Monday, October 26, 2015

Imagery and Intimacy

Turner Hahn
Let me see if I can explain clearly these two concepts.  Imagery and Intimacy.  Been thinking about these two words for about a week now.  The train of thoughts drift down this semi-lit pathway concerning the writing process.  How . . . and when . . . does the writer grab the reader's attention and takes command of it?

Almost every writer, and almost every expert you hear speaking at a writer's convention, makes the declarative statement that the writer must capture the reader's interest in the first few pages in the opening chapter.  Many of these same writers will admit it's not the first few pages . . . but the first four or five paragraphs of the first page which determines whether a reader decides to read on, or walk away and go find a McDonald's for a coffee and some fries.

Okay.  I agree with that.  But how do you spring the trap and capture a reader whose just casually flipping through the pages of a novel he's absent mindedly  looking at?

Imagery and intimacy.

The imagery idea is obvious.  Verbal portraits.  Building, through words, a mental image so clear and visual . . . yet  vague enough to allow each reader to fill out the details with their own images.  For me, writing any novel, I open with a vivid image.  Especially the Turner Hahn/Frank Morales police-procedurals.  The opening scene is a crime scene.  A murder has taken place.  Turner and Frank have been called in to begin the investigation.  Vivid imagery from the get-go.  I'm banking on the idea any potential reader is caught up immediately in the beginning of the investigation.

But here is where imagery needs intimacy. Not just any old word suffices in making that image of yours to come alive.  Instead of trying to explain it, let me over an example.

The blood pooled into the inexpensive carpet and dried into a dark stain.

The crimson smear of dried blood now looked like a hardened veneer

  pressed deeply into the cheap carpet.

Of the two sentences, which do you prefer in creating that verbal image?  Image-making is not only describing the scene;  it is using the right words to describe the scene.  

I leave you with this further example.  The opening sequence from the Turner Hahn/Frank Morales novel. A Taste of Old Revenge.  (Go sailing down the right column. You'll find it there).  Read it and see if it grips you viscerally with a number of different emotions.

            A stale breeze played through the dead man’s hair.
            An unwanted breeze. 

            A breeze filled with malaise. 
            The old man was slumped across the open cavity of an accounts ledger, his face squashed
Frank Morales
between the pages of a thick accounting book.  The body looked remarkably like a piece of trash carelessly tossed onto an old kitchen table.  Or maybe like a discarded, broken doll long forgotten by the one who had once loved it. As I bent down for a closer inspection I could see a clearly defined hole in the back of the old man's hairless cranium.  There was remarkably little blood.  What little blood had seeped out had created a tiny rivulet down the man’s neck and formed a dark puddle about the size of a man’s palm on the brown pages of the accounting book.  The blood was not fresh.
            Inspecting the wound I got the impression of precision.  A surgeon’s frugality of effort.  Or a craftsman’s sure touch in a grisly occupation.  Standing up and frowning, another impression occurred to me.
            Premeditation.  Coldly calculated and flawlessly executed.

            And who said a murder had to be messy?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Addendum to that bad taste: Marketing

Okay, ready to get depressed?  Especially if you're a struggling writer like so many of us are.  And yes . . .  that includes me.  In fact, I may be leading the pack.  Well, here goes . . .

Ebooks.  The raw numbers.  A couple of years ago the total number of ebooks being published, PER DAY, averaged out to the tune of about 2,230 books. PER DAY . . . or roughly about 60,000-plus PER MONTH!!

That was two years ago, Maynard.  I guarantee you the numbers have increased.  Exponentially.

No frackin' wonder, most of us get lost in the shuffle and are never heard from again.  I mean, think about it; how the hell do you compete as an individual with those types of numbers confronting you everyday?  But even more amazingly is this question . . . how the hell do writers, numerous writers we all can point to, hit the ebook market and apparently LEAP into the Top 10 ranks with seemingly little or no effort?  Writers that, in the deepest recesses of your heart, you KNOW you are better than they are when it comes to putting together a great story.

How?  How do they do it?

Good question, Quasimodo.  And I haven't a clue on how to explain it.  Except, maybe . . . sheer stupid luck.  Just being in the right place, at the right time, with the right product.

