Monday, May 30, 2011

On Writing, Part IX — Brand Names & Ethics

Before you write that first crime fiction novel consider a few things. What follows is the ninth in a series of short articles about what you might want to consider as you put pen to paper or fingers on the keyboard.

From time to time, I’ve been chastised for using brand names in my writing. I often identify the brand of beer, the make of car and, where I can make positive or at least neutral observations about the place, the name of the restaurant where the characters dine. For me, what a person chooses in his or her life helps define the character of the person I’m describing. For example, one of my characters in the San Francisco series, Noah Lang, drives a beat-up, old Mercedes. Here is a man who likes quality but can’t afford it. His specific choice — it’s kind of ratty looking — suggests that he really doesn’t care what other people think about him. He is comfortable with who he is. I could have said that he drives a “beat-up, old luxury car.” But I want to help the reader come to terms quickly. What if I used the generic “luxury car,” the reader rightfully thinks, “Could be an old Cadillac.” Well, no, that wouldn’t do what I want the description to do. I like old Cadillacs, but they are big and showy. Old Mercedes aren’t, and neither is the character.

I can tell you I’ve never received a penny for naming a product, never so much as a free cup of coffee for mentioning a restaurant. Most writers pass through life anonymously — especially those of us who live well below the New York Times bestseller list. No one knows who I am. However, in an era of paid product placement, I can’t blame a reader for being suspicious of brand names appearing in the story. And it is possible to write by saying “she lit a cigarette,” or “he jumped in his convertible,” and get the job done. But truthfully, did anyone else wince when it showed James Bond driving a BMW? Could Rockford have driven a Chevette? A woman wearing a Hermes scarf or a man driving a Dodge Ram provides more telling glimpses of those character’s lives than using either the simple “scarf” or “pickup truck” or a dozen adjectives. Using a brand name can be an effective shortcut and make it real to the reader.

Again, there are no rules, only choices. A reader might have a greater sense of the timelessness of the story if those kinds of specifics are spared. Twenty years from now there may be no such thing as a Blackberry. Culturally, though, might it not be particularly rich for the writer to reflect the times with greater specificity? And would the potentially banned brand name require writers to replace Blackberry with “a versatile communications device?"

Friday, May 27, 2011

Film Pairing — Murder in the Rye

The first time I saw Ellen Barkin on screen I was disappointed. She didn’t seem to be sexy enough to play the irresistible female lead for which she was cast. But it didn’t take long to be seduced. Every moment on screen she became more beautiful. I can only suspect that this is a tribute to talent rather than an accidental gift of birth. Barkin is one of the wonderfully uncommon denominators in this double feature. She is the love interest for both Al Pacino, a cop in Sea of Love (1989) and Dennis Quaid, a cop in The Big Easy (1987). Both films also have the talented John Goodman in common. His role would come under the best supporting cop category.

The two films are given a boost by the soundtrack, appropriately chosen mood-enhancing music; but mostly they have a shared reality. I’m not sure I can explain what I mean by that, at least in succinct terms. Suffice it to say, you will not be jarred when you move from one film to the other, even though you will be moving from a predictably intense New York to a more laid-back New Orleans and from the predictably intense performance of Al Pacino to a comparatively laid-back characterization by Dennis Quaid.

If you know someone who knows the art of fine cocktail making, request the Manhattan (with Rye) for Sea of Love and switch to the Sazerac (made with Rye and a dash of absinthe) for The Big Easy. Because of the Rye, you will not be jarred when moving from one cocktail to the other. Because of the absinthe, it really won’t matter anyway. The only downside is that you will not be able to get the song, Sea of Love, performed by the Honeydrippers, out of your mind. Ever.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Opinion — E-Books, Catch Me If You Can

The question of the day is why someone would want to pay a billion dollars for Barnes & Noble, a struggling big box anachronism fighting an uphill battle to stay alive in an increasingly digital marketplace.

In various reports, by the Financial Times, Bloomberg News and others, the secret is said to be the Nook, the Barnes & Noble e-reader, which has just been updated with touch-screen technology. The Nook is the main competitor of the Amazon’s Kindle, which has 67 percent of the market. Is that what the buyer wants for a billion dollars? Does that make sense? Maybe. There is also the thought that B&N will benefit at least temporarily from Border’s incredibly shrinking presence. But more likely, it’s not the retail store business at all, or the e-reader, but the whole enchilada — the online book business.

