Deceased & Residing in Oakland – New Pulp Cover, New Pulp Price

Deceased and Residing in Oakland has a new pulp price to celebrate its new pulp cover.

Pulp_Fiction_Book_Coversample

The zombie/noir mashup has also been completely edited and revised — misspellings and misnomers have been all but eradicated, leaving an unobstructed, hard-boiled narrative of zombies, detectives, dames, drugs, death-metal and Nietzsche. Everything you want in a modern ode to the pulp-fiction potboilers of the forties and fifties.
That includes a new, old-school cover, complete with digital dog-ears and heightened halftones.
The illustration — capturing reluctant private detective Conrad Crete in the moment he finds himself alone in an Alcatraz prison surrounded by zombie concubines — is by Fiverr favorite Adrian Doan Kim Carames (www.fiverr.com/krrjuus) and the vintage, maltreated cover effect is courtesy of http://www.bluelightningtv.com.
Part of the appeal of pulp fiction — in addition to the shamelessly effusive language, audacious stories, and exaggerated personalities — is the easy, breezy, low commitment cover price. So the ebook version of Deceased and Residing in Oakland now has a permanently pulpy price of 99 cents to complement its classic cover and contents.

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Like a Metaphor

The Big Sleep

The three-word titling metaphor, seen here in its natural habitat.

The source of the charm of pulp fiction is its freedom from the manners imposed on high literature leaving it, like the imagination of a child, unfettered and unfiltered by any notion of shame. Popular fiction is as free as beat poetry to be as absurd and exaggerated as its readers will stand, and the limits of what readers of pulp fiction will stand have never been plumbed.

The phenomenon reproduces like rhizomes, popping up in improbable plots as outrageous characters and gaudy dialogue and, most particularly in the case of American crime fiction, the effusive simile.

The simile and her abstract sister metaphor have been with us for as long as it’s been helpful to describe something by comparing it to something else, which probably literally predates language itself or at the very least adjectives. Statistically, this is probably a bad thing, but for occasional passages of spun gold it’s objectively not.

It’s in American crime fiction where, like Braque’s tableaux of found objects, this handy instrument is elevated to an art form. Yet its utility and ubiquity mean that the device largely goes unnoticed in context, like shoelaces and every line in this article so far.

The etymological wellspring of the practice is the word “hardboiled”, so succinct that the rest of the metaphor isn’t even necessary to encapsulate the stoic cynicism of the private detective as twenty-minute egg. The best of them are like that, hard and hurting and, ideally, humorous.

Arguably the first hardboiled fiction is The False Burton Combs, by Carroll John Daly, and it builds a good case on tough-talkin’ street jargon of dames and dicks and a sparse but convincing distribution of juxtaposition:

“There ain’t nothing in governments unless you’re a politician. And as I said before, I ain’t a crook.”

“One of the others was fat and looked like an ex−bartender.”

“He paints up those three crooks like they were innocent young country girls.”

These were early days, though, before Hammett really got going and nearly ten years before Chandler would give up the oil game and bring us…

“He collapsed like a half-filled sack of sand.”

“ It glittered like a Ziegfeld chorus.”

and

“His clothes fitted him as though they had a soul of their own, not just a doubtful past”

which is a respectable showing for the first time out of the gate (Blackmailers Don’t Shoot, Black Mask, 1932).

The best of them paint a picture too big to be seen in anything but the abstract, composed of jungian touchstones and communal memory…

“Waves rose like apparitions at the surf-line and fell like masonry.”

Ross MacDonald, The Barbarous Coast

“The rain was hitting the streets as though fired from a machine gun.”

Philip James, Deceased and Residing in Oakland

“The house itself was not so much. It was smaller than Buckingham Palace, rather gray for California, and probably had fewer windows than the Chrysler Building. I sneaked over to the side entrance and pressed a bell and somewhere a set of chimes made a deep mellow sound like church bells.”

Raymond Chandler, Farewell My Lovely

“It was ten minutes by foot, if you were on your way to church, about two and a half minutes if your old lady was chasing you with a razor.”

Chester Himes, All Shot Up

“There was nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn’t cure.”

Ross Macdonald, The Drowning Pool

Or they sketch a character in the present with the full pallet of past and personality…

“As far back as Lieutenant Anderson could remember, both of them, his two ace detectives with their identical big hard-shooting, head-whipping pistols, had always looked like two hog farmers on a weekend in the Big Town.”