As you know the last full week or more I've been delving into the art/science/voodoo magic of ebook marketing.  Almost every venue I walked into mentioned, almost at the very beginning, to offer your ebook for free over a limited time frame.  So I tried it.  THERE ARE NO INNOCENTS (go to the right side, top of the column, to see the ebook offering)  started out 5 days ago with a ZERO ranking.  Zippo.  Nada.  Nothing.  It's been out for a little over a month and no movement whatsoever with it.  I chose that one to try the free ebook move thru it's offering on Amazon.

It goes up as a free offering.  For five days.  On day two the ratings hit the 5,000 mark and it has a ranking of #23 in a sub-sub-sub genre in the mystery section.  It stays either #23 or #25 for the next three days.  

At the end of the five days the free ebook offering is over and it goes back into the "Pay up brother, or else!" pile.  The ratings and the ranking plunges waaaaaaaaaay down.  Still, it maintains a rating and a ranking.  For that I am happy.  But I'm not looking to getting rich soon.  Or ever, for that matter.

I suppose the more liquid cash you have to shell out to ebook marketers gives you a better chance of pushing your little baby boy more toward the front of the line.  All you have to do is fork over your hard won dough.  If you have it.  Which I don't.

You have to ask yourself, "Are you in it for the money?"  And the answer is HELL YES you are!  Maybe not in it to get rich . . . but you'd like to see SOME compensation for all that hard effort you put in writing the damn thing.

Good luck, buddy.  I hope you are better at it than I've been.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

That Bad Taste in Your Mouth: Marketing

Writers have to write.  And as we all know, it's a messy affair.  Actually putting words down on paper or on the screen.  Plotting.  Filling in the gaps.  Creating characters.  Killing characters.  From beginning to end.  The whole works, buddy.  The Full Monty!

Can make a sane person go stark freakin crazy trying to get it done.  And add in a mandatory deadline . . . and Holy Jesus Fracking Mary!  Are you kidding me?!

So . . . for an indie writer.  What about the marketing plan you've got to come up with?  I mean, come on.  You gotta have one.  There's a sea of ebooks being published on an hourly basis.  An entire freakin OCEAN of ebooks becoming available every freakin minute . . . how the hell do you rise above this gooey muck and get your ebook looked at?

Marketing.  Coming up with a plan to bitch-slap a potential reader right between the eyes with your glowing, better-than-sex!, ya gotta read this. . . I mean it . . . new ebook of yours.

What tools do you use to rise above the ebook cacophony which surrounds you?

Or do you?  Market, that is.

Came back from a writer's conference the other day.  Two days of listening to fellow writers say essentially the same things I've heard over and over and over and over.  Years of hearing the same shit.  Heard it so often I can recite it in my sleep.  But one writer, a young chic (why does it ALWAYS have to be a young chic who sells BILLIONS of ebooks at a time?!) did get me to thinking.  She actually said something that made sense; or at least, put a new spin on an old problem.

Go to the column on the right.  For a while
this is a free read.
How do you market your ebook?  Do you look at your creation as a book . . . or as a product?  A product;  hmmm . . .  After the writing an publishing, does it become something like a box of rubber bands to sell?  Or maybe a washing machine?  Or a used car?  A commodity . . . a THING . . . that any small business owner has to market if they want to sell their 'stuff' and become a success.

The writer as a small business owner.

Her central idea was to assign or give a potential reader who gave you a one star review with some kind of compensation package for their bad experience.  Just like any business owner will take back a defective gizmo and try to satisfy a customer with some other product of theirs.  But more than that, she emphasized the need a writer has to slap on their noggin the mental cap of becoming a small business owner of their own whenever the writing process came to an end.

Makes sense to me, Maynard.  Put me down as a convert.

So now comes the real test.  How much are you willing to shell out to various and sundry third parties who make the claim they shove your ebook through the thick muck and make it a No. 1 Best Seller!!

I dunno, pardner.  I really don't.  But I'm heading down that back road now and finding out.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fixing a problem

So . . . how to fix a problem?  The Decimus Julius Virilis novel (As the Emperor Slept) apparently has a problem.  Or problems.  It starts too slow.  And, apparently, the 'motivation' for Decimus to investigate a serious of vicious political-tainted homicides, is questionable.

So how do you fix a set of problems like this without going through a massive rewrite?  You keep everything intact and just add a 'starter button' at the beginning.  One that's guaranteed to grab the reader's attention and get the ball rolling.

