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Posts tagged ‘pulp fiction’

Craig McDonald about the challenge of writing a series

November 29, 2016

BetimesBooksNow

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 Not the end of something?

By Craig McDonald

In autumn 2007, HEAD GAMES was published by Ben Leroy and Bleak House books.

It went on to earn best first novel nominations for the Edgar Award, the Anthony, and the Sélection du prix polar Saint-Maur en Poche in France, among others.

It also launched a series of ten novels featuring protagonist Hector Lassiter, pulp magazine writer, crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter.

Signing ARCs at Book Expo America 2007

Signing ARCs at Book Expo America 2007

Betimes Books has just published the climactic novel in the series, THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH, set in Nashville about a year after HEAD GAMES, and bringing back several characters from that first novel.

CHORDS was always envisioned as a kind of HEAD GAMES sequel and definitive circle-closer.

I actually wrote the “last” Lassiter novel many, many years ago, much of it in situ in Nashville, Tennessee. I interviewed various songwriters and sat in on sound-checks to gather source material and atmosphere.

But mostly, I focused on putting a capstone on the Hector Lassiter saga.

Few are the mystery series in my experience that round out with the fulfillment of a charted character arc or larger story.

Most series simply trail off into oblivion because of soft sales, or the death of their author.

If the series is particularly popular, when the creator dies, some other writer is brought in to keep churning out inferior, never quite satisfying continuations, again toward no planned end.

There are very few exceptions to this rule of the never-ending series.

Most of those that occur still don’t typically deliver a unified story arc carried to a planned climax built toward across the span of the series.

More often, some poor author gets a dire diagnosis and so races the clock to close out their series before they too are “closed out.”

Others elect to do something mirroring Agatha Christie’s strategy of writing a series closer well ahead of time, then holding it in reserve for posthumous publication.

(Though in the Dame’s case, even killing off her character didn’t stop others from publishing further Poirot novels following the appearance of CURTAIN.)

I’ve long acknowledged James Sallis’ cycle of Lew Griffin novels as the inspiration for the Lassiter series.

Dublin reading, August 2016

Dublin reading, August 2016

Sallis wrote an interconnected and finite series of novels that together tell a larger story and build to a final revelation regarding his central protagonist.

With the Lassiter series, I wanted to do something similar: Construct a series toward a known end, allowing each book to stand alone, more or less, but in sum telling a much larger story regarding the character of Hector Lassiter and his eventual fate.

It was an audacious or perhaps even foolish goal to write a whole series ahead of any contract commitments. Certainly, given what I now know of the vagaries and failings of much of the publishing industry, it was a very naïve and hopeful thing for a baseline cynic like myself to undertake.

Yet I wrote first drafts of the novels in the series in the space of about three months per title, back-to-back, working toward the known conclusion of this last, Nashville-set series-closer.

The later entries in the series were mostly well into composition before the second novel, TOROS & TORSOS, was even contracted for publication by Bleak House Books.

Please let me run a highlighter over that point: Most of the series, including the last volume, was virtually written before the second book reached the galley stage some time in the summer of 2008.

There was never any guarantee the books would all see print. There was every chance the project might stall around book four or five and the rest of the novels would remain in limbo.

The first translation: French (La tête de Pancho Villa, Editions Belfond, 2009)

The first translation: French (“La tête de Pancho Villa”, Editions Belfond, 2009)

But the series has hung in there, collecting an international audience through translations in Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Korean and Mongolian, among others.

In English language form, the Lassiter series currently encompasses four different publishers.

HEAD GAMES was also quickly optioned for graphic novel adaptation by First Second Books, prior to its Bleak House publication. I wrote the script for that project over a weekend nearly ten years ago (the art came much more slowly).

Next October, nearly ten years to the day that HEAD GAMES the novel was released, HEAD GAMES the graphic novel will at last appear.

A short story collection will also follow next year from Betimes Books, which now prints uniform editions of the entire series.

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Paris, March 2011

The short story collection will feature a never-before-published Lassiter novella set in the 1920s that roughly approaches the word count found in HEAD GAMES.

So while THREE CHORDS does represent the climax of the Hector Lassiter series as originally set forth, the Lassiter saga still has some moves left.

Hector has opened remarkable doors for me and provided international travel opportunities for my family.

He is forever there somewhere in my head, sometimes whispering in my ear. When you write this much about a single character for so long, you actually begin to see the world through his eyes.

Telling this storyteller’s story has resulted in years of wonderful correspondence and conversation with readers of all ages, nationalities and interests who’ve followed his saga.

I very much look forward to hearing the reactions to this “last” Hector Lassiter novel.

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Today: Craig McDonald’s choice

December 29, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

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The book that changed my life was a humble, second-hand paperback reprint of an old pulp magazine story written at the height of the Great Depression.

On a cold autumn day, my maternal grandfather handed me the second Doc Savage novel, The Land of Terror.  I was always a reader, always had one or more books going. My granddad—the man to whom I dedicated my first-published novel, Head Games—often gave me books in that manner. Some interested me; most frankly didn’t.

This one grabbed me by the young scruff like no other, before or since. It was pure pulp-lit and the story moved like lightning. I was, I think, all of eight, and I read the book cover-to-cover at a sitting, another first for me. I sat on the floor with my back to a wall register, sucking up the heat and that first-season furnace smell of charred dust in the heating ducts, but I was really just lost in that crazy thriller about a globetrotting, latter-day knight errant and his band of scrappy, quirky aides. When I finished the novel, I read it again, and a third time after that. I started a years-long quest after the myriad Bantam reprints of Doc Savage pulp magazines with their moody, hyper-realistic James Bama covers (alas, Bama didn’t provide The Land of Terror’s cover).

I completely skipped the Hardy Boys and the usual kids-level series my peers devoured—I found such books drivel compared to the Doc novels.

Inspiration comes from the strangest of places and drives our lives in new directions. For me, for better or worse, it all started in that little house on Woodlawn Avenue with this teaser on the back cover that spurred me to open that book and read on:

“A vile greenish vapor was all that remained of the first victim of the monstrous Smoke of Eternity…”

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Craig McDonald is the author of the Hector Lassiter series