So you can read my books

Monday, April 8, 2013


Ghost of Raymond Chandler here.

I'm carrying on the backwards stroll
started by Twain, that buffoon.

I see your brow wrinkle at my name.  I am forgotten ...

which is hardly a surprise.

This is now a culture of bells and whistles, of Lady Gaga (whose name is too easily made into the butt of a joke) and her meat dresses, and pornography for bored housewives.

Sex truly does not sell ... even as steak does not sell ... it is the sizzle which whets the appetite for both.

Take my time with Hollywood and Bogart.  It was the promise and tease of sex to come which sold films and the novels which gave birth to them.

I remember the first time I met Veronica Lake:

Her blonde hair was glossy under a Robin Hood hat that might have cost 50 dollars and looked as if you could have made it with one hand out of a desk blotter.

Now, women no longer wear hats or much of anything else with style.

I remember seeing Gloria Swanson the last time:

From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.

Most of you who visit Roland's blog dream of writing a bestseller.

Amazon Best Sellers

I will help with that:

Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.

Remember that and you may have a shot ... a long shot ... but a shot.

Take time to take note of the world and all its lush details.  Put them in your writing, in your dialogue, in your descriptions. 

Tell your tale like no one else can.  How many ways have you heard Obama described.  Let me:

Obama has as much charm as a pair of steel-puddler’s underpants

Now, even if you have no idea what a steel-puddler is, you know how I feel.

I am known for my dialogue but after years of exile in England, I felt I had to learn American just like a foreign language. 

I even invented a lot of the slang in my books myself ...
hence steel-puddler.

But reality and fiction have to be balanced.  Take my P.I., Philip Marlowe. 

The real-life private eye has about as much moral stature as a stop-and-go sign.

 But I felt that by creating an incorruptible hero I gave my work the “quality of redemption” that all true art required.

When Time magazine called Marlowe “amoral” I was furious, writing that my novels represented

“the struggle of all fundamentally honest men to make a decent living in a corrupt society. It is an impossible struggle; he can’t win.”

But to end with what I started ... to write a siren well there must be that quality of redemption that is the hallmark of all worthy literature.

Yet tempered with the harsh reality of sex.  Let me illustrate with the catchword:


There are blonde and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays. All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blonde as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk.

There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare.

There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very, very tired when you take her home.

 She makes that helpless gesture and has that damned headache and you would like to slug her

except you invested too much time and money and hope in her. But the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as Lucrezia’s poison vial.

There is the small perky blonde who is a little pale and wants to pay her own way

and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of her love for Lady Gaga.

There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her

because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading the Wasteland or Dante in the original.

What am I saying?  Sex is supposed to be fun.  It begins that way in real life but eventually becomes a prison. 

Make it fun and original in your novels, and your books will sell.

So, you out there, do you think sex sells in novels?

Do you consciously add it in your story? 

Do you look for it in the novels you are considering  to buy?


  1. Crap, no blondes in my books!
    Sex isn't something I look for. I knew my fans wanted a female character and gave them a bit of romance in the second. Hopefully they are ready for family in the third.

  2. Alex:
    Ah, think of Megan Fox, and you realize blondes are not essential! :-)

    You went the logical order: solo hero, romance, then family.

    Thanks for dropping by when you are so busy!! Roland

  3. Yes, sex sells to the market that's always been there. No, I don't look for it in a book, and no, I don't just 'add it' to my novels.

    It's not what I want to focus on, if a reader wants to read novels with sex, there are many romance/erotica titles out there.

    There will always be the need to acknowledge sexual tension between characters, but that can be subtle and still be effective.

  4. Uh oh, I feel a long comment coming on. Certainly sex is responsible for sales of erotica, and there are some steamy romance lines where sex is expected, but I doubt sex sells in genre or mainstream fiction. I can't imagine buying a novel because it happens to have sex. If a reader wants sex, why not just buy erotica?

    I don't consciously add sex, although my novels have sex in them. A sex scene is like any other type of scene: it requires conflict. The other day you discussed what does and doesn't constitute conflict. Well, sexual tension is not conflict, and gratuitous sex without conflict is little more than a list of body parts with directions to insert A into B. That is boring—I already know what goes where. I expect more. Likewise, romantic sex without conflict is another yawn.

    The sex scenes I write are brief, intense, direct, and full of conflict. The scene is there to reveal something about a character that can't be shown another way. Bottom line? With the exception of erotica and romance, if one is writing a sex scene and that scene is *only* about sex, it should be deleted.