Hardware aside, Amazon has 58 percent of e-book downloads. B&N has 27 percent (not all that shabby when you think about it). Apple has 9 percent. Look at it this way: a new B&N owner will close down the bricks and mortar, sell the real estate (or reduce and eventually eliminate lease and labor costs), and focus on the reading habits of the future.

A smart analyst might say, “it’s now or never” because Amazon shows no signs of slowing down. As veteran writer Ed Gorman mentions in his blog, Amazon has been busy hiring traditional book-publishing executives who are jumping their own sinking ships to create an Amazon publishing empire. The on-line book company pioneer appears to be expanding beyond it’s own successful businesses which, in addition to selling books (and everything else including toilet paper), has also provided publishing services to small publishers and self-publishing authors.

It is now poised to become a major publisher and threatens such legendary publishers as St. Martin’s Press, Knopf, Houghton-Mifflin and Random House. Amazon will seek out and sign big-name authors for big book deals and in the process not only become publisher but also distributor and book store. The new buyers of B&N might just have the same business model. The sad irony here is that as on-line publishers become THE publishers, those bookstores that are left (independent and genre bookstores) will have to carry books published by companies determined to put them out of business.

Being a major publisher will also provide entry into the movie business, including licensing rights to ancillary products. In other words, Amazon would get a piece of all the action. B&N may be number two at the moment; but they are in the best position to challenge Amazon’s increasing dominance.

Liberty Media, the company currently knocking on B&N’s door, may be trying to get in the game before Amazon owns all of it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

On Writing, Part VIII — The Scalpel or the Ladle

Before you write that first crime fiction novel consider a few things. What follows is the eighth in a series of short articles about what you might want to consider as you put pen to paper or fingers on the keyboard.

Personally, I believe less is more when it comes to writing. Then again, am I really going to critique Proust? So, this is another one of those diatribes that likely ends in a whimper not a bang, with a wishy-washy “do what feels right.”

Even so, there are some simple rules that I think even the most descriptive writers would endorse. Use concrete descriptors. Unless they are used to define the character out of whose mouth the words flow, such adjectives as “lovely,” or “fantastic” or “pretty” are useless. They are much like empty calories — no nutritional value. They are there. The reader’s mind must process them, but they add nothing to anything. On the other hand, a word like “yellow” conveys meaning. So does “oblong” or “corduroy.”

How much description is necessary? I have no idea. I’m a fan of the stark prose of Paul Bowles. Certainly descriptions are necessary to establish mood, provide a sense of time and place, and differentiate characters, etc. But, writers who spend a paragraph describing a doorknob drive me up the wall. Of course, the problem is that what bores the hell out of me may magically entertain someone else. The answer lies in your style, your voice. My suggestion is to make sure they (the descriptions) do something — advance the plot, develop the character(s) or provide some level of meaningful context. And sometimes, I admit, more is more. While a character might appropriately say, “she’s a lovely little thing,” the storyteller might prefer. “She’s the size of a toy poodle, pale as cream with bones so delicate she might break if grasped too forcefully” — or something of that nature (I may have been carried away).

The “he said, she said,” debate is another area. Most readers, I suspect, don’t mind the repetitive use of the word, “said.” But it seems to bother some writers. If it bothers you, there are many other ways to identify who is speaking and the way they are conveying their speech without repeating the word “said,” or using more colorful, but often unintentionally silly variations — “He squawked, she bleated.”

For example, “Mildred looked at Henry, unbuttoned her jacket. ‘What do you think of my new dress?’” We already know that it is Mildred speaking. Using “Mildred said” is unnecessary. Or “With all the force she could muster, Mildred threw the vase at Henry. ‘You spent the whole evening flirting with Melissa.’” Not only do we know who is speaking, we know she was angry. We don’t need to add, “she said,” or “shouted,” or “ventilated angrily.”

In this case, less is definitely preferable.

I wonder also, if publishers, who currently demand 80,000 to 100,000 words as a minimum requirement for the submission of manuscripts, tempt writers to use words with more abandon. Let me call it reckless abandon. Certainly as the “word processor” replaced the manual typewriter and carbon paper, it became easier to just keep writing and writing and writing.

