Monday, June 27, 2011

Never Could Stand That Dog...

His wife was a spent piece of used jet trash
Made good bloody-marys, kept her mouth
shut most of the time, had a little Chihuahua
named Carlos that had some kind of skin
disease and was totally blind.

Picked up a couple of Mickey's Big Mouths the other day. Our local Tesco/Samsung supermarket tends towards the heavily advertised or toally random when it comes to foreign beer. I probably wouldn't have looked twice at them except for the Tom Waits line:

One night Frank was on his way home
from work, stopped at the liquor store,
picked up a couple of Mickey's Big Mouths.
Drank 'em in the car on his way to the
Shell station; he got a gallon of gas in a can.

I now feel one step closer to a personal hero. I always kinda wondered why he called them 'Big Mouths'. Now I know. I've also discovered what malt liquor is: cheap, shitty, slightly strong beer seems to about sum it up. That's the thing about America - you learn something new about it every day, wherever you are in the world, and it's usually something a bit disappointing. But every now and then you discover some diamond in the dung-heaps, like good ol' Tom. He makes the whole place seem worthwhile.

Drove home, doused everything in
the house, torched it.
Parked across the street laughing,
watching it burn, all Halloween
orange and chimney red.

Frank put on a top forty station,

got on the Hollywood Freeway
headed North.

Never could stand that dog.
I can even forgive the way he pronounces chimney with three syllables. Almost.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Coward, Licensed to Kill...

After Heath Lowrance's excellent entry to the psycho-noir canon, The Bastard Hand, I'm taking a short break from fiction as I've recently started Jennet Conant's The Irregulars. It's all about Roald Dahl's work as a British spy in America during WW2. I'm only 75 pages or so in but thus far it's an interesting - if occasionally a little over-wordy - and informative book that has already taught me plenty about American isolationism and the major players who brought the US belatedly to the war.

Okay, back up a bit. Yes, I said Roald Dahl. Author of James and the Giant Peach. Famed creator of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Big Friendly Giant and more. That Roald Dahl. He was a British spy. A proto-Bond figure bedding society lovelies and seemlessly inserting himself into Washington's inner circle. Roald Dahl. Willy Wonka. James Bond. Go figure.

If that seems a bit of a strech, I at least recall hearing about him as an RAF pilot during the war. So, you know, there's a connection. But the preface mentions a few of his fellow secret Intelligence operatives and co-conspirators.

Sir Ian Fleming. Okay. You would've had a hard job convincing me otherwise.

David Ogilvy, advertising executive and Fleming's friend Ivar Felix Bryce. Okay. Never heard of them, but apparently Bond's CIA friend Felix is named after Bryce.

And Noel Coward.

Yes, this guy. One of the most flamboyant, witty and - let's be honest - camp public figures of the 20th century. Singer, song-writer, dramatist and all-round dispenser of quotable nuggets, yes. A man of many talents, certainly. Very Wildean, in every sense. A British spy? This man? This man right here?

Well I never did...

Monday, June 13, 2011

14th Storey Window Ledges and Other Tales...

And so, after a too-long break as I re-attuned myself to what passes for normal life around here, I fling myself back into fiction.

To put my dreams on paper and assemble them rationally.

To collect my unsorted ideas, themes and musings and string them on a single thread.

To dish out cold revenge on characters of my own creation.

To invent things that nobody ever invented before and make it seem a perfectly natural response to the world, like the first person to say 'Of course, put the meat on the fire. It seems so obvious now.'

To ensure that everything makes perfect sense when looked at backwards, yet will surprise you if you follow it from the beginning.

Best foot forward, stiff upper lip, put on a brave face and step right off that 14th storey window ledge, because of course you can fly. A poet might say:

what's beyond logic happens beneath will;
nor can these moments be translated: i say
that even after April
by God there is no excuse for May
each dream nascitur, is not made...)
why then to hell with that: the other; this
since the thing perhaps is
to eat flower and not to be afraid

Then again, another kind of writer might put it differently:

Buckle up. Let's Zen this motherfucker right in the eye!

I think I may just steal that quote, give it a fancy border in MS Word, laminate it, and hang it above my desk.

Best writing advice I ever saw.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Voices Inside...

After some recent ultra-pulp excesses, I decided to go back to a classic noir: Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block. It immediately posed a question. Namely, how the hell does he hook me so fast and so completely?

Many people would say the alcoholism sub-plot makes the book. I agree. But protaganist Matt Scudder drinks black coffee, attends AA meetings, and lies in his room trying not to think of alcohol. For pages at a time very little else happens. And I couldn't stop turning pages.

Different authors use different methods to keep a reader's attention. For Steinbeck it's simply the most beautiful writing. For writers like Angela Carter or Tom Robinson, it is the fact you never know what madness is going to pop up next. For others it's the fact you're still reeling from comedy or emotion as you flip from one page to the next (Kurt Vonnegut managed both at the same time, at his best). For a lot of pulp writers like Charles Williams and Donald Hamilton it's pure action.

But for a great writer or a great book, it's the voice. Mr Block sculpts a voice of such magnetic story-telling capability that it's impossible to look away, from the very first page.As with Bukowski, we are as interested in the character as the story, if not more so. It's hard to describe but you know when you hold it in your hands. Of course, with every book it's some combination of the above. But the voice is the magic thing. If you have that, little else matters.

Some books don't quite do it. Really nice writing, a good plot, great characters. You like it, but it doesn't quite have that magic.

Megan Abbotts's Queenpin has it. From the very first page I was captivated by the voice of the main character. A wonderful entrancement. It isn't a long book, and it didn't last long because I just couldn't stop reading it. It has the magic touch. It has that something special, like Eight Million..., like Bukowski.

A lot of this is subjective, of course. One writer that always does it for me is David Goodis. I'm prepared to accept that others will disagree, but I'm reading one now: Cassidy's Girl. Co-incidentally, this one's about alcoholism, too. It's far from his best. But as far as I'm considered it has that magic touch. The magic voice that won't let me put it down.