Raymond Chandler is the author I’m obsessing most over these days, and here’s just a few of the reasons why:
1 – His prose
Here are examples just from the start of The Little Sister, which I am now reading.
The pebbled glass door panel is lettered in flaked black paint: ‘Philip Marlowe… Investigations’. It is a reasonably shabby door at the end of reasonably shabby corridor in the sort of building that was new about the year the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilization.
On the smooth brown hair was a hat that had been taken from its mother too young.
2 – His age when he started out
Chandler was over forty years old when he started writing, and his first book, The Big Sleep, came out when he was fifty-one. It’s a good book but he followed that up with a series of books that are now considered masterpieces of literature, not just of the detective fiction genre.
The Long Goodbye, one of his best, was published when he was sixty-seven.
Think you’re too late for the writing-game? Read Chandler and think again.
3 – His personality
These are taken from the Wikipedia article on Chandler.
An encounter with the slightly older Richard Barham Middleton is said to have influenced him into postponing his career as writer. “I met… also a young, bearded, and sad-eyed man called Richard Middleton. … Shortly afterwards he committed suicide in Antwerp, a suicide of despair, I should say. The incident made a great impression on me, because Middleton struck me as having far more talent than I was ever likely to possess; and if he couldn’t make a go of it, it wasn’t very likely that I could.“
I spent five months over an 18,000 word novelette and sold it for $180. After that I never looked back, although I had a good many uneasy periods looking forward.
My personal favorite Chandler trivia:
Chandler’s only produced original screenplay was The Blue Dahlia (1946). According to producer John Houseman, Chandler agreed to complete the script only if drunk, which Houseman agreed to. The script gained Chandler’s second Academy Award nomination for screenplay.
Maybe I should write drunk more often.
On working with Alfred Hitchcock:
Chandler collaborated on the screenplay of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951), an ironic murder story based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, which he thought implausible. Chandler clashed with Hitchcock to such an extent that they stopped talking, especially after Hitchcock heard Chandler had referred to him as “that fat bastard”.
On the formula of mystery genre (especially for Black Mask, a pulp magazine):
As I look back on my stories it would be absurd if I did not wish they had been better. But if they had been much better they would not have been published.
My recommendation? Pour yourself a gimlet and read The Long Goodbye. That’s what I’m doing.