Reading—What authors particularly inspire you? Do you read them when you are working on a book?
To the second question, I’d say I have and can read some of the following while working on something, but I don’t necessarily do so on purpose. Sometimes that’s just what I happen to be reading at the time.
My favorite book of all time is The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. But I have to admit that I saw the movie first, the original Tyrone Power version, and that’s what inspired me to read the book. I couldn’t relate to everything in it of course, but I related to a lot of it, mostly the main character, Larry Darrell’s search for meaning in an insane world. I relate to the character of Larry on a lot of levels, his disillusionment after the war (WWI), and his search for peace and meaning in life. I found the book inspiring. Still do.
Later on, I saw the Bill Murray film version when it came it out. I didn’t like it nearly as much as the Power version, though it’s grown on me over the years. And it was my understanding that Murray wouldn’t do Ghostbusters II unless he could do his version of The Razor’s Edge, because he also found it so inspiring. Not sure if that’s true though. And, as a sidenote, the day after it was released (I think—hey, it was a long time ago) I saw him on the Warner Brothers lot (though I think then it was called the Burbank Studios, it’s kind of like the song “Istanbul was Constantinople, Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople,”—well, it used to be Warner Brothers then it was The Burbank Studios now it’s Warner Brothers again, so a studio by any other name…). He was leaning on a car in one of the parking lots, reading a review of it—everybody has to check their reviews.
My other favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo. Who doesn’t love a good revenge story and this is the best of all, especially the way the Count hoists the villains on their own petards. It's the ultimate revenge story and revenge is so satisfying, served hot or cold. As such, it almost counts as a mystery or hardboiled story. Almost.
LA Late @ Night, a collection of some of my previously published stories.
Along with film noir, the early hardboiled writers (though there is some crossover) have influenced and inspired my mystery-noir sensibility: Chandler, Cain, Hammett, Dorothy B. Hughes, etc. Along with these writers comes John Fante, although Fante doesn’t fit in either the noir or hardboiled categories. Nonetheless his thinly disguised autobiographical tales of a struggling writer's life in early 20th century L.A. made enough of an impression on me that I wrote to him shortly before he died.
But for me Chandler, with his elegant descriptions, metaphors, characters, depiction of the mean streets and his ville fatale relationship with Los Angeles, will always be on top.
In much of noir and some hardboiled writing (and there is often, though not always a difference between the two) there's no sense of redemption, but much betrayal. No good guys, just bad guys and worse guys. The hero is flawed. People's own flaws and weaknesses create their fallibility and ultimately lead to their downfall. I think this appeals to me in the sense that it's a realistic, though often pessimistic and cynical, view of society. And in my own writing, both in my novels White Heat and Vortex, and many of my short stories, the characters are flawed, the situations ambiguous.
So my inspirations seem to go from the heights of the Himalayas (Razor’s Edge) to the gutter (Down There), which is kind of noir in itself. What about you—what/who are your inspirations as a writer, as a person?
Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea is available at Amazon.com and Down & Out Books.