Larry Kahaner

Helping at-work writers to become novelists

Archive for the category “writing description”

Pulpster Robert Leslie Bellem: Doing What He Had to Do

By Larry Kahaner 

First, a half-hearted apology. I haven’t blogged in a long time, but I’m not that sorry. I’ve been working on a new novel, a detective yarn in the pulpster style, and as a writer you gotta spend your time where it gives you the most payback. I enjoy blogging and hearing from my fans, but the book took precedence. george-reeves-superman

 

While I’m taking a short hiatus from my novelwriting, however, I’ve been reading the works of Robert Leslie Bellem. For those of you not familiar with him, he was a pulpster, and like his ilk he wrote as much as he could and as fast as he could.

For me, a guy who has been a working writer, author and journalist all of my adult life, I’ve always admired these scribblers. There’s no waiting for their muse, no complaining, no being a whiny baby (Oh, yeah, they often got loaded and complained plenty about low pay and crazy publishers but that’s not complaining. That’s getting your anger up so you can write some more.) and moving where the markets are buying. Like other pulpsters, when the pulp magazine market ebbed, he moved into TV, writing a bunch of episodes of The Lone Ranger, Adventures of Superman, the Perry Mason show, 77 Sunset Strip, Charlie Chan, Dick Tracy and Wanted: Dead or Alive. Check IMDB for an elephant-sized list of writing credits.

 

lonerangBellem wrote in a variety of genres for many pulp magazines, (He also wrote a few novels) but my favorite works of Bellem are the Dan Turner: Hollywood Detective mysteries. They first appeared in Spicy Detective magazine in the 1930s and the rag was called spicy because they required sexy action between consenting adults. What’s so amusing to me is that these risqué sections seem shoe-horned in, and I’m sure it’s because they were a requirement. I know that because a) I’ve been a writer for decades, trust me; I can tell, and b) they’re all essentially the same. You can tell that Bellem pulled them off a stack of index cards to satisfy the Spicy Detective rubric. His short stories are peppered with these scenes at regular intervals with overuse of the words bodice, breasts (which are often heaving), lace and peek-a-boo. Unlike his usual clever use of words and phrases in the rest of a story, these spicy scenes are mundane, overworked and clearly written just to get the manuscript past the editor.

Here’s a typical one:

“I danced my fingers over her shoulders; dislodged the negligee. Her skin was golden, like rich cream. Her breast looked taut and palpitant under a peek-a-boo lace; I began to enjoy my work. After all, I’m not a wooden Indian.” (Cat Act)

Feel free to recombine the words in a different order, and you have another scene that Bellem could insert as needed.

Besides these scenes, Bellem possessed the clever wordage, style and cadence of the pulpster’s meal ticket. They’re funny, some might argue overwritten, and clearly of their time.

“It was the brand of scream that turned your ear-drums grey around the temples: high in a feminine register, penetrating as a buzz saw, harsher than a jolt of prohibition gin. The minute I heard it I started running hellity-slash across the vast, barnlike sound stage building. I smelled trouble. Damned bad trouble. A private snoop gets hunches sometimes.” (Cat Act).

And another:

“She tried to stop me with a slug from her fowling piece. Lanza snapped out of his trance in the nick of time, though, and lashed upward with his right brogan; kicked her full on the gun-wrist. It was damned accurate kicking. You could hear her arm bone snapping. She screamed, and the Bankers’ Special went sailing in a lazy arc; clattered into a far corner.” (Cat Act)

Here’s one of my favorites because it’s funny and not funny at the same time:

“And the fettered blonde lovely looked as panic stricken as a Czechoslovakian statesman in a room full of Hitlers.” (Cat Act)

And here’s one with the classic pulpster words and rhythm:

“So I had to get hold of some geetus to keep Gertie from throwing me in the soup.” (Blue Murder)

Of all the pulpsters I’ve enjoyed and written about (See my blog entry Writing Lessons from a Pulpster) Bellem appears to have been having a lot more fun. He wrote for the lettuce, the moolah, the folding green, no doubt about it, but he appeared to be having a bit of a laugh at –  and with – the reader.

If you doubt me, the humorist S.J. Perelman noticed this, too. In a 1938 piece in The New York titled “Somewhere a Roscoe…” he wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece about how much he loved the fictional dick Dan Turner and the magazine group that published the character. Perelman wrote: “I hope nobody minds my making love in public, but if Culture Publications, Inc., 900 Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware will have me, I’d like to marry them… And I love them because their prose is so soft and warm.” Perelman went on to offer examples of Bellem’s Dan Turner prose. Perelman was having some fun, too, just like Bellem, but you could tell that he truly appreciated the words for what they were: Prose that was hitting on all eight.

 

Larry Kahaner is the author of the thriller USA, Inc. 

 

 

 

So Long Thriller Guy… Yeah, We Knew Ye

By Larry Kahaner

As someone who has been writing a blog about writing for a few years, my posts often feel sweet and light compared to my longtime buddy and blogger Allen Appel alias The Thriller Guy. TG is a master at telling would-be writers how the book biz is really played, how it’s sometimes a game for suckers and to stop bellyaching about the ‘writer’s life.’ A novelist himself, Allen aka TG, not only has an impressive stable of novels but has reviewed over 500 thrillers for a major trade publication. (And wrote a cool memoir, I might add.)

small portrait allen 3

He has the goods and doesn’t mind telling you about it. His advice is tough, rugged as a moonscape, and real as a Taser in the face. Lots of amateur writers don’t like him because he doesn’t coddle, doesn’t equivocate and doesn’t tell them what they usually hear from friends and family about their precious prose. On the other hand, when you need help with a vexing hunk of writing, he’s there to work you through it – as he’s done for me over many a sandwich and red Solo cups of Jameson.

