Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Big hairy men

Men crime writers. Can't live with em, can't kill em. I'm sorry. Bad joke. But we women authors who walk on the dark side tend to have mixed feelings about our hardboiled male counterparts. We complain they get all the attention and big advances. We bitch that they hog the Edgars every year. But we also love them. We love their bleakitude, their angst, their existential adjectives. We love their Gregory Corso dissipated sexuality. You doubt me? If you go to Bouchercon, the big crime writers group grope each fall, the talk in the bar among the women inevitably deteriorates into which of the attending male authors we would "do." The winner is crowned the Bcon Babe. What does it take to be a Babe? Let's just say previous winners have included Gabriel Cohen, Robert Crais and Lee Child. So youth, good hair or an English accent don't hurt.

Still, I gotta wonder what it takes to distinquish yourself from the crowd if you are a male crime writer these days. How do you resist the urge to unleash upon the reading world yet one more ex-alchie divorced depressed shlub in wrinkled Dockers running from his past? Women crime writers don't seem to be bound by stale traditions and sexual stereotypes. But think about how hard it must be walk in Hammett's footprints. How tough it must be follow in the Busted Flush's wake. How damn difficult it must be leave a lasting scent where so many have lifted their legs before.

I'm thinking about this lately because I have read a couple guy books that have gone against the grain. I've really enjoyed these books, and not just because their authors' knuckles didn't drag on the ground when they wrote. No, it was more because they were willing to lay open a vein and deal with -- the horror! -- relationships. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of testosterone pumping through these tomes, but it's detoxed with a dose of sensitivity.

A while back I finished "The James Deans" by Reed Farrel Coleman. I hadn't met Coleman's Moe Prager before, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover this mensch of a man. Moe isn't afraid to talk about things like love, family and loyalty. Plus the guy owns a wine shop. What's not to love? Give me a nice Jewish boy who will babysit, make me laugh and bring home a wholesale Meursault any day. Next up was author Jim Fusilli, whose novel "Closing Time" I had picked up at a mystery conference. I had heard Fusilli was a "wordsmith, a writer's writer," which is why the book sat gathering dust on my bedstand for so long. Hearing someone called a wordsmith is kind of like hearing that he's great in the sack. Yeah right. Plus I had witnessed Fusilli in action on panels. Let's just say if he isn't a Scorpio, he should be. So as I got sucked deeper into "Closing Time" (seduced by the wordsmithing) I found myself really liking his protag Terry Orr. More to the point, liking the interplay between Terry and his daughter Bella. Good stuff, folks. Check these guys out. And join me in raising a glass to the menfolk. There's hope.
Moe Prager
Terry Orr


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree about not being able to stick out of the pack with another hard drinking hardboiled male protag so I just wrote the guy like myself. He's awkward around girls, he's obsessed with TV, he likes women more than they like him and he actually cares about the kind of shoes he wears. I can't imagine doing any other kind of book.

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Bob Morris said...

"leave a lasting scent where so many have lifted their legs..." ?

Jeez, what an image. I keep seeing John D. MacDonald peeing on a boat dock, or Robert Parker taking a leak on a Boston street corner (while moralizing that it is part of his code and therefore something he is bound by honor to do) or Ross MacDonald whizzing off the balcony of his Santa Barbara home to extinguish a California brush fire.

You're right, there's a whole lot of marked territory out there. The trick, as always, is to know all the territories and figure out what you can do to spiff up yours so that it seems new and uncharted.

The hero of my series would seem to play to a worn-out old stereotype -- an ex-jock and Florida boat guy. But I hope I let him play enough against the grain -- he hates guns, he loves one woman, is absolutely faithful to her and nurtures their relationship (yes, he's a freaking nurturer) -- that the incongruity works.

And, if doesn't, well piss on it.

6:56 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Dear Byron:
I knew there was something about you I liked -- you're a Huron. Oh wait a minute. That's un-PC now, isn't it. Like you, I am an Eastern Michigan University alum but am older than dirt so when I was there, the football team was still named after the Indian tribe that used to hang out around Ypsilanti. What are they now, the Eagles? And I trust they are still as mediocre as ever?

As for your protag, one of my husband's homilies is "take care of your shoes and they'll take care of you." I don't know what the hell it means, but I do notice a man's footwear.

5:17 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Am currently reading Ross Macdonald's The Drowning Pool, so your comment about inappropriate male peeing had me howling. But I have a rather infantile scatological streak.

5:22 PM  

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