Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Sudden Urge

It's a hot day in Elmhurst. Hotter than hades. People brown almost instantly as they step out of their cars to enter the safe haven that is the library. I've loved coming to this library for a long time. It's so big and yet so blissfully quiet it makes you want to set up camp. I've finished several stories on my laptop when I was there. When I wasn't writing, I'd wander.

Down the long aisles and muted carpet I would walk to find something new to read or possibly another audiobook to check out. But more and more I found that I had a very limited palate when it came to reading. I was an intense horror fiction reader for many years. Over time I've come to appreciate mysteries, dramas and real life biographies. But that time has come again where my brain closes another door just to say, "We have enough of that. What else ya peddlin'?"

My feet bring me to the audiobook section where many potential rewards await. I skim through the titles, feeling a boy's curiosity as I accept and eliminate choices simply by reading just two or three sentences of the back cover. Yes sir, I'm a special case. I give a book three chances with me. First is the cover inspection, it has to look intriguing, something that would propel me forward. Second, there has to be a solid back cover blurb that would make me crazy enough to open it. Third, I'll give ya just two to three paragraphs to wow me. If the tune is sour, I'll just close it and move on. Guess it wasn't written for me, I think to myself as I slide the book back as if it were infected with something.

Then I stumble upon a book called Lucky at Cards. Now, I've always been a fan of Film Noir, but I never thought that the grittiness of the streets and the heartbreak of finding out the truth would ever translate well on the page. I had always chalked it up as just one of those things. However, I've found myself slowly slipping into a sudden urge...a thirst for more.

The first pulp fiction book I read was a little slim number called The Gutter and The Grave. A great title and exquisitely written. A flawed detective, a deceiving dame, and a deadly game of cat and mouse. It had all the fixings. Yet it was so humble in its approach that by the last page, I couldn't believe it was over that quick.

I did some research and found that the Pulps were coming back in a big way. A company called The Hard Case Crime Series were bringing back the goods and even taking on new authors to the genre. Stephen King even wrote a book called The Colorado Kid, which I intend to have a look at.

Recently, I've read and finished Lucky at Cards which was so enjoyable it hurt me in the gut that it ever had a last page. A card mechanic, after being kicked out of Chicago for his cheating talents, comes across two things that are about as deadly as booze and bullets; a dame and a game. Of course, you can see right through her, but that doesn't mean that the descent of the antihero isn't entertaining.

At the same time I'm sixty pages away from finishing a good one called Murder and The Wanton Bride - a Mike Shayne mystery. Because the book is so well written, I wanted to research the author. Found out that he was born in Chicago, Illinois. Well, what do ya know? I've also found that his book Bodies Are Where You Find Them was the basis for the movie Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

So now I find myself spiraling into a new world, a world that goes back to the great depression, where every man wore a fedora, where coffee was only fifteen cents a cup and I'm loving every bit of it. I've downed a couple Sin City graphic novels, sure. But these novels speak to me on a deeper level. Maybe I'll feel brave enough to tackle Raymond Chandler next.

I guess I've always had a soft spot for the old stuff. Hell, I've got a Pulp Fiction story tucked away, waiting to finish the second chapter and keep going until the sun rises. I've considered finishing it and submitting it to Hardcase Crime. But I have a few other projects lined up first. I would be swinging on a star if they accepted it though. That would be a hoot.

But maybe I'm getting too deep into this, having written this in a slightly sly tone as if I were a detective. In a way, novelists are constant detectives. We're always asking questions, gathering information, looking for the bigger picture and observing people night and day.

It's about that time to end this post. I guess my take would be to give the pulps a shot, if you are starved for reading material. To all those who feel that going back to the pulps is beneath you, I say this; everything is beneath us but that don't mean we all have to be blind. All you have to do is look back and you may get a slice of a very well made literary pie and it was right under your nose the whole time. Take it from me, Jack. The pulps are where it's at.

~Robbie Scarlato

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