I’ve got just a handful of subscribers. But there is some traction, as they say. A little coverage here, a bit of coverage there. Things are heating up. Like luke-warm mud. Sure.

Got a nice blurb from Crime Fiction Lover. And The Thrilling Detective. And a very nice link from “Peggy Ann’s Post.” Then Brazill asked to write up a guest blog. There sure are some gracious folk out there.

And I’ve been writing everyone and their mother with a remotely related blog or site. The media, too. I haven’t heard back from The New York Times, yet, but that’s okay.

In the meantime, I’ve got a couple readings lined up, too. And plenty of queries along those lines.

So I’m keeping my arms up and I’m swinging away. Hour by hour, day by day, week by week. Fighting my own, private, little, good fight. Just like a million other stories in the naked city.

I’ll tell you what gets me, what throws me for a loop, what really leaves me hanging. I’m convinced my audience is out there, plenty of readers ready to drink up my take on old-school, detective fiction. If I can only track them down. If only I can find them.

What I’d really like to do is give away a thousand subscriptions. Maybe a couple thousand. Sure. That would spread the word. And then, of course, each one of those subscribers could be approached for a renewal or a gift subscription.

But even giveaways aren’t easy. Reaching a qualified audience and pitching them ain’t no cinch. But I’m working on it. I’m working on it like a dog works on a fresh bone.

I guess we’re all mad scientists in our own way. Tweaking. Experimenting. Sure.

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The Hard-Boiled Detective Interview

Reposted from http://pauldbrazill.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/guest-blog-the-hard-boiled-detective-interview-by-ben-solomon/

Have you ever planned a murder? I ply the art three times a month for my series, “The Hard-Boiled Detective.” I have to admit that this is an odd slant on the publishing racket: retro, private eye fiction on a subscription basis. After seven months and 21 adventures, word is finally, slowly, starting to break. Then in steps Paul D. Brazill, esquire, graciously suggesting I pen a guest blog.

You don’t double-hitch at that kind of generosity. I immediately propped a vanity mirror next to the laptop and conducted the following interview with myself. Sure.

THBD 001 Cover

“The Hard-Boiled Detective” is some kind of series?
Sure. Doesn’t everybody have a series these days? Tag it, “old-school, detective fiction.” Three short stories come out every month.  Subscribers download tales in the format of their choice: epub, mobi or PDF.

Three? You’re really going to crank out three pieces every month?
That’s what everybody asks. I’ve been doing it since the site launched last February. Three yarns a month come rain or come shine. I guess I’m just crazy that way.

So who is “The Hard-Boiled Detective?” What’s his name, etc?
I won’t tell you his name. One’s as good as another.
Or the city that serves as his beat. You’ll figure it out, all right.
His time? It’s any period you like. Call it 1929, 1939, 1959.

A man of mystery?
Nix. Nothing like that. I wanted to create a throwback, see?

Narrative forms are always evolving. Like the flattening of the narrative arc in the cinema under the influence of new wave directors. (That played real esoteric-like, didn’t it?). How books and television immerse adventure stories in more and more soap opera subplot. I longed to get away from that and return to a simpler form.

So I modeled the series partly on the idea of classic television. I chose to avoid contemporary times, opting instead to create an undefined period piece. “The Hard-Boiled Detective” is basic, a romanticized valentine to the genre.

Isn’t that sweet?
I hope it doesn’t come across too sweet. That would gum up the format. I merely allow the hero’s actions and observations to do his talking. I’ve never developed his personal life. There’s no melodrama on that level.

So there is a format?
Sure there is. And it’s kind of funny. The last thing I want is to bog down the form in any heavy sense of realism, but something odd struck me when I began writing. You start out with the movies, then read Hammett and Chandler, add in Spillane, and then those countless detective shows on television—victims are everywhere. They’re dropping like flies. By the hundreds. Probably by the thousands. So it struck me: all these gumshoes must spend half of their professional lives at the local station house giving accounts to the bulls. That lightbulb established the format: each story of “The Hard-Boiled Detective” is told by our gumshoe hero as a statement to the police. Naturally, he likes spinning a colorful yarn.

