Tag Archives: Los Angeles

Westward Ho!

In just a little over a week, I’ll be getting on a plane and flying to LA to be at my daughter’s wedding, and I have mixed feelings about it.

First of all, there’s the simple fact that, in my mind, she shouldn’t be old enough to get married. She’s 29, and I should be younger than that. Like a popular meme says, people my age are so much older than I am. When I was 25, I thought it would be eons before I crossed that half-century mark, and as I write this, I’m two years past that and close to being three years over the line.

Then there’s flying. Could the airlines and the government come up with a more tortuous process just to save time? I mean, if we really want the terrorists to give us information, we should just put them through what we so-called free citizens have to go through just to get on an airplane. And never mind the cramped indignity of actually flying.

Then there’s Southern California. I know there are people who like it, love it even. And to be fair, where I’ll be staying is pretty awesome, just a few blocks from the beach and the Santa Monica Pier, plus the wedding itself is in Simi Valley, so I’ll get to see a part of the state I’ve yet to see.

But… it’s LA. I mean, it’s Los Angeles, man. It has its good points, such as the climate (especially close to the ocean like I’ll be), and the palm trees and such, but I have no interest in seeing any celebrities, and there’s the litter and… to use one of my wife’s words, it’s too peopley.

On the plus side? There’s my daughter. I don’t get to see her nearly enough, and since it’s her wedding week, I won’t get to see much of her while I’m out there, but anything is better than nothing. We talk (i.e., text) on a regular basis, but that’s not the same as spending time with her. She’s really cool, as much my friend as my kid, and I have to say any time spent with her more than makes up for whatever inconveniences I have to put up with to get out there to her.

Besides, as a writer, I’m sure I’ll see something that’ll work its way into one of my books. Even with what little time I’ve spent out there, I can see why so many writers like to set their books in LA. It’s such a varied city, with so many wonderful locations to set the action that I couldn’t resist indulging a bit myself, with some action taking place in Santa Monica in two of my Rural Empires novels.

On a more personal note, as a dad who dearly loves his daughter, I’m so glad to see her getting married to a guy who already treats her like a queen. She was able to come here to Arkansas for my wedding in July and even played a part. Her fiancé was able to be there as well, which was a very special treat for me. And my daughter and my wife bonded very well while she was visiting, so there’s that as well.

It’s certainly going to be a pleasure and an honor to be at her wedding, and I’m looking forward to it.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll have something really good to tell you about when I get back.

Later,
Gil

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The Burning Room

I’m a big Michael Connelly fan, so when I had a chance to enter a contest to win a free copy of his newest Harry Bosch book, The Burning Room, I jumped at it, neverburning room figuring I’d actually win.

But I did.

About a week ago, I received my ARC of the book, I was in the middle of another book at the time and had to finish it first (an excellent fantasy called Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan, which you need to read if you like fantasy…or maybe even if you don’t). But as good as Promise of Blood was, I became a little impatient to finish it so I could start on The Burning Room.

For me, Christmas tends to come in November these days, because that’s about the time Mr. Connelly and Robert Crais release their new books (both have new ones out this year).

But, to be honest, the last couple of Harry Bosch books haven’t quite been up to par for me. They were still good, but not great, if you get my meaning, so I was a little leery of his latest. To be fair, his Mickey Haller books, on the other hand, have maintained their quality, if not gotten better with each installment, so it balances out.

But with The Burning Room, Mr. Connelly has returned to form and then some. This book was hard to put down, to say the least.

Harry Bosch is getting closer and closer to mandatory retirement, and he’s been teamed up with a young woman named Lucia “Lucy” Soto, a brand new detective. The idea the brass has is to team up veterans to rookies in order for the veterans to impart their experience to the newcomers.

Their case is a unique one to say the least. Though the crime was committed ten years earlier, the victim has only died in the last couple of days, and his body contains the critical piece of evidence: the bullet. It’s been lodged in his spine all these years in such a way that removing it posed a danger to his life. That life hasn’t been good. He’s lost both legs and an arm to complications from being shot.

Just as interesting as the case is the developing relationship between Harry and Lucy. Harry is leery of her at first, but she proves to be as dedicated to doing her job as he is, and by the end of the book he sees her as something of a protégé, and certainly as his partner, possibly the best one he’s had in his career.

