Sunday, January 22, 2006


These past weeks, I've been editing down my novel, which means I've been dieting. All hard-boiled, all the time. In the past two weeks alone I've read Grifter's Game by Lawrence Block, 361 by Donald Westlake, and I'm smack in the middle of Hammett's Red Harvest. Meanwhile, Caleb Carr's The Italian Secretary sits unfinished on my coffee table, and I haven't even cracked Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard (take that, Strunk!) Now, a hard-boiled diet is a greasy, nasty way to go, all bourbon and cigarettes and murder, but it does have its upside. I'm writing a thriller (okay, editing, but bear with me). It stands to follow that it should be thrilling, right? Well, as anybody reading this can see, I tend toward wordiness. Not terribly thrilling. What I'd love is the economy of prose of the old pulp classics, minus possibly the references to doxies and fedoras. So that's what I'm reading.

Now, sentences that seemed perfectly acceptable before are about forty words too long. Commas become periods. Adjectives become flotsam. Book, hopefully, becomes thrilling.

The downside is that you read enough of these, and the whole world looks a little off-kilter. Murder and blackmail everywhere. In fact, I got a nasty little short-story out of it this weekend, complete with femme fatales, fall-guys, and double-crosses. But the diet is worth it, I think. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was one of my favorite reads of last year, but man, you should have seen the sentences I wrote while I was reading that.