So the characters and stories never develop, one to the next?
Not per se. I do attempt to reward regular readers, but each plot stands on its own—you can start with story number 11 without reading 1–10. Jump around as much as you want, even. It’s really as simple as old TV comedies. Every episode is self-contained. The idea’s to craft the P.I. and his tales as timeless. As timeless as a code of honor. As timeless as man’s corruption and sin.

You sure reference television a lot.
I don’t mean to. My first influences were Hollywood, all the way. Cagney and the Brothers Warner. Bogart. Raft. The entire Warner gangster cycle. Feels like I was weaned on ’em. And comic books and cartoon strips. Of course my generation claims ABC, CBS and NBC as surrogate parents. And then there’s books.

Detective-wise, Hammett came first for me. But it was Spillane that moved me towards this series. Spillane provided a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he inspired me to hit the keyboard; on the other hand, his later works made me long for the earlier tales before modern times and political correctness mucked up the proceedings. Call it a knee-jerk reaction, sure, but that was my take.

Of course, no set of masters is complete without mentioning Chandler. Aces. Simply aces. There’s no simile like a Chandlerism. It makes me think of that “Unfaithfully Yours” line by Preston Sturges: “You handle Handel like nobody handles Handel.” Sure.

So who do you go for, Hammett or Chandler?
Really? You’re going to throw that one at me? Okay. It’s means nothing, but for me? I prefer Chandler. I’ll also take Keaton over Chaplin, Astaire over Kelly, and paper over plastic. Satisfied?

So when will we see “The Hard-Boiled Detective” on the little screen?
Probably around the same time I get my first book deal and “The Ed Sullivan Show” comes back to prime time. Sure.

But I’ve got some thoughts on that, just the same. A fella can dream, can’t he? See, I’ve got two ideas for the TV series. And they’re plenty radical.

First of all, we make it a half hour. Can you picture that? A 30-minute detective show? It’s just not done, but man, would it clip along! Leave ’em wanting more—there’s a motto for you.

Uh huh.
The second idea—this one is a pip. We’ve got an unnamed sleuth working the mean streets of an unnamed burg, right? In a sense, he’s unidentified, right? So we cast a different actor to play him in every episode.

So the detective is actually a guest star every week?
You got it.

Uh huh.
What the hell? After all, it’s my fantasy. It’s the stuff that guest blogs are made of.

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Hard-Boiled Thought of the Day: Collection #1

Ego, sweet ego. There’s nothing like giving yourself a pat on the back. Well deserved or not. We all need a little stroke, from time to time. A little bracing up. A peck on the cheek. Just a small chuck under the chin. Sure.

So I found me a swell way to pull it off, a sure-fire method to give yourself a nod. All you need is a little self-quotation. Beat ’em to the punch, I say. Don’t stand in line. Don’t wait. What better way to acknowledge yourself than by quoting yourself? If you can’t appropriate your own stuff, what’s the point? Am I right, or am I right?

So I drummed up my little “Hard-Boiled Thought Day” and began posting them, every so often, on one of those social networks. There they are, in all their glory, little quips straight out of my fiction series. I’ve posted a bunch over the last month or two. Seemed like it was high time to present them as a set.

  • It’s bad business to plug your client. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.
  • Homo sapien is the only animal that, after making love, smokes a cigarette.
  • He’ll never get lost going out of his way.
  • Never trust a dame, even when she’s on all fours. Especially when she’s on all fours.
  • Sykes needed that dream, sure. Sykes needed it like a thermometer needs the fever.
  • “You’re becoming impertinent, again.”
    “That one was on the house, Mrs. Leblanc. “
  • The place stank like all gyms. That heavy air hits you first, the thick perfume of cheap labor.
  • She used more foundation than a Chinese fortress.
  • “Hmmm. Now we are in dangerous waters.”
    “Yeah, and me with my lifejacket at the dry cleaners.”
  • “If you’d care to wait? I could offer you a Frango Mint.”
    “No thanks, sister. They make my nose bleed.”
  • Chardonnay? Whiskey? I thought you’d of requested a shot of hemlock.
  • I figured I must of have been his last hope–I didn’t care much for the idea.
  • Don’t get me wrong. I adore these little sessions of ours. About as much as I adore a tooth extraction.
  • So there she was: attractive, well fixed, with something to hide. You could say she interested me immediately.
  • “My life!” That little voice became loud. Damn shrill, too. “My life is in danger!”
    “That’s what you come stumbling in here at this hour to tell me?”
    “My life was not in danger earlier.”
  • “I know what you’re thinking.”
    “Then you’re one up on me, sister.”
  • If that’s how he croons sober, I’d hate to hear him drunk.
  • His movement conjured up the grace of a concrete butterfly.
  • “Perfect,” I said. “You’ve got the timing of bad melodrama .”
  •  I passed the gunman as I approached the restaurant patio. Dead as prohibition.
  • He barked all kinds of advice at me, most of it as useful as a casket with a vanity mirror.
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Forgotten Hammett: The Lost Interview