Chester Himes, A Rage In Harlem

“…the stigmata of the trouble-prone.”

Ross MacDonald, The Chill

“His nose spread itself across his face like an inadequate police cordon trying to hold back an ugly mob.”

Philip James, Deceased and Residing in Oakland

“Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.”

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Of course it’s the danger, deception and desirability of the inevitable femme fatale that test the distance between cynicism and sentiment…

“She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight.”

Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister

“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket”

Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely

“She was all legs and hair with a pleasantly hilly terrain in between.”

“Her lips were full and quivery. When she talked she looked like she’d been dubbed into English from a language that had 900 words for ‘foreplay’.”

Philip James, Deceased and Residing in Oakland

“She ran the tip of her red tongue slowly across her full cushiony, sensuous lips, making them wet-red and looked him straight in the eyes with her own glassy, speckled bedroom eyes.”

Chester Himes, A Rage in Harlem

“From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.”

Raymond Chandler, The High Window

But it’s arguably when the poetry of the pulp fiction simile stays close to its hard boiled roots that it’s at its sad, cynical, psychological best…

“…as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again. “

Raymond Chandler, The High Window

“In wine was truth, perhaps, but in whisky, the way Hoffman sluiced it down, was an army of imaginary rats climbing your legs.”

Ross Macdonald, The Chill

“He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works.”

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

“She visibly weakened when she said that. She always visibly weakened when she said that, and the feisty went somewhere quiet to have a good think.”

Philip James, Deceased and Residing in Oakland

“He looked around at the daylight as if it had betrayed him, again.”

Ross MacDonald, Black Money

Cheaters And Their Readers

By 1944 Raymond Chandler had written The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely and the line “She had eyes like strange sins” and he was accordingly at the top of his game when he wrote “The Simple Art of Murder” for Atlantic Monthly and sank the sturdiest and most explicit signpost at a major turning point for pulp fiction.

Since then the essay has held its ground as an important and seminal summary of what’s good and bad in fiction in general and detective fiction in particular, at least from the perspective of one of the genre’s recognised greats. It amounts to a declaration of victory for a certain type of rigorous realism and American-style iconoclasm, especially with regards to the insufferably mannered, formulaic and imperious English forbears of detective fiction. Chandler takes on Dorothy L. Sayers and an editorial he describes as an “essay in futility” as representative of the pompous view that detective fiction can never be real fiction.

There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that.

Chandler also takes issue with E.C. Bentley’s “Trent’s Last Case” and condemns Freeman Wills Crofts, S.S. Van Dine and, naturally, Agatha Christie for the lead-handed cop-out that is “Murder On The Orient Express”.

They do not come off intellectually as problems, and they do not come off artistically as fiction.

And he’s particularly merciless with the progenitor of Winnie The Pooh, AA Milne, for his crime against fiction “The Red House Mystery”. The problem with the Milne Story is that it’s implausible and relies on far too many very unlikely or unnatural or irregular occurrences. Chandler picks the story to pieces, in fact, and the best he can say about it is that it’s “not a deliberate fraud”.

In short, Chandler dislikes a cheat. And this is the meat of the essay for any writer who cares about adding to the modern canon as begun by Hammett and sustained by Chandler and MacDonald (but clearly not Spillane). It needs to be realistic. This doesn’t mean that mad things can’t happen and that character and morality can’t be tested to limits beyond that which most readers will ever see, but it has to be logically consistent and you can never go back and try to fill in a litany of plot-holes with the cheap pitch of coincidence and oversight and the assumption that your readers are lazy or stupid.

That means no deus ex machina, no sending Hastings down to London in chapter three to return at the denouement with evidence of a secret twin or a second will or true likeness of the deceased, no squadrons of policemen too stupid to notice that which the amateur detective picks up on instantly. It means, simply, that your reader has to stand a chance to solve the problem with the evidence presented. You can misdirect your reader, as Hammett does so originally in the Maltese Falcon, or shock him as Chandler does so cynically in the Little Sister, but you can’t lie and you can’t cheat and you can’t deprive the reader of a fighting chance.

