Sunday, February 26, 2017

The longue and the short of it

I recently sent a verbal high five to author Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) and narrator Joe Barrett for their correct spelling and pronunciation of chaise longue in Stark's novel Butcher's Moon and its audio book version. That's why I was surprised today to hear the term pronounced chaise lounge in the audio book of Stark's novel The Sour Lemon Score. Could Stark, that most literate of crime writers, have spelled it wrong?

Nope. I checked the novel, and Stark got it right. But the narrator, Stephen R. Thorne this time, pronounced longue as it were written lounge, the way the word is pronounced so often in America. OK, the sort of people who refer sneeringly to "language police" will blandly declare that "language changes," and they're right. But how do they explain Thorne's correct, French pronunciation of chaise?
I've congratulated Marlon James and John Lawton for using the correct term, and I feel so strongly about the matter that I once wrote a story called "The Longue Goodbye."

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Richard Stark, or a discussion about a writer that touches on writing

I never cease to be amazed by how seldom discussions of writers turn to writing and by how frequently readers seem to equate overwriting with good writing. That's why I was so pleased by the response to my citation on Facebook of a simple, beautiful bit of description from Richard Stark's novel Deadly Edge.

Here's the passage:
"Keegan had thick dry brown hair and the outraged expression of a barroom arguer." 
Here's the discussion so far:

Sam Belacqua "barroom arguer" is a mouthful Unlike · Reply · 2 · 3 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky It's a beautiful, telling, concise bit of description, far better than bits of crime novels often cited as examples of fine writing. The opening of The Last Good Kiss comes to mind. Like · Reply · 4 · 3 hrs

Diane Williams Shaw lots of rrr's! Unlike · Reply · 1 · 3 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky R is the fourth most common consonant in English for a good reason! Like · Reply · 3 hrs 

Jack Getze "He looked like a high risk, the kind of guy who falls asleep smoking in bed." -- Elmore, the opening of Cat Chaser. Unlike · Reply · 4 · 3 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky That's terrific. I haven't liked Leonard as much as some readers do, but I may give Cat Chaser a try. One bad sign: A reviewer called it "quirky," but that's not Leonard's fault. Like · Reply · 1 · 3 hrs · Edited 

David Magayna I don't care for that simile, but then who am I to "argue" with Richard Stark? I might have used "barroom agitator". Unlike · Reply · 2 · 3 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky Your suggestion of "agitator" reinforces what a master stroke "arguer" is. The word is mildly jarring; no one would use it. That makes the reader sit up and take notice. A writer has to be pretty confident of his or her chops to try something like that. Like · Reply · 2 · 3 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky "Agitator" is also a bit elevated for what barroom loudmouths do, isn't it? That's another reason Westlake's choice works, I think. He is yet another crime writer upon whom reviewers, critics, and writers heap praise, without, however, highlighting the writer's prose style. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

David Magayna Well, I approached it from two different angles. One, it rolls off the tongue easier and sounds better, but, Two, the guy he seems to be describing (in my head) is someone who doesn't look to argue a point, but just run his mouth and take the opposite viewpoint of whatever might be discussed. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

David Magayna And I guess "arguer" could fill that bill, too. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky David Magayna Your guess describes the character perfectly, which is evidence that Stark made the right choice. To my mind, an agitator looks to start arguments, as opposed to an arguer, merely a peevish type who disagrees with everything. Stark knew what he wanted, and he knew the right word to get it. Like · Reply · 2 hrs · Edited 

Lanny Larcinese Peter Rozovsky re your point "arguer" as master stroke: I agree, and such word selection is critical to authorial voice. It makes me crazy when others purport that words "that make the reader sit up and take notice" pull them "out of the story." When I see unique (not including torrents of weird) language I want to keep reading. Vanilla may work for intensely plot-driven, but when it comes to character, give me rich. I'm down with "arguer." See More Unlike · Reply · 1 · 1 hr 

David Biemann How about, barroom goad? Too agitatorish? :) Like · Reply · 1 hr · Edited 

Peter Rozovsky Hey, everybody: I'm enjoying this discussion. Do any of you mind if I turn it into a blog post? Like · Reply · 2 · 2 hrs 

David Magayna Fine by me. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky David: Thanks. I love discussions like this. I never cease to be shocked by how infrequently discussions of writers deal with writing. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

David Biemann ...and the outraged expression of a man four drinks into a five drink barroom argument (?) Barroom too much like broom (?) arguer - agree with the too many r's. Still works... just gives pause (?) Like · Reply · 2 hrs · Edited 

Peter Rozovsky David Biemann Those are not bad, but Westlake's choice was better. He chose well when he chose the pen name Stark for the Parker novels. Like · Reply · 2 hrs David Biemann Less is better. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky David Biemann I'm similarly predisposed. But the question is not less (or more) is better, but rather of creating a tone appropriate to the story and of sticking to that tone. Westlake did that, and, for all the deserved praise he gets, that aspect of his work is rarely recognized. I suspect this is because people don't know how to talk about writing. Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs 

David Biemann True. Lines out of context are hard to judge on their merits in general but when you're creating context with them, it's a different story. Unlike · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs 