From 1929: a rare piece of early Dashiell Hammett. The real Hammett. Mostly in his own words. An account that until recently remained forgotten. Lost. Gone for keeps.

The year 1929 proved to be top drawer for Dashiell Hammett. His first, published novel, “Red Harvest,” hit the stands in February. “The Dain Curse” followed in July. Black Mask magazine, which originally serialized those Hammett books in 1927 and 1928, respectively, began the serial presentation of “The Maltese Falcon” in September. Hammett started work on “The Glass Key” that autumn.

In October of 1929, Hammett ventured to New York. During his visit, he gave an interview to Helen Herbert Foster of The Brooklyn Eagle Magazine, a weekly supplement to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The curiously titled piece is comprised mostly of Hammett quotes, heavy on the stuff of biography.

The diligent, journalistic sleuthing of Terry Zobeck discovered this little gem, and I ran across it thanks to Zobeck’s guest spot on Don Herron’s blog, “Up and Down These Mean Streets.”

I’m tickled to present the interview, transcribed from the original document scan.

–Ben Solomon


House Burglary Poor Trade
By Helen Herbert Foster

  • —Of all the men embezzling from their employers with whom I have had contact, I can’t remember a dozen who smoked, drank or had any of the vices in which bonding companies are so interested.
  • Nor have I have ever known a man capable of turning out first-class work in a trade, a profession or an art who was a professional criminal.
  • House burglary is probably the poorest trade in the world–I have never known any one to make a living at it.
  • Pocket picking is the easiest to master of all the criminal trades. Any one who is not crippled can become an adept at it in a day.
Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett

These are the opinions of Dashiell Hammett, formerly a Pinkerton man, and now a writer of detective stories, among which “Red Harvest” and “The Dain Curse” are well known. And though Mr. Hammett tells us about many people, there are few more interesting than himself. Until he began writing fiction he had no writing experience except that of writing letters and daily reports for headquarters.

It seems, according to Mr. Hammett, that to be a good detective, one must have a gift for poking one’s nose into other people’s business. Doubtless many of us know people–ourselves, of course, never!–who, we think, could qualify in this respect. But that’s only the beginning.

“For being a professional busybody requires more energy, more dogged patience than you’d suppose. I got so tired of it that I just had to give it up, though I have a flair for that kind of thing. There was never anything lacking in the matter of my curiosity. It’s not an easy business. A good detective is quite a person. He is a type that has always intrigued me. And for that reason I never subordinate his personality to the plot of my story.”

Naturally enough, the detective as a study would interest Mr. Hammett. And well it might. Some of the greatest writers of the past have studied the detective’s curious makeup. Victor Hugo in his immortal “Jean Valjean” tells us of a crack detective, Javeret by name, who either had to be that or a first class crook. The physical machinery, so to speak, of a good sleuth is a complicated thing and worthy of the pen of a competent writer.

“What I try to do is write a story about a detective rather than a detective story. Keeping the reader fooled until the last, possible moment is a good trick and I usually try to play it, but I can’t attach more than secondary importance to it. The puzzle isn’t so interesting to me as the behavior of the detective attacking it.”

And so Dashiell Hammett has given us a hard-boiled little “op,” a close-up of him at work. And an “op,” as every reader of detective stories should know–and who is not these days when presidents and prime ministers admit a weakness for them?–is a man who does in real life what the “master detective” does in fiction. He is, in short, an operative.

