Tag Archives: interview

The Next Great Unknown

Magritte_TheSonOfManIn case you hadn’t heard, my latest book has just been released. No, not from prison. The paperback recently went “live” on Amazon. Just got my first review, too. Five stars, no less. The ebook’s also in the works, promising to grab some screen space from just about every major distributor…and then some.

So I’m forced to indulge in the indulgence of self-promotion. Press releases, interviews, guest blogs, readings, signings. All that and more, if you can get it. That’s the old catch. It’s tough going for unknowns to get any attention because they’re unknown, but they’ll never become known unless they muster up some attention. It’s kind of like going to a bank for a loan. They’re not all that excited about handing out dough to anyone who really needs it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not griping. I’ve got no kick. That’s the way things are which is a hell of a lot better than the way things used to be. Not only have I self-published my first book, but I’m confident I made a damn respectable job out of it despite pulling it off on the cheap. And I expect to easily cover my out-of-pocket costs.

I’ve done okay at the attention game, too, considering. I received no less than eight blurbs from some pretty respectable names. A legendary, local reporter invited me for an interview on his weekly radio program. On top of that’s a handful of associates  spreading the word, offering reviews, and conducting interviews. All this generosity and grace staggers me. My first of three readings is scheduled for tonight, this being the 11th of September, and three metro-area bookstores are carrying my little volume on consignment.

So here’s the shameless plug that’s easily skipped.
The paperback on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0692269940
Events page: http://thehardboileddetective.com/events.php

Not bad for an independent unknown, flying by the seat of his pants without a compass or handler in sight. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next, great unknown.

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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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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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