(By the way, dig the rough draft for the book covers?  Back cover, spine, and front cover--just the rough drafts, mind you.  But still . . . )

So I thought I'd share a few of the opening pages in an effort to see what you think of the 'starter' idea.  Whatta think?

            The crowd was in a festive mood.  Today's races in the Hippodrome held the promise of being quite exciting.  Phillipus The Greek, the number one driver of the Reds, would be racing against his fellow countryman, Titus Magnus, the Green's best driver, in the fourth race of the day.  It promised to be a hard fought battle.  Neither Phillipus nor Titus could tolerate the other.  Both had promised bloody mayhem if one saw the other ever again in a race they participated in.
            The crowd, sensing the action soon to come, milled about in front of the gigantic stone structure of the racing track waiting to get in while food vendors, dozens of them, barked their wares as they wove in out of the growing entanglement of humanity.  The aromas of a dozen different meats and even more delicious looking pastries wafted through the clear Roman air seductively.  Wine vendors especially were doing a brisk business selling their watered down blends today.  But the crowd seemed docile enough.  Perhaps it had something to do with a large contingent of purple clad soldiers of the Praetorian Guards moving quietly through the crowd in groups of two, eyeing the crowd and looking formidable in the process.
            Apparently the rumor was true.  Caesar was coming to observe the races from his color canopied box.  It was said the old man had a passion for the sport.  Whenever he graced his presence at such a sporting event the presence of his newly created Praetorian Guards were obvious and intentional.  As the old saying went, Better to nip trouble in the bud than to quell a full fledged riot.
            Caesar was a master at finding trouble and nipping it in the bud long before it became a problem for him.
            Standing to one side of the main mass of crowd were three men quietly eating some Germanic delicacy of sour kraut and pork.  It smelled awful.  But the way the three were intent on consuming every possible morsel of it belied its pungent odor. 
            Two of the men were dressed in the plain, functional clothes of a Roman freeman.  Hard looking men.  Tanned and weather beaten.  Reminding onlookers of dried strips of leather that had, over the years, endured much and survived all.  The third stood between the two dressed in an off white toga which had a fine purple hem, distinct but subdued, prominently displayed in the cloth.  A patrician.  A Roman nobleman.  An older man with a high sloping forehead, a receding hairline, and dark, piercing brown eyes.
            A soldier.  Unquestionably.  And a veteran.
            He had the commanding presence of a Roman officer.  It was obvious.  Especially for a Roman.  Almost every male milling about in the crowd had, at one time or the other, served his time as a legionnaire.  The Dalmatian revolts of 8 A.D. were not that long ago. Prior to that was the revolt in the forest of Germany to quell.  And before that . . . not that long ago . . . were the wars fought against fellow Romans.  The long wars Caesar fought to subdue the radical Marcus Antonius and his fabled mistress, Cleopatra.
            Yes, this middle aged patrician was a Roman officer.  One who saw action and knew hardships.  One who knew how to command men and expect to be obeyed.  Dressed in civilian clothes he was now.  But that meant little.  For this kind of man, a soldier was a soldier.  There was no other way of life.
            "You are sure we are being followed, Gnaeus?"
            The patrician's voice was soft but filled with a resonating quality of quiet authority and confidence.  Soothing to one's ear for now.  But promising a harsh reality if aroused to anger.
            The smaller of the three man nodded gently, a hand coming up to form a gesture or two toward the patrician in the process.  Both patrician and the other freeman watched the little man's hand and nodded as if they knew exactly what the man was silently saying to them.
            "I did not see him.  Describe him quickly."
            More hand gestures.
            A small man.  My size.  With curly blond hair and a dirty face. He was dressed like a Greek peasant.  He kept moving through the crowd some distance from us.  First he would be in front of us.  And then to our rear.  But always close enough to observe us, tribune.  I last saw him standing to our left. Over by the fountain.
            "Humph," grunted the taller of the two freeman.  A dark complexion figure from the deserts of perhaps Libya or Morocco. "Your old friend,  Menelaus, coming back to haunt us again, tribune?"
            The patrician's dark eyes looked into the face of his second companion for a moment or two thoughtfully before, finally, shaking his head.
            "Menelaus is an old, old man by now.  Too old and too sick to have any desire to seek revenge.  Besides, there are no better spies and assassins than a Greek.  Anyone could have hired this creature to keep us in view.  Until we have more information it is useless for us to conjecture over."
            The small man's hands flew into action again.
            Our orders, tribune.  Do we capture this man alive?  Or do we quietly dispatch him to his just rewards?
            The patrician smiled.  A wicked, sinfully cruel smile of a man who knew how to hunt.  And hunt not just any query.  But hunt the ultimate prey.
            "We spread out.  Each of us will stay within sight of the other.  One of you will sit in the stands above me.  The other to one side.  If this Greek spy is seen, rub your nose with the index finger of your right hand as a sign.  If he has accomplices in the crowd working with him, the signal will be the index finger of your left hand. We will encircle him and try to catch him. If he sees us and flees, perhaps we can follow him and see where he leads us."
            Both freeman nodded.  And disappeared into the growing crowd as if they had been nothing more than smoke from a burning vizier blowing away in the wind.  The tribune's smile widened minutely on his thin lips. It was like old times.  Working the streets again in a foreign city playing the spy. A spy hunting a spy.  It was an exciting game.  A deadly game.  One that he so much enjoyed and sorely missed.