“The op I use,” says Hammett, “is the typical sort of private detective that exists in our country today. I’ve worked with half a dozen men who might be he with few changes. Though he may be different in fiction, he is almost pure ‘type’ in life. I’ve always tried to hold him as close to the ‘type” as possible because what I see in him is a little man going forward day after day through mud and blood and death and deceit–as callous and brutal and cynical as is necessary–towards a dim goal, with nothing to push him or pull him towards it except that he’s been hired to reach it–a sort of Manuel whose saying is: ‘The job’s got to be done.’ But please don’t think I suppose that I’ve been altogether successful in translating him to the printed page–I admit having moments when I think I’m having a little luck.”

When Mr. Hammett speaks you just have to watch your step. You have the feeling he’s setting traps for you to fall into. And maybe he is. He’s cynically funny, though one of the most genial people you’d want to meet.

“I knew a man who once stole a Ferris wheel,” he said. “And then there was the man I shadowed out into the country for a walk one Sunday afternoon who lost his bearings completely and I had to direct him back to the city. And I once knew a detective who attempted to disguise himself so thoroughly that the first policeman he met took him under arrest. And then there was the man I knew, and still know, who will forge the impressions of any set of fingers in the world for only fifty dollars–and then there was–

“This is what you wanted to hear, wasn’t it?” he said, smilingly interrupting himself. “All reporters want to hear such experiences from detectives. And these are authentic enough, goodness knows.”

“It couldn’t be so long ago,” we commented, trying to get in the spirit of his genial mood. “You don’t look very old.”

“No indeed. I’m not at all old. I’m quite young. I’m just 35 and what might be called of the ‘younger generation of writers.’ Surprising, isn’t it, how old the younger generation can be?

“So then I can proceed to the fact that I was brought up in Philadelphia–though I wouldn’t emphasize that too strongly–and in Baltimore. There isn’t much to be said for my education, for I had little of it. I left school at 14, in the middle of my first high school year.

“My first dive into bread-winning was a messenger boy for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, though I had tipped my toes in before that by selling newspapers after school. Later I drew wages as a junior clerk, very junior, in an advertising office. Then I went into a stockbroker’s office–but let me pause here. Things come to mind.

“I was often fired, I’ll admit that. But always most amiably. So much so that I was always on good terms with my ex-employers after. But about the stockbroker’s. There was a place. It seemed that I could seldom get the same approximate total twice in succession out of any column of figures, but still more seldom managed to get down early enough in the day to make any of my mistakes before noon. And they had a weird notion that one should be there all day. Well, of course, when such a situation arises something is bound to happen. It did.

“Maybe I should have gone in for journalism. But let me get on with this story of my life and get the agony over with. After the stockbroker’s I became a timekeeper in a cannery and in a machine shop and from that the way was easy to that of a stevedore. I made the grade but then it became too strenuous.

“Now I approach, chronologically, when I became a detective. I was attached to a national agency as an operative, before and after the war, in the East, Northwest, and on the Pacific Coast. I was a pretty good sleuth, but a bit overrated because of the plausibility with which I could explain away my failures proving them inevitable and no fault of mine.

“You’ll want to hear of my war record, no doubt. Frankly, it was dull. I contributed practically nothing to the Allied victory. I came out of my uniform with tuberculosis, which later sent me to a couple of hospitals for seven or eight months.

“When the Tijuana racing season closed in the spring of 1921, I left the last of these hospitals–just outside of San Diego–and brought my still frayed lungs to San Francisco, where I returned to sleuthing. But that didn’t last long. My health continued to go blooey and I was getting tired of butting into other people’s business. That’s where you never can tell about the neighborhood busybody’s ability to be a professional; it takes perseverance. I lacked the drive to keep it going at par.

“Well, by this time I had a wife and daughter, and they were to be somewhat housed, clothed and fed.

“I decided to become a writer.

“It was a good idea. Having had no experience whatever in writing, except writing letters and reports, I wasn’t handicapped by exaggerated notions of the difficulties ahead. By the end of the year writing was supporting us in so far as we were being supported at all.”

This, then, was Dashiell Hammett’s story of how he began writing, and it is a story, you will admit, that one doesn’t hear every day. After he began wielding his pen he stuck right to it except for a few excursions into advertising, “to pick up a few dollars.”

