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.
Early Morning Rain
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.
Cricket’s chirp, small birds flit back and forth to the feeder in my parent’s back garden. My brothers and sister took the kids to the drive-in to see How to Tame a Dragon II and Maleficent. A temporary peace has settled on this early summer evening. Soon the fireflies will join me as I sit at the picnic table on the carport, thinking about the past week. My debut novel Calvin’s Head comes out exactly three months from today and everything is beginning to click into place.
“What do you write?”
A simple question, and the first most people ask when you tell them you’re a writer. Crime fiction, I say. But they usually want to know more. That’s where it can get tricky. From the start, I called my first book a psychological thriller. It’s how I pitched it to agents a couple years ago. After hearing the plot, one asked me, “Are the main characters gay?” “All of them except the dog,” I said. Her quick forced smile told me she was neither amused nor interested. I moved on.
Should I have said upfront it was a gay thriller? Was the gay aspect a reason another agent expressed concern about “our ability to sell this work”? As I thought about it, gay protagonists did seem a rarity in current mainstream crime fiction. In Jonathan Kellerman’s popular Alex Delaware series, the gay cop is almost a sidekick. What about other genres? And next I’m shifting gears with a ghost story, but the same main character. Switching genres within a series and a gay hero? Was I insane?