But, if you look back, particularly at crime novels in the 1950s and ‘60s, they were, generally, much shorter. Double Indemnity is 115 pages in the edition I have. A classic by Donald Westlake is barely more than 200 generously leaded pages. The Lonely Silver Rain by John D. MacDonald comes in around 200 as does The Maltese Falcon. The Big Sleep is available at 139 pages.

The point is that an important part of writing is editing. No matter how precious that sentence is, if it is only that, it should probably go.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Film Pairing — Frank Sinatra, Two and a Half Detectives

In my mind there is something cheap and shallow about the ‘70s. In keeping with that thought, I recommend watching Frank Sinatra in the two Tony Rome movies to gain an understanding of the era. That’s not entirely dreary homework. But you have to be in a certain mood to enjoy the light, breezy dialogue about murder. Corpses are secondary here.

Oddly, there was a third movie some consider part of a triptych. Also starring Frank Sinatra, The Detective — a police detective hero rather than private eye — was far grittier and tried to take on larger, more serious issues. Fairly daring in its time, it was nonetheless pretty much of a mess of a movie. An early flashback went on for so long I was pretty sure they had all forgotten about the grisly murder in the first scene. And the actors were so intensely “serious,” I think they were compensating for not trying nearly hard enough in the earlier pair of Tony Romes.

While the two Tony Romes (Tony Rome and Lady in Cement) are not better movies, they achieved what they set out to do. They didn’t intend to change the world, merely make you laugh at it. They were content to create an environment more in keeping with Oceans Eleven than say, The Wire. Tony Rome was a character developed by Marvin Albert in his novel, Miami Mayhem. And indeed we will spend our movie-watching hours cruising around on boats, romping on beaches, driving convertibles and visiting gaudy high-end hotels as well as gaudy low-end hotels, not a worry in our pretty little heads.

In any event, skip The Detective and go for the light stuff —the two Romes. In the libations department go for the hard stuff — liquor on the rocks for this double feature. You need to take the edge off quickly.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Opinion — E-Books and the State of Play Revisited

A few weeks ago, Amazon announced that it sold more digital books than paperbacks — this amidst the wholesale closing of Borders and the gloom that spread over big-box book retailers everywhere. Today, Amazon announced that the sale of books on Kindle exceeded sales of ALL printed books.

Most of us, I suspect, are not surprised by this phenomena; but I also suspect that most of us are surprised by the speed of it. And by “us,” I mean everyone for whom books are a significant part of their lives, from readers to bookstore owners, from publishers to publicists. The rules that have been in place for decades no longer apply. If the primary reader is now downloading on line, how are books to be advertised? How are libraries going to deal with the change in reading habits? What about used bookstores? Will they see a diminishing interest in their business? And will that matter if there is a significantly diminishing supply of pre-read books? What about author signings? How does the author sign a Kindle copy and dedicate it to your daughter for her birthday?

From a writer’s perspective, many of us if not most of us, are doing our best to adapt to the new reality whether we endorse it or not. We know that it could make our survival more difficult. We also know that this change may provide new opportunities if we are willing to take some measure of risk. As writers, most of us I believe, just want to be read.

A year ago or so, I countered a good friend’s recommendation that I put all the out-of-print Shanahans back into print with the notion that both the idea of a vanity press and the cost versus risk ratio made such a proposition a no-brainer. “No.” However, with the unpredictably speedy reader acceptance of digital publishing the odds for that idea changed. For me, it also provides an opportunity to publish shorter works (mystery novellas, 20,000 to 40,000 words) that I feel most comfortable writing, but that traditional publishers feel uncomfortable trying to market. (The model for crime fiction appears to be at least 80,000 words).

Unfortunately there is so much we still do not know as we — writers, booksellers, publishers, marketers, even the manufacturers of digital readers — are in the center of all the publishing turbulence. It is possible for anyone to see the future clearly?

I would love to have your thoughts on the matter.

Monday, May 16, 2011

On Writing, Part VII — Sex, Love and Foul Language

Before you write that first crime fiction novel consider a few things. What follows is the seventh in a series of short articles about what you might want to consider as you put pen to paper or fingers on the keyboard.

