Tuesday, March 19, 2013

National Review Online podcast

The podcast of my discussion with John J. Miller at National Review Online was posted today. I hate my voice.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fiction rules!

A pal of mine is an investigative reporter at the local daily newspaper; guy won a Pulitzer and is the real deal - sent me a note about The Girl Who Cried Wolf. He liked it a lot, particularly the portrayal of the radical Green movement in the Pacific NW, but his point was that he and a colleague had talked about writing a non-fiction account of the Greens, but game it up because they couldn't find any Greens who were that interesting as people. He thought I had an advantage as a fiction writer because I could create characters that were more interesting than the real people. He was right, of course, but I would make the point that the best characters are grounded in reality. Good novelists need to have the ears and eyes of good reporters, otherwise we're just making stuff up. When I know I've done my job as a novelist is when the characters come to life and start coming up with their own dialogue, which is almost always better than the lines I come up for them. The better the work, the more of my own work I get to toss away. The character of Eli in the book, a young surf bum with blonde dreads and a dangerous, sweet innocence, is based on a composite of all the Milk-is-Murder guys I talked to on the beach when I lived in Southern California, same mix of ignorance and insight and not a clue how to separate the two. I love Eli and his fantasies of living in Mexico, surfing all day and living off the land. I love the way he's renamed the constellations to be more meaningful to himself, changing Cancer the Crab to Mecha-Godzilla and laughing the whole time. I love him because he's got Hepatitis 3 and at some deep level he knows the clock is ticking. And if you want to find a piece of Eli, he's right there in real life in this news clip of a free wheeling young hitchhiker who got involved, saved a woman he didn't know who was being attacked. Stopped the attacker cold with a hatchet he happened to be carrying. Yeah, I wondered about that too... guy carries a hatchet and goofy grin. Hey, why not? So check out this link, which is very NSFW, by the way, and listen to his speed rap, the pure poetry. No writer can write this good, but a good writer can absorb it, recast it, use it to create some new character who will take things to a whole other level. Which is why... fiction rules.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lawrence Tierney and the art of self-delusion

My favorite character in my favorite Tarantino movie is Joe Cabot, the old, bald-headed tough guy who sets up the robbery that goes so very, very bad and runs the criminal crew. It's Tierney hunched over the table at the diner, his voice sounding like he gargles with razor blades, who insists that Steve Buscemi will keep the nickname "Mr. Pink" and like it. Case closed. Lawrence Tierney is the actor who plays this glowering badass and let's just say the role wasn't much of a stretch. Tierney was a classic, the-world-is-a-dangerous-cesspool film noir actor. He began is career playing the lead in Dillinger, 1945, and quickly becoming the go-to guy when the studio needed a menacing thug or an amoral mobster who killed without raising his pulse.

In the first fifteen minutes of The Devil Thumbs a Ride, 1947, Tierney's character shoots an old man in the back and takes his money, commandeers a couple of honeymooners for a drive up the California coast, insults a gas station attendant - when the man proudly shows Tierney a photo of his baby girl, Tierney sneers "From the looks of those ears, she's gonna fly before she can walk." - and then runs over a motorcycle cop.

In In real life, Tierney, the son of an Irish cop, was a nasty drunk with a rap sheet as long as Tolstoy. In 1948 he spent three months in jail for busting a guy's jaw in a bar fight. That same golden year he was arrested for kicking a cop while being arrested for drunk and disorderly. He beat up another cop in 1956 and dished out another broken jaw in 1958. The day his mother killed herself in 1960, Tierney drowned his grief by kicking down a woman's door and assaulting her boyfriend. None of this hurt his movie career, and we can only assume that film geek, Quentin Tarantino, knew just who to go to for the character of Joe Cabot, a brutal guy tough enough to keep his crew of crooks in line.

What I really like when I researched Tierney is his lack of self-awareness of his own nature. Or maybe he was just lying.

"I resented those pictures they put me in," Tierney was quoted in a British newspaper, the Guardian. "I never thought of myself as that kind of guy. I thought of myself as a nice guy who wouldn't do rotten things. I hated that character so much, but I had to do it for the picture."

Yeah, Larry, you're Tom Hanks.

I am indebted to Eddie Muller and his book Dark City, the Lost World of Film Noir, for filling in the blanks of my knowledge. I thought I knew noir until I read this book..