“There’s another weakness I possess that I haven’t confessed: I’m an artist, or nearly. That is, I have a tendency to fritter away time over a drawing board trying to make black marks come out beautiful on white paper, which they seldom, if ever, do.”

In the fall of 1927 a lot of doctors–yes, a lot of ’em, he said, and one professor–told him his lungs were all right. To date he sees no reason for doubting they knew what they were talking about.

“Detecting has its high spots,” said he in a somewhat more serious vein, “but the run of the work is the most monotonous that any one could imagine. The very things that can be made to sound the most exciting in the telling are in the doing usually the most dully tiresome.

“Up to the time I became a sleuth, I liked gumshoeing–did I forget to give you the details of that experience?–better than anything I had done before. But at that I wasn’t such a rotten sleuth. Thanks to my ability to write pleasing and convincing reports, my reputation was always a little more than I deserved. A couple times I was offered official jobs but dodged them since by then I was about fed up.

“I wish we had lots of time for I’m just remembering other things that might interest you. I’d like to tell you of the chief of police of a southern city who once gave me a minute description of a man down to the mole on his neck, but neglected to mention that he had only one arm. Then there was the forger who left his wife because she had learned to smoke cigarettes while he was serving a term in prison. Sleuthing has its funny side though it’s trying work. A good detective has to be brave, vigorous, damnably clever, tireless–altogether a real person. He is an extraordinarily complicated mechanism.”

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Search Me

So I’ve been ramping up the website for my detective series. Just added some features—it’s about time. Sure.

As long as I was at it, I thought I should give the search engines a look-see. Especially the big “G.” See, word on the World Wide Web is that it can take months to show up on in organic, Google search results. That’s assuming you’re legit and all. Ever since my unheralded efforts began in February, I ain’t exactly been holding my breath. But what does it cost to take a flyer? Am I right?

In case you’re tempted to play along at home:
The Hard-Boiled Detective

You could of knocked me over with an AdWords discount code. There’s my site, all right. Sure, the second entry on page three. I’m not expecting to win any optimization awards, or even gain enough traffic to fill a hanky, but page three on Google’s a whole lot better than page 3000.

Then there’s Yahoo! I remember them. They used to be big. So they’re still holding on to the Mount Rushmore of Internet life like they’re Eva Marie Saint. I have to hand it to them for honoring my site with numero three in search listings. And those results barely jockey around even when you leave out the hyphen.

Then there’s Bing. I have a tough time admitting that Microsoft is my hero, but hell! I’m top dog on Bing! Drop the hyphen or “The” and I’m still number three, for crissake. Go figure.

Not bad for an unknown upstart, a no-account, no name author with a no-name detective. Who knows what the next six months will bring? Perhaps the stuff that SEO gurus’ dreams are made of. Sure.

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Hard-Boiled History

I’m no scholar, but I take to scholarly stuff. Probably most scribes do. So I’ve pulled together this simple timeline. The idea is nothing fancy, just a plain record of the events and influences that have put the hard-boiled genre on the literary map. If I’m mindful, this ought to be an ongoing document always prone to one more citation and one more tweak. And I invite your suggestions for any critical dates I’ve missed. Sure.

c. 800
The discovery of gunpowder is made in China. The prevailing theory gives credit to Han alchemists monkeying around, trying to concoct an immortality elixir.

Johannes (Johnnie) Gutenberg constructs his first printing press.

January 19: Edgar Allan Poe born in Boston, Massachusetts. (The Edgar Award is named for him, not the other way around.)

April 20: Graham’s Magazine publishes “Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allen Poe. The yarn introduces literature’s first, fictional sleuth, Auguste C. Dupin.

The City Council of New Albany, Indiana passes a two-fisted amendment prohibiting the carrying or use of brass knuckles.

May 22: Arthur Conan Doyle born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Delivery was elementary.

Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company designs the Colt Single Action Army (famously known as the Colt 45) for the U.S. government. The gat provided the basis for the Snubnosed .38.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s first published work appears“The Mystery of Sasassa Valley,”  in Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal.

December 1: Rex Stout born in Noblesville, Indiana.