Before this sounds like an elegy instead of a celebration, let me present the last blog from the man who always reminds you to “Sit down; Shut up; Get to work.”

 

So long, Thriller Guy

“It has become obvious that the always shadowy Thriller Guy has not made the transition from scarred urban warrior crouched in his basement lair to the kinder hills and small towns of North Carolina.

I’ve thought about how to bring him to a natural, or unnatural end. Maybe going down in a brisk pre-dawn firefight on some unnamed snow-capped ridge under siege from a legion of turbaned AK-wielding hajjis. He’d like that. Or perhaps something more ironic, more absurd. I’ve always been amused by the scene in the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe when George sits Martha down after a long night of drinking and tells her, in Richard Burton’s solemn, sonorous voice, that their son Jim was killed that afternoon on a country road… “when he swerved to avoid hitting a porcupine and crashed into a tree.” How ignominious. How completely un-Thriller Guy.

At any rate, it’s clear that he’s run out of writing advice to sling around.

 

Read the rest here.

What if the US were run like a corporation and a madman was in charge? Check out my latest thriller “USA, Inc.” now available in eBook and paperback. All my books have a money back guarantee. Watch the trailer.

 

 

 

How Readers are Cheated Out of their Imaginations

How Readers are Cheated Out of their Imaginations

By Larry Kahaner

I read a lot of indie books. Let me rephrase that. I read the first few pages of a lot of indie books. Most are terrible, and it’s often clear from the get-go when they’re not going to get any better.

book imagination

Artist: Igor Morski 

I’ve railed about the lack of excellent indie authors (and also praised some glorious finds) so I won’t do it again here, but I do want to explain one of the most flagrant early giveaways that a book is gonna stink.

It is over-description, and lately I’m seeing a ton of it not only in indie authors but some traditionally-published writers as well.

Why do some authors insist on depicting the minute details of a house, a mountain a person? It’s annoying, exhausting and pegs them as amateurs.

There are a few reasons why they do this, I think. First, they believe that it’s easier to spend time getting down to the atomic level rather than thinking about where the story goes next. And they’re right – in a way. It is easier to keep describing something in detail instead of moving the story forward. This takes guts, creativity and hard work.

Second, they believe that readers want this. Some do, but most readers want movement more than anything. They want the story to progress. They don’t want to read a page describing a twig – I just read an entire opening page describing a small branch. Brutal. – or the weather.

Third, they believe that a long description sets the tone for the book. True, but you get more ambience if the description is short, full of emotion, energy and integral to the story instead of borne from the author’s indulgence.

In his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King explains why he doesn’t overly describe characters.

 

“I’m not particularly keen on writing which exhaustively describes the physical characteristics of the people in the story and what they’re wearing (I find wardrobe inventory particularly irritating; if I want to read descriptions of clothes, I can always get a J. Crew catalogue). I can’t remember many cases where I felt I had to describe what the people in a story of mine looked like – I’d rather let the reader supply the faces, the builds, and the clothing as well. If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can’t you? I don’t need to give you a pimple-by-pimple, skirt-by-skirt rundown. We all remember one or more high school losers, after all; if I describe mine, it freezes out yours, and I lose a little bit of the bond of understanding I want to forge between us. Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”

 

Those who are familiar with my blog know that I’m a fan of noir and detective novels. These past writers and their current day successors know how to cram a ton of description into a few words. Following are some recent favorites of mine. Note how these writers don’t nibble at the edges, but get right to point. Some might say the writing is over the top, too melodramatic, but I say ‘bulls-eye.’

 

James Sallis in Drive describes a pickup truck.

“Jodie’s former ride was a Ford F-150, graceless as a wheelbarrow, dependable as rust and taxes, indestructible as a tank. Brakes that could stop an avalanche cold, engine powerful enough to tow glaciers into place. Bombs fall and wipe out civilization as we know it, two things’ll come up out of the ashes: roaches and F-150s. Thing handled like an ox cart, rattled fillings from teeth and left you permanently saddle sore, but it was a survivor. Got the job done, whatever the job was.”

Nic Pizzolatto is not only an author but a screenwriter. He created the HBO show True Detective. Here, in Galveston: A Novel, he depicts a woman that he meets.

“A woman emerged out the room behind the counter, her flesh so grooved and dehydrated it might have been cured in a smokehouse. It was sun-baked the color of golden oak and draped across jagged bones. Squirrel gray hair. Her eyeglasses had a square of duct tape holding them together at the center, and she pushed them up on her nose.

I recommend Dodgers: A Novel by Bill Beverly whose style is refreshing, unique, and at times deceptively simple.

“The town smelled like corn cooked too long.”

 

In Mike Dime by Barry Fantoni, the 1940’s  noir oozes off the page.

“The center of the room was filled by a four-seated, seal gray velvet sofa that Norma Summers had re-covered in gin stains. She planted herself with some difficulty on the arm of the sofa and tried to get me in focus. The flap of her housecoat fell open as she attempted to cross her legs. It let more thigh through than it should have, but her thighs were never going to bother me, and she was beyond bothering about anything but the next drink.”

 

And the last one. Notice how the description in Beggars of Life by Jim Tully seems common, almost bland, until the last line.

Bill had blond hair, and a sharp face. He had blue eyes, a straight nose, and a square chin. He was a heavy-set youth, and his shoulders were broad and powerful. He had no morals at all, and was as irresponsible as the wind.”

I harp constantly about authors not respecting their readers. One way writers dis them is with over-description. They’re saying: “I don’t trust you to have an imagination so I have to tell you everything.”

That’s not cool.

What if the US were run like a corporation and a madman was in charge? Check out my latest thriller “USA, Inc.” now available in eBook and paperback. All my books have a money-back guarantee.

 

 

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