Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Raymond Chandler Trap

The other day was Raymond Chandler's birthday.  He would have been a very impressive 123 years old.  More importantly, if the old man was still alive, he would have been one genuine pain in the ass.

(No, Eunice!  I didn't say you were an ass!  But now that you mention it, dear, you're certainly a pain!)

Who is Raymond Chandler, you ask.  Quasimodo!!  You've never heard of Raymond Chandler!?  And you call yourself a writer of noir and hardboiled detectives!

For the rest of us poor bastards Chandler is the GOD of the whodunits.  His writing simply was/is a marvel to wade through.  It's like a dying man in the Sahara suddenly finding himself sitting in a deep pool of cool water in the middle of a gorgeous oasis.  The way he could use one-liners to describe a person just explodes off the page.  Here's an example:

"On the dance floor half a dozen couples were throwing themselves around with the reckless abandon of a night watchman with arthritis "---Playback (Chapter 8)

And dialogue.  The man was a genius with dialogue.  Example:

"Eddie Mars wanted to see me."

"I didn't know you knew him. Why?"

"I don't mind telling you. He thought I was looking for somebody he thought had run away with his wife."

"Were you?"


"Then what did you come for?"

"To find out why he thought I was looking for somebody he thought had run away with his wife."

"Did you find out?"


---The Big Sleep (Chapter 23)

Lots of 'experts' will tell you Chandler elevated the hardboiled/noir genre into the dizzying heights of 'literature.'  Literature with a capital L, sister.  Novels so well written, so perfectly cast with characters, no one can write'em any better.  CAN'T be written any better.

And that, brothers and sisters, is The Raymond Chandler Trap.

Many a writer has thrown away a damn good working novel and bent over his Acer computer and wept like a fourteen year old after she broke up with her first love of her life.  Wept in a deep funk of sheer agony knowing that no matter how hard he tried (or she tried, Bubba.  I guess women write novels to.  Go figure.)  There was no way he was ever going to write something better than Chandler.  Never.

I'll admit, the opening passage of Chandler's Fairwell, My Lovely is as about as close to perfection as is humanly possible.  I mean it's just a joy to experience.  You you haven't tried it, you don't know what your missing.

But snap out of it!  Throw some cold water on your face.  Drop a ball peen hammer on your big toe and make the pain wring you out of your deep funk.  Come on!  I mean, really;  Who Gives A Shit Today about Raymond Chandler's Writing???  I'll tell you who.  Only writers who want to write better than the master.  And THAT'S your first mistake!

Instead of writing a damn fine story for the reader--you're writing a damn fine story and comparing yourself to Chandler.  There's always this constant measuring stick in your head measuring how one of your well-turned passages matches up with Chandler's best passages.  It becomes a bragging contest of who's the best writer.  And you're gonna lose, budda.  You're always going to lose on that bet.

So forget Chandler.  Forget all the great writers of the past.  They're dead--you're not.  Your readers are waiting for YOUR words--not Chandler's.  More than half of'em don't know who the hell Raymond Chandler is.  Nor care.

If you're a writer you have to write YOUR story.  There's this built-in genetic hunger to tell stories.  To write. Why clutter your limited thinking space with worries about how your writing is going to stack up to some dead guy's writing?  WRITE YOUR FRAKEN STORY!  Let some fat ass with a bunch of letters behind his last name sitting in a leather covered chair and drinking a glass of fizzy Alka Seltzers in his library worry about how your writing stacks up to a dead guy's writing.  That's his job. 

Your job is to write.


  1. BR, have you heard this interview of Raymond Chandler by Ian Fleming?

  2. Yes John, I have. Wonderful to hear these two chewing the fat.