Lots of blogs talk about books people have read, movies they’ve seen, music they’ve heard. We’re awash in pop culture commentary, I suppose. I just don’t have the time, myself. But, I DID manage to read a new novel recently, which I highly recommend. It’s called Hammett Unwritten and it’s by Owen Fitzstephen. It turns the legendary detective writer (and former detective) Dashiell Hammett into a fictional character, chasing his own past and writing prowess, through the vehicle of the famous Maltese Falcon. Somehow this book manages to be both post-modern and traditional, and as a huge Hammett fan, going back to my teens, I really connected.
It also reminded me of the time my ex-wife (although she wasn’t an ex back then) and I were in San Francisco and went on a Dashiell Hammett tour of the city. There’s a guy out there who does it for a living, but we did it on our own. It’s kind of odd, taking a reality tour of sites that are both real and created, which is what my essay is about, really. It appeared in the estimable Flyin’ Shoes zine, run by my friend over in Nottingham, Shaun Belcher, back in 2000. Here’s the link:
I think I was on to something with the fictional reality idea, but Fitzstephens does it much better in his book. Looking back on the piece of mine Shaun was kind enough to run, I see my flaws as a writer, and maybe, as an individual. Art is a reflection of the soul, even if it is shaped and created for a certain audience or outcome. When I read back, I see myself as a guy intent on putting in every detail, as opposed to being confident enough to let the unimportant ones go by. I see a guy who comes off as a bit self-conscious; of what, I’m not sure, though I might be able to guess. I see a guy who doesn’t know when to say nothing.
You’ve also got to stay as close as possible to saying what you mean, in art and life. An audience may say they want the hero to be honest, but really, it’s more about their perception of honesty, receiving what they expect or what to hear. It takes guts to cut through that and take a risk. Hammett knew this and it’s all over his books. Fizstephen (pen name for Gordeon McAlpine, actually) does it in this book. Me, I’m still learning…