I once wrote a story for an Indianapolis alternative newspaper. A lady had written a letter to the local daily complaining of the explicitness of a JC Penny underwear ad. The letter prompted me to take a look at Midwestern prudishness. "No Sex, please, we’re Hoosiers" was the title of the story, in which I also referred to the trial of a bookstore owner who was arrested for selling a copy of the "obscene" Tropic of Cancer to a customer. The prosecutor read the entire book to the jury. I believe there was a conviction, later overturned. But the point here is that Henry Miller wrote about the reality he knew and the reality of the people, whose portrayal he wanted to explore. Miller wasn’t interested in lost puppies and their dramatic trek back to the family living on a farm in Ohio — not that there is anything wrong with that.

For many people, though, life is sensuous. Food, sex, drink. It is no doubt inconceivable for writers of a certain nature to get through 400 pages NOT talking about something that is so integral to their (and their characters’) lives. But it must also be noted that some of the greatest literary writers of our times have embarrassed themselves, not by splitting an infinitive, but by attempting to describe sexual conjugation.

Rowan Somerville won the 2010 Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award for sexually related prose. Taken from his second novel, The Shape of Her, one passage read: 'Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.' His words were not the worst, nor was he the most famous to be singled out for such an acknowledgement. The prodigious Norman Mailer, the sophisticated John Updike and sensuously neurotic Philip Roth are among those who have earned this kind of unwelcome notice.

So, when do you use sex and when don’t you? How much and how graphic? In a sane society, it seems we should have a far greater tolerance for gratuitous sex than gratuitous violence, but in our writing is there really room for gratuitous anything? It’s not a matter of morals. It’s a matter of style. In a soon-to-be-released novella, Mascara, my long-standing reluctance to describe a sexual act (the act of seduction is more interesting than the act itself) was overcome. Maybe overruled is a better word. The circumstances required the main character to have sex with that woman and that the act be consciously embedded in the readers’ minds. The story required it. Yes, yes, I know; but it’s true.

For me, sex is like any other element in the story. Is it integral to the story — for characterization or to propel the plot? If it is, the use is as valid as anything else. Certainly, if one’s table manners reveal character, his or her behavior in bed can be even more telling. Earnestness, inexperience, worldliness, all can be exposed, not to mention a propensity toward violence and cruelty. We all know sex is big deal when defining why we do what we do. Having it or not having it can be a major motivator and provide a major motive.

Less so in books — because we can skip a couple of paragraphs — but especially in film, sex scenes can go on too long. They can be embarrassing for the viewer. If the scenes are poorly written, they can take the reader completely out of the book and out of the mood to finish it.

As far as foul language is concerned, that’s easy. If it’s in keeping with your characters’ character, by all means let the four-letters fly. But like sex, guns and autopsies, make sure you know what you’re doing and that it’s not a substitute for substance.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Film Pairing — B-Movie Night, Sweatpants and Tequila

Some evening, when you are not in the mood for an intellectual challenge or artful sensuality, but rather a kind of mind numbing drift away from the troubles of the day, consider Puerto Vallarta Squeeze and Heaven’s Prisoners. This is a lazy evening double feature, and you’re going spend it in the heat — Mexico and Louisiana.

Squeeze is propelled by the performances of vastly underrated actor Scott Glenn and highly rated actor Harvey Keitel. Action is plentiful enough and the plot is serviceable enough to put your mind on autopilot. Heaven’s Prisoners is a better movie and a far better rendition of a James Lee Burke novel than In the Electric Mist, which featured amazing Burke look-alike, Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux. Burke fans may like neither, but Heaven’s Prisoners is a pretty good movie all on its own. Alec Baldwin, not the way I picture Robicheaux, nonetheless creates a believable and likable character. Eric Roberts does a great job being handsome, narcissist and sleazy. And a young Teri Hatcher is extremely revealing.

Puerto Vallarta Squeeze is also based on a novel. Robert James Waller, author of The Bridges of Madison County, penned the book.

Because of the heat, crush lots of ice and get the margarita mix ready. Guard against a brain freeze, however.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Blatant Promotion — San Francisco Mysteries and Septuagenarian Private Eye Go Digital

A brief word from our sponsor: London-based Severn House, who currently publishes both the Shanahan series and the Paladino/Lang San Francisco series, has just released the most recent book in each — on Kindle. Bullet Beach and Death in North Beach are both available now for download.