All in all, The Burning Room was hard to put down and, as I neared the end, I didn’t want it to be over while I still wanted to see how the case turned out. For me, that’s the sign of a good book, and this is the best Harry Bosch in a couple of years. And the end will definitely leave you wondering what’s next for the detective.

Go out and get it when it’s released November 4. You won’t be disappointed.

Later,
Gil

Accuracy

One of the big changes I noticed in writing crime is that I have to do more research. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t able to finish any projects when I tried writing sf/f: I wasn’t serious enough about it to do the research I should have. When you write speculative fiction you have to do so much world-building that it isn’t even funny. You end up knowing a lot more than you ever tell the readers.

Of course, every writer does this to one extent or another. You’ve always got to know more about the world you’re writing in than will ever end up in the book. It can be a fine balance sometimes, too, between giving just enough info for the reader to understand what’s going on and crossing the line into some weird hybrid of fiction and nonfiction, where the novel becomes the lesson plan.

Let’s face it: if you’re writing about it, chances are you’re interested in it, and everybody is guilty at one point in their life of lecturing on, I don’t know, the mating habits of lemurs, or something equally exotic, that leaves everyone else hiding their yawns. The temptation to do it as a writer can be stronger because you just spent six months (or whatever) doing so much research that the local librarians call you by your first name. And you’ve got all this knowledge that you’ve spent so many man-hours accumulating. Why not regurgitate it on the reader? (I picked that word on purpose.)

I just watched a mini-documentary that told of Louis L’Amour researching a novel he was setting in Utah. He wanted to look at a particular patch of land he’d seen years before from a plane or something like that, so he left LA and chartered a helicopter and, along with his son Beau and some others, they found the place and walked the land he wanted to use.

That’s dedication. And I have places I’d like to research that way. For instance, my novel Spree is set largely along the I-10 corridor from Los Angeles to roughly Mobile, Alabama. The protagonist and his partner-in-crime originally intended to follow it all the way to Jacksonville, Florida, but things didn’t quite go as planned (when do they ever?). I’ve only ever been on a comparatively short stretch of I-10, from somewhere in western Louisiana to Houston, and that was way back in the 80s (1984, I think). I’m not an expert on the highway.

So, I made things up about the terrain. I can’t go to Google Earth (God, what a luxury that is for a writer who hasn’t sold anything yet, or not enough to charter helicopters as Mr. L’Amour did) because I don’t have Internet at home and you can’t use it on the library computers. I do know somebody in Phoenix who’s gonna get me pictures of downtown, and maybe some east of Tucson if he gets out that way, but I can’t ask him to make special trips (thankfully, he drives a truck, so he might make it to those locations). I could use Google Maps and get some of what I want, I’m sure. I’ve played around with it before and, while it’s not the 3-D Google Earth, it can be handy.

When I brought this up in an after-meeting discussion at writers group, Dusty Richards said something to the effect of, “Why worry about it? How many people know what it looks like?”

Well, that’s true. A good point. But…I guess I’m just anal enough to want some accuracy in my descriptions, especially since I actually want them to be a little distorted through the lens of my character.

Likewise, I’d like to get most of my law enforcement details right, as far as how various cops act and the procedures they use. I don’t have to be as meticulous about it as, say, Joseph Wambaugh, because I’m not writing police procedurals like he is. Of course, he has the advantage of being a former police officer, with connections inside the department. I don’t have either one (yet).

But see, what Mr. Wambaugh does is the equivalent, in the sf world, of hard science fiction. That’s the stuff that tends to be written by people like Isaac Asimov, Robert Forward and Larry Niven. These guys are working scientists, or were at one time, and they’re very familiar with the concepts they’re putting forward. Mr. Forward was, if I remember correctly, an astrophysicist. Mr. Asimov, while I don’t think he had much in the way of formal training, held several honorary degrees simply because he taught himself all of it. And I can’t remember exactly what Mr. Niven did, but he was in astronomy or something like that himself.

I can’t compete with that and, quite honestly, don’t want to. I think that’s one of the reasons I always like the space opera: it’s heavy on the fiction and much lighter on the science. The tech is there as a backdrop. I mean, look at shows like Star Trek and Star Wars. Trek was a little heavier on the science, if only to make Mr. Spock sound like he knew what he was talking about. But Star Wars? Not so much. We’re talking about the franchise in which Han Solo bragged about making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. Parsecs are units of measure, not units of speed (they’re approximately 3 light years, the space-going equivalent of a league).

