Unlike Brad Pitt in Se7en, I was expecting the box. (Same size, a bit heavier.) Because it arrived earlier than anticipated, it still took me by surprise. Unlike Morgan Freeman, I didn’t slice it open with a switchblade. I used hedge shears. (Because I knew where they were and was too impatient to search for scissors. Or perhaps I wanted to outdo David Fincher in creepiness.) And inside the box? (Spoiler Alert!) Not pretty Gwyneth Paltrow’s head, but beautiful copies of Calvin’s Head. I didn’t cry like Brad Pitt, but my allergies did act up a little.
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.
“A human head weighs about the same as a large oven-ready chicken,” crime fiction author Peter James told a roomful of rapt listeners at ThrillerFest 2014 in New York City. If anyone felt queasy, they didn’t show it. After all, the panel was called Sick, Sick, Sick: Is it Possible to Write Great Thrillers and Not Be a Secret Sadist? It’s always fascinating to spend a weekend with writers who think a great deal about new and grisly methods to murder someone or how to commit the perfect crime. With my debut suspense novel coming out in two months, and having started a second one, I couldn’t think of a better place to be than this yearly International Thriller Writers event.
Awake early, like a child on Christmas morning. Rain patters on trees outside the open screened window. Twelve hours ago I put finishing touches on my first guest blog post, almost ready to send. Somewhat distracted by the overwhelmingly positive response all day to the first book trailer, which had gone live that morning. Phone vibrated on the desk, noting arrival of email. Copy edits of first novel Calvin’s Head. I wanted to tear into the task of perusal immediately. But the day had been long, busy, dinner with friends already planned. I was tired, screen weary, brain dead. Best to wait until tomorrow.
New day, fresh start. I am here, ready, manuscript beside me, Word document beneath this one, waiting for the starter pistol to fire.
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.