So you can read my books

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


"By the Light I would destroy, I can see what I've become."
- DayStar

Every genre sings in its own voice. No two genres begin quite the same way. A murder mystery has a style distinct from a historical romance. An urban fantasy has a faster tempo than a biography.

Not every novel's melody is a waltz nor is its lyrics always Rap.

"Each to his own," said Lars as he kissed his inflatible doll.

As I finished writing the above, I heard the sharp clatter of ice cubes to my left. I looked around. Raymond Chandler was sitting in his ghost chair, drinking his ghost whiskey. He nodded to the ghost bottle and an empty ghost glass on the writing table.

I shook my head politely. Ghost hangovers are murder for the living. Don't ask how I know.

"Genre doesn't matter a publisher's promise, kid. When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance, it becomes literature whatever the genre."

He took a sip of ghost whiskey. "That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over the ball."

He gazed off into space. "The readers and the editors think all they care about is the action. They think wrong. They care very little about the action. The things they really care about, and that I care about and you should care about, are the creation of emotion through dialogue and description."

He gestured with his half-empty glass. "I'll prove my point. Give your friends out there the first paragraphs of your different genre novels. Oh, sure, they'll start different. But they'll be the same anyway. They'll all have the creation of emotions that touch the reader."

And who am I to argue with a genius? Especially the ghost of a genius.

I started with RITES OF PASSAGE, my fantasy Titanic mystery/romance, narrated by my haunted hero, Samuel McCord. Since it is set in 1853, I used the stiff formality of the times tempered with the modern sensibilities of today. And since McCord's adversary in it is the living darkness that billowed over the surface of the deep before creation, I started in epic fashion :

{Before time …
Before light ...
Darkness was upon the face of the deep.
The earth was void and without form.
Then without warning …

The darkness did not comprehend it. But the darkness did not surrender. The darkness is still here. And it wants its home back.}

Chandler knocked on the top of my head as if it were a door. "Hello! Anybody home? Philosophy's not how you begin a novel even if it is a historical fantasy. A hook. You ever hear of that?"

"Let me show you how to do it. Oh, don't pout. Keep your lovely beginning ... for the second paragraph. Start with this"

His ghost fingers flashed across my keyboard.

{I'm not alive. I'm not dead. What am I?

"There," he gestured with his ghost whiskey glass, splashing intangible liquid on my laptop. "That's how you do it. A good story's not crafted. It's distilled."

I refrained from mentioning how appropriate that was coming from a ghost guzzling whiskey. Never start a fight you can't win. I went on next to my post-Katrina urban fantasy, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE :

{It rained lies and death today.

I stood knee-deep in water outside my French Quarter jazz club, Meilori’s. My soul stretched tight across my chest. Everything I saw and heard in the shadows spoke to me ... in threats. The sudden, short explosion of an unseen gun. A quick, sharp scream in the distance. And the blue spurt of a lighted match at the far end of the street. My city bled slowly in the ripples of the flooded streets.}

He smiled. "You touched the emotions, made me feel and see what McCord was going through. Good job. Now, show me how your Young Adult novel of new adventures at the same time is different in voice."

I started the beginning paragraph of my YA urban fantasy, CAPTAIN OUTRAGEOUS, told through the eyes of a 12 year old boy, repeatedly abandoned by his mother in diferent cities. He thinks he knows why she does it. He is wrong.

{I was at the wrong end of a dead end alley in the French Quarter. But don't get any romantic images in your head. It was the kind of alley where wino's holed up in to die.

Which was fitting seeing as how I was going to die there.}

Chandler was sitting there with his eyes closed. "Yes, I can see the difference. McCord's a poet trapped into being a policeman. This kid's lived on the street, and it shows in the way he looks at the world and himself."

He opened his pale blue eyes. "You written a fable, haven't you? Show me how the beginning sings in a different voice, and I'll buy your little theory."

So I began to type the beginning of THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS, my Native American/Celtic fable :

{The face of shadows looked down upon the standing bear from a bright full moon. Hers was a face that few had seen and fewer still had lived to describe. Her features were terrible and beautiful beyond any singing of them. There was a haunted melancholy to them. Like a windmill, her memory was slowly turning through the fleeting lives that had been born upon her shores to walk soft across her green fields like prayers only to fade away into the blood-rimmed edge of the sunset.}

"Not bad," he murmured. "Not great. But definitely it sings in its own voice."

