Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fan Mail

I have written three fan letters in my life. One to Stan Lee, back in 1965. One to Octavia Butler shortly before her untimely death in 2006. And one to Elmore Leonard a few years earlier.

My favorite Elmore Leonard novel
Elmore Leonard died this morning, at age eighty-seven. I did not know him as a person, but as a writer he had a pretty good run. He was still writing until two weeks ago, when he suffered a stroke. He was an artist who kept getting better at his craft well into his sixties, and maintained that high level of quality until the end.

Back in the mid 1980s, when I was first getting serious about writing novels, I picked up a copy of Leonard’s LaBrava (1983) on the recommendation of Jeff Hatfield, then the manager of Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore. I immediately went on to read every other book Leonard had written. I learned more about writing from those books than I had from any other single author. A few years later, I wrote a series of comic crime novels. If you read the first three—Drawing Dead, Short Money, and The Mortal Nuts—you will see Elmore Leonard’s influence on nearly every page, just as you can see George V. Higgins’ influence in Leonard’s early crime novels, and James M. Cain’s fingers all over Higgins’ early work, and so on back to Sophocles.

My later work displays less of Leonard’s DNA, but it’s still there, tweaking the dialog, shoring up the characters, fine-tuning the timing, making me better. Every day I am aware of him. He was one of the great ones, and for me he was the right writer discovered at the right time, and I will be forever grateful for his example.

Elmore Leonard answered my fan letter. I still have his reply, a short handwritten note, classy and gracious. I must find it now, and reread it. Excuse me.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Nom Nom

Hundreds of thousands of science fiction stories and novels have been published over the past century, so it is inevitable that a few of them would have gotten a few things right about the future. Still, it's a fun game to play, and today's entry is The Space Merchants, by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, published in 1952, the year I was born. The Space Merchants is set in the not-too-distant future, in New York, in a world where corporations run the government and advertising has saturated the collective consciousness. Some of it holds up, and some of it doesn't, but what made me think of it today is this article from the BBC.

In the novel, the vat-grown protein is an enormous chicken breast called Chicken Little, from which slabs are carved to supply protein for a vastly overpopulated city. The product grown by researchers at Maastricht University is cow-based. Maybe the research was funded by McDonald's and not KFC.