Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A writer's obligation.

I would like to say that I am a voracious reader. The truth is, I read considerably less than I used to. What, with the television, the internet, the oncoming onslaught of increasing senior moments and attacks of CRS ("can't remember shit"), it's hard to find time to make a "to do" list anymore.

I also write. Again, not as much as I used to... I self-published two crime novels, under the pen name, Steven Mann, back in the '90's. Ah, yes, the good old days. Huh?

The complete works of Steven Mann.

At any rate, I did considerable research for my books. Since there was to be gunplay involved, I wanted to know what it felt like to shoot a pistol. I took a course at the Beverly Hills Gun Club (where else) and I shot semiautomatic 9mm's and revolvers--38.'s and 357. magnums. For the record, I prefer the Ruger SP-101. I wanted the knowledge so that the sentence or two that referenced handguns would ring true. I think that is the least a writer should do. He or she should know what they're talking about. They should never, never condescend to their readers nor ever think details are unimportant. I ran across a book once that had a character taking the safety off a revolver. It was the equivalent of hitting an unexpected STOP sign. Revolvers don't have safeties. A good example of a book where the author has all the hardware right is Chuck Hogan's Devils in Exile (a terrific, taut action thriller). Hogan, author of The Town, which was made into a damned good movie by and starring Ben Affleck, seems to relish the details, but doesn't bog down the story with them.

I once wrote to a writer after throwing down one of his books. I read the first two books by Robert Ferrigno, which I remember enjoying. Then I started reading a later one.

Writer, Robert Ferrigno
In the dark on facts.

He had his mysterious protagonist smoking Marlboros unfiltered cigarettes. There are no such things. I've known cancer-eager smokers who used to tear the filters off of bummed cigarettes so they could get the full-on benefits of sucking carcinogens straight/no-chaser, but that's different. Mr. Ferrigno had it wrong. Then his character got into his BMW 800 series sports sedan. BMW never manufactured such a vehicle. To my knowledge, the 850 was a sleek sports coupe, with pop-up headlights and enough horsepower to gobble up asphalt in seconds.

I didn't get very far in Mr. Ferrigno's book and subsequently gave away the books of his I had. I was never going to re-read them. By the way, I never did get a reply from Mr. Ferrigno.

Carl Hiaasen has been one of my favorite writers over the years. I've enjoyed his skewering of his home state of Florida from Tourist Season on. He shares his comic approach and locales with Dave Barry, who I also admire as a writer. Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs had me laughing out loud on the beach in Marina Del Rey years ago. It is clearly a bit of a stretch for Mr. Barry to write novels, though.

I have read all of Hiaasen's "adult" books (he also writes children's books) and even some of his non-fiction, including the brilliantly scathing Team Rodent as well as some of his collected Miami Herald pieces. His book, Nature Girl, should have tipped me off. The repetitive quality of his plots, characters and predicaments was showing. Okay. I can buy that. Robert B. Parker had a bit of a challenge keeping Spenser fresh. Hiaasen still provided a pleasant diversion. I have never not finished one of his books.

Except Star Island.

From the very first page of the book, paragraph two: "The stranger in Jimmy Campo's ambulance had two 35-mm digital cameras hanging from his fleshy neck, and a bulky gear bag balanced on his ample lap."

What is a 35-mm digital camera?

A camera can be one or the other, but not both. 35-mm describes the film size and digital cameras use no film.

I stopped reading the book. Was I being rash? Probably. Will I revisit it? Unlikely. Like I say, the writer has an obligation not to belittle or be inconsiderate towards his reader. DETAILS COUNT! Now, in his (and Mr. Ferrigno's) defense, Mr. Hiaasen is not writing police procedurals, but he is known for having cultivated a fairly sophisticated level of reader. He owes them better. There is no excuse for being sloppy. And, in my mind, Mr. Hiaasen has added insult to injury, by dedicating the book to Sonny Mehta, the publishing world God of taste and bestsellers. Hiaasen also thanks his editor(s).

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