Today, we’re lucky enough to have a guest post by author D. B. Grady. His press kit says:
D.B. Grady is a graduate of Louisiana State University and lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with his wife and family.
Grady is a former paratrooper with U.S. Army Special Operations Command and is a veteran of Afghanistan.
He is a member of the Authors Guild and Bayou Writers Group. Previous publications include short stories and essays. Red Planet Noir is his debut novel.
I say: David is man who thinks for himself and says what he thinks, but he has the rare ability to be both honest and courteous. He can also sling movie quotes with the best of them.
Ladies and gentlemen, D. B. Grady:
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“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.” – Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder
I must begin with a sincere thanks to Marian, for kindly inviting me to her blog today. Her wit and charm are always a delight, and though I know her only through Twitter, I consider her a dear friend. And one can only dream of being so prolific a writer as she! When I announced my blog book tour, she suggested I write about the voice, style, and tone or my novel, and how I worked to meet the expectations of both noir fans and science fiction readers.
When I set about writing Red Planet Noir, which is a cross-genre work of crime and science fiction, I had a strong sense of the style I was going for. The hardboiled pulps of the nineteen-thirties and early forties have long appealed to me. Chandler and Hammett, especially, and the Black Mask stories from which they emerged have a certain quintessential American cadence that is both lyrical and seasoned, sentimental and sober, and read like sheet music for the imagination. That is what I wanted. But because their magic evolved organically from a bygone era, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to emulate without delving into pastiche or parody. And at any rate, no writer wants to ape another author’s style for the same reason that nobody would want to read it. Why waste time on a second-rate pseudo-Chandler when the real thing is sitting on the shelf?
So when I banged out the first page of my novel, I did it as an academic exercise, expecting very little. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t that bad. (Of course, none of the text would survive the revision process, but that’s editing for you.) Working in my favor, I think, was that although I discovered hardboiled mysteries as an adult, I spent my youth at the altar of science fiction. Alan Dean Foster, Douglas Adams, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke, among others, shaped my expectations for literature.
Red Planet Noir works, I think, because it is one genre filtered through another. Simplified, you might say it is Heinlein as written by Chandler, but since Chandler never wrote Heinlein, it’s just me: some schmo with a corpse on Mars and a private eye in his head.
I have very little advice for writers, and in my short career I’ve made every mistake a neophyte author can make. (Well, every mistake presented so far. I’m just getting warmed up.) My suggestions are generally meaningless, but one thing I know in my heart to be true is that to be a good writer, you’ve got to be a good reader. You absolutely cannot do one without the other. And, I believe, one must be well-rounded with his or her literature. The Twilight series is built on Wuthering Heights. Harry Potter would not exist without the Bible and Homer and Shakespeare and Lewis and Austen and Bronte. A writer takes every book he or she has ever read to the blank page. With that in mind, it’s best to have good books backing you up. Stephen King, I submit, would not exist without John Steinbeck. To understand one, you’ve got to understand the other. An author, in other words, is “turtles all the way down.”
While writing, I never asked What Would Chandler Do? I didn’t have to. Instead, I wrote from the heart. I brought to the page what appealed to me as a fan of noir and sci-fi. I wrote for the grown man riveted by Philip Marlowe, and the fourteen-year-old boy just beneath the surface still mesmerized by Hari Seldon. I’m not the first to combine the two genres, or the best. (See: Dick, Philip K.) But Red Planet Noir is all my own, fueled by my eccentricities as a writer, and sensibilities as a reader and fan. Margaret Atwood once wrote that, “you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark.” Following her advice, I did my best to keep the readers attention by keeping my own.
The tone of the novel was informed by a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Midway through writing the novel, to borrow a famous marching cadence, I “got a letter in the mail; go to war or go to jail.” I wrote in my off-time as a way to decompress, and a certain moodiness and uncertainty seeped into the manuscript, and subsequent revisions were written through a glass, darkly. The novel became murky and dirty — worn — and more believable as a result. (Far too often, I think, science fiction is squeaky clean, with sleek lines and glossy whites. If I can’t keep my car clean for a week, how could a crew of science fiction explorers, for example, keep a deep-space starship spit-shined?)
In On Writing, Stephen King’s essential handbook for writers, he gives would-be authors permission to write whatever they want. And what freedom that is! The blank page is an opportunity to kill an innocent, expound on knitting, drive a car through a Burger King, or have space aliens land in the back yard. Anachronisms have always intrigued me. Sometimes it’s as simple as an old man wearing a fedora, or someone checking time on his or her pocket watch. This was my chance to write a thoroughly anachronistic world. The novel takes place in the very distant future, but the style, mannerisms, and dialogue are pure 1930s America. That’s the freedom, the magic, the blessing of being a writer — the ability to have a man don his fedora and climb into a spaceship.
You can write anything. This is the best job in the world.
Tomorrow, I’ll be blogging for Orson, Literary Agent on the subject of writer groups and the Ideal Reader. I hope to see you there. To Marian, again, I offer my gratitude and best wishes.