There will be additional announcements soon — about making the early Shanahans available in e-book formats (and as books on demand), so that those who came late to the series can see how it all began. Also in the works are first editions of stand-alone mystery novellas. Now, we return you to regular programming.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Film Pairing — Patricia Highsmith and the Other Ripleys

In 1977 director Wim Wenders, who had cast Dennis Hopper in the title role released an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game. The movie, Der Amerikanishe Freund, which translates The American Friend, has been praised for its gritty cinematography. The film is jumpy, dark and perhaps artfully unpredictable. But of all the Ripleys, Hopper’s (or Wender’s) is my least favorite. Maybe it’s just my petty objection to Mr. Ripley wearing a cowboy hat, which I suspect he was forced to wear to make him “American.” I’d also guess that this Ripley was far more Wender than Highsmith. (Why people buy the rights to a book only to rewrite the plot and change all the characters is beyond me. If you’re not putting the book on screen, write an original screenplay, folks.)

Though inexplicably not originally released in the U.S., the British, 2002 Ripley’s Game starring John Malkovich, is definitely more gripping, perhaps because it is more accessible. It is about the original author’s Ripley, not the director’s. And what a Ripley Malkovich is. He may have created the most evil, the most insidious of all of them — a joy to behold. (Others who have played Mr. Ripley are Alain Delon, Matt Damon and Barry Pepper.)

Watching these two films in the same evening might be something you do with a roomful of film buffs. In that case, leave some time for arguments about the nature of art and be sure to have several bottles of Scotch ready.

Monday, May 9, 2011

On Writing, Part VI — A Community of Writers

Before you write that first crime fiction novel consider a few things. What follows is the sixth in a series of short articles about what you might want to consider as you put pen to paper or fingers on the keyboard.

I enjoyed the sixties (which I didn’t really experience until the seventies). I liked long hair, loose clothing and free love. I listened to the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Santana and Jimi Hendrix. I planted some marijuana seeds and still think kindly of vegetarians. But I could never get into the idea of communal living.

Years later, when a new boss took over the Nonprofit where I worked, many of us were asked to take “personality” tests. The results, they said, would help the new exec know us better and, therefore, how best we could all work together. (Heh, heh, heh) And indeed, we were rated on a whole list of personality traits. “Would you prefer to take long, solitary walks in the woods, or chat with folks around the campfire?” One of the measured categories was “independence.” There, I scored the highest marks possible. I admit I felt a little smug. I’ve always admired independence. (Apparently, I scored pretty low in the keep-your-job strategy category). I should have chosen the campfire. Not everyone shared the value I placed on self-sufficiency. Shortly, I was nudged out the door and headed, my independence in a box with my other belongings, in the only direction I could at my age — “advanced curmudgeondom.”

So it will surprise no one that those lovely ads in the back of the New Yorker inviting readers to join a community of writers in Squaw Valley do not speak to me. Squaw Valley maybe, but not a bunch of communing writers. I can sit in a loud, busy bar and write, occasionally looking up to see what’s going on. I can sit alone on a quiet park bench among the Eucalyptus and write. I can madly scribble notes while exiting a shower. But, for me, writing is not a team sport. Showering maybe. Writing, no.

In keeping with the theme and something about which you could have guessed correctly — I don’t have many writer friends. (I do have friends, really.) However, none of what I’ve said means you shouldn’t have writer friends, or attend writing workshops or have fun alternating chapters on a work in progress. Just as there are outliners and non-outliners, there are people who thrive in the company and through the inspiration of others. And if that process works for you, I think it’s a great idea — for you.

But I do have words of caution for both camps. First, if you are like me, you still need to find a critical someone or someones to read what you’ve written before you send it off to an agent or publisher. These critics don’t have to be writers. Their best trait would be brutal honesty. “This section of the book bored the hell out of me.” You don’t have to do what they tell you, but you need to consider their opinions carefully, seriously, honestly. If you are open and the comments ring even slightly true, consider a fix. No matter how independent we think we are, we cannot operate completely alone. If you’re part of the teamwork camp, you too must beware. Many people want to have written. They have been on the same story for ten years, reading a few pages aloud and talking endlessly about characterization and plot. If you want to be a writer you have to do more than just talk about it. You MUST write. And at some point, I’m convinced I’m correct: writing, even if it isn’t at first, eventually becomes a solitary experience.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Film Pairing — Philo Vance, Nick Charles, Separated at Birth

I’m a shameless fan of William Powell. The thin mustache, the somewhat silly manner, the light-hearted approach to life. The fact that Nick Charles is so far removed from Sam Spade is, as far as I am concerned, one more tribute to Dashiell Hammet who had the ability to create two polar-opposite but iconic private eyes. Film-wise, the surprise comes when you see that William Powell didn’t spring virginally from the pages of Hammett as Nick Charles. He had a practice role and it was nearly as much fun as Nick himself. In 1933, a suave William Powell played S. S. Van Dine’s popular detective, Philo Vance in The Kennel Club Murder Case — a beautifully shot film that is not only a well-crafted mystery but also a near documentary on ‘30s design and architecture. In 1934 a slightly looser, maybe more lubricated William Powell played the charming Charles in The Thin Man.

