Monday, October 27, 2014

Flipping the Bird

For the longest time, you were content with your conviction that the mystery novel is the role model for all longform fiction.  Even though romance fiction outsells the mystery novel, your logic has it that the mystery is first and foremost a dramatic way of  identifying an individual who has in effect settled a difference of opinion in defiance of much civil law and certainly of one of the Ten Commandments.  

Thus it is a short jump from identifying a perpetrator from a group of plausible suspects in a mystery to identifying a prime partner from a group of likely potentials in a romance.

This logic brooked no nonsense for you, which is a fine thing for a logic to do, standing up to challenge that way.  But you've also come to believe that all logic is, eventually, subject to assault.  

Your own assault came when you first read Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, which is another novel you think to add to your list of one hundred novels a writer who wishes to write a novel must read.  At some date in the near future, you will add The Golden Compass to your list of the hundred novels, even though you must admit you had written several novels before reading The Golden Compass but none since.

You can also say you've discussed this project with a few individuals so far who have written a good deal of fiction.  While all of them agree about the need to read quantities of novels, some find your number a bit too stingy, one even going so far as to suggest you picked a hundred because it "sounds so convenient and is not the slightest bit daunting."  This individual has written and published several novels.  This individual favors the notion of a novelist feeling daunted before taking on a novel.  "There is something about being daunted that brings out the best in a writer."

The Golden Compass is a part of a trilogy, which you rushed to complete because, among other things, you'd been led by it to change your mind about the mystery, standing alone at the top of a triangle, which may turn out to be for your purposes the wrong geometric form to use as a metric.   The Golden Compass falls into the genre of AU, or alternating universe, one that exists at the same time as our contemporary Reality, but which has specific differences from this one as well as having somewhere a portal through which the unwary and the initiated can move back and forth, under certain conditions.

In the same spirit that all novels are essential mysteries, they may be argued, as you do here, to be alternate universes because their setting is the author's version of the locale, not the actual Baltimore or Los Angeles or London or San Francisco of mysteries.  Even Ed McBain's glorious Eighty-seventh Precinct police procedurals are set in a fictional borough most readers will think of as being Manhattan in disguise. Was his choice to do so deliberate or accidental?

When you asked Ken Millar, AKA Ross Macdonald and Sue Grafton why they called their locale Santa Rita when it was palpably Santa Barbara, both squirmed with the excuse that calling their Santa Rita by its true name would shut down certain sources of information which were presented to them.

You have visited many of the San Francisco haunts of Dashiell Hammett, the Los Angeles venues of Raymond Chandler and Harry Bosch,only to discover the truth as it works for you.  In that truth, Los Angeles and Santa Monica will never turn up Philip Marlowe or Bosch, any more than San Francisco will produce Sam Spade or the Continental Op.  You have to read the books, which supply the portal, the same portal Alice discovered when she fell into Wonderland.

Any approach to art, even something as direct and obvious as a photograph or a rendering of exquisite detail, is an alternate universe vision of the subject because the artist has controlled light, perspective, and focus.  Yes, art can be spoken of as managed reality.  But it is not a mountain goat leap of logic to say art is afflicted or arranged or idealized or demonized reality, each quality representing the artist's vision as the work was being executed.

The consequence of such previous logic is the illogical decision to hold off for a time on listing The Golden Compass as a book a writer must read before embarking on the novel-writing journey until you reach that passionate state of certainty where you will be able to say so with conviction.

You have no such qualms about adding to your list Hammett's The Maltese Falcon which you'd wish the neo-novelist to read for, among other things, its ending, which speaks to illusion and delusion.  Not to forget the quality resident in many humans wherein they love a good, old fashioned legend.  Never mind that the legend is an adroit manipulation of actual history and invented facts or relationships.

The Falcon brings a tangy mixture of cynicism, hidden agenda, betrayal, and self-interest to the page, leavened by Hammett's mischievous attempts to prank censorious sorts who were attempting to preserve a sense of decorum languages could never contain.  We have Chaucer to thank for a good deal of that, but we have Hammett in the game as well.  Who got the word "gunsel" past the censors?  What did that word actually mean as opposed to what the censors thought it might have meant.  And what about Same Spade asking Wilmer Cook, "How long you been off the gooseberry lay, son?"  And why did the censors take it out, thinking God only knows what it may have meant?

Yep, The Falcon stays.

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