I follow a lot of crime fiction blogs, groups, and websites. So, of course, it came to my attention that Raymond Chandler’s birthday was this past week. Might have thought of it myself if I hadn’t been busy juggling a dozen literary balls at the same time. And in some way they all seem to relate to Chandler.
A couple years back I referenced his essay The Simple Art of Murder (1950) in a review of a terrific debut thriller (The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris, available now in paperback.) I’d written my own first novel, and was looking forward to attending ThrillerFest that summer to see if I might generate some interest. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My book wasn’t like the classic detective fiction of Raymond Chandler. But my protagonist did have some of the qualities he discussed.
I started to write something on Saturday, my birthday. Out-of-town guests arrived earlier than anticipated so I set it aside. Distractions of a football nature took over on Sunday, Monday went missing, and yesterday became yesterday. So here I am, four days later, beginning again. We do a lot of that, don’t we? Starting over, beginning again. Well, I do. And I know what I might’ve written then, won’t be what I write today – even if I include the opening paragraphs here:
On my fourth birthday, I wore my Davy Crockett T-shirt. I was King of the Wild Frontier and mom made me a cake shaped like an old train. Five years later I had a costume pirate party, and mom made a pirate ship cake. Clearly my imagination took me on adventures to far-flung places from a very young age.
When I was eleven I wrote and performed a school play about Roland, a medieval pageboy who saved the castle from marauding invaders. During summer vacation, by day I’d mow the lawn dreaming I was Huckleberry Finn on a river raft. And when the stars came out at night I’d take a spaceship to Mars with Ray Bradbury.
First thing I learned at Bouchercon? I was pronouncing it wrong. I assumed the name was from the French boucher, or butcher. A bit gruesome, if not inappropriate for a convention devoted to crime fiction. But, no. It rhymes with voucher. Bouchercon. Still doesn’t sound quite right. (Many years ago when I was a newsreader for Radio Netherlands, I received a letter from a listener in Seattle: “Mr. Swatling, why do you always adopt a French intonation whenever uncertain of the correct pronunciation? It is increasingly annoying. If you don’t know, you should ask someone who does!”)
Bouchercon is the Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention. All you need to know about sci-fi editor and mystery writer Anthony Boucher is in a tribute essay by William F. Nolan. But a couple things caught my attention. He was active in college theatre, wrote book reviews for newspapers, and worked in radio for several years. Mr. Boucher and I have a fair amount in common. At Bouchercon I discovered many crime fiction authors had backgrounds in theatre and/or journalism. Me, too.