The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Sunday, August 25, 2013


          If it was good enough for Raymond Chandler, it should certainly be good enough for me.  Chandler’s muse apparently ran out of gas when he was writing for the pulp thriller magazines, long before he wrote any of the now classic novels that made him famous and are still popular.  To use his word, he “cannibalized” the short stories to create his novels.   English professors and computers can demonstrate the transfer of entire scenes, characters, and words from his short stories to his books---“The Big Sleep”, “The Lady in the Lake”, “Farewell, My Lovely”, and “The High Window”.   The process Chandler used for cannibalization is described in detail by Philip Durham in the preface to a collection of Chandler’s short stories entitled “The Killer in the Rain” [Ballantine Books, New York, 1964]

            For example, when Chandler wrote “The Big Sleep”, his short story “The Curtain” became chapters 1-3, 20, and 27-32.  Another of his short stories entitled “Killer in the Rain” became chapters 4, 6-10, and 12-16.  Bits and pieces were taken from two more of his short stories, “Mandarin’s Jade” and “Finger Man”.  All of these chapters were expanded for the novel.  Eleven more chapters were newly created for “The Big Sleep” to link the two previous short stories together.  In retrospect, arguably the most important and influential author in the history of the private detective genre would never have been known to his millions of readers had he not recycled and reused his material from the long-lost pulp magazines of the 1930s.  How’s that for early environmentalism?

            I found myself with exactly the opposite problem.  My first novel, “The Empanada Affair”, reads in retrospect a lot (too much for my current taste) like a first novel.  At least, that’s my reaction when I re-read it now.  I was learning how to write as I wrote it, and it shows.  It combines several genres---mystery, travel, food, wines, and sexual situations/romance.  At the time it was originally written a few years ago, I fantasized about selling a lot of books to five separate markets, and having a lot more commercial success than if the only interested would-be readers had to come from a single genre. 

Since then I’ve written four more novels and experimented with short stories and novellas.   I seem to be most comfortable writing full-length mystery novels that focus on plot, action, and mystery, and take place in interesting locales.   My wife suggested putting some of these shorter stories together into an anthology.   As the pieces of an anthology came together (several short stories and a novelette), we felt something was lacking.  Elaine suggested rounding the book out with a new “original” long novella constructed by re-editing “The Empanada Affair” to become a conventional mystery story set in an exotic locale.   If all goes according to plan (it seldom does!!!!), the new anthology will appear on Amazon KDP some time in September, just in time for a Christmas gift for the woman or man who has everything.

Unlike Chandler’s predicament, in this case I had to shorten the original novel by removing whole chapters, shortening others, and focusing on the mystery by removing all of the gratuitous sex scenes, at least some of the travelogue, and most of the foodie episodes.  And the resulting novella had to read coherently when I finished.  Thus, I found myself reversing the process that Chandler had used so successfully.   I was tasking myself to reorganize and reduce the original full-length novel, chapter by chapter, to create one or more new novellas from it.

So, I went back to “The Empanada Affair” and started cutting and pasting, as well as rewriting the remaining sections to bridge the resultant gaps.  The later chapters (more than a third of the original book), which took place in Los Angeles, came out almost in their entirety.  The graphic sex scenes, and all the references to them that I could find, were removed.   I kept the meals that were culturally relevant to the specific regions of South America that Roger and Suzanne visited.   Then I discarded the rest of the “foodie” scenes, which were originally included to give my characters a place to sit down and discuss the case and to attract hungry gourmet readers to the novel.  Unless the locale specifically included key scenes that significantly advanced the plot, out went a good deal of the tourist travel through the Andes Mountains and elsewhere. 

The biggest remaining problem was pulling what was left of the story together so it would read as a coherent whole.  You, dear readers, will have to decide how well I succeeded in accomplishing this task.  The result is a novella of about 33,000 words, slightly more than half the length of the original book.  I think the new version reads much better, and a whole lot faster, than the previous 63,025-word novel of the same name.   Who knows, I may decide to cannibalize parts of the remaining half of the original novel for another novella (or shorter story) to be written some time in the future?

            The cannibalized novella is now one of five stories in the planned anthology, and will retain the name, “The Empanada Affair”.  The original novel will cease to exist on Amazon, but I think I’ll keep it available on Smashwords and its Premium Catalogue vendors.  That way, some obscure scholar writing a Master’s thesis will still be able to compare my first novel to my other works when they all become classics in the genre.  

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I don't care much about my earlier books because I've learned so much since then. You made some good points. Thank you for sharing.
    Marja McGraw