Vaughn C. Hardacker here: It’s been a long winter up here in The County (it’s a quarter past April and we’re still looking at two feet of snow on the ground). The winter of 2017/2018 seems to want to hang on forever and I’m starting to think I live in the north of Westeros and the winters last several years long.
Last fall I finished my novel, The Exchange, and then went into my usual funk where I begin to believe that I’ll never again write a novel. When a sports team struggles the coach will return to the basics of the game to get his/her team back to where they should be. This winter I decided that I’d go back to basics and what better way than to spend some time with the masters, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett? I’m tempted to add Mickey Spillane into this category because he raised the hard-boiled detective to a new height. However, Philip Marlowe and the Continental Op were solving cases while Mike Hammer was in grade school. Hammer was born in 1947 with the publication of I, The Jury whereas Chandler and Hammett had already been publishing in the pulp magazines for twenty years.
Let’s take a moment to look at the commonality of their plots. Basically, good looking young woman visits detective’s office, everybody smokes and drinks whiskey, eventually the detective will get beaten up. However, being the hero he is, he overcomes, ultimately solves the crime and wins the girl (although he and she never have a long-term relationship). These two writers so dominated the short stories and novels of their time that it caused the detective novel to develop its own paradigm set: located in L. A., detective was single, hard drinker, and capable of lethal action. Surprisingly, the plots themselves still work, although I have to smile when I read (as in Chandler’s short story, The King In Yellow) about the average room rate in hotels being $8.00 and the expensive suites going for $28.00 per night, bellhops and doormen grateful when they are given a twenty-five cent tip (not to mention the handgun bought for $5.00 in Pearls Are A Nuisance).
This winter I have read Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder, The Big Sleep, and Farewell my Lovely as well as Hammett Crime Stories & Other Writings (an anthology of his short stories) and Red Harvest (one of several novels Hammett wrote that came from linked stories he’d published in the pulps). Both of these writers created private investigators who are literary legends Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Hammett’s Continental Op and, of course, Sam Spade.
To get to the point, reading these classics of our genre led me back to my desk and a new novel is born (after a week of writing it’s at 12,000 words!). If nothing else these iconic writers (along with Mickey Spillane, Ross MacDonald, Michael Connelly, John Sandford, etc, etc. inspire me to get back to work. Looking back, I didn’t waste my winter after all–now if the @$^%&ing snow will go away.