Monday, February 21, 2011

Pulp Fiction

By Craig McDonald

One True Sentence is my fourth novel featuring 20th Century crime novelist/ screenwriter Hector Lassiter.

The question I’m often confronted with is, “Why write about a writer?”

A number of factors drove my decision to use a mystery or crime author to center a series of crime novels. Partly, I wagered that I could pump up the language and dialogue a couple of extra notches if my central guy was a man who makes his living with words.

There was also the fact that in the typical crime series, when your protagonist is a cop or a private eye, you expect that fella to pretty much tell a story in straight-up fashion.

But when a storyteller is telling you the story? Then all bets are off. A writer will trump fact for effect, nearly every time. He’ll possibly bend events in tricky ways to tell a richer story. In short, it seemed to me that a particularly gifted storyteller would, perhaps paradoxically, be the most untrustworthy of narrators.

Couple that possibility with the reputation that Hector Lassiter has earned in his universe for using his life as fodder for his fiction (Hector is known as “The man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives”), and there’s some built-in latitude to let the story go a good bit deeper than the average mystery. As the years pile up across the books, at some point, Hector ceases to hide behind fictive personas, and in fact uses himself as his own character.

I wish I could claim that notion was original to me. Back in the early 1990s, I took a stab at writing a series using a then-contemporary reporter turned crime novelist (if the books eventually see print, enough years have now passed that they’ll read like historicals). That as-yet unpublished series was a kind of forerunner for the Hector Lassiter novels, I see now.

But sometime after writing several of those manuscripts about that other guy, I began to steep myself in the sublime works of novelist James Sallis.

James Sallis
I was enthralled by Sallis’ Lew Griffin series and immersed myself in the books. I loved the notion that Griffin, among other trades and professions, was also a crime novelist. As Sallis’ series unfolds, things begin to blur and even the titles of Sallis’ novels, and those of Lew Griffin’s, converge.

Because of James Sallis’ Griffin series, I became enthralled with the notion of taking my original concept of crime novelist as hero and pushing it backward in time. Hector Lassiter became for me, a writer who would begin as an aspiring literary author, then move through all those “–isms” that shaped 20th century literature, eventually resulting in postmodernism and meta fiction.

Through Hector’s journey as a writer, it is my plan to explore 20th Century pop culture as a driver of history.

In a dizzying development, I’ll be appearing at Poisoned Pen with James Sallis this Tuesday evening — a surreal and humbling experience for me and one I’m grateful to Mr. Sallis and Poisoned Pen for making possible. I hope you’ll join us.

Other Craig McDonald titles available from The Poisoned Pen
Hector Lassiter
1. Head Games (2007)
2. Toros & Torsos (2008)
4. One True Sentence Signed (2011)

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