    The flip side of the coin is when the author has created an intense level of conflict, rests it on a highly charged sexual encounter, and then suddenly closes the bedroom door.

    Yep, long comment...

    ~VR Barkowski

  5. D.G.:
    I think subtle and tease works well with sex and with magic tricks ... ah, sometimes they are one and the same! :-)

    I believe the ghost of Raymond Chandler was thinking about novels of some substance not erotica and hard core prose. Those surely sell, but he wouldn't call them books proper!

    I like long comments: it means I've struck a chord in your mind and muse.

    I believe you and Chandler look at novels in similar ways: there must be dramatic conflict and a measure of redemption to all literature worthy of the name.

    I have sexual scenes in ADRIFT IN THE TIME STREAM, but Samuel being the narrator and raised in Victorian times, he is muted in the telling of them.

    Blake Adamson in my LOVE LIKE DEATH quartet is a teen and his narration of his sexual encounters with a succubus and a fallen angel reflect that.

    Victor's sexual scenes involve a great deal of tension, for being a ghoul, Alice may well be the death of Victor if she is overcome with her passion. Ouch! A bit symbolic like Twilight in ways.

    Like you, I use those scenes to reveal something about Alice and Victor and Theodora and Maija that can't be shown another way.

    In THE RIVAL, I had fun with the Menage a Trois of Death in a centaur driven carriage with Alice, Maija, and Victor, trying to find some way to be able to truthfully say he had engaged in one without ending his life!

    No closing the carriage door on that scene! But it took all Victor's and my imagination and skill to pull it off so that all spectrums of readers would be satisfied. Whew!

    And I answered with a bit of a long comment myself!! :-)

  6. I do think good sex sales. Take Larissa Ione for example- She has some fine sexually orientated scenes, the story could be a little more. But she sales because she has a good take on those scenes and lets face it the majority of the reading audience is women and women enjoy being teased, taunted, and yes even sex involved at some point.

    I wish sometimes I was a more literary Lady- but while I might know a thing or two about literary techniques, and read some in my college classes- deep down I'm a lush for tease...

  7. Oh, Roland, you've done a FABULOUS job channeling. And I agree that it is the SIZZLE that sells. Unfortunately, Chandler's real problem was he was a misogenist son of a bitch, so his characters all carried that--two dimensional women trying to corrupt those machismo 'moral' men. Funny, though, that someone like Bogart could carry it forward to a lovable version.

  8. Summer:
    Yes, today the majority of the reading audience is female. Still, you and Chandler are too far apart in what you define as "good" sex in prose: teasing, promising, taunting, and ... the closing credits as it were. :-)

    Chandler was an interesting man, his psyche scarred by his time in WWI.

    Oddly, Chandler hardly ever mentions the war. Anyone reading his books would never guess that Chandler fought in the first world war and experienced the sort of horrors that would make most of us crawl up in a fetal position and cry the rest of our lives.

    But, although he never talks about it much, that experience is what his writing really springs from. It's about the bonds that form between men doing difficult things.

    Hollywood further scarred him, presenting him with shallow starlets, not the broad-range of caring women he might have met elsewhere.

    The Big Sleep has misogyny pervade the entire book, creating a world of corruption, decadence, perversion, and disorder, within which honorable men struggle for answers and honor and sanity.

    His novels assume that little is as it appears on the surface, probing the conflicts between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, love and hate, passion and power that shape our lives.

    Funny you should mention Bogart as portraying a loveable version of Chandler's view of life.

    Chandler considered Humphrey Bogart ‘the genuine article’ in the part, while Alan Ladd was ‘a small boy’s idea of a tough guy’.

    Not all of Raymond Chandler survived WWI, and it shows in his prose.

    Wow, you elicited quite a response from me. Thanks.

  9. If sex doesn't sell (concerning books) what's up with that no of reviews for %0 shades of grey?

  10. Adriana:
    50 SHADES OF GREY became the new Big Thing of the Moment. It caught on the tail of the Twilight fan fiction craze and rode the crest of erotic interest.

    But is it literature? It is, of course, prose -- bad prose as the ghost of Mark Twain gleefully chortles. But will it last due to its literary quality as TROPIC OF CANCER?

    The ghost of Raymond Chandler seems to think he knows, but he is set in his way! :-)