His eyes fixed on me. "Kid, don't you ever begin with action?"

"As a matter of fact," I smiled. "There's the beginning for my YA urban fantasy, LOVE LIKE DEATH."

"My kind of title," laughed Chandler.

And I began writing the first paragraphs :

{The fire blinded me as I stumbled through the smoke, my lungs feeling like they were being cooked. Tears stung my eyes and ran down my face. My fault. All my fault. I didn't know how, but I knew it was all my fault. It was always my fault.

My foot banged into something metal, and I was hurled forward into the flames in front of me. I hit the burning rubble hard, my palms rubbed raw by trying to stop my fall. I coughed and coughed until I thought my chest would break open. I blinked my eyes against the layers of hot smoke. A wheelchair. Lilly's wheelchair.

"Oh, God," I choked out through the smoke and fear. "Don't let Webster have killed her, too." }

Chandler frowned. "I did ask for it, didn't I?"

"You have to admit the melody is different."

"Putting a bowtie on a penguin doesn't make him Fred Astaire, kid."

And with that he was gone, but his voice echoed softly all around my head. "Don't mind me, Roland. Keep your innocence, your gusto for writing. The more you learn of the craft, the more devoid of life writing will appear to you. If you're not careful, you'll soon know all the tricks and have nothing left in your soul worth saying."

A low laugh sounded above me. "I like your writing, son. Your characters live in a world gone wrong, a world in which, long before the atom bomb, civilization had created the machinery for its own destruction. The law is something to be manipulated for profit and power. And the streets are dark with something more than night."

I felt my hair ruffled by invisible fingers. "You'll do, son. You'll do. And so will your friends. They have heart. All the rest can be learned."

Imagine what this post would have been like if I had sipped any of his ghost whiskey.
And speaking of hearing voices of famous people in your head, here is the beautiful vocalist, Vienna Teng, telling of how she, too, hears the voices of characters in her head. Amalia will love this song of Medea, the tragic, betrayed lover of Jason who takes a terrible revenge. Vienna talks a bit at the beginning, but stay with this video. Her voice is truly beautiful as is the song which she wrote.
Roland, student of ghosts, here. Raymond Chandler stayed up late most nights, drinking whiskey and writing letters to friends and to those whose letters to him caught his fancy.

Jacques Barzun, the French-born American historian of ideas and culture, was an icon himself, appearing on the cover of TIME magazine.

Barzun wrote of Chandler's letters : "Whether his fiction survives or not, Chandler's letters will be read a long time. He belongs among the permanent letter writers, being like them a great self-portraitist and, in addition, a fine informal critic. Whoever cares for literature and for human character should read the letters of Raymond Chandler."

"I don't know why the hell I write so many letters," Raymond Chandler once mused to a correspondent. "I guess my mind is just too active for its own good."

There is an excellent volume of selected letters from his huge output. THE SELECTED LETTERS OF RAYMOND CHANDLER {not a new copy ($87) but a used hardback ($3.00)} sold on Amazon

Brought together in this volume are some of the hundreds of letters Chandler wrote-many of them composed during long, insomniac nights. Chandler commented on all that he saw around him, from his own personal foibles, to the works of his contemporaries Ernest Hemingway and Edmund Wilson, to education, English society, and world events.

Acute, sometimes impassioned, often witty, the Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler contains lively anecdotes of Hollywood, critical dissections of his fellow writers of detective fiction, lengthy discussions of the art of writing and of his own fiction, and, above all, amused, sometimes outraged glimpses of the Southern California society that was his inspiration.

Chandler once wrote that "in letters I sometimes seem to have been more penetrating than in any other kind of writing."

But his letters could also be combative, as when he wrote to an editor at the Atlantic that "when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I intend that it should stay split," or dismissive, as when he said of James M. Cain that "everything he writes smells like a billy goat."