You don’t need to like the advice or follow it to be a good writer unless part of your take on that means being a good writer according to the harsh and authoritative definition of Raymond Chandler. Or if you simply agree with the hypothesis that rigour in writing inevitably surfaces as quality then you could certainly choose a worse measure than an obligation to reward your readers for their attention all the way through to the end.

Indefensible Publi…

redhandWe weren’t initially going to do Twitter. Not because Twitter’s not the state-of-the-art in delivering pointlessly curt messages to people who don’t care what you think, but because it feels a little late in the game. There are zoo animals with over 100 000 Twitter followers and as much as we might like a piece of that pie we don’t know that we’re prepared to do what it takes to get it.

But the age of Twitter, for better or worse, is still upon our throats like a career oriented jackal and we’re led to understand that it can get you a few extra sales on Amazon which, in the future, is all anyone will care about and it’ll probably be the only way to get a desirable mate.

So please follow us on Twitter. In return we’ll follow you, of course, but we’ll also only tweet things which are relevant and helpful – specifically we’re going to tweet when we publish a new blog or book and whenever we find a clever bit of pulp fiction writing that we think isn’t already widely known.

Chester Himes’ Wild Ride

The Harlem Cycle, Chester Himes

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Chester Himes was born in Missouri in 1909 and began writing during an excessive prison sentence for armed robbery in 1928 and hit his stride in the mid-fifties as a giant of hard-boiled detective fiction with a series of books now called The Harlem Cycle. And if he had written any of the nine novels in the cycle today they’d still be revolutionary.

The books of the Harlem Cycle, starting with A Rage In Harlem, are classic examples of the genre – there are hard-bitten characters in extreme circumstances, vain and bloody murder and reluctant witnesses, twisted and arbitrary morality, vested interests corrupting the unfolding of justice and above all there’s Himes’ particular take on the poetry of pulp fiction. The effusive metaphor is a staple of the genre and the evocative analogies drawn by Himes are so rich they elevate the very concept:

Looking eastward from the towers of Riverside Church, perched among the university buildings on the high banks of the Hudson River, in a valley far below, waves of gray rooftops distort the perspective like the surface of a sea. Below the surface, in the murky waters of fetid tenements, a city of black people who are convulsed in desperate living, like the voracious churning of millions of hungry cannibal fish. Blind mouths eating their own guts. Stick in a hand and draw back a nub.

                A Rage In Harlem, 1957

It’s pretty much all like that and that should be all the recommendation anyone needs to read at least A Rage In Harlem. But it’s not the main way in which The Harlem Cycle goes from thoroughly satisfying and entertaining to genuinely great. The main way is pacing and anyone who picks up the first book in the series will know exactly what that means as they’re nearing the end of the last and wondering where the time went.

The events of the series follow one another with subplots often overlapping from one book to the next and they occur in real time. In fact they occasionally occur faster than real time as time folds into itself in a manner that would be awkward and oblique handled any less deftly but in The Harlem Cycle the trick either dazzles with its simplicity or passes unnoticed altogether.

Among other consequences of this unique pacing, such as a feral drive to know what’s on the next page, is the slightly surreal sensation that this is all actually happening – as though Himes has squealed up next to you on the street and given you a single second to jump on the running board before tearing off into the night pursued by sirens and mobs and gunfire and something intangible and foreboding. Hence the story structure is unorthodox and unpredictable and you’re not quite sure if the homicidal detectives Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones are on your side or the side of the law or even how long they’ll last as main characters.

Doubtless when these books were first published they were revolutionary for other reasons related to Himes’ race and background and of course they still bear this legacy with pride and poise, but they’ve nevertheless emerged from that dark era of American history as sui generis classics.

The Family Corleone, Ed Falco, 2013

Some people call me a Godfather purist because I refuse to recognize that a part III was ever made. Well, I’m not a purist and it’s important to settle that issue before reviewing Ed Falco’s prequel novel, The Family Corleone.

But I’m not a fantasist either. I know that a film was made by Francis Ford Coppola and several other whores  with some connection to the original two movies and that they called it Godfather III but it’s no more part of the original canon than David Soul’s ill-advised eighties television series Casablanca was a prequel to the other greatest movie ever made.