Beeton’s Christmas Annual includes the story, “A Study in Scarlet” by Arthur Conan Doyle, the first appearance for Sherlock Holmes.

July 23: Raymond Chandler born in Chicago, Illinois, 2,000 miles away from Los Angeles.

July 17: Erle Stanley Gardner born in Malden, Massachusetts.
Sep 14: Carroll John Daly born in Yonkers, NY.

July 1: James M. Cain born in Annapolis, Maryland.

Agatha Christie born in Torquay, England.

May 27: Dashiell Hammett born in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

W.R. Burnett is born in Springfield, Ohio.

March 9: Mickey Spillane born in Brooklyn, NY

H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan launch Black Mask Magazine.

December: The hard-boiled detective story is born in two, back-to-back tales published in Black Mask: Carroll John Daly’s “The False Burton Combs,” and the mag’s first Dashiell Hammett tale, “The Road Home,” under the pen name, Peter Collinson.

June: Carroll John Daley’s private detective Race Williams debuts in “Knights of the Open Palm” in the pages of Black Mask.
December: Erle Stanley Gardner’s first story appears in Black Mask, “The Shrieking Skeleton.”

October 11: Elmore Leonard born in New Orleans.

“Red Harvest” is published, the first Dashiell Hammett novel.

“Little Caesar” by W.R. Burnett is published.

February 14: Dasheill Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” comes hot off the presses of Alfred A. Knopf, an odd sort of valentine.

December: Black Mask publishes its first Raymond Chandler yarn, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot.” It’s the author’s first detective yarn.

“The Postman Always Rings Twice” is published, the first novel by James M. Cain.

January 11: Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler meet at a Black Mask dinner.
Graham Greene’s “This Gun for Hire” is published.

Knopf publishes Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep.”

Mickey Spillane’s “I, the Jury” is published in hardback.

March 4: James Ellroy born in Los Angeles.

Ross MacDonald’s “The Moving Target” is published.

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The Raymond Chandler Interview

The city where I work and live is rich in tradition. Politics, in many ways its own hog butcher to the world, overlaps most of this heritage. If there’s one thing we’re good at, and we’ve been doing it a long time, that’s getting out the vote. Preston Sturges celebrated this in his original screenplay, “The Great McGinty:”

Some people is too lazy to vote, that’s all. They don’t like this kind of weather. Some of them is sick in bed and can’t vote. Maybe a couple of them croaked recently. That’s ain’t no reason why Mayor Tillinghast should get cheated out of their support.

It’s in this spirit of overcoming trivialities that I present the following interview with Raymond Chandler. Just because he hasn’t penned a word since the 1950’s is no reason he should dummy up now.

In case you don’t know it, Chandler’s the bird what wrote “The Big Sleep,” “Farewell My Lovely” and “The Long Goodbye,” among others. By all accounts, Chandler and Dashiell Hammett make up the one-two punch that matured pulp, detective fiction. They gave it class with a capital K, and their polish and sophistication turned the hard-boiled genre into the stuff of literature. I hear some of their work is even assigned in high schools and universities across the nation. Not too shabby for a couple authors whose early works wore a Black Mask.

Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888, and it’s about time he retuned for a visit. In world-class and world-weary style, no one paid us no never mind as we swapped questions and answers during a walking tour of the Near North Side.

SOLOMON: Mr. Chandler, I thank you for granting this interview. I’m sure readers everywhere are plenty grateful, not to mention awful surprised.

CHANDLER: Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.

SOLOMON: I understand you didn’t go for it at first. I mean the first time my editor called you.

CHANDLER: I hung up. It was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough. I ought to have locked the door and hid under the desk.

SOLOMON: You two didn’t get along.

CHANDLER: He was a guy who talked with commas, like a heavy novel. Over the phone anyway.

SOLOMON: What did you tell him?

CHANDLER: You talk too damn much and too damn much of it is about you.

SOLOMON: He tends to do that.

CHANDLER: He sounded like a man who had slept well and didn’t owe too much money.

SOLOMON: Well I’m awful glad you eventually came around.

CHANDLER: Sooner or later I may figure out why you like being a kept poodle.

SOLOMON: I’d sure never admit to anything like that being true. And even if it was, I sure as hell wouldn’t like it.

