RUN: Lance's Thoughs
I absolutely loved this book. I loved it not so much because of the story, but for the way it was told. The narrative spoke to me, it jumped out of the page and grabbed me. This is the single best use of the “First person” narrative I have ever read. I usually don’t even like the “First Person” narrative because I find there is too much, I did, this I did that, I said “this“, Steve said “blah blah blah”. In “RUN” there wasn’t a single, I said “…” or Jinx said “…” there wasn’t a single use of quotations for dialog. At first I thought this was odd but then I realized the beauty of it; the entire book is one big quotation from Burdon Lane. He’s telling this story, he’s not quoting people looking up fact and details and writing them down. “RUN” is Burdon Lane telling the story of his last RUN, TELLING it, as if he just sat down and told it verbally. Certain people tell stories well, again I’m talking about verbally telling stories, actually orating and grabbing peoples attention. William Regal is great at it and thanks to Douglas E. Winter, so is Burdon Lane.
The opening sentence of the book sets the stage. It’s not the usual proper sentence: “So we’re shaking down this Dickey Mullen guy, and the guy is your usual suburban shoot-shop owner, talks the talk about home defense, and hunting season, spreads out copies of Guns & Ammo and Soldier of Fortune, sells crappy .38s to concerned…” I think you get the point; I needn’t type the whole thing. This is a really long sentence. I would hazard to guess that it’s even a run-on sentence, which could be cleaned up grammatically. Granted I’m an authority when it comes to grammar and I may be wrong, but it seemed to run on, to me. This is not a criticism mind you, because we seldom speak perfect English when talking so it makes the sentence feel real. Starting the sentence with “So” is also very odd as it is a completely unnecessary word, as is the use of “this Dickey Mullen guy” instead of just referring to him as Dickey Mullen. Adding these extra words and using the longer sentence makes the narrative. It establishes it as conversational, this story is being “told” (orated/verbalized) by a guy with a unique and gripping manner of speech.
I loved the fact that it was the 3rd chapter before we get around to finding out who is telling the story. “You should know right now, if you haven’t figured it out yet, that I’m not the good guy. The name is: Burdon, Burdon Lane.” What an introduction. The first 16-pages got me curious as to who is telling this story and then bam, there it is, and this intro tells us a lot more than you would think. It obviously tells us Burdon’s name and that he isn’t “the good guy”, but more over than that it, in my opinion, hints at the fact that, in a way, maybe he is.
“RUN” has a lot to say about right and wrong, good and evil, the proverbial “black and white”, if you will. I think there is a strong message in this book about black and white and those ever present shades of gray. Burdon’s introduction hints at things to come. After reading the first 16-pages we already know Burdon isn’t a “good guy”, yet he doesn’t introduce himself as “the bad guy” (all due respect to Razor Ramon), he says he isn’t “the good guy”. It also shows that Burdon is moral enough in his views to see himself honestly. Hitler in telling his own story would likely see himself as “the good guy” he believed in his superior race. He believed he was improving the world by ridding it of an entire race of people. He truly was “the bad guy” because he was doing evil, and too evil himself to realize it” Burdon’s honest introduction lends him a good quality, already moving him into one of those shades of gray.
There isn’t really a true “good guy” in this book. Everyone has his or her negative qualities. We’ve got criminals, gunrunners, gangs, dirty cops, dirty politicians; you name it, “RUN” has it. Every story needs a baby face, so who in “RUN” is our baby face? I think there are two of them, two important ones anyway, Burdon Lane and Jinx. What? How can Burdon Lane be the baby face, if by his own admission, he “isn’t the good guy”? I think this is where the whole message of the book comes into play.
The World isn’t Black and White as many people choose to view it; things just aren’t that cut and dry. It’s a World of shades of gray. Every Hero has his weaknesses and ever Villain his strengths. The cops aren’t always the good guys, the gang banggers not always the bad. In “RUN” we have dirty cops and politicians conspiring to assassinate the Reverend Gideon Parks. They are in bed with Jules Berenger and CK, the leaders of UniArms, illegal Arms dealers. They are the heels of this book. Normally the police are the good guys, not so in “RUN”. We also have the U Street Crew, a city street gang hired to assist in an illegal gun deal. This would normally place you on the heel side of things but in this story I list them as Faces. (Why? I will get to in a minute) Jinx is our wild card through out the book, as we don’t know his true motivation till the end. Jinx is an undercover ATF officer working inside the U Street Crew. He is actually as close as we get to a true good guy. He’s on the right side of the law and a baby face like Lane. Lastly we have Burdon Lane, our self-professed non-good guy. He’s a criminal and kills a lot of people in this book, but I still place him as my lead baby face.