            The crowd began moving.  Above, high on the walls of the stadium, trumpeters were telling the crowd the races were soon to begin.  Making his presence conspicuous, nevertheless his eyes roamed the crowd casually yet alertly.  He wanted visual contact with this talented blond haired spy.  But as he and the crowd filed into the Hippodrome he saw no one that fit Gnaeus' description.  He was not surprised.  If this man was as good as Gnaeus suggested he doubted he would get much, if any, of a glimpse.  Yet he remained vigilant.  There was a question which yet remained to be answered.  Was this spy here to just keep watch on him?  Or was he here to assassinate him?
            An assassination attempt made sense.  He had enemies.  Many enemies.  One did not serve in the legions as long as he had in various roles and not make enemies.  Especially if one considered the many special 'detached duties' assignments he had been given over the years.  Spying on allies as well as enemies were some of the special assignments.  Others were more deadly.  Far more deadly.  And secretive.  Not the kind one bragged about in the open.  Not if one wanted to live quietly in retirement in Rome for their remaining years unmolested.
            But if the Greek was spying, keeping tabs on his whereabouts, then a whole new set of questions came to mind.  Who?  Why?  Why take the trouble to spy on an old soldier who had recently retired from the army and was, for all practical purpose, unemployed and uninvolved.  He led a quiet life.  He rarely accepted invitations to social gatherings.   He kept himself out of sight and out of mind from those in Rome who still wielded power.  With the reputation he had it was better for him to remain sight unseen for as long as possible.
            But if Gnaeus was right, and he was seldom wrong in these matters, someone had taken interest in him.  That did not bode well for his long term safety or quality of life while here in the city.  It would be best to find out whom, and for what reason, this new found interest had been generated over him.
            He appeared to be interested in the races.  The first two races pitted some of the up and coming chariot drives of each of the six more renown racing associations in four and six chariot sprints.  Teams draped in the colors of their various racing teams paraded around the long, narrow track below before each race, giving time for the crowds to place bets their bets.  He made it a show of betting on the Reds in every race.  Each time he laid a wager he would stand up from his seat and lay the wager.  Each time he stood his eyes played across the crowd around him.
            Twice he thought he saw just the suggestion of blond hair in the crowd.  Never a face. Just the movement of a body and blond hair submerging deep into the standing crowd and disappearing from view.  A casual glance toward Gnaeus found his old companion in the wars eyeing the crowd but seeing nothing.  On one wager he stood up and turned to face the crowd behind him.  Three rows up sitting in the crowd directly behind him was the long, darkly tanned face of Hakim, his other companion.  He too made no gesture indicating anything amiss had been observed.
            Below in the dirt young drivers were driving their chariots recklessly in an effort to make a reputation.  As would be expected thunderous crashes and splintering wood came all too often.  With each mishap the crowd would leap to their feet and roar in delight.  When they did he felt more than saw bodies moving through the crowd.  Bodies inching closer and closer to him in a patient stalking of predator toward prey.  When the attack came, not unsurprisingly, it came from a totally unexpected direction.
            There was, below, the resounding collision of three teams of horses and chariots crashing into each other.  Horses screamed in terror.  Splinters and chunks of various chariots flew in the air.  Bodies of drivers, thrown from their chariots, hurled through the air before tumbling across the stadium's thick sand.  The crowd went wild.   Everyone came to their feet.  For several long seconds the crowd roared and cheered and booed all at the same time.  And then, to his right, quite unexpectedly, a fight broke out between partisan groups sitting too close together for comfort.  Four burly looking men dressed in the colors of the Greens began pushing around five men dressed in blue.  Fists began flying.  The fight pulled in additional participants.  Pandemonium broke out in the stands.
            The crowd was packed in tight in the seats around him.  As he watched the fight to his right grow in intensity, followed by loud cheers and jeers from those surrounding the spectacle near him, behind him he felt bodies moving suddenly to one side in an unnatural fashion.  Someone was pushing through the crowd behind him.  Half turning, he caught the glimpse of blond hair directly behind.  More importantly he glimpsed the long narrow iron blade of a dagger held low and partially covered by a cheap tunic appear beside the assassin's waist.  It flashed forward with astonishing speed straight for his lower back.  A deep wound to his liver would be fatal.  He had to move!
            He used his right arm and swept around him in a swift, hard move.  His forearm caught the assassin's knife hand at the wrist and knocked the deadly blade to one side.  Rotating around his left hand came up and reached for the assassin's shoulder while his right arm moved, allowing him to grip the man's right forearm firmly with an iron grip.  But the assassin was good.  He twisted his shoulder away from the tribune's attempt to grab it and used a foot to kick hard at the tribune's right leg.  The assassin's foot caught the tribune just above his right knee with a powerful blow.
            The pain was excruciating.  His hand fell away from the assassin's knife hand.  He staggered backward and bumped into someone directly behind him.  Angrily the man yelled out something unintelligible and shoved the tribune off him.  The violent push helped the tribune to regain his footing.  But all for naught.  The assassin was gone.  Like the ghost he was he had slipped somehow deep into the sea of faces and disappeared altogether.
            When the brawl in the stands was finally subdued after a squad of Praetorian Guards descended onto the menagerie of fisticuffs with bludgeons and iron bars the crowd quickly settled back into their seats.  But the tribune, his right leg throbbing in pain, slowly withdrew from his seat.  As he ascending the steps to the cause walk he was joined by Gnaeus and Hakim.  Neither had seen a thing.  To their dismay they had not even seen the attack on the tribune.
            The long walk back to the tribune's small house was a trek of pain filled with grim silence.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Roland of the High Crags.