CHANDLER: You know Chandler. Always griping about something.

SOLOMON: You are the first in the decadence of your art.

CHANDLER: The more you reason the less you create.

SOLOMON: It’s easy to stiffen up while sitting at the keys. That’s for sure.

CHANDLER: The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.

SOLOMON: So how do you accomplish that? How do you pull it off?

CHANDLER: Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.

SOLOMON: Isn’t that a little easier said than done? Don’t you run up against obstacles? Don’t you even create your own obstacles?

CHANDLER: Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say.

SOLOMON: I know what you’re getting at. But when you say it out loud it sounds kind of astounding. Almost appalling.

CHANDLER: There is something about the literary life that repels me, all this desperate building of castles on cobwebs, the long-drawn acrimonious struggle to make something important which we all know will be gone forever in a few years, the miasma of failure which is to me almost as offensive as the cheap gaudiness of popular success.

SOLOMON: Yet your work is still celebrated. “The Big Sleep,” f’rinstance, is held in the highest regard. That book goes back to 1939, for crissake.

CHANDLER: There are no “classics” of crime and detection. Not one. Within its frame of reference, which is the only way it should be judged, a classic is a piece of writing which exhausts the possibilities of its form and can never be surpassed.

SOLOMON: So you’re saying you never achieved that. Hammett, neither? Not anybody since?

CHANDLER: No story or novel of mystery has done that yet. Few have come close. Which is one of the principal reasons why otherwise reasonable people continue to assault the citadel.

SOLOMON: The public always loved the form, anyway. And still does.

CHANDLER: An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except the cleverness of a decadence.

SOLOMON: I take it you don’t go in for a lot of the contemporary, detective fiction.

CHANDLER: The flood of print has turned reading into a process of gulping rather than savoring.

SOLOMON: Is there such a thing as being too critical? Perhaps a touch too severe?

CHANDLER: A classical education saves you from being fooled by pretentiousness, which is what most current fiction is too full of.

SOLOMON: So who do you recommend?

CHANDLER: Hammett was the ace performer.

SOLOMON: You can’t go wrong with Dashiell.

CHANDLER: He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of—

SOLOMON: “The Glass Key.”

CHANDLER: —is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.

SOLOMON: That’s one heck of a compliment.

CHANDLER: The challenge is to write about real things magically.

SOLOMON: Who sounds pretentious, now?

CHANDLER: Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.

SOLOMON: So how do you keep your integrity intact? It’s a tough haul, word by word, line by line, page by page—

CHANDLER: Don’t ever write anything you don’t like yourself and if you do like it, don’t take anyone’s advice about changing it. They just don’t know.

SOLOMON: Fair enough. Sure.

CHANDLER: I am a writer, and there comes a time when that which I write has to belong to me, has to be written alone and in silence, with no one looking over my shoulder, no one telling me a better way to write it.

SOLOMON: You are your first and last audience, if I get you right.

CHANDLER: It doesn’t have to be great writing, it doesn’t even have to be terribly good. It just has to be mine.

SOLOMON: It always sounds too damn easy when you talk it through. So easy to say it’s all about the writing.

CHANDLER: The actual writing is what you live for. The rest is something you have to get through in order to arrive at the point.”

SOLOMON: But it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

CHANDLER: Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality: there are no dull subjects, only dull minds.

SOLOMON: If I’ve got it right, you kinda write as you will, artistically speaking, I mean. The notion of creating art isn’t part of what you consciously do.

CHANDLER: There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that.

SOLOMON: Ain’t that the truth?

CHANDLER: There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.

SOLOMON: Now I believe you’re quoting yourself…I wanted to take you for a bite, to one of those venerable establishments you might remember. But you know things can never be the same. The Blackhawk, Barney’s Market Club—both gone. Even the Berghoff ain’t what it used to be. Sure.

CHANDLER: I used to like this town. A long time ago…

SOLOMON: Maybe I should just rustle us up a couple of dames.

CHANDLER: I do a great deal of research—particularly in the apartments of tall blondes.

SOLOMON: Then maybe I should just leave you to it and say goodbye.

CHANDLER: To say goodbye is to die a little.


