So you can read my books

Monday, November 29, 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, THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH, told through the eyes of a 13 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 dreams and runaways go 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 smeared 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 his invisible fingers squeeze my right shoulder. "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 loved 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. NIce tribute to Chandler. I see he must have really influenced you. If he were alive and knew of your writings, I know he would be impressed by your love for writing as well and your passion and heart.

    You are also kind and generous with your time. Influencing hundreds of people to see more, express more, feel more. That is the best gift you can give of yourself.

    I started something way out of my league today. Never would I have considered writing y/a contemporary. My dream gave me inspiration. I turned my original idea into something with more tension. An mc who is harsh, womanizing, rude, and conceited. But his life will turn upside down by a most unexpected person. I just hope I can pull this off. It could be quite an unusual story.

    Thank you for your inspiration. It's always nice to know that I can come here and always find it. I hope that at times your friends can inspire you.


  2. Michael : My friends always inspire me. I am always happy to see a comment from you. That you have found something in this blog to feel the tug of a new direction in your writing makes me feel as if I made a difference.

    I like to see that you have a direction for your MC to go and a transformation to evolve into. Victor Standish starts out thinking he knows what brave is. But by the end of the novel, he realizes what bravery and love is all about. Things and people are worth what you pay to keep them -- and sometimes the price is your own life.

    It is my most heartfelt dream that very soon the two of us will be signing our own books next to each other at some function or other, laughing back at these days.

  3. That would be a wonderful time in both our lives! But I think your time will come before mine. You have paid your dues way longer than I have. I might have some talent for this, but you have the gift. Mine has always been in my art. I just wanted to express myself differently now. I am actually happy on how much I've learned over the past year or so. It has opened my eyes to many wonderful and caring people. It's nice to know that we both have that. Here in the pages of our blogs we find true honesty and friendship. We give of ourselves and it always seems to come back as a positive. While in the "real" world we give and others take not appreciating what they have been given. This leaves us feeling empty and sad.

    I hope your/our dream does come true. It would be an honor to sit beside you at a book signing,

    Thank for this incredible dream. It is a wonderful way to end the day.


  4. Truly different voices for each. A unique melody that is easy to fall into.

    I think starting with action is overrated. I need a reason to care about the character's plight before I can commit to his cause.

    The LOVE LIKE DEATH beginning had both action, and characterization in equal parts. Drew me right in.

    Your ghost-musings are always such a pleasure to read Roland. This tribute to Chandler was well written and interesting. You have so many excellent writing influences in your career. I'm jealous of the resources you have so handy. And the creative manner you share them.

    You could be the next Raymond Chandler :)

    Have a good night.


  5. Thanks, Donna. When I was a young child and mostly alone, I found worlds within worlds : the library. I was drawn to heroes who lived by their wits.

    As a scrawny outsider, always seemingly going from on school, one city to another, I had scant time to set down roots and relationships.

    I knew I could never by Hercules but Ulysses I had a chance to be. So the lone voice of the outsider in literature always was a siren call. And that is the genesis of my varied literary sources.

    I'm glad you get a kick out of my night-time ghostly visitors trying to give all of us tips on how to succeed in our literary dreams.

    May today be a pleasant surprise for you, Roland