Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year of the Book #45 Raymond Chandler


"Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say."

With each passing day of this Year of the Book, I am more and more relieved to know that the notion that writing is one of the hardest things in the world to do, not to mention the loneliest is shared by many writers other than me!

“Hard-Boiled” is the phrase that many have used to describe both Raymond Chandler’s style of writing and the private eye Philip Marlowe who is the protagonist in his novels. But they were admired by writers as varied as W.H.Auden and Ian Fleming and Camus. They also gave birth to the hard-bitten, cigarette-at-corner-of-the-mouth, heart-of-gold hero of American films, epitomized by Humphrey Bogart who played Marlowe in the film adaptation of Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep.

If you can cut past the poor quality of the recording and Ian Fleming’s British accent, listen to this interview that he did with Chandler

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Year of the Book #44 O. Henry

“Rejections? Lordy, I should say I did have rejections, but I never took them to heart.”

Did you know that the phrase “banana republic” was coined by William Sydney Porter – which was O.Henry’s real name – in Cabbages and Kings, a book he wrote in Honduras where he hiding from the law who want him for trying to embezzle the bank where he had worked as a teller.


Actually, why am I wasting my breath. Because, if you want to meet the master of the short story, the man who wrote The Gift of the Magi and The Ransom of the Red Chief, if you want insights into the art of stotytelling straight from the Henry’s mouth, as it were, read this incredible interview with him done by the New York Times in 1909. (O Henry died a year later.)

’ll give you the whole secret of short story writing. Here it is. Rule I: Write stories that please yourself. There is no Rule II. The technical points you can get from Bliss Perry. If you can't write a story that pleases yourself you’ll never please the public. But in writing the story forget the public…”

Monday, December 27, 2010

Year of the Book #43 Benjamin Alire Sáenz


imageI did not know of the existence of Benjamin Alire Sáenz till this evening when I was desultorily surfing poetry sites. Come to think of it, I don’t even know how to pronounce his last name.

All I know is that I found this poem and I was hooked

According to various bios,  Benjamin Alire Sáenz was born in New Mexico, spoke only Spanish till he was in elementary school, yet has done all his writing in English. He studied theology, was a Catholic priest for 3 years. He also won a slew of awards including the American Book Award in 1992 for his first book of poems, Calendar of Dust, the Paterson Prize, and the Americas Book Award…

“I did not grow up speaking English—though English has become my dominant language. I have struggled with words and language all of my life. I have learned that language is used to dominate people. I have learned that every language is a way of translating the world and that no language translates the world without a particular bias. It is difficult for me not to dismiss writers who do not understand the political nature of language. Like everything else, language is a weapon that can be used for ill or for good. “

All of which is great. But as far as I am concerned, what matters is if you can write a love poem which other will read and think – will someone one day love me like that? Apparently Benjamin Alire Sáenz  can….


To the Desert

I came to you one rainless August night.

You taught me how to live without the rain.

You are thirst and thirst is all I know.

You are sand, wind, sun, and burning sky,

The hottest blue. You blow a breeze and brand

Your breath into my mouth. You reach—then bend

Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

You wrap your name tight around my ribs

And keep me warm. I was born for you.

Above, below, by you, by you surrounded.

I wake to you at dawn. Never break your

Knot. Reach, rise, blow, Sálvame, mi dios,

Trágame, mi tierra. Salva, traga, Break me,

I am bread. I will be the water for your thirst.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Year of the book #43 Ed McBain

You know, I’m sitting here writing this and thinking – why in the heck’s name isn’t there Ed MacBain in my bookshelf? I don’t know why but it doesn’t in anyway diminish the fact that if there is any mystery writer who I would allow to argue for space in the  Best Crime Writers Ever section with Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, it would be Ed McBain (1926-2005)image

Or should I say “Evan Hunter”? Or then his real name - Salvatore Lombino?

When I started reading McBain, I didn’t know that he had more than 130 books to his credit, that at the height of the popularity of the 87th Precinct series, he published two novels a year, that he was awarded the Mystery Writers of America Award AND the Grand Master Award, Mystery Writers of America, 1986, for lifetime achievement and was the first American to receive the British Crime writer’s Association Cartier Diamond Dagger.

Or that he wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s film BIRDS…


All that I knew is that every time I opened a McBain book, to pinch a line from Jerry Maguire, he had me from the very first line…

It wasn’t that the criminals were more devious or the crimes more ghastly or even that the detectives were more clever. In the words of Nick Kimberely of the Guardian…

“the novels are best considered as an immense saga in which the dilemmas of modern life are played out, but varied with tremendous narrative vigour. Or perhaps they constitute a love-letter, millions of words long, to the city: New York City first of all, but the American city in general."

This opening para from JIGSAW should make my point.

Detective Arthur Brown did not like being called black

This might have had something to do with his name, which was Brown. Or his color, which was also brown. Or it might have had something to do with the fact that when he was but a mere strip of a boy coming along in this fair city, the word "black" was usually linked alliteratively with the word "bastard." He was now thirty-four years old and somewhat old-fashioned, he supposed, but he still considered the word derogatory, no matter how many civil rights leaders endorsed it. Brown didn't need to seek identity in his color or in his soul. He searched for it in himself as a man, and usually found it there with ease.

He was six feet four inches, and he weighed two hundred and twenty pounds in his undershorts. He had the huge frame and powerful muscles of a heavyweight fighter, a square clean look emphasized by the way he wore his hair, clipped close, clinging to his skull like a soft black cap, a style he had favored even before it became fashionable to look "natural." His eyes were brown, his nostrils were large, he had thick lips and thicker hands, and he wore a .38 Smith & Wesson in a shoulder holster under his jacket.

The two men lying on the floor at his feet were white. And dead.

If you aren’t already hooked, go to

It’s rare to find a website on a writer as comprehensive and as interesting as this one – and the best part, is you can peep inside many of the books!

Shiva’s Ambassador

Basava the Bull. Shiva’s favoured mode of transport. In Karnataka, he visits our homes ever so often as “Kole Basava”, the spectacularly decorated bull, accompanied by his musician-minder. Sometimes, he just stands mutely, waiting to be rewarded for his presence with anything from a lump of jaggery and a handful of roasted gram to money. (The musician minder prefers the money!)

Sometimes, he will foretell the future, nodding or shaking his head when the minder asks him a question on our behalf. (A few surreptitious tugs of his bridle makes his answers what we want to hear. “Will Amma’s daughter be married by Ugadi?” “Yes, yes, yes"!!” he answers in three emphatic nods!)

And sometimes the musician minder will play a beautiful tune on his folk-nadaswaram. My favourite? “Bhagyada lakshmi Baramma”!