Tuesday, March 01, 2011
New Books: The Hollywood Op by Terence Faherty
The first short story I wrote about Scott Elliott, my Hollywood historical private eye, came about as the result of an invitation from Bob Randisi, of PWA fame, to submit a story for a collection to be called The Shamus Game. At that point, I'd written two Elliott novels, Kill Me Again, set in 1947 and Come Back Dead, set in 1955, and I was outlining a third, Raise the Devil, set in 1962. The upcoming Elliott, Dance in the Dark, follows this trend of hurrying Elliott through his life, as it's set in 1969. This approach has left me a lot of room for short stories. To date, I've written eight, now collected in The Hollywood Op from Perfect Crime Books.
These are all longer short stories and divided into chapters. When I was discovering classic private-eye fiction after college, I happened on collections of Chandler's apprenticeship works from his Black Mask days. Though short stories, these were divided into chapters. Later, I discovered slightly longer works by Rex Stout, who was a master of the magazine story divided into chapters, which he published in venues like American Magazine. (Stout's are often called novellas and are certainly more like short novels than Chandler's. I call mine short stories because they seldom exceed ten thousand words. I think you have to be up over twenty thousand to have moved into novella territory.)
When I responded to Bob Randisi's invitation, I adopted the Chandler/Stout approach. A ten-thousand-word story gives you room to move around a little bit, to flesh out your cast, and to work out a plot that doesn't turn on a single twist or gimmick, but builds from character and situation. And I have to admit that I was thinking of a collection from the first. Long stories would give me a book length manuscript in half the time and with half the plots.
From the start, too, I was hoping to write a collection whose stories functioned as a unit, with almost the cohesion of a novel. That meant that Elliott had to be consistent throughout, changing as he aged, but staying true to himself. And it would help if there was a unifying theme. Luckily, Elliott came with one of those: his quixotic desire to protect the Hollywood he left behind when he went away to war, a Hollywood he is fated to see go away over the course of his long career. This theme is only occasionally overtly stated in the short stories—at the end of "Unruly Jade," for instance—but the sense of a great empire's decline-and-fall runs through them all.
In addition to filling in the gaps in Elliott's life, writing short stories gave me the chance to go back before Kill Me Again to a younger Elliott. Of these stories, the one of most interest to fans of the classic private eye novel is "Sleep Big," which inserts Elliott into the first third of Chandler's The Big Sleep. There's a story about Chandler and the screenwriting team of the film version of that novel that I've never quite believed. Supposedly when asked by the screenwriters who had killed a certain character from the book, a chauffeur named Owen Taylor, Chandler claimed not to know. This gave rise to the legend that the pIot is so complicated even its author didn't understand it. I think he actually had a pretty good idea who killed who, and my take on Chandler's solution is presented in "Sleep Big."
As I mentioned earlier, The Hollywood Op was made possible by Perfect Crime Books, a new publisher that's compiling a very nice list, including a collection by Ed Gorman and a two-volume collection of Shamus-winning short stories, another of Bob Randisi's projects. Perfect Crime has been a great house to work with, and I'm very pleased with the book we've turned out together.