This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Robert Lane. Robert is the author of the Jake Travis mysteries. His second Jake Travis novel, Cooler Than Blood, will be released on February 24, 2015. Foreword Clarion Reviews praised Cooler Than Blood as "...gripping and highly enjoyable...," and Kirkus Reviews described it as "A solid, entertaining mystery." Robert was our featured writer on December 4, 2014.
I was pumped. Finally made the commitment. I was attending Eckerd College’s Writers in Paradise week-long workshop and conference in St. Petersburg. Why not? It was close to home and I was a writer, right?
Quick disclaimer: For reasons not worth delving into, prior to my decision to become a writer, I’d just completed a long streak (decades?) of limited fiction reading. My fiction reading during that tenure had been reserved for a few favorite and revered authors. Meanwhile, the biography pages I read easily surpassed five digits. I also devoured tomes of war books. War is, after all, as Thomas Hardy said, “rattling good reading.” I had kilo-pounds of books to support his observation. To this day, the word “Stalingrad” makes me shiver.
Now the conference.You know the drill. The attendees, twelve of us, each turned in a first twenty-five pages. The morning arrived to critique my first twenty-five. I felt pretty good about the opening of my magnum opus, as I’d already received unsolicited positive feedback. The class batted me around with the standard faire. The conversation, however, soon became dominated by the workshop leader (a successful author whom I admired) and another attendee. They obviously knew each other and were both mystery writers.
“Who does he (meaning me) remind you of?” she inquired of her co-conspirator.
“Raymond Chandler,” he chirped in.
“I agree. He’s going for that style. Maybe a little too much.” Hello, I’m right here.
But what I kept inside was this: Who the eff is Raymond Chandler?
I jotted the name down. I’d have to look into his fellow who, apparently, was ripping me off.
Then this. “And his dialogue,” she plowed ahead. “Sounds a lot like Elmore Leonard.” Did I detect an accusatory tone? “Is that what you’re going for?”
I nodded again in agreement. The door was to my left. I could be on the beach drinking in five minutes. Screw this stuff.
“I concur,” the other attendee assented. “A lot like Elmore.”
Elmore Leonard or Leonard Elmore? Like two first names? Gotta look him up as well. Sesame Street. That will be my mental reminder of that cat’s name. And Bernstein, you know, "West Side Story." He was a Leonard.
I felt properly admonished. I pinky swore not to copy the style of others—whoever they were—and to search for my own voice. I slithered out of the room, the appropriate posture, I thought, for someone who had been unveiled. Fraud-city here, folks. Really took me to the mat, didn’t you?
During the next twelve months, I made up lost time like the USS Enterprise flashing into warp speed. I studied mystery writers and wrote a brief bio on each one: 75 and counting. I devoured RC and became intimate with Elmore. Tore their stuff apart like an osprey eating a fish. Read biographies and articles on those boys as well as their best works. Pretty good writers. But the world knows that.
Can’t say they influenced me one way or the other.
Can say this: I’m comfortable in my voice. Think my style is something you’ve heard? I’d be shocked if parallels can’t be drawn with any particular writer and someone else. The only thing new in the world, Harry Truman proffered, is the history you don’t know.
I learned a lot at Writers in Paradise. Highly recommend it. It’s an excellent conference, and I drank in the air and hastily scribbled every spoken word into my notebook. (They had passed out little engraved notepads. What good are those? I filled legal pads.)
I really don’t know if there’s a lesson here for I’m not one to dwell on such things. But try this on.
Be confident. Aggressive.
And if someone says you sound like someone else? That person, dead or alive, sounds like you.
For more information, visit Robert's website at www.robertlanebooks.com.