Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Long Enough to Satisfy?

I just finished reading The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain. It has been given much praise and hailed over the years as a roman noir classic. Did I think so?

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I really enjoyed it. The characters were well developed and the story zipped right along. Also, while at times brutal, it never lost my interest. Now by the same token, would it sell today?

Obviously it sold me since I bought it. However it is hard to say if it would. But let's look at why.

IS the story too slow for the modern reader?
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Not at all. Compared to the 1946 film, it moves rapidly. There is suspense throughout the book and I was never sure where things were going.

Is the story too dated?
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Well it could be. America has changed a bit since 1934 when it was published. The dialogue is a bit dated and well, I doubt all Californians are making a living selling hot dogs to one another. Still, I don't see why any reader could not get what was happening in the story which is all that matters to hook a reader and keep them hooked.

Really there is only one thing about the book that might give me pause about it selling well if it were released today.


The book is only 116 pages!

Yes, betrayal, scandal and murder all in 116 pages. Now while this sounds good in a way since there are no subplots to wade through to get the story, I think in modern day fiction, this is rare and possibly unacceptable.

All the modern day novels I read have one thing in common- they are at least 250 pages and usually more. There ARE subplots and while they are good reads, you have stay with them for a while to finish. I finished The Postman Always Rings Twice in one day, which brings me to my point.

Most readers want a journey.
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A journey in movie terms is an hour and a half to two hours or maybe more. However, a book priced at ten dollars or more better have enough length to ensure the reader cannot devour the thing standing around the book store. I re-read books all the time, but a lot of people don't and see no point to paying for something so short.

And why should they?

Now don't get me wrong. Some of the best works I have read have been shorter ones. Ambrose Bierce always thought novels were just stories with two many pages between the covers and I feel that he is often correct. Some novels are wonderful but have to throw in subplots that do nothing for the main plot in order to have a sufficient length to call the story a novel. And well, it is a business and if we don't sell books, we don't eat.

My own novel Jack Little, is a little over 80, 000 words.

There aren't many subplots and I think the ones in there are essential to the main plot. There is a lot to Will Hodge's story he is not aware of yet. On his journey, you learn that he does not even know himself that well, but hopefully in the end, he sees more than he did.

So how do you feel? Do you think books would be better without a lot of subplots just to match the length? Or do you want at least 100, 000 words before you even consider handing over your hard-earned money for a good yarn?

Monday, July 7, 2014

What does THAT term Mean?

What does THAT mean?!?

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I have read hundreds of novels but to this day, I always read certain terms of which I am not sure of the definition- no matter how clean or simple the prose. 
For this reason, I am going to discuss a few terms below you might not be familiar with and well, give you a little insight into their meanings for future reference. 
I hope this knowledge enhances your reading pleasure.
Horn-Rimmed Glasses
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Apparently this style of glasses were originally made out of actual horn or tortoise shell. However they have since over the years been constructed of plastic in an attempt to copy those materials. They tend to give the wearer's face a bolder appearance in contrast with metal frames which appear less pronounced.

The style has been popular throughout different periods of the twentieth century, including the early years as well as the 1940s-1960s. They have made a resurgence since the late twentieth century and early part of the twenty-first which may be due in part to the popular TV series Mad Men as well as appealing to hipster subculture.

So the next time you read “horn-rimmed glasses” I guess you can assume the wearer is rather hip perhaps or could be some big corporate executive.

While a fish-eye refers to a particular type of lens that offers a panoramic view for uses in camera lenses, the lens is often used to indicate a peep hole in a door.
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When I first saw the term used in the peephole context, I had a good idea what it meant, but well, I still felt a need to look it up.

So when a character is said to go to the door to look through the fish-eye, it's a modern word for peep hole. 
Go check your fish-eye. 
You might have company.
In modern times, this term refers to a sideboard in a home or office.

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I can't count how many times I have read this term in several crime thrillers when describing some corporate executive or big time attorney's office furniture. It pretty much means a sideboard for their office.
The next time you read about a hot shot with an office on the fortieth floor, a bear skin rug and a credenza, you'll know the author means a sideboard
Now this one can get interesting. From what I have read, the term sometimes refers to a handgun or a gun used to commit a murder.

It can also mean a pot head. I guess the idea is that he has smoked so much he has “burned” himself out.

It can also mean a person engaged in the act of burning property.

However, for the most part I have seen it used to mean one thing- a pre-paid, disposable cell phone.
In the modern world of crime, pay phones just don't cut it anymore. There are few of them and well, they can most likely be tracked when you get down to it. However pre-paid cell phones generally cannot be tracked which is why most criminals use them. You can't always discuss criminal activity the best way- face-to-face.

So the next time a scumbag or a guy who just needs to talk business where no one can listen, he might use a burner and you'll know what that is.
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This term refers to a knife or blade but it is typically a home-made version, often made out of plastic.
Not nearly as scary as, well, THIS!

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These are very common in prisons where regular knives are hard to come by.

So the next time a character has a shiv on their person, you can expect bad intentions and a heated action scene are on the way.

Well, there you go. I hope this clears up a few terms you might come across when taking in crime novels. I have seen all five of these used numerous times and understanding them definitely increases understanding of the story. 
Have a great day and keep reading!