In a world of shades of gray it comes down to drawing a line. When does your shade of gray become dark enough to be considered black or light enough to be seen as white? I think in “RUN” Douglas Winter is telling us that above all else, comes loyalty and honour. Without loyalty and honour it doesn’t matter how far up the corporate or legal ladder you are, at best you are a darker shade of gray. Conversely you can go the other way with the U Street Crew. As far as they go to the other side of the law, by focusing on their loyalty to each other, their honour, he keeps them in the gray. The U Street Crew takes care of their own. They protect their women and children and honour their dead. In this book they are a light gray. Burdon Lane had honour and loyalty too. He backed CK and his team, until they turned on him. He cared for and about Renny Two Hand and risked his life for Fiona. Despite being a huge bigot at the beginning, backed Jinx and Doctor D in the end. Burdon grew as a person, no longer viewing the U Street Crew as “N---ers” but as people. He remained loyal to his peeps and true to his word, he had honour, which makes him our “good guy” the lightest shade of gray.
There is also a huge massage here about guns, but I’ve gone on long enough and will hopefully get to some of those issues with your comments to follow.
RUN: Edge's Thoughs
“My good, but Tardy, friend Edge has finally gotten his thoughts on RUN to me so I’ve posted them below. In addition to his thoughts on RUN he included a brief apology for being late. Enjoy!”
First off I would like to humbly apologies to my good friend Lance and all of you loyal Stormtroopers for my, unforgivable, tardiness with this response. I am solely responsible for said tardiness and my only possible excuse is that I was so overwhelmed with joy and honour with being asked to take part in Lance’s book club that I totally lost track of time. I have looked up to Lance for years now and his offer to include me in Book Marks was one of the greatest joys of my life.
“Well okay perhaps that isn’t exactly what he said. I did have to run a spell check and make a few grammatical corrections. Here is how he originally typed it.”
Ok Lance here it is. Better tardy than never. By the way I'm quite warranted for being a slacker. You see folks, Lance Storm, your beloved leader, and my so-called friend, is the reason my book mark was late. Recently I made a trip to Calgary where I enjoyed a wonderful dinner prepared by Lance's better half, Tina. From there it was a nice friendly game of darts with Lance's brother at the local pub (don't worry, Lance and I had diet Coke). In between my dart skills stinking up the joint, we noticed Smackdown! was on. Chris Benoit was making Doink (I know I can't believe I just typed Doink either) tap out to the crossface. At this point, Lance decided to show me a different technique for the crossface. The only problem being, he applied it to me. Ok, no big deal, EXCEPT I'M RECOVERING FROM A BROKEN FREAKIN NECK!!!!!!! This greatly affected my typing abilities, so Storm Troopers, let's blame your illustrious leader for my tardy report. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. Now that my rant is out of the way, here are my opinions.
When Lance asked me to be involved in the Book Marks, I jumped at the chance. I, like Lance, and probably all of you, am an avid reader. I had no clue what to expect from Run by Douglas E. Winter. When I found the book in the bargain bin for $3.99, I was starting to have my doubts. Luckily Peter Straub eased my tension with his kind quote and I was ready. While I did not stay up and read the book in one sitting like Straub claims, I was entertained from the get go. Immediately the first person narrative struck a chord with me. I've not read all that many books done in the first person. I hate to draw analogies to film, but this book reminded me of Quentin Tarantino films. It had that Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs quick moving feel to it. I love the D.C. acronym of Dirty City (quite fitting by the way, no offence to anyone). There is definitely some funny moments that helped to give it this feel. Just picture a Clooney(or Willis)/Rhames or Travolta/Jackson pairing in a possible immortal scene, rivaling that of Royal with cheese. "I'm talking about a wedding. The boss's daughter is tying the knot. Seven thirty tonight. Over in Alexandria. At St. Anne's Cathedral. F*** man, Ray Ban says. That's whiter than white. That's whiter than Tide can get you. That's the North f***** Pole." Possible classic stuff. Stopping to get a vanilla shake, while being hunted and framed by the world, is the kind of pop culture that Tarantino's movies have.
With all of that being said, there were aspects I did not like. The first person narrative was fun, but did not give me a chance to invest in any other characters, including Jinx. It actually turned me off of Burdon Lane as well. As the book moved on I realized, I just didn't like the man. Maybe that is not a problem, but I think the idea was to be rooting for him by the end. I could not bring myself to root for him. As a matter of fact I would have preferred Jinx surviving over Burdon. With the feel of the rest of the book being street smart I find it hard to believe that Burdon would survive the final gunfight, let alone have the cops let him go. I smell a sequel, and if that's the case, it make sense. Another pet peeve was the fact that he would not look into Fiona's life. He was meticulous. Winter explained why, but I did not buy it.
Admittedly the Fiona and Jinx, Eighty F(ATF) turn was unexpected, which made for entertainment. When all was read and done, I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t just sit here and praise it could I? This is the internet, home of cynicism (settle down folks, just a joke). