Saturday, April 18, 2015

Making Crime Pay

by Lawrence Block

4 out of 5 rejection letters with suggestions on how to improve the plot.

Lawrence Block is one of those authors that I’ve often wished I could spend some time with just to hear him reminisce  about his long career as well as get his opinions on other crime writers. I haven’t gotten a dinner invitation yet (Although I did get to meet him when he was touring for Hope to Die.), but until that day reading The Crime of Our Lives is damn fine substitute.

Through this collection of introductions and essays he’s done over the years, you get a sense of what Block thinks about the mystery genre as a whole as well as specific things about various writers including some very humorous stories like the time Charles Willeford asked him if he had ever eaten cat.

Some of the more interesting stories come from the early days of his career when Block was working for a shady literary agent where he’d read submissions all day and write up rejections that would encourage the suckers to submit more work for a fee.  Block believes that slogging through that much bad fiction was a better education than reading masterpieces of literature because it taught him what not to do rather to admire what most everyone already agreed was great.

The most moving parts come in several things Block wrote about his late friend Donald Westlake.  (It’s probably a safe bet that Block was inspired to do this by the similar collection of Westlake material in the posthumously published The Getaway Car.  Block also wrote  that the introduction for that is reprinted here.)  Through the various pieces you get a real sense of the long friendship between the two writers as well as the deep respect that Block holds for his work. There’s also some intriguing musings as to how he thinks Westlake’s career and legacy might have been different if his early book Memory would have been published at the beginning of his career.  The story of how Block helped get it into print after Westlake’s death that he relates here shows just how much Block thought of that particular work.

Because there are some different pieces on the same subject, there’s a little bit of repetition, but even that becomes interesting if you pay attention to the different ways that Block can relate the same story.  Fans of Block or of the crime genre in general will find a lot of interesting tidbits as well as probably adding a few writers to their To-Read lists.

(Also posted at Goodreads.)

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