Friday, September 7, 2018

Favorite Lesser-known Writers

What’s your favorite lesser-known novel? Who are your favorite lesser known writers? In your genre and outside of it? Why? And have they influenced your work? How?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, that depends on what/who you mean by lesser-known? One person’s lesser-known author is another’s major influence. But that aside, I’ve been influenced by a lot of people and books at one time or another. The standards, like Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald and James Ellroy—my favorites. I’ve also been influenced by movies, especially film noir. And certainly not lesser known, but outside of our genre, Alexandre Dumas and The Count of Monte Cristo, the ultimate revenge story. Also, Somerset Maugham, especially The Razor’s Edge, which influenced me in so many ways both in regard to writing and also life.

So, those are some of my influences from major writers. Now to answer the question and I may have mentioned some of these before, but they’re worth mentioning again. Some may not especially be lesser-known, or at least weren’t in their day, but they might be somewhat forgotten today. And in no particular order:

The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati: a novel about waiting for something that never happens—and no, it’s not about waiting for your clams in some snobby restaurant so you can put tartar sauce on them. And no, it’s not about waiting for some guy name Godot. A soldier is posted at the Tartar Steppe, hoping to be called upon to show his courage and bravery in the glory of battle. Time slips by—he grows old—and the wished for attack and chance for glory is always just beyond the horizon. Lots of subtext here.

Monte Walsh by Jack Schaefer (who also wrote Shane), and The Shootist, by Glendon Swarthout. Both were made into movies. Monte Walsh was made twice, first in 1971 with Lee Marvin and then in 2003 as a TV movie starring Tom Selleck. I like both versions. And The Shootist was John Wayne’s last movie. And, as with movies, they were all changed a bit from the books they’re based on. But I truly love the books. Both are about people who’ve outlived their times and their usefulness. The world is changing, modernizing, passing them by. A theme I both like reading about and writing about. And it is something I write about a fair amount, people out of time—people who’ve outlived their time, so to speak. “Dinosaurs” who don’t understand the rapidly changing world around them.

Tapping the Source: These days Kem Nunn is arguably better known as the co-creator of the TV series John from Cincinnati, as well as a writer on Sons of Anarchy and Deadwood. But he’s also the author of, I believe, six novels. Tapping the Source (1984) is his first and is something special. If it’s not the novel that invented the “surf noir” genre it’s certainly an early and foundational entry. This is not the Beach Boys’ version of sun, sand, surf and surfer girls, but a much darker vision of life on SoCal’s storied beaches. Ike Tucker, an aimless young man, treks to Huntington Beach (a.k.a. ‘Surf City’) to find his missing and possibly dead sister. There he gets hooked up with bikers, sex and drugs. No Gidgets or Moondoggie’s here. And Ike will be lucky if he gets out alive. I like this one so much that I looked into acquiring the film rights. Unfortunately they were already taken. Now, if whoever has them these days would just make the damn movie already. Tapping is good for anyone who loves surf, sun and murder.

David Goodis: Of course, I probably mention Goodis a lot. And he’s probably better known today than years back when I discovered him and had to settle for ratty paperbacks in used book stores as his books were out of print. Dave Moore's description of Goodis as the "poet of the losers" is an apt portrayal of his stories about people on the skids. Best known for Dark Passage and Down There, two works made into films. The first with Bogart and Bacall, the second a French movie by Francois Truffaut under the title Shoot the Piano Player. The former takes a good novel and makes it better, the latter takes a great novel and is played out of tune. Down There is a great novel that works with Goodis' favorite theme of people not being able to escape their pasts—and is my favorite Goodis by far. Nobody can escape their past in Goodis, including Goodis. And if you want to find out more about him check out Goodis: A Life in Black and White by Philippe Garnier, recently translated into English. And my short story Born Under a Bad Sign, originally published in Dave Zeltserman’s HardLuck Stories magazine is my straight out attempt at a Goodis-type story and an homage to him. Now available in the collection L.A. Late @ Night  ( )

John Fante has sort of come into his own in the last decade or two. A movie was made of his most famous book, Ask the Dust. It didn't quite capture the magic of the book, as gorgeous as it is to look at. Ask the Dust is a must-read for any writers living in Los Angeles. If for nothing else but to marvel at how someone could eke out a living writing short stories. It’s also a must read for anyone interested in L.A. The setting is downtown Los Angeles in the 1930s, in the “shabby town,” in Raymond Chandler’s words, of Bunker Hill. I discovered Fante and this book before the new surge of interest in him and was so impressed that I wrote to him at his home. Unfortunately he was already so sick by then that I didn’t hear back, or maybe I wouldn’t have anyway after some of the things I’ve heard about him. He was known to be an angry man. But a great writer.

Here’s some other “lesser-known” writers and books I like, though I’m not sure how lesser-known some of them really are: White Noise by Don DeLillo, various Paul Auster books. Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, Steve Ericson’s Days Between Stations. Soldier’s Home, a Hemingway short story, and if I had to pick one favorite short story from any genre this would be it, for a variety of reasons. And so many more.


Thanks for stopping by. Tell us some of your favorite lesser-known authors and books. And I’d love to hear your comments, though I might not be able to respond right way, but I appreciate your stopping by.


And now for the usual BSP:

Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus Award-winning novel, White Heat, releases on September 10th and is available for pre-order now at AmazonBarnes & Noble and Down & Out Books.

Peter Anthony Holder interviewed me for the Stuph File. It’s short, 10 minutes. You might enjoy it. It’s episode 0471 at the link below. And check out the Stuph File too:

And I was also interviewed by Dave Congalton at KVEC radio: 

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website


Dietrich Kalteis said...

We like a lot of the same authors, Paul, and you've given me a few new ones to check out. Thanks.

Lyda McPherson said...

Congratulations to Paul D. Marks!!! His short story "windward" won the 2018 Macavity Award for Best Mystery Short Story. Yeah Paul!!!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Dieter. So many good ones still waiting to be discovered.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thank you, Lyda. Appreciate your comment very much!