(As an aside, author AC Crispin explains this in the Han Solo trilogy by saying that this is actually a dispute between Han and Chewbacca. It seems the Kessel Run, um, ran close to a cluster of black holes, and Han took the Millennium Falcon extremely close to the event horizon in a successful effort to evade Imperial ships. He claims that actually shortened the run to 12 parsecs thanks to the bending of space, while Chewie disagrees.)

Now, my novel Spree is something like a space opera in that I don’t want to get too technical on law enforcement techniques. Heck, if I do, it’s likely the book won’t work. Surveillance techniques—especially as regards the kind of technology LE can bring to bear these days—would put an end to the trip probably before they got out of LA. I think I do a good explanation of how they manage to evade the cops across the entire nation, but I doubt it would stand up to any kind of detailed scrutiny.

So what? It’s a fun story, for the most part, and that’s all it’s intended to be.

But what about my Rural Empires stories? They involve undercover work and, with the first two or three especially, Lyle working closely with the cops. How accurate do I need to be? To be honest, I’m not sure.

Authors regularly tweak details for the sake of story. I know there are cops, for instance, who won’t watch cop shows because they’re not accurate. Well, what if they were? I mean, how interesting is most police work? As a storyteller, you have to gloss over all the boring meetings, roll calls, stakeouts, traffic stops, paperwork, and all the other mundane details and emphasize the thirty seconds of sheer terror (to borrow a phrase from the military) that comes in a shoot-out with the bad guys (or good guys, depending on the cop).

What do you think? Do we owe it to the readers to get the facts as accurate as possible? Or can we tweak (or even ignore) them for the sake of story? For that matter, do we have to cling religiously to either scenario? I mean, my daughter has written a novel about teenagers robbing banks, and doing it quite successfully, using their natural inclination to role-play and get into costumes. At first glance, it seems awfully far-fetched. But is it? Or is it just something that hasn’t been done yet? I tend to think the latter.

What are your thoughts?

Later,

Gil

Random Stuff

I don’t know how this post will work out. Some weeks, it’s like I’m investing so much in my creative writing that I’m tapped out when it comes to a blog subject. So, I’ll resort to talking about random stuff—hence the title.

I couldn’t finish Perdido Street Station, the China Miéville fantasy I mentioned in my last post. If you’ll go back and read the sample paragraph I put in that post, you’ll get an idea why. I really did try, but it was something like trying to go up a tall hill. You can see the end, but the farther you go, the more tired you get until, finally, you just give out before you reach the top. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t take it no more, and that’s how it was with this book.

It’s 710 pages in trade paperback, and I have no idea what the word count is. Well over 200,000, probably close to 250,000, at a guess. Possibly even more. Now, I have nothing against high word counts. After a first edit, Pipeline still clocks in at over 207,000 words—at least 17,000 words short of the amount I wanted to cut. I had hoped to get it down in the neighborhood of 190,000, preferably 180,000. And I’m considering some major surgery to get it down even farther than that. Maybe.

But we’re not talking about my novel here. I’m just trying to let you see that I have no objection to long novels. In fact, I like it when I can get involved for hours on end on a novel. I think that’s why I have a problem with short stories, because my main objection to them is that they end just when I’m getting immersed in their worlds.

Like I said in my last post, Miéville is British, which probably explains his wordiness. The sequel to Perdido Street Station, entitled The Scar, is just as big. He’s an inventive author, if this book is any indication. He combines steampunk, magic, a Dickensian setting in the city New Crobuzon, and peoples it with interesting races and characters. My personal opinion is that it’s based on London (no big surprise there), and he simply took the existing “races” there—the Indians, Pakistanis, etc—and turned them into literal races. He just gave them enough of a twist that you can’t exactly point and say, “This race in the book is the same as this one in the real world.” But that’s just a guess on my part.

The story is interesting, too, one of those that starts out minor and blows up big. I’ve always liked it when a story does that, where what’s happening has far larger implications than you think when you start it.

But every time you encounter a new setting, he has to give us a capsule history of the place. Yes, this is a staple in speculative fiction and fantasy in particular. In some ways, it’s necessary. We’re on a strange world that shares none of its history with ours, and fantasy readers like this kind of thing, thanks, I’m sure, to Tolkien’s exhaustive history of Middle-earth, the prototype of modern fantasy. Whether you like The Lord of the Rings or not, if you read fantasy, it’s there because Tolkien did it first.

