Alright, let’s try this whole blogging thing.
I’m still a while away from putting The Last Smile in Sunder City (my debut novel, very exciting) into your hands, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun along the way. There will be release dates, interviews, art, appearances, and all kinds of announcements. Perhaps I’ll be able to share some interesting insights into the publishing process (something I know next-to-nothing about right now). But first of all, let me give you a better idea of what this book is, and where it came from.
The Last Smile takes a bright, expansive fantasy world and smears it onto the dirty streets of a classic detective story.
Obviously, this is not the first time that those two styles have come together. The iconic, hard-boiled detective walked out of the pages of pulp fiction long ago, taking his trenchcoat, smokes, and fedora, and found himself mixed up in every other genre imaginable. He’s sidled up to superheroes, crossed the galaxy and even belted out a few show tunes along the way.
And yes, he has already met his share of elves, dwarves, and dragons. Whether it’s Discworld or Dresden, the noir hero has been playing with magic for decades.
So, will the adventures of Fetch Phillips be suitably different to these previously established worlds? I bloody hope so! But it’s nice to start somewhere familiar. To wake up in a place that feels comfortable, surrounded by people we have affection for… because that makes it all the more interesting when we burn it all down.
I have to be careful what I say about the book before you have a chance to read it. As much as I can, I want Fetch and the world to speak for itself.
So, let’s talk about inspiration, beginning with the work of Raymond Chandler.
When I was about thirteen, my dad recorded The Big Sleep off the telly, onto VHS, and told me that I might find it interesting. Watching Bogart and Bacall being witty as hell in black and white, kicked off a bit of an obsession. I ate film noir for a few years, following Bogie’s career in particular. Then Dad handed me the book.
Phillip Marlowe had me from page one. The voice, the characters, and the infinitely quotable “Chandlerisms.” Farewell My Lovely, The Long Goodbye, Lady in the Lake, I read them all, and I go back often.
Now, if you haven’t read any Chandler, and you’re here because you were a fan of Black Sails, then I have a treat. Toby Stephens (my dear Captain Flint) played Phillip Marlowe in a series of dramatizations for BBC Radio 4. They are abridged but thoroughly engrossing versions of all the books. It’s a great way to be introduced to Chandler’s work while getting a good dose of Toby Stephens being brilliant. I bought it on iTunes, but you can listen to it in other ways depending on where you are in the world.
Raymond Chandler’s work has been referenced or ripped-off, countless times, in every medium, to varying degrees of success. I took some pretty big handfuls of inspiration myself when I was first creating Fetch Phillips. But often, the derivative works miss the mark.
They take the fedoras and the trenchcoats and the femme fatales. There are smiling mobsters and stolen dirty pictures and rich guys who drink too much. The hero is a cynical smart-ass with a dark past and a strong jaw, but there’s usually something missing. The romance.
Marlowe is a bit of a softy. Though Chandler himself says that a “love interest almost always weakens a mystery story,” Marlowe is a romantic. That’s why he does what he does and why, sometimes, he’s so good at it. A good detective story should be a study of humanity, like any other worthwhile work of art.
There is no point saying any more about this because Chandler said it best himself, in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder.”
If you haven’t read any Chandler, or Dashiell Hammett or James M. Cain, and you were wondering what my book might be like, I hope this gives you an idea of the story I wanted to write.
Take it away Ray…
“But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.
If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.”
Pretty great right? I won’t say that Fetch Phillips quite lives up to this description. Maybe in time. I believe it’s somewhere in his blood. But Sunder City is a long way from Los Angeles, and Fetch’s monsters have a bit more bite than Marlowe’s…
…but let’s leave that for next time.