The two movies, illuminating a very narrow slice of an era, are meant to be seen together. The more serious Philo Vance should be seen first, I’d recommend, followed by the bubblier Thin Man. Save the Martinis for the second feature. If San Franciscans want to substitute the sequel, After The Thin Man, for the original, it may alienate purists, but is understandable. The cinematography captures a historic and irresistible City by the Bay.

To repeat myself, make sure you have a shaker and some Vermouth.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Film Pairing — You Are The Foreigner

How about Tangiers and then to Venice? These two movies ooze a sense of place. You will be transported. You will have the experience of not just visiting a foreign place, but of being foreign and … lost.

Sometimes I’m drawn to films because of the actors or directors and sometimes the authors on whose work the film was based. By pairing The Sheltering Sky and the Comfort of Strangers (both released in 1990), an incredible amount of diverse talent comes together with the added cinematic treat of two very exotic settings.

Writer’s Writer Paul Bowles’ stark narrative-style in Sheltering Sky is brought to the screen by a less than stark Bernardo Bertolucci. John Malkovich plays half a couple couple seeking reconciliation through foreign adventure (they are travelers, not tourists, they say) who lose their way. Understatement alert, here.

Comfort is based on a novella by Ian McEwan adapted by Harold Pinter and directed by Paul Shrader. It features Christopher Walken. Though it also has Rupert Everett and Helen Mirren, I repeat, it features Christopher Walken. In Venice a young couple expects a romantic interlude in one of the world’s most romantic cities. But there is a more ominousVenice not usually found in romantic novels and films.

Berber whiskey for the first (it’s only mint tea) and several Bellinis for the second. I suspect there will be moments in both films when viewers will be as lost as the characters. Who says bad dreams can’t be fascinating? Being lost is only fitting and very much part of the evening. And unlike the people caught on celluloid, you’ll wake up in the morning feeling fine.

Monday, May 2, 2011

On Writing, Part V — Find Your Own Damned Voice

Before you write that first crime fiction novel consider a few things. What follows is the fifth in a series of short articles about what you might want to consider as you put pen to paper or fingers on the keyboard.

A few reviews, particularly of the Shanahan books, have compared my writing style to Robert B. Parker. Okay, first things first. Any one of the late Mr. Parker’s books have sold far more copies than all of my books put together. And he wrote at least 70 of them. If there were a Mystery Writers Hall of Fame, he would be among the first to be admitted. I will always have to buy a ticket. Even so, how can I not be flattered? That kind of review can be helpful. Putting a few of those magic words on the flap of my next book could easily generate sales the book might not get on its own.

But it’s not true. And worse, it reinforces the notion that writers who write like other writers are somehow better for doing so. “The Next Raymond Chandler!” Get that out of your head. You can only be the first whoever you are. Good writing comes from a sense of honesty. And that means it can’t be mimicry. Your writing voice, I would submit, is like your fingerprint. Absolutely one of a kind as it should be. As a writer, it is your most valued possession. No one can duplicate it. The thing you need to do is find it if you haven’t already. And quite likely it is right there in front of your nose.

That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from other writers. Of course you can and should. Learn from Elmore Leonard, for example, how dialog can propel a story. Let James Lee Burke show you how to use nature to set the mood. But you have to write it the way YOU have to write it. Basically, tell the story as you might to an imaginary friend, knowing that you are smart enough to create a modestly patient listener. Telling a story is talking on paper (or screen) with the added benefit of having the time, after the first telling, to make it better.

The truth is I might be a better writer had I started reading Parker before I started writing mysteries. There were no doubt lessons to learn. I came to writing mysteries late in life (40 years old) and I came to Parker even later (in my 60s). I’m certainly glad I did. His books were, for a time, a happy addiction. But he came a little late for me to copy. And I would have been a fool to try.