Okay, okay;  I know.  I've ranted and raved and written a ton of shit about this dive off the deep end into the Fantasy side of the pool.  But I can't help myself.  Roland is like one of my children.  He's complex, deep, a born killer . . . yet likable. A hero in a world filled with villainy.

He's a warrior-monk for chrissakes!  Trained in the martial arts since a child.  Unsurpassed in his skills in handling sword, lance, or bow.  Ah . . . but to top it off, he has that gift 'in the blood.' He has the gift of magic.  He's a trained wizard in the Bretan Way; that version of Magic which allows him to control the almost uncontrollable powers of the Netherworld.

The Netherworld is the supernatural.  It is the afterlife where all souls go to reside after leaving this plane of existence.  The soul naturally drifts into the Netherworld.  It is a vast river; a place which pulses with infinite power.  It is the abyss.  Madness resides in the Netherworld.  All the forms of madness a sentient mind can acquire.

It is the home of both Life and Death.  The home of the Past and the Future and the Present.  Magic, in all its forms, resides in the Netherworld.  Only those who are touched in the blood can tap into this power and mold it and use it in whatever shape and form one wishes.  Consciously being aware, however, that if one using Netherworld Magic too much, one eventually goes mad with insanity in the process.

So I developed this fantasy series of complex, dark, contemplative novels which invites the reader into a fantastic world of adventure and intrigue.  Or . . . at least . . . I thought I did.  As typical with most of my writing, I could not find one Sci-Fi/Fantasy publisher intrigued enough to take it on.  Bummer.  It meant it the series would not get it heaved over the pile of other fantasy bullshit and get it discovered by the reading public.  So I had to self publish.

Which meant, of course, Roland was swimming in an vast uncharted ocean of other fantasy novels similar in scope and range.  The end result being that damn few of anyone has discovered Roland.  Even though those who did turned around and wrote some glowing reviews for it.

