Mar 272015

Sometimes great ideas go horribly wrong. Is there a book with a genius premise that you’d like to rewrite?

By Paul D. Marks

DaVinciCodeWell, besides everything I’ve ever written that, after looking at it a few months or years later….

It seems that great minds think alike and that said great minds all think The Da Vinci Code falls flat. Coming at the end of the week, I hope I’m not being too repetitive. I think The Da Vinci Code is a great, high concept, idea for a book. But it was a terribly written book. Of course, that didn’t stop it from becoming a mega zillion seller making mega zillions for Dan Brown.  So maybe it doesn’t need to be rewritten. Nonetheless, I’d take a shot at it. Definitely clean it up and liven up the dull prose. Bring in a street sweeper to pick up the you-know-what. And then it would probably be a well written book with a great concept that nobody would buy.

There are a lot of books (and movies) where, when I look at them or read them I think, great concept, terrible execution. But I often seem to be in the minority because a lot of these sell tons of copies. It’s like my mom used to say, something to the effect of, “I don’t get bogged down in the quality of the writing, good or bad, if it’s a good story it will carry me along.” And maybe that’s the key. Just write a good story, tell it reasonably well. Have a plot that drives forward and characters that drive the plot and there you go.

However, for me, I like things that are well written as well as well plotted. That’s not to say I won’t read a book that’s not necessarily well written. And even enjoy it. But I might enjoy it more if were better presented.

I happen to be partial to Raymond Chandler. I like his plots. I like his characters. And I love his writing and his descriptions. I really feel that I’m there, in that location with those people. I can see it, feel it, smell it. And I think a lot of that is missing from today’s writing. A lot of prose writing today is inspired, for lack of a better word, by film writing. And film writing is very fast paced and very spare. And that’s good for movies. Because a screenplay is not a finished product and all those other elements, visual, atmosphere, setting, casting, location, etc., get filled in by the locations, the sets, the camera work, the actors, etc.  But a novel is the finished product. And in a novel it’s up to the writer to convey a picture, mood, feeling, etc. I like to feel where we are. I like to be in the room or the location with the characters. And so many writers today basically describe a scene as “Joe entered the room. He picked up the gat from the desk.” Okay, that’s a little simplistic. But you get the idea. There’s no, or little, sense of the room. The atmosphere, etc. And I miss that. 

484Oh, and to bring this full circle and respond again to the question at hand: I’d like to rewrite Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon to make it more accessible to everyday schmucks like me. (Okay, I’m not saying I would ever attempt to rewrite Pynchon, but you know what I mean.) I’m not saying to dumb it down, just to make it a little more user-friendly and approachable.  I’ve tried three different times over the years to read this book. It’s one of those that you think you should read, book bucket list-wise. But I just can’t get past about page 80 or 100. I’m not saying it’s badly written. But for me, at least, it’s impenetrable. Maybe I’ll give it another shot one of these days and the fourth time will be the charm.

Guest Post: Out of the ordinary crime fiction

 Doc Sportello, Guest Post, Thomas Pynchon  Comments Off on Guest Post: Out of the ordinary crime fiction
Dec 162011

Sometimes a writer needs to look outside their comfort zone to find constructive inspiration for a story. When writers draw inspiration solely from within the confines of their own genre, writers run the risk of sounding repetitive, like their rehashing parts of someone else’s story. Hardboiled crime writers can lose their individual voice in the echo chamber of their genre just like any other fiction writer. It could be the case that a genre writer looking for inspiration could find it within unconventional stories that challenge traditional devices of the genre. Below are three books that manipulate traditional hardboiled crime fiction in ways that could reinvigorate writers and readers to the subject.

P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley
A crime writer for over twenty years, British-born P.D. James is no stranger to the genre. What sets her newest novel Death Comes to Pemberley apart from its peers is the subject matter and the narrative style. James sets her story in the same Victorian setting as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and by the same setting I mean the same characters, the continuation of the same storyline that ended with Austen’s novel. But don’t be scared away by the premise! James uses her skill as a crime writer to investigate the dark, gothic underbelly that belies the relatively sunny atmosphere of the British socialites in Pride and Prejudice. The novel playfully inverts the decorousness of its Victorian subject matter: bloodied corpses are discovered, shady characters sully the main characters’ decorous conventions, friends betrayed, and mysteries beget mysteries. It’s an entertaining and refreshing reinvention of the Victorian mystery fused with the best elements of contemporary crime fiction.

Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice
Thomas Pynchon might be called a lot of things in his illustrious career as a fiction writer, but “crime writer” is not usually among them. His huge and dazzlingly complex novels have garnered him decades of critical acclaim while the author himself remains shrouded in anonymity, a mystery novel unto himself. His relatively breezy 2009 crime novel Inherent Vice playfully engages the elements of hardboiled fiction in the drug-haze of early 1970’s Los Angeles. The story follows the main character, Private Investigator “Doc” Sportello, through a series of bizarre investigations begun with a small job taken on behalf of his ex-girlfriend. Follow Doc through a hilariously drug-induced fog of paranoia and half-baked mystery that plays out like a well-crafted Coen brothers movie.

Jennifer Egan’s Look at Me
Most recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2010, Jennifer Egan is a writer’s writer. Her prose is as florid as it is thought provoking and complex. Her 2001 novel Look at Me focuses her critical eye on the theme of identity, how people perceive of themselves and others. The story interweaves several narratives, but the main story concerns a spiritually lost private eye and a has-been fashion model trying to hunt down a mysterious figure known to them only as Z. As the story progresses and Egan reveals more background about every character, you start to gain a deeper understanding of the stereotypical private eye, their job, their lives, and the interconnectedness of the lives around them. It’s a compelling read well worth your time.

Byline: Jane Smith is a freelance writer and blogger. She writes about criminal background check for Questions and comments can be sent to: janesmth161 @