David Biemann Did you see Erin Mitchell's, if you could ask any living author question? I wish Westlake were still around to join this conversation. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky I'd have been happy to schmooze with Westlake, but he was good enough that his work can speak for him. Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs 

Linda L. Richards It seems a bit self-conscious to me. Like he had to work a bit too hard to get there. Also it puts me in mind of The Rural Juror: a bit too much of a mouthful. Unlike · Reply · 1 · 1 hr 

Peter Rozovsky I think the word shows signs of being a deliberate choice, so I understand your observation that it seems self-conscious. But that self-consciousness only accentuates how well chosen the word is, Like · Reply · 1 hr · Edited 

Linda L. Richards To my mind, a metaphor should evoke something effortlessly. You read it and just get it in your gut or heart or wherever good metaphors are digested. To me, this type is heavy handed. Klunk. It lacks delicacy and/or subtlety and makes me think about it too much. Unlike · Reply · 1 · 41 mins 

Peter Rozovsky I got it in my gut with a brief stopover in my brain. I've seen debates over whether style ought or ought not to be noticeable. It probably ought to be invisible most of the time except im rare instances where it calls the reader's attention to new possibilities. This example does that for me. Like · Reply · 24 mins 

Steven Parker I go for "brawler", obvious I suppose, but it goes with being an arguer... Like · Reply · 1 hr 

Peter Rozovsky Brawler is several steps beyond arguer and not at all what Stark wants to convey about the character. Like · Reply · 1 hr 

Steven Parker I must admit I was visualizing Trump in that role: "“Trump had straw like hair and the outraged expression of a barroom brawler.” It's the eternal outraged expression that gets me... :-) Unlike · Reply · 1 · 24 mins 

Steven Parker Besides, having run a few rock clubs while in my youth, in my experience the difference between an "outraged arguer" vs. "outraged brawler" is rougly 2 seconds! ;-) Unlike · Reply · 1 · 22 mins · Edited 

Darren Shupe Perhaps not quite the same as resembling a blond Satan, but hey. ;) Unlike · Reply · 1 · 5 mins 

Peter Rozovsky Though the image of Humphrey Bogart has driven the blond Satan description from most people's minds. My favorite part of the description is the Hammett says Spade looked "rather pleasantly" like a blond satan, which shows that in the hands of a deft enough writer, adverbs can do wonders. Like · Reply · Just now 

Thanks to everyone who has weighed in. And here's a blog post in which I suggest that "reviewers and other people are uncomfortable talking about writing at best or wouldn't know good writing if they saw it at worst."

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Monday, February 06, 2017

The Longue Goodbye

In honor of author Richard Stark, reader Joe Barrett, and their correct rendering of chaise longue in the audiobook version of Stark's novel Butcher's Moon, here's a story I wrote a few yearback.
Rick Ollerman enjoys a
moment of nail-biting
suspense. Photos by
Peter Rozovsky for
Detectives Beyond
Here are more photos from Sunday's Noir at the Bar in New York along with the other story I read there. I've included a face from earlier in the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that would not have been out of place at the reading. (See if you can spot the interloper.)  See my other story and the first batch of photos on the previous post here at Detectives Beyond Borders.)

The Longue Goodbye

Nick Kolakowski, Suzanne Solomon.
I pushed open the door to the pool deck and inhaled chlorine and death. Fen slumped in the chase lounge. He looked smaller and sicker than he had when I'd seen him three days before.

Hellenistic dramatic mask
Spit and blood caked around his broken mouth, and for a moment I thought he was dead. "Got anything to tell me, Fen?" I knelt by the chair.

Jeff Markowitz
His lips cracked when he tried to talk, and I knew Fen was more than halfway to where he was going. I leaned closer.

"It's chaise longue, not chase lounge, you illiterate fuck," he said. "It means long chair."

Jen Conley
He died happy.

— Peter Rozovsky

Albert Tucher, Jen Conley, Suzanne Solomon, Terrence McCauley
© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Friday, February 03, 2017

My first seven audio crime books

Audiobooks are a cool medium: They don't compel engagement the way a real printed book does; one drifts in and out or does other things, the reading fading into background music. So here's a fragmented discussion of my first batch of audiobooks, appropriate to their fragmented medium:

1) Gun Street Girl and Rain Dogs, by Adrian McKinty. The author is a friend. He's also one of the very best of all crime writers, far beyond silly discussions about whether crime fiction can be serious literature. His probing, funny, beautifully written novels are unafraid to use traditional crime fiction forms, including the locked-room mystery. Whichever crime writer you're reading, McKinty is better.

2) Grinder and Darwin's Nightmare, by Mike Knowles. Some of the most exciting and intelligent action stories you're likely to read, exciting because they're intelligent and intelligent because they're exciting.  Readers who like Richard Stark's Parkerd novels or "Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai" might like these.

3) One or the Other and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, by John McFetridge. No one better and more seamlessly combines character, story, and history, in this case that of Montreal and Toronto in the 1970s and '80s.

4) Montalbano's First Case, by Andrea Camilleri. Among the delights of this short-story collection is one harrowing meta-fiction that at once demonstrates Camilleri's ability to write hyper-violence and shows why he chose not to do so.

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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