A Writer Prepares by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a free copy of this from the author for review.
First there was Batman Begins and now we have Block Begins.
Lawrence Block seems like a permanent fixture in crime fiction to me so it’s hard to imagine that there was ever a time when someone couldn’t wander into any bookstore or library and find several shelves filled with his works. However, everybody has to start somewhere, and in this memoir of the early days of his writing life Mr. Block tells us how he got his.
It wasn’t exactly a straight line even if he knew what he wanted to do from the time he was fifteen years old and got encouragement from an English teacher. A job at a shady literary agency provided invaluable experience and contacts to start his career churning out material under various pen names, most of it erotica, but even after he had his start Mr. Block bounced around between college and sometimes worked other jobs even as he was paying the bills with his writing.
This isn’t a traditional memoir. As Mr. Block explains, he began it in 1994 and wrote most of it one quick burst, but even though he had a publisher for it he set it aside and didn’t pick it up again until late in 2019 when he was going through old material to donate to a college. Rereading it sparked his interest, and he finished it up while leaving most of what he wrote back then intact.
A writer looking back at his career in his 50s, and then revisiting that in his 80s is unique and fascinating. One of the more interesting aspects is how Mr. Block’s attitude towards his early work-for-hire output has changed. Back in the ‘90s he refused to acknowledge or sign anything he’d written back then. These days, he cheerfully has these books reprinted either via e-books or via publishers like Hard Case Crimes. While never going so far as to say that he was ashamed of this early writing, he had various reasons for not wanting to take credit for it either back then. So explaining that shift is one of the things that benefits from letting the book sit for that long.
This is also most definitely NOT a biography. While certain aspects of his personal life come it’s always in relation to explaining something related to his writing. So there are some things mentioned like the death of his father and starting a family during his first marriage, but those aren’t the focus. It’s treated mainly as the backdrop to give a reader an understanding of what the situation was when Mr. Block made a choice regarding his writing.
There’s also a lot of fun stories and details about things like how the work-for-hire game was played, and how the Scott Meredith agency profited off of keeping wannabe writers on the hook for more reading fees. One trick that Mr. Block shares is how he sometimes used dialogue which often features a character wandering off the point as a a way to easily stretch out a page count for a book. This ultimately became part of his writing style.
Hard core fans should also be aware there isn’t anything about how he came up with his later creations like Matt Scudder, Bernie Rhodenbarr, or Keller. Here, the culmination of the story is how he was originally inspired to start his Evan Tanner novels, and how they became the next stage where he left
What we end up with isn’t so much a full historical account of Mr. Block’s life or writing. Rather it’s him looking back at his youth from two different perspectives, and how the experiences then shaped him into the write he would become. What I loved about is the casual and sometimes wandering nature of it. It’s as if a reader sat down with Mr. Block over a cup of coffee and got to listen to him tell a bunch of stories about the old days. As a longtime fan of his, that’s a real treat.
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