Monday, February 21, 2011
"HOW I CAME TO WRITE THE BOOK"; Craig McDonald
Craig McDonald is the author of HEAD GAMES, TORO AND TORSOES, PRINT THE LEGEND, and ROGUE MALES.
"How I Came To Write This Book": ONE TRUE SENTENCE, By Craig McDonald
My new novel, ONE TRUE SENTENCE, is the fourth in a series centered on a crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter named Hector Lassiter.
Hector first appeared in long form in my debut novel HEAD GAMES (2007). Despite what might appear on surface to be a pretty definitive end in HEAD GAMES, I decided to revisit Hector for a novel called TOROS & TORSOS.
At the time that T&T was freshly completed, HEAD GAMES wasn’t yet published…wasn’t even sold — dwelling in a kind of limbo, stubbornly unread by its eventual publisher Ben LeRoy.
Despite that fact, when the manuscript for Lassiter #2 was completed, my then-agent and I agreed T&T, written in a pulp-frenzy style of less than three months, represented a kind of artistic corner-turning and leap forward: it demanded a follow up novel with Hector that would build on the mood and dark literary undertow established in T&T.
Looking for ideas, I took a week and dusted off a manuscript about the suicide of Ernest Hemingway I was then calling PAPA’S LAST WIFE. With my agent’s blessing and encouragement, I quickly rewrote what was then a novel about a young writer named Hannah Paulson to insert Hector Lassiter into the book (a novel subsequently published in 2010 under the title PRINT THE LEGEND). To my mind, PTL was a novel I’d publish toward the end of any Hector Lassiter series, if we ever got that far. For me, PTL didn’t seem quite the proper follow up to T&T.
With New Year’s Day looming, I continued to cast around for what I could regard as the one true follow up to TOROS & TORSOS. I spent those closing days of the year revisiting favorite books and biographies; listening to music and surfing the net for odd scraps of history nobody had yet plundered for plot lines. Call it prospecting for inspiration: I needed a muse for this new, still unthought-of novel.
On TV, in the background, Country Music Television was playing. Typically that channel just pours out videos by the usual suspects who’ve made contemporary country music feel a lot like a wasteland. But that hour’s program was something different — a fleeting leap into cutting edge music in which up-and-coming or avant-garde folksingers and country musicians, quirky singer-songwriters, were showcased.
This particular music video bounced for me: The song was entitled “Passenger 24.” It opens with a driving piano…quickly brings in some drum work. Then its story unfolds: A rider on a bus with a bag stuffed with cocaine who’s “Left a girl in Amarillo, about as sweet as rum.”
The singer/songwriter was a woman named Melissa McClelland. As her song unreeled against images of Old Route 66 — a tune rife with noir undercurrents — I swung by Melissa’s website. Seemed she’d trucked with Sarah McLachlan for several years. The tune that so engaged me was from Melissa’s new album called, “Thumbelina’s One Night Stand.”
I grabbed that album; took the plunge.
HEAD GAMES grew out of obsessive listening to select Tom Russell songs and albums — an influence so key to that novel’s creation I ended up dedicating HG to Russell for “providing its soundtrack.”
“Thumbelina’s One Night Stand” fulfilled the same function for me. What I regarded as Hector Lassiter number 3, a book I was then calling CITY OF LIGHTS, grew directly out of the inspiration of Melissa’s album — a cycle of songs about unrequited love, self-destructive passion and, ahem…suicide.
Song’s like “Solitary Life,” sung from the perspective of a woman in her coffin (“brooding just beneath the varnished pine/wicked smell of death and turpentine”) and “You Know I Love You Baby” (“You look like me/I look like hell”) suggested characters and motivations that wove their way into the plot of a book I saw as a study of 1920s Paris and artistic nihilism… a novel in which we would observe Hector Lassiter move from aspiring literary writer to crime novelist; a novel in which Hector would engage the most compelling and influential woman in his life.
Some writers are inspired by other writer’s books.
Some find their muse in movies.
For me, music has always been the touchstone for my own creation.
Novelists have certainly influenced me, even inspired me, but forced to point to those who truly shaped my own writer’s voice, I’d point in directions other than the usual crime and mystery fiction suspects.
I learned more about the craft and strategy of putting words together from Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury and Jimmy Webb than Hammett and Chandler.
Hemingway certainly left his mark on me as a writer, but to an arguably greater degree, so did Kristofferson.
ONE TRUE SENTENCE may read like A MOVEABLE FEAST recast as a crime novel, and in a way, that’s true so far as it goes. But OTS wouldn’t exist without the inspiration of a certain Chicago-born singer songwriter sometimes likened to a “female Tom Waits.”