I’ve lost patience with these mini-histories, though. They’re nice, and they up your word count, which helps you get the other half of what many readers want from fantasy: epic. Tad Williams, author of the wonderful Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, among others, calls it the Bloated Epic. But it’s what a lot of fantasy readers want. They want to immerse themselves in some fantastical land for weeks, months if you can pull it off. Some sf—and I’m thinking mainly of the Night’s Dawn trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton here—does the same thing.

Thanks to all this, though, there I was, closing in on the Big Finale, and I totally lost interest. I simply couldn’t do it anymore. I was on page 544, about halfway down. It was late, my eyes were blurring from reading and my brain was blurring from too many details. Miéville had spent something like a page and a half describing, in what seemed to me minute detail, an enclosed neighborhood called The Glasshouse. I was weary, tired of the weight of all these words. Great for atmosphere, but, in the end, I had to ask, “Why should I care?”

Why should I care about some quirky thing that happened in a given neighborhood? How does it move the story forward? (See my last post. Maybe there’s a theme developing here heh heh.) It’s neat that you can come up with these little details, but is it going to have some effect on the characters? If not, why is it there?

I used to complain about this kind of thing. I used to bitch because the things I’d grown up reading and loving were falling by the wayside. But in the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about what I need to do as a writer if I want to get published, and the standards have changed drastically in those years.

In all fairness, Perdido Street Station is copyright 2000. Things have changed a lot since then. As a rule, readers want you to get on with the story, not tell us little tidbits of how some old man tripped over a bottle and now the place is called Bottle Trip (I came up with that off the top of my head. I know it’s not very good).

Now, if two characters are talking about this, and it tells me something about one or both of them, that’s all to the good. Or, if this minor bit of history has an effect later in the story, and I can look back and say, “Oh, wow. Didn’t see that one coming,” then it’s fine.

So I put it down and picked up Flood by Andrew Vachss. A crime novel, and the first in a series, it’s another critter entirely.

Mr. Vachss wrote Flood in an effort to reach the general public with the message of child abuse. He wrote the book back in the ’80s, when child abuse, and sexual abuse in particular, wasn’t really on the radar like it is now. He had written a nonfiction book about it, but it had no effect outside the profession. Mr. Vachss was a federal investigator of sexually transmitted diseases and also directed a maximum security facility for youthful offenders. He is now a lawyer who represents children and youth exclusively. Since  his nonfiction book was pretty much unknown, he rewrote it as a novel, but had trouble getting it published. No one believed that such things could happen.

In all fairness, I’ve only just started the book, but it’s moved a lot more in 60 pages than Perdido Street Station did in 200, and that says a lot. Especially when you consider it was written long before the current standards in writing.

Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by reading crime novels. I had to branch out, find something else. I was getting tired of all the damn vampire novels out there. I tried switching to straight science fiction, but the market isn’t friendly to new works in the sf genre (unless it’s got vampires in space), so it’s hard to find one. I started out reading Jonathan Kellerman, then discovered L.A. Outlaws by T. Jefferson Parker (run, don’t walk, out and get that book!). I realized I really like the whole LA noir thing, partly because (and I freely admit it) my daughter lives out there and it made me feel a little closer to her to read about the city. But Los Angeles is a big enough city that it can have so many different stories happen in it that I become interested in the LA noir scene for its own merits.

Anyway, the thing is, crime novels move. Even my abnormally long one keeps moving. There’s some influence from Robert Crais, in that I spend a little more time developing Lyle and those around him than some crime stories do, but that’s all to the good. Maybe that will give it appeal to people who don’t read crime. I’ve left plenty of action in it, though, because I wanted it to move.

It’s not that crime readers are any dumber than fantasy readers (or historical, or whatever), it’s just that crime, being a subgenre of mystery, demands that the story keep moving forward with very little looking back. And if you do look back, you better keep it short, and it better have some relevance to the story at hand, whether it be character development or as some form of foreshadowing. In crime, you usually know who the bad guy is, even if the main character doesn’t, and I guess that’s why I like it a little better than I do mystery. In crime, I get to see inside the mind of the criminal, and, as I’ve said before, that fascinates me.

Well, it’s probably pretty obvious by now that I didn’t know what I was going to say when I started this thing. I was going to include some bits that I’ve learned from editing Pipeline, but I see I’ve reached my limit on word count. My posts are longer than recommended because I’m only able to post once a week. I hope you bear with me on these, even the rambling ones like this one.

My fiction writing really is better organized. I promise.

Later,

Gil