Friday, May 11, 2012

RE: Absolution

Out of curiosity, I googled my pen name to see what came up. There were very interesting results. On the link to Goodreads, I come up as the "author of The Apotheosis of Debbie," a short story I posted for free. I would have preferred if it read, the "author of Absolution." I can live with it though. It would have bothered me if the short story and the novel were not Fraternal twins.

There are similarities in the themes and to some degree the plot. You would have to read both to understand.

Now I'm going to do something that I have not done up to this point: Talk about my novel. Absolution is a detective story, clear and simple and part of a trilogy. In it, the private detective, Ray Adams, dies in 1947 and later is brought back to life for one day to solve a gruesome and supernatural murder, and to find a missing soul. As you can see, it is mostly fantasy of the urban kind. The setting is Hollywood, our Hollywood. So, there is also that fish-out-of-water element to the story.

Genre fiction leaves open the possibility to explore our society while entertaining (fantasy and the urban setting is automatically entertaining as is the who-dunit and detective fiction). But the author of genre has to want to explore our society. This is something that Raymond Chandler knew, which is why he wrote Marlowe less like a pulp detective and more like an observer of the darkness of urban Los Angeles. Yet, while Chandler helped to pioneer this new vision of what the detective novel could become, it has not really advanced since his days. Aren't we still looking at the same cases that Marlowe solved? I won't criticize the wonderful mystery writers of today, but most refuse to explore the new types of darkness that exist in our cities. The same can be said of supernatural detective fiction.

As Chris Braak notes in this essay, the urban fantasy that features a mystery and a "hard-boiled" detective isn't necessarily noir fiction. He makes a good point too. The writers of urban fantasies mask epic fantasies with noir elements--think Frodo smoking a cigarette, running through darkened streets, instead of Middle Earth, while muttering jaded things that show his discontent with our society. The Hobbit is still carrying a ring to Mordor.

It is my reading experience that the writers of urban fantasy mysteries only caress the "urban" aspect of their writing. "Gritty" means more death. "Dark" means the bloody and graphic death of innocents (like children) or horror elements. Rarely, do they touch on what might be considered taboo. Rarely, do they touch on controversial subject matter. For example, why not have our favorite urban fantasy detective deal with a real gang like the MS 13 or the Bloods? And whenever we see a prostitute, why can't that be a male prostitute and not the clones of Julia Roberts' Pretty Woman? I mean, we never tire of seeing Indiana Jones tackle the occult nature of the Third Reich. And Nazis were some of the most controversial figures of their time.

These are the things I had in mind while writing Absolution. But it doesn't mean I wrote a sermon. I actually had fun with the idea of the sermon in the novel. I also had fun with the following observation: Just about every detective in fiction, from Spenser to Harry Dresden and Sandman Slim, mimics Marlowe (but not Sam Spade and this is an important difference). Marlowe is the do-gooder who ultimately follows his ethical code.

But Sam Spade does not. Had the Maltese Falcon actually contained the bejeweled, golden bird, I don't think Spade would have turned the others in to the police. But it does not and he betrays his co-conspirators. He actually plays on the side of the bad guys a while. And that speech he gives to Miss O'Shaughnessy seems like it's meant more for him, to bring him back to the side of the law. Yet, he has time and time again crossed the line of morality; he womanizes (which was a big moral no-no back then), going so far as to sleep with his partner's wife; he actually has in mind his own self-interests, like becoming rich even if it means screwing others over.

Is Ray Adams Marlowe or Spade? This is a real question that I had to answer as I wrote Absolution. But here I had fun with it too. I had so much fun writing this novel. Adams becomes his own man thanks to them.

In the end, my novel may be just as good as other detective novels and the writing may be as effective too (this is for you to decide). It is not my job to qualify the writing or to declare the novel "good" or to assure you that you'll love it. I don't know if you will. My guess is that some of you will like it and some of you won't. Hopefully, enough of you will like it to justify publishing a second novel. If not, I will write it for me and my friends.

But, I've rambled on enough...