Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Pristine Keyboards and Subtle Fireworks

I mention in the post below that the business of being a writer involves, first and foremost, learning to make compromises with yourself. And despite the fact that I am, as all three regular readers will be aware, now an ex-writer, I’m finding it hard to kick the compromising habit. I’m also finding it very difficult to stop thinking about the book I was planning to write over the next year or so. As a compromise, I’m telling myself that instead of obsessing about one book in particular, I’m going to do a bit of noodling about writing and / or reading in general, to see if I can’t figure out where I’ve been going wrong all these years.
  First up, the pristine state of my keyboard. I get a new PC every three or four years, and it’s rare that I have to upgrade the keyboard between times. I’m wondering if that’s where I’m going wrong.
  I ‘learned’ to type years ago, and while I can touch-type, my error-rate is pretty high – I don’t know what my wpm is, but it’s probably around 30 words per minute. Now, the trouble with touch-typing is it’s exactly that – touch typing. You caress the keys, you persuade and fondle and nudge … in effect, you seduce the keyboard into giving up its goodies one word at a time.
  Which is all very good and well if you’re writing romantic fiction, I guess. But crime fiction? Man, you should be BASHING those keys, bam-bam-BAM!!! Here’s the GUY with the GUN and BANG-BANG, KISS-KISS!!! A quiet bit, THEN BAM-BANG-BASH-BOOM!!! Then another quiet bit, THEN WOP-BOP-A-LOO-BOP-A-WOP-BANG-BOOM!!!
  Now, I’m not advocating caps and a picket fence of exclamation marks. What I’m suggesting is that the words should come off like they’ve been punched into the page by someone who loves words and hates paper. Or, as I suggest below vis-à-vis James Ellroy, like they’ve been machine-gunned into a tombstone. When I read, I want to be ducking under ricochets and copping splinters and coughing up dust. I want the sky lit by tracer and Very lights exploding overhead and the ground underneath shaking from the intensity of the barrage.
  Me, I’m too subtle when I write – or, worse, I aim for subtle and end up stuck in the middle of No Man’s Land during a ceasefire, with everyone going, “Okay, but when’s the fireworks start?” Because everyone likes a good fireworks show. And ‘fireworks’ and ‘subtle’ are pretty much mutually exclusive.
  So – that’s the first thing to consider: how to achieve subtle fireworks, and in the process need to buy a new keyboard every six months or so.
  All suggestions will be gratefully accepted …


bookwitch said...

Hah, you should have heard Mother-of-witch type on her 1935 typewriter! Like machine gun-fire, and all correct. Used to win prizes. Didn't murder very much, though.

Gerard Brennan said...

I know you've said before that you don't really do short stories, but Subtle Fireworks? That's a short story title and/or concept if ever I heard one. Could be fun to experiment with the form while you take a break from novel writing, just to scratch that itch, like.


Kevin C said...

All this talk about keyboards prompted a survey of my letter branded laptop buttons. "A" is almost invisible, "E" now looks like "F," "S" is a chopped up worm.

But anyway, enough keyboard talk.

Fireworks. A cop friend said it best, sometimes the sound of a gun is as good as showing a gun. The example, a pump action shotgun. That sound- pump being racked, lubricated metal on metal, plastic case 12gauge ammunition lifted into the chamber- has been known to set hearts racing. The subtle anticipation of the roar to come.

Dang, my Ctrl key just popped off!

Mike Dennis said...

There was an American movie producer back in the 1940s named Val Lewton. I don't know if you have ever heard of him, but he was a rarity: a producer who left his auteurish imprint on his films, rather than a director.

Lewton worked for RKO, a decidedly low-budget studio, and was in charge of making their horror films. He was given next to nothing to work with, budgetwise, so he had to conjure up horrors in his head that could be transported directly to the heads of the viewers,since he didn't have the money to put them on the screen. He learned, therefore, how to suggest horror.

He came to realize that true horror exists in our minds, rather than our eyes. Horror suggested is twice as effective as horror shown.

His movies, now 60+ years old, include "The Cat People", "The Curse Of The Cat People", "Bedlam",
"I Walked With A Zombie", and many others, all considered horror classics, and ALL opening to crowds lined up around the corners of their theaters.

Just a thought.

dvd said...

I know that you have said before that you don't really do short stories, but Subtle Fireworks? That is very short story title and/or concept if ever I heard one.
Thanks for sharing.

Mike Wilkerson said...

Call me a caveman, but a manual typewriter might be the ticket. I've got one and use it from time to time. You literally have to bang the keys and, you have to really think about what your next word(s) will be- no delete key to push.

You'd have to be a stud, however, to write a whole book like that. Hmm, Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry, both write on manual typewriters to this day...