Now that’s settled, the Family Corleone takes place roughly ten years before the first Godfather begins and tells the story of Vito Corleone’s rise from a middle-level capo to the powerful don of the original book and movie. It’s based, if you choose to believe it, on an unproduced screenplay by Mario Puzo but if I were trying to give credibility to a new contribution to such an entrenched legacy that’s exactly the sort of story I’d make up.

America is in the grips of the Depression, Prohibition is coming to an end and Sonny Corleone is a 17 year old hothead as the action opens on a story which draws heavily from the historical events which ended the reign of “boss of bosses” Salvatore Maranzano and facilitated the rise of the Genovese crime family, in much the same way that the original Godfather borrows from the rise of the Gambino mob. This adds a degree of predictability to the story but that’s rather in the nature of a prequel. In any case the historical inevitability detracts not even a little from a book so self-aware that it reads like devoted fan-fic. Sonny even at one point says “bada-bing” with reference to shooting someone in the head and, frankly, I cringed.

And the book is mostly like that. In fact I’d go so far as to suggest that Falco was under contract to include a minimum number of references to Michael’s quiet intelligence and Fredo’s weak stupidity and there are aspects that appear to betray the heavy involvement of a committee of stake-holders and accountants and lawyers. Which of course means that there’s little controversial in the Family Corleone. There’s not a lot to quibble about for purists and that means, sadly, that there’s not a lot recommend it to anyone else.

This narrow path charted by Falco also means that there are few unfamiliar characters or motivations and almost no surprises. The story manages to revolve mainly and improbably around Sonny, Tom Hagen and Luca Brasi and the few risks the plot does take only serve, for me at least, to undermine aspects of the original book which are better left alone and aloof from explanation and exploitation.

Stylistically Falco hits the nail directly on the head and reproduces the hurried, under-edited prose of Puzo to a nicety. He switches with blind ease between conversational and formal, misuses words and even in one instance refers to the reader as “you”. Like Puzo’s watershed work, details are selected for inclusion randomly rather than by measure of relevance and everyone speaks perfect English but resorts to the most popular Italian expletives from the film. And I’m going to say that this is the most authentic aspect of the book because as important as it is and as excellent a foundation as it served for a great movie, the Godfather is not a good book. In many ways, chiefly the absence of any bizarre subplot concerning the unique medical complaint of one of Sonny’s many lovers, The Family Corleone is the better book.

And it’s satisfying. Much like reading the decidedly imperfect novel by Mario Puzo is a pleasant manner in which to revisit the Godfather without abusing the movie, this faithful homage is simple and satisfying and safe.

The Cherry Tree Genre

Chandler? Of course we have Chandler. He's on the top shelf, between Bronte and Dostoyevsky.

Chandler? Of course we have Chandler. He’s on the top shelf, between Bronte and Dostoyevsky.

It’s been decades now since Chandler and Hammett and, to a lesser degree, Spillane were elevated in the gallery of American letters to a level similar to the likes of Fitzgerald and Hemingway and so one could be forgiven for assuming these days that categorizations like pulp fiction would be merely that – categorizations – and no longer pejoratives.

But of course that’s not the case and the pioneers of pulp fiction weren’t so much recognized for their contribution to their genre as co-opted by the gatekeepers of high literature who recategorized them into the unfamiliar halls of academia by virtue of some arbitrary measure of staying power in much the same way that populist mainstream movies like Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon are now art because they’re in black and white and we’ve still heard of them.

And of course this heartless appropriation occurred post-mortem because no Spillanes nor Himes nor Chandlers would have otherwise gone without a very entertaining and unequal fight. Particularly when they came to get the resolute everyman Chandler, who once wrote in a letter to the editor of The Fortnightly Intruder:

The best writing in English today is done by Americans, but not in any purist tradition. They have roughed the language around as Shakespeare did and done it the violence of melodrama and the press box. They have knocked over tombs and sneered at the dead. Which is as it should be. There are too many dead men and there is too much talk about them.

And nobody doubts that. The debate isn’t over whether or not Chandler and his contemporaries are giants of American literature but whether they rose above their genre or are simply very good examples of it. Academia at some point cast an imperious eye over pulp fiction, saw an untapped source of overlooked genius and selected a few authors from the ranks for icon status. Well you know what? You can’t have them. They started as pulp fiction writers and they’ll remain pulp fiction writers and what’s more you missed a few. Rather a lot, in fact, and we’re not telling you where they are.