May 15, 2008
Apollo likes to walk. We take him out with Rocky while Adrian stays at home. (Yes, our dogs are named for the Rocky movies.) Being a Doberman, with a splash of Black Lab thrown in just to keep us on our toes, Apollo isn’t satisfied with just “walking.” He thrusts his nose deep into the ground, snorting up anything that will fit into his blow-hole sized nostrils. And he’s not satisfied to walk leisurely. He wants to trot or run or anything really besides walk. There is always something more interesting just beyond the end of the leash.
How does he compensate for this restriction in mobility? He turns circles. He trots for five feet, sniffing and snorting, then turns a circle. To the right. Always to the right. Apollo can’t turn left…except for this one time, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Rocky is an Akita with a splash of German Shepherd Dog thrown in for more dignity and a greater ability for condescension. He holds his head up regally, toenails elegantly clicking on the pavement in a perfect cadence, while his tedious companion slobbers and runs in circles, bounding from one dandelion patch to another…circling to the right, pacing, circling to the right, pacing…on and on and on.
But there was a day. One walk out of thousands, when my middle child and I were out walking the dogs…and I saw an Eastern Bluebird. Being from Nebraska, I don’t have much experience with the beautiful birds that flutter around our neighborhood here in Virginia…all different colors and songs….I’m not used to it. “Son, did you see that?” I asked, pointing. My son stood beside me, laughing. When he stopped, a grin plastered to his face, he said, “I know, Apollo just turned left.” Zoolander, eat your heart out!!
My dog turned left…and I missed it. I’ve watched diligently on every walk since then, waiting for him to repeat the act. But Apollo seems more comfortable turning right. It’s unnatural for him to do anything else.
So I find myself once again taking a lesson from this monster of a canine. Do I want to be the sort of writer that “can’t turn left?” Or do I want to do more? Be more? I’m in the second book of my Detective Baker series…and I’m happy with the way things are shaping up. But other stories…set in other times in other places…are tickling the back of my mind. And I find myself wanting to test the mysterious waters where these other ideas swim. I nursed the characters for The Deputy’s Widow for years, coddling them to maturity and, eventually, publication. Suddenly, that obsession isn’t there because I accomplished my goal. I’m published. And I’ll be published again with the sequel, provided my editor likes it. Trying something new doesn’t feel comfortable just yet. But, unlike my dog, I have higher brain function (sometimes) and I think I might give “turning left” a try. So I’ll keep watching Apollo, hoping he’ll overcome his multi-directional challengedness…and I’ll consider shooting off in a new direction myself on occasion.
April 6, 2008
It started with Brick. Then came Black Dahlia, which was actually a “true” twist of an unsolved murder in Hollywood. Close on its heels was “Hollywoodland” with the pseudo-reality look at the death of Superman star, George Reeves. Of course, everyone remembers L.A. Confidential…that was a good one too.
But you gotta love that writers are getting in on the action now. I just finished Linda L. Richards book, Death Was The Other Woman…a nice read. Simple, but nice. Gas City is another new one by author Loren D. Estleman. Add to that the Hard Case Crime tales by various authors and it’s easy to see that Noir is back…and even in demand in some respects.
So what is it about these titles that tickles our fancy? Is it the crime? Nah. We can read about crime in 8 out of every 10 fiction works sold. Sex? Nope. Not that either. If one out of every two fiction books sold is romance, clearly, the sex reader could just pick something up from the romance section of the book store. But increasing numbers of people are picking up books on Noir…with their pulp-like covers sporting scantily clad femme fatales and their catchy “Up Yours” titles. Maybe it’s the marriage of sex and crime that draws us in…but if that was the case, why not just read about prostitution?
The truth? Noir is situations. Noir is character. Of course noir has plot, but plot comes AFTER the character dilemma. Flawed characters drive the plot. And that makes Noir. Maybe a happy ending. Most likely not. Crime? Of course. Murder? Hell yes. Sex? Maybe, but it isn’t necessary. A good detective is getting some someplace. We don’t need to read about it to know it.
Reading Noir is like belching through your nose after drinking straight Coca-Cola. It burns like hell but, in a strange way, it offers clarity…and it makes your eyes water.