Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The good old 87th

If you had to name one single book that inspired you to be a writer, what would that be?

by RM

My first blog with this crew, and it starts with failure! I can’t name the single book ... in fact I'll bet only a very focused, self-aware writer would be able to.

This is probably how it goes for many: I wanted to write before I knew how to spell the word itself – so there’s the inspiration part – and wanted to be a writer only much later, in my early twenties, when I had what I believed was a finished MS in my hands. That’s now long gone and my current series is really Phase II of my writing life.

For Phase II, although I can’t name a single book, I can quite closely pinpoint my inspiration down to this series: Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct. In my teens and onward I read every McBain I could get a hold of.

McBain (who started life as Salvatore Lombino, I just discovered) was prolific. If I publish a handful of novels in my lifetime, I’ll die happy; McBain produced a handful of novels/plays/screenplays/film adaptations every year of his writing life, not just as McBain but as Evan Hunter -- his eventual official name -- and a half dozen other pseudonyms.

He started the 87th Precinct in 1956 with Cop Killer and wrote them until his death in 2005.

I haven’t read them all, and probably never will. They did start to feel kind of diluted eventually. But McBain’s Detective/Second Grade Carella (who, unlike me, never aged throughout the series) will always have a place in my heart. So will Bert Kling.

McBain was the master of author intrusion, but that didn’t bother me. Maybe if I’d taken a few writing classes before I started reading him, it would have spoiled the magic for me. Maybe knowing the rules isn’t always a good thing. But I didn’t know the rules, and the books pulled me right out of my world and into his fictitious New-Yorkesque big bad city with all its hellish problems.

Though I’ve retired the 87th, a bunch of them will stay on my shelf as long as I’m around. They were there for me when I needed escape, and I’m sure they did indeed inspire me to write in a particular way, so years later -- when I got back typing after a decade of not -- I gravitated toward the police procedural. It had to be as realistic as I could make it, with a long arc and a durable team of players.

I don't consider my writing much like McBain's, but I’ll end this on a small but delightful story: A few years ago, after many years writing alone, I joined an online critique-sharing site called the Next Big Writer. How’s that for an ambitious name? (It was a good experience, but I eventually burnt out and had to quit.) At one point a fellow joined the site -- briefly -- and went about blasting contempt at every post he read, including mine. It didn’t hurt much, after the sting wore off, for a couple reasons:  A) He was right. B) He tacked onto the end of his comments that my writing reminds him a bit of Ed McBain. So there you go, the guy made my day.

BIT OF NEWS NOW: On March 12 I will be on a panel at the inaugural Cuffed International Crime Writers Festival on Granville Island: http://www.cuffedfestival.com. It’s sure to be a fantastic weekend, and hope to see you there!
Or check out my other upcoming events on my website: http://rmgreenaway.com



Meredith Cole said...

Welcome to 7 Criminal Minds, RM! I love the McBain series as well--although I don't think I ever managed to read them all...

Cathy Ace said...

Welcome to the Criminal gang! Excellent first post...I too love the Ed McBain novels of the 87th precinct, though admit I haven;t read them all and have sometimes found myself a bit confused by reading them way out of order....and I enjoy the fun of the Matthew Hope ones too :-)

Allan J. Emerson said...

Like you, RM, I'm awed by the production of writers like McBain, or Georges Simenon, who is said to have published 500 (500!) novels. When did people like McBain or Simenon find time to eat or sleep? I imagine writing must be a natural process for them, like breathing, when for me it's more like working on a chain gang. Ah well, back to work--I've got another 499 novels to complete if I'm to catch up to Simenon.

Alan Orloff said...

Nice post! I need to re-acquaint myself with Mr. McBain! Welcome to the blog, RM!

Unknown said...

Thank you, all! I'm really glad to be on board, and look forward to sharing perspectives on the weekly question, as well as meeting more readers and writers. I've never used Blogger before, so woke up at the crack of dawn expecting all sorts of technical troubles. But it's easy!
Anyway, nice to meet you all :)

Susan C Shea said...

Welcome! Glad to hear someone else couldn't come up with a single book. It would have to be Some Book.

Paul D. Marks said...

Welcome aboard, RM!

Unknown said...

Thanks Paul, thanks Susan - happy to meet you!