Jacket Copy's ongoing conversation about Denis Johnson's noir serial "Nobody Move" continues....
The challenge of writing crime fiction on deadline is dependent on one's ability to perfect the great lost art of witty banter. I found this out a few months ago when I was charged with writing an entire 300-page novel in three months — this from a writer who took two years to write a novel that clocked in at just under 200 pages and about 10 years to write a story collection that is on the bright side of 175 (though, to my credit, there are 12 entirely different stories there, so that's something) — and spent the first month doing things like playing Scrabulous on Facebook, googling the symptoms for various diseases I was certain I was coming down with and, strangely, completely dedicating myself to physical fitness for the first time in about, oh, 10 years. Maybe 15.
At any rate, those three months became two months, and I didn’t have a word on the page, so I decided I just needed to get people talking and eventually things would sort themselves out and I'd find that elusive flow. What I learned was that, unlike in my literary fiction, where characters utter a few lines of subtextual dialogue that then leads them to ruminate internally on the way their parents/husbands/wives/
To get to those shreds, however, you sometimes end up going on and on, falling in love with the way your characters sound; in my case, I was thrilled by this new toughness that was coming out, the muscularity of the sentences, the staccato beats. (The other half of the fun, incidentally — and particularly if, like me, you've spent the balance of your career writing about the sad passages of memory and trauma — is blowing stuff up.) In a perfect scenario, you then go back and cut away the excess and find those nuggets of conversation that convey character, reveal your character's emotional state, deliver conflict and move the story forward ... while still being witty.
(More after the jump)