Monday, June 15, 2015

Well, this has been anticlimactic

Just as I embarked on my third draft journey, I received the feedback from my writers’ group that I had so craved. While it has been overwhelmingly positive, the things that got picked on surprised me, and to my surprise, stung me quite a bit. I don’t want to go into them at this point, since I haven’t even mustered the courage to finish reading all of it. I know that intentions matter little when writing inclusive fiction—just because you don’t realize you’re furthering a negative stereotype or trope doesn’t mean you shouldn’t correct it when it happens. Still. I feel a little picked on, which I know is something I need to get past.

I found myself reacting to some of the feedback with, “But... I feel like that’s true to the genre,” which made me realize that I’m actually not all that well-versed in the hard-boiled detective genre (previously mis-identified [by me] as noir, which is a whoopsie made by the film industry, check it out if you’re interested) despite reading many contemporary examples of same. As they say, you can’t break the rules until you know them.

I picked up a couple of academic-style books about the Hardboiled genre, Unless the Threat of Death is Behind Them by John T. Irwin and Hardboiled and High Heeled by Linda Mizejewski. So far, I’m about 82% of the way through UtToDiBT (that’s a fun acronym), and it’s really opened my eyes to what’s “important” about the genre. The tropes are fun, but they aren’t what makes it literary. It’s surprised me on many levels: one, how close I came to a lot of the marks without having been aware of them. Two, the fact that there are a lot of different ways to write correctly within this genre. Three, the best things about literature are present in the best Hardboiled and/or Noir novels.

Discovering this stuff has really raised the bar for me. I’m simultaneously invigorated and goddamned terrified. I have seriously considered straight giving up. I have reminded my writers’ group that wunderkinds are bullshit, but it seems like the inventers of the genre all wrote literary-level novels on their very first try. I have a hard time imagining juggling all those balls, to be totally honest. But, if I think through the process, I have realize that either, they actually got very lucky without realizing it (which actually is a thing that happens), or they had this in mind as they wrote, and possibly shoehorned some things in which might have felt very unnatural to them at the time in order to get that level of literary value. Dashiell Hammett may have had a notecard that said: “Theme: contrast the repetitive with the extraordinary with the singular” and then another notecard that said “parable: Flitcraft? Features: flying shrapnel, breaking machinery” and looked back at these notecards as he crafted the dialogue—certainly a final-draft problem. The Maltese Falcon didn’t spring forth from his forehead, fully formed. It was designed, and he took as much time writing it as it took to get it as close to right as he could. (And, to be fair, it wasn’t his first work in the genre.) Hammett, Chandler, Cain and other authors within the genre were all striving throughout their careers to master their craft—more than just telling stories, they were telling the Human Story, even if those who fancied themselves authorities in the world of literature considered detective novels to be pulp fiction.

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.

I was reading UtToDiBT earlier and was suddenly overcome with the urge to fill out some notecards before I forgot all the brilliant things that had just occurred to me. So, instead of being OCD and forcing myself to keep reading, I went and got my notecards. I filled out six notecards with two character’s starting and ending points and the events that trigger the changes. I am happy that I did this. Now I’m done and am going to go back to reading. I’ll notecard again if the mood strikes me. If not, I’ll roll right into HaHH. After that, I’m going to be reading at least The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. And then I’ll feel at least a little more secure in asserting that something that may be considered a “bad” thing to do falls within my genre.

I may even feel empowered to do it differently.


Becky Munyon said...

What many writers don't always realize (myself included), is that writing involves more than the joy of putting words on the page. It involves reading of both fiction and nonfiction, research, tears, outlining, tears, giving up, and even failed attempts. Some people don't always have the energy to move forward once they do realize this. You've clearly realized it, and are diving right in. Don't forget to stop and give yourself a little pat on the back.

Elly Conley said...


Thanks, Becky. I've definitely been trying. It's such a roller coaster over here!