Saturday, December 08, 2007

She Tried to Sit On My Lap, And I Was Standing Up at the Time

I've read both Tolkien and Dashiel Hammett and loved them both. Anybody who can turn a phrase is okay with me. Prose style goes in and out of fashion, but nothing can convey the spirit of the place and time in a book in quite the same way as the style. Those beautifully overblown tomes from the end of the 19th Century are really organic - just as emotional and romantic as the times in which they were written. I've never read an entire Bulwar-Lytton book, but what I've seen is no more overwrought than most Victorian novels. One of my favorite potboiler delights is Trilby, by George du Maurier, Daphne's granddaddy. It was the most popular book of it's time (written in the 1890s, I think), and not many people today have ever heard of it! Most have heard of Svengali, though, I'll bet. The story is of a tone-deaf Irish girl, Trilby, who is hypnotized by the manipulative Svengali and becomes a great operatic singer whenever he puts her in a trance. It is a trip. The book was the inspiration for the Phantom of the Opera.

At the other extreme, the noir style of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are such wonderful evocations of that cynical and hopeless time at the end of the Depression and through the war. The Third Man is just spectacular. The really great thing about these authors is the dialog they use. Really, Chandler could hardly plot his way out of a paper bag. Witness The Big Sleep. I defy anyone to tell me what the heck is going on. But what gorgeous dialog! When Marlowe says, "He was the kind of guy who'd knock your teeth in and then kick you in the stomach for mumbling," who cares about the plot, really?

Debbie talked about the use of the paranormal in her books. I have dashes of the paranormal in my books, too. But I think that only we 21st Century westerners would call what Debbie and I write about "paranormal". I think we write more about people who see the world in a different way, and what we might call paranormal is perfectly normal and usual to our characters. My 1910s Oklahoma farm people are incredibly practical and hardheaded. If your late grandpa comes and knocks on your windowsill late at night, that's not supernatural, that's just the way it is. And who are we to argue?

There has been some discussion about what conventions we mid-listers feel we have to follow in order to get published. The best way to write, of course, is to write what feeds your soul and damn the consequences. I think the very best writers are the bravest. I've yet to be as brave in my writing as I'd like to be. Much like the rest of my life.


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