He could also be painfully revealing, as when he wrote of his despair over the death of his wife. "It was my great and now useless regret," Chandler confessed, "that I never wrote anything really worthy her attention, no book that I could dedicate to her."

Lively, entertaining, and sometimes touching, these letters fully present for the first time the complex sensibilities of a man who was one of America's greatest writers of detective novels, and one of its most astute observers.


  1. Very prudent of you not to indulge in the ghostly whiskey. Could have proved fatal. But you know isn't it wonderful when visitors come to call!

  2. I agree - for me reading and writing are all about the emotion. Everything else supports it :)

  3. My mind is still whirling and whirling in the worlds of that beautiful song and I'm desperately tring to remember what I intended to write in response to your ideas. So I'll stay with my main thought that still lingers. The fact that you choose a ghost who is a semi-guru of the literary realms is quite ironic in some ways! I was struggling to keep the idea (usually negative) of a 'ghost writer' at bay. So, as a result I enjoyed the tension of refreshing our view of what this term of reference could mean. Your ghost writer becomes a kind of wizard playfully interceding. A beautiful post!

  4. Love the visits of whiskey drinking ghosts! Chandler seems to have some great advice (and I loved your using him to present).

    I will have to keep this in mind. I seem to start with set up, and it may be where I'm having trouble... emotion FIRST, set up AFTER...

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  6. First of all, I love love LOVE that quote about science and art. As a future physician/writer, I always strive to find something that makes sense of both. Thanks so much for sharing. And I really enjoyed the entire passage!!! I want some ghost whiskey now....Haha, but my favorite line was probably "I felt my hair ruffled by invisible fingers". It gave away so much in such a simple sentence.

  7. Ann : Like Vienna, I have a lot of characters talking to me in my head. Why just the other night Marlene Dietrich visited, debating the truths of the book, SURVIVAL OF THE PRETTIEST!

    Jemi : I'm glad you agree. If we don't snare the heart of the readers, their minds will soon wander.

    Gemma : Doesn't Vienna Teng have a lovely voice and song-writing talent? Her BLUE CARAVAN was the first song I heard by her. Yes, Raymond Chandler has long been a ghost mentor of mine -- as has Mark Twain : both used wit to deflect the pain in their lives, too. You have a lovely blog. Thanks so much for caring about mine to drop in and comment.

    Hart : Raymond Chandler wrote most of those words himself, having authored several articles on how to write well. He stayed up late every night, drinking whiskey and writing letters to friends.

    A great volume of them is Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler (Hardcover)~ Frank MacShane .

    Don't faint at the new price Amazon charges ($83.00.) You can get a used hardback for $2.30
    That's much, much better!

    Chandler might urge you to tug at the readers' hearts to make sure their minds follow.

    Saumya : With a Master's in Psychology and a Bachelor's degree in English education, I have long been an advocate of melding art with science. Be careful. That ghost whiskey packs a kick! And yes, I like to imagine Raymond Chandler might think of me a favorite, though thick-headed, student of his.

    Thanks all of you for dropping by and liking what you read enough to comment. It means a lot. Roland

  8. Wow. This post is wonderful! You pulled me in and held me to the end, Roland. Loved it! :-)

  9. Raymond Chandler is the best. Loved this post!So creative.

    I like the way you paraphrased one of my favorite Chandler quotes:

    "Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say."

  10. I really love waht you had to say about writing and about how everything really just becomes about what emotions are being produced by the author - regardless of genre - Part of me completely agrees with you that genre ends up becoming a past tense thought once emotions are provioked - however, do you think that readers seek out certain genres in expectation of having certain emotions manifested throughout the novel?? What would the Ghost say??
    Great post! I look forward to more! Thanks.

  11. So true, it's all about the emotion. Excellent and inspiring post!

  12. That is a really beautiful song, and she has a beautiful voice-- but I don't envy her having Medea in her head one bit!

  13. Roland,
    You're great with dialogue.
    Also, I've not read much by Raymond Chandler & didn't know about that book of letters. Always love learning more about classic authors.

  14. A helluva post, good sir. I confess I've not read Chandler, but you may just have tipped the scales. I think I need to now.

    After all, a fellow who stays up late drinking whisky is my kind of guy. (And you should've taken a sip. I would've.)