Historical fiction

Just read an interesting perspective on historical fiction in an article about “Wolf Hall” author, Hilary Mantel in the October 15, 2012, issue of the New Yorker Magazine:
“Historical fiction is a hybrid form, halfway between fiction and nonfiction. It is pioneer country, without fixed laws. To some, if it is fiction, anything is permitted. To others, wanton invention when facts are to be found, or, worse, contradiction of well-known acts, is a horror; a violation of an implicit contract with the reader, and a betrayal of the people written about. Ironically, it is when those stricter standards of truth are applied that historical fiction looks most like lying.” (Larissa MacFarquhar)

Review: NIGHT SQUAD, by David Goodis

NIGHT SQUAD, by David Goodis

NIGHT SQUAD, by David Goodis

A very interesting noir piece by a writer whose troubled soul (and alcoholism) kept him from securing a place in the pantheon of pulp writers who achieved recognition beyond the genre. (His book, Dark Passage,” was made into an unusual Bogart/Bacall film in 1947.)

A down-and-out, disgraced ex-cop surviving in his netherworld community of darkness, rain, water, and despair is contracted by the local criminal boss for a mysterious task that the ex-cop must slowly deduce. Then he’s “recruited” by the boss of the police department’s special unit, “Night Squad.” And this boss has very special and personal reasons for wanting the criminal boss eliminated.

They’re all here — broads, bimbos, and courtesans; cons, crooks, and grifters, all uniquely drawn and brought to life. It’s all here — booze, “tea,” gun battles, brawls, lust, and hot pursuits. In the end, Goodis’s talent, like Chandler’s or Hammett’s or Cain’s (to name a few), was not giving us  happy endings for any of these characters. Even the police boss’s revenge is tinged with vinegar.  In this world, darkness prevails.

Keeping track of research…

JP_CoverPage_313x231I once had a writing partner who was a maniacal note-taker, but his organization skills left a great deal to be desired. One day, I couldn’t help but notice pages and pages and yellow pad after yellow pad strewn around the floor of his living room. When I asked him how he kept track of what he had written, he tapped his head and said, “It’s all up here.” I pointed at the floor and said, “Maybe, but it looks to me like it’s all over there.”

Starting work on my Las Vegas crime novel, “Joey’s Place,” and its planned prequels, I knew that tracking and utilizing the research necessary would be a challenge. I started looking for research software. One I found was Personal Brain.

Having three hundred years of known facts about southern Nevada and the southwest as well as the biographies and character sketches of many individuals (great and not-so-great) readily available and easy to access was a necessity. Then there was the geological and pre-historic information that I would need to give my stories veracity. And I wanted to be able to link or relate elements of my research quickly, easily, and flexibly.

Thirty or more years ago, I would probably have had index boxes filled with cards, like a library’s card catalog system. Thankfully, computer software eliminated that. But hierarchical outlines and index card software (and I tried and used quite a few) usually forced me to tediously apply either hyperlinks or connecting “arrows” that didn’t give me the whole picture pertaining to an event, person, or locale with a single click or “mouse-over.”

Keeping track of my own notes and research had always been a challenge (but never to the extent of my writing partner’s non-system). Then I discovered “Personal Brain” software. After testing its demo version, I realized that this was software that could keep my work organized and still allow me the flexibility I needed for basic brainstorming.


For example, in the image at right, you can see the connections I created from and to the Flamingo Hotel/Casino. In the text box are the various facts I gathered about the resort — its origins, dates, events, etc. — from a variety of sources, online and in books or magazines. This thought is a “child” of a parent thought called “Hotels/Casinos” and, on the right of the Personal Brain screen, you can see all the other thoughts linked to this parent. On the left of the screen are “jump” thoughts to individuals (in this case) who had some type of connection to the Flamingo. Note how these individuals can also be linked via “jumps” to the other establishments (on right of screen) with which they were associated. You can also see how the establishments themselves can be associated with “jump” links. It’s just as easy to remove the links if you want or need to. Expanding and decreasing the size of the text displayed in the thoughts area, or “Plex,” is as simple as click ‘n’ drag.

Across the top of the screen are “thoughts” (mostly parent thoughts), that I have “pinned” for quick and easy access. Across the bottom is a history of the thoughts that I have most recently accessed. New thoughts arise from old thoughts, old thoughts and links are revised and altered as new ideas occur. Just as important, research information is readily available for review with full text formatting to indicate what has been used, what might be used, or what is still needed.

If you are looking for a powerful research and brainstorming tool, you might want to consider Personal Brain.

(I have no personal or professional connection to the vendor of this software.)

“Playback,” by Raymond Chandler

With “Playback” we can see the creativity that produced the iconic Marlowe ebbing just a year before Chandler’s death. The twists and turns are there and some might say this is a more introspective Marlowe but the sputtering ending with his apparent acceptance of a renewed love with Linda Loring of “The Long Goodbye” doesn’t quite live up to Chandler’s other works. Still, definitely worth a read.