Before he became famous for writing novels like THE BIG SLEEP and THE LONG GOODBYE, Raymond Chandler wrote a bunch of short stories for magazines like Black Mask. If you read those stories, you can clearly see the development of his style and the beginnings of what would one day become the character, Philip Marlowe.
When he started writing his novels, Chandler did a bit of what he called “cannabilizing,” which was to basically steal from his earlier work and expand it.
What follows is a bit of cannibalizing. But without the expanding. In fact, it’s reprinted here exactly as is. And if you went to Murderati last week, you’ll surely recognize it.
Please forgive me. I’m smack in the middle of writing a new novel and blogging these days has become extremely difficult. I hope you understand…
ARE WE WHAT WE WRITE?
My wife is concerned.
“I think you should blog about it, Rob. See what other people think.”
She works in the office of a public high school. When it came time for my first book, KISS HER GOODBYE to be released, she was sure to let everyone at work know, and helped generate a huge gathering of well-wishers at my Barnes and Noble launch.
A lot of her colleagues came out and bought a signed copy of the book, and I was, to say the least, grateful. Grateful to all the people who showed up and, of course, grateful to my wife for getting them out there. No one could ask for a more exciting and successful launch (we sold every book in stock — close to sixty).
But, as I said, she’s concerned.
You see, there are parts of my book that aren’t exactly politically correct. Some of the characters, being bad guys, are vile, bigoted creeps. One in particular, a guy by the name of Bobby Nemo, treats women as sex objects, utters profanities, racist, sexist and homophobic slurs, and is generally not a very pleasant guy. The words that come out of his mouth, the things he thinks, are not pretty.
And this is what has my wife concerned. She worries that all those people who showed up to buy my book, all of those colleagues — people she sees day in and day out — will read the book with its slimy characters like Nemo and wonder what kind of man she married.
She’s afraid they’ll read the book and think that its characters and situations are a reflection of me, of the way I think and feel.
I remind her that I’m writing crime fiction, that the people who populate that world are not very nice, and that unless my characters think and speak the way criminals and cops think and speak, I won’t have much of a book.
I also try to point out that I’m just about the polar opposite of Bobby Nemo —
— yet she still worries. Her colleagues don’t really know me, she says. And what if they assume that I’m some sort of racist pervert. How embarrassing.
To complicate matters, she recently listened to my first podcast with Brett Battles — a podcast on creating characters (battlesandbrowne.com) — and I happened to utter the words, “all of my characters are me” as I explained my approach to writing.
And this is true. In a way, all of my characters ARE me. I’m like a method actor taking on a role, using details of my own life to flesh out each character I’m trying to portray. It’s something that can’t be helped. By using my own experiences, coupled with imagination, I’m able to create what I hope are very compelling, three-dimensional people.
That still doesn’t mean that Bobby Nemo ever, for even a moment, speaks for me.
I seem to recall the young Stephen King running into all kinds of trouble with his early books. Who is this guy? people wondered. He’s gotta be sick in the head.
But as we all now know — or at least assume, based on his appearances on various TV shows — Mr. King is a relatively mild-mannered guy who, like me, shares little, if anything, with the whacked out characters he creates.
Or does he?
All of this gives rise to a question: how much of ourselves do we consciously or unconsciously put into the people we create to populate our novels? Do our novels give us an excuse to allow our long suppressed emotions and beliefs to come out?
I can confidently so no, that isn’t the case for me. I just make stuff up.
But what about you? Are YOU what you write?