So my conundrum. My perpetual problem.  I can't let go.  Roland needs to be read.  His adventures needs to be followed.  He needs to be discovered.  But how?  How do I go about this without selling off my house, my car, my kids, and my grand kids in an effort to find the finances to push Roland out into the Land of Discovery?

I dunno. All I can do is maybe create a set of different artwork for the covers and try it again.  Revamp and expand Book One of the series along with the new artwork. Shake the trees in the few social web sites I swim in letting everyone know that he's out there waiting to be discovered.

And hope.  Always hope for the impossible to happen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Jack Reacher is back


He's back.  Jack Reacher.  That 6'5 monster of a man created out of the mind of Lee Child, is back with a new novel entitled, Make Me.  I confess; I've been waiting impatiently for this book to land in a bookstore.  Reacher, the character, is a powerful addiction that is hard to let go.  Once you meet him, you can't forget him.  So that causes you to go out and read all the other Jack Reacher novels.  With this newest one, that'll be 20 novels, thank you very much.

An ex-army officer, a top notch investigator in a special unit he led in the Army's military police, Reacher is that kind of guy whom you think the word 'primeval' fits perfectly for a descriptor.  The guy is a monster physically.  And very, very good at figuring out how to contain the violence a violent world likes to spring onto the unsuspecting.

Most of the novels have Reacher out of the Army and just thumbing his way across America . . . and getting into trouble . . . without any kind of anchoring device to tie him down with responsibilities.  

Interesting.  And definitely different as far as story plotting goes.  Never being tied down to one spot means that anything for a situation can happen.  And usually does.

(The two covers you see are the same novel.  One is the European cover.  The other is the American cover.  I'm thinking the one on the right is the American one.  Technically, the novel is not supposed to come out in the US until around the 18th of September.  But obviously you get a copy of it now.)

Lee Child, the creator of Reacher, is an interesting character study himself.  An Englishman who, for some reason, creates an American army officer for a character, writes in the same way many writers, including myself, do.  He just starts writing.  No outlining.  No plot in mind.  Just sits down and goes. Everything about the plot is worked out as he goes along.

My kind of writer.

I bring all this up because the news is out that the second Jack Reacher movie is going to start filming soon,  Called Never Go Back, the move roughly follows one of the earlier novels.  Reacher goes back to his old haunts in Washington D.C. and his old army command to sort out problems which, naturally, involve him,

If you are a Reacher find I can hear you starting to go ballistic right about now.  The reason for this
psychotic meltdown is obvious.  Guess who plays the screen version of Jack Reacher.  That's right; it's Tom Cruise.  That Tom Cruise.  The one that stands, if he is wearing thick soled shoes, maybe around 5'5.  A good foot shorter than the Jack Reacher found in the books.  A good 70 to 80 pounds lighter in weight. Considerably less intimidating if held up to the original.

Yet . . . .

If you have an agile mind, if you can separate the Jack Reacher found in the novels from the cinematic Jack Reacher . . . you'll make a damn interesting discovery.  The cinematic Jack Reacher is just pretty damn good.

It's not so much size (although, for many it is, admittedly) as it is about attitude.  The attitude Cruise brings to the cinematic Reacher is, as some friends of mine in England say, spot on.  Both versions have this no-nonsense, just below the surface violence ready to pop up into full view at a moment's notice.

Smarts and violence.  I think these are the reasons why Jack Reacher is so popular.  I know it is for me.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Aiden Thorn talking about Brit crime in general, and Urban Decay in particular

Aiden Thorn
There's a young up-and-coming writer  in Britain by the name of Aiden Thorn. We've become acquaintances and admirers of each other's writing, if not outright friends altogether.  Anyway, he asked if he could share some thoughts in my blob and rummage over the idea of Brit crime writing in general, as well as a few words about his latest collection of crime stories out called Urban Decay.

Absolutely, buddy.  I was curious to hear his thoughts about the influences of American hard boiled/noir writing and it affected a Brit and his writing.  So sit back and enjoy.

And oh . . . buy his stuff.  It's just pretty damn good.