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The Big, Grand, Hard-boiled, Hard-nosed, Hard-edged Experiment Part X: The Never-ending Sequel

When did it start, this never-ending, multi-part experiment? Take another drag and think. Blank.

Maybe it always was. Like some nihilist chicken-and-egg theory. The Russian, nesting doll version of Pandora’s box. Or maybe a box of Crackerjack. Take another shot and think. Blank.

Will it ever end? How can you tell it’s done? There ain’t no fork test or thermometer for that. This survival of the mis-fittest. Maybe it always will be. Until you drop for good. Sure.

Could those questions be right? Those crazy stars and their crazy alignment. They sure like to keep you guessing. So stop guessing. Sure. However it happened, it happened, and that’s all there is to it. I never would’ve planned it that way–don’t take this for any kind of apology. Just take it as you will, an epilogue to a preface, an ending to another beginning.

The last series of events went something like this. Penned a short yarn, then another, and another. All hard-boiled, all steeped in a period and style better remembered by my dad. Some kind of series I had developed. Sure. So what do you make of that? What do you do with that? Toss it on the web, serve it up for subscription like some sacrificial lamb of a detective. Screw tradition and what’s been done and what can’t be done and just go ahead. So I’m an unknown. Who ain’t? So who’ll listen and who cares? Go ahead anyway. Full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes, smoke ’em if you got ’em.

And in the meantime, why don’t you reach the breaking point at your nine-to-five? Why don’t you just walk out, flat–no plan, no safety net, no security blanket. Sure. Just a deck of smokes in my shirt and a P.I. in my hip pocket.

So now what? When did it start, this never-ending, multi-part experiment? Take another drag and think. Blank.

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Real Life Detective Story

The funny thing is, see, I’ve been writing detective stories. That project is another yarn in itself, but my point is that I’ve been walking around for awhile now with hard-boiled notions racing through my head.

So imagine walking out to my car, on my way to a coffee date, when a bright, blue object in the street catches my eye. Sure enough it’s a wallet. It’s a bloated wallet. It’s a wallet thick with masses of credit cards and receipts and coupons and club cards and business cards. I’d say the damn thing was thicker than a corned beef sandwich at Manny’s.

So now I’m stuck. I can’t leave the thing in the street and I can’t turn it into anybody–believe me, I’ve got all the respect in the world for the boys in blue, but I was always told to avoid coppers just like you avoid hospitals and the military. So I was stuck.

I took the exploding billfold with me to the cafe. I started rifling through its contents as I explained the situation to my coffee-mate. Sure, I could’ve contacted one of the bank card companies, but that’s just opening up another can of worms. All I wanted to find was a phone number, one lousy phone number.

Needless to say, buried in the depths of the purse’s crevices and pockets, among all those slips of cards and papers and scraps, I came up blanksville. Zippo. No phone, no way, no how. But my deductive powers were sharpening, a circumstance I attribute to those P.I. tales I’ve been penning.

See, I found this business card. Some kind of nutrition center. And it was located less than two miles from where I sat at that very moment. And it was on the way home. Ain’t that swell? All I had to do was pop in, ask the receptionist to give their client list a look-see, place a call, and pass on my number. Easy, right? In a pig’s eye. I found the joint easy enough, a big office in this ritzy complex just off of Clark and Diversey. And the dump is closed, locked up tighter than an embezzler’s safety deposit box.

When I got home I surfed all the usual suspects looking for a lead and came up with zilch. I was resigned to calling one of the credit card companies. But, I decided to check through the volumes of flotsam contained in the billfold one last time. 

And that’s when I found it. A credit card recept that had been run through one of those old machines that uses a carbon. The thing had been folded, spindled and otherwise mutilated, but it also had handwritten notes on it. One of the handwritten notes was, hold on to your fedora, a telephone number.

So I dialed per the receipt, got the tootsie on the line, and was she ever bowled over with relief. Somehow she had dropped the two-ton wallet in the street without noticing. Go figure.

So she swung by my place that night to retrive the pocketbook, and she kept falling all over herself with thanks. She was on the run, getting ready for a trip out of town, but had one last thing to tell me before she skidaddled: “You’re my guardian angel,” she said.

That’s me all over, all right. Sam and Phil and me. We’re all guardian angels. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.

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