Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Long Con Week 17 - The Crime Writer

I'm a big fan of books on writing, the "how to" that promises to show you all the nuts and bolts needed to construct a novel like its a cheap bookshelf from Target.  I take them for what they are, realizing that there is no magic formula for writing, let alone writing a "blockbuster novel" that so many of them promise for your hard earned $14.95.  But it's always interesting to read advice on how to craft stories, from both professionals and academics, and the only way to separate the genius from the cash in is to actually read the damn things.  Luckily, good or bad, they usually entertain me.
The manuals are usually the ones that suck, and suck badly.  Those are often the books that promise you a great book in 30 days, or 15 steps, etc.  They deal primarily in formula, but what they usually lack in imagination, they often offer a solid baseline.  Get writing.  Whether or not I choose to follow your particular set of rules, at least you are encouraging me to actually get off my ass and write.

The good book will give you the basics of theme, character, and story construction.  The building blocks for writing the novel will be there in black in white, not quite a formula, but at least a road map.  They'll go a little more in depth into the craft than the simple "how to" book.  Books such as Story by Robert McKee are an example of these.

A great book, however, will give you that feeling that you've been told a great secret.  Often, these books are from writers telling you up front they might be full of shit.  There are tricks that have worked for them, and while they might not conjure magic for everyone, they are worth a shot.  Most of their word count might not even be on rules and regulations, but anecdotes and stories, which instead of offering guidance, might be more concerned with inspiration.  It's no coincidence that these gems are writen by writers at the top of their field.   Look no further than Stephen King's On Writing, or Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit for examples of excellence in entertainment, as well as education.

So what does Gregg Hurwitz's novel, The Crime Writer have to do with today's topic.  It's a piece of fiction, not likely to be shelved with the MLA manuals at Borders.  It probably won't even pop up as a suggestion as you search for Writers Digest guides on Amazon.    What it did do was teach me a hell of a lot more about writing than I ever expected.

Drew Danner, a celebrated crime writer, has recently committed murder.  His ex-girlfriend, brutally stabbed, was found underneath his seizure ridden body.  It should have been an easy open and shut case.  He was found on the dead body, murder weapon with his prints all over it.  Only problem for the DA, Mr. Danner had a brain tumor, which not only effected his memory of the incident, but his behavior leading up to it.  Drew is found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity.

But Drew doesn't think he actually did it, no matter what the evidence, or the Los Angeles media, have to say about it.

Since he is not an investigator, Drew goes about solving the case the only way he knows how, by writing it.  He brings his technical advisors into the case, willingly or not, and slowly pieces together what may have happened the night of the murder.

Hurwitz pulls out all the tricks in this captivating novel, including addition of the manuscript that Danner is writing, notes and all.  It's a sneak peak into the mind of a writer, and the inner editor that exits in our heads.  He follows through on leads, no matter how off-beat or far-fetched, because he knows that anything can be explained, and more importantly, that anyone is capable of anything.  It's a fantastic read, and a fascinating  look into the writing process, fictional or not.

"I believe in narrative.  But I don't believe there's a reason for everything and that matters work themselves out for the better."

Find out more about Gregg Hurwitz at his website,

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