Brit Grit Allies – the influence of American writing on a new wave of British Crime writers…

Somehow I’ve managed to carve out a reputation as a writer from the wonder underground movement that’s been termed ‘Brit Grit.’ I often see myself referred to in reviews or on blogs as, ‘Brit Grit writer, Aidan Thorn.’ It’s a label I’m extremely proud of, and why wouldn’t I be? By association it puts me in the same bracket as some of my favourite writers working in the indie scene today. The likes of Paul D Brazill, Gareth Spark, Darren Sant and many more, top talent that only get a miniscule slice of the recognition they deserve.

What I find interesting is that I’ve found myself batched in with this great company, when in fact most, if not all, of my early literary influences were American. And, do you know what, I haven’t checked but I reckon that’s probably the case for a lot of the writers that people associate with the ‘Brit Grit’ scene (can we call it a scene, are there enough of us for it to be a scene – fuck it, I’m calling it a scene).  It’s pretty clear when you read the likes of Chris Leek (a great British based writer) that he’s influences are heavily American, I think the same can often be said of Gareth Spark – two great writers, who write tales that make characters not just of the players but their settings too. With others the influence might not be quite so apparent, Sant’s voice is routed in northern England, but at the same time, just look at his PI Potter book, Moonchild’s Sin (seriously, do it’s a good read!) to find a man clearly inspired by the hardboiled characters from across the pond – it’s just told with Sant’s uniquely British voice. Where an American PI would be taking meetings in diners and sports bars, Sant has his leading character operating out of an office above a Fish ‘n’ Chip shop. 

I reckon that US influence is always there in the background and I guess it always will be with so much of what we consume as entertainment hailing from there.

Anyone that’s seen anything I’ve said about writing before will know I’m a huge George Pelecanos fan, for me that man can do no wrong. When I started to write I tried, unsuccessfully, to copy his voice. Thankfully, I found my own in the end, but he’ll always have an influence on what I write. So will the likes of Chandler, Leonard, Lehane, Block etc… What I like about these guys is they tell extraordinary stories, big stories, about people that live little lives. People on the edge of society, the shoe salesman, the bar owner, the cafĂ© cook. And I think that’s largely what those who write in the Brit Grit scene (I’m going with it now, it’s definitely a scene!) tend to do too. Read Nick Quantrill’s Bang Bang You’re Dead or Paul Brazill’s Guns of Brixton, great stories about pretty un-extraordinary people told with heart and realism that make the reader engage fully in what’s happening. And, don’t get me wrong I don’t think American writer’s invented that type of writing but I do think they’re bloody good at it and certainly opened my eyes to something I find a lot more interesting to read, and to write, than police procedurals and serial killer thrillers - crime stories with the human spirit at their core.

For me what makes this type of story work, whether it’s from a British writer, or our US cousins, is that the writer seems to be drawing on their own experiences to make it tick. I’m not suggesting they’re all hardened criminals or PI’s with drinking problems and inner monologs playing in their heads. No, they write the details that make the story come alive from their own experiences and interests. Regardless of UK writer, or US passion for certain things always comes across. Music often plays a key role, the mere mention of a song can create an ambience in the readers head, and it can tell you, British voice or American. Straight away. A beer label, a bar top, a piece of clothing and car brand all help to create an atmosphere too, the beauty of a noir book is you always feel like the writer has experienced these subtle scene builders for themselves. Sports also often provide a fantastic backdrop to build an atmosphere around a story. I recently read Tom Pitts’ Knuckleball, I have no idea about baseball but that didn’t matter, the detail around the sport just served to make the story more believable, more real. A British writer of this genre will often use football (or soccer as you call it) in the background, it simply serves to set the scene, put you the reader into the environment in which the story unfolds.

When I wrote my first collection, CriminalThoughts, I knew I wanted to write with a
distinctly British voice, I’m pretty sure I achieved that, but I also wanted stories that would resonate with the sort of audience that I was for a book, the fan of a Lawrence Block Matt Scudder book, for example. For my second collection, Urban Decay, I wanted to put together a collection of stories that I’d be proud to put in front of my favourite writers, Pelecanos, Lehane, Spark, Sant etc… the fact that Darren Sant approached me about publishing it under his (and Craig Douglas’) Grit Fiction venture went someway to proving I’d achieved that. The fact that Gareth Spark wrote me a fantastic foreward added to that… The fact that I’ve already picked up a couple of nice reviews from across the pond I hope also shows I’m going the right direction with those idols of mine that made me want to write in the first place. So, thank-you America for great gritty fiction, this particular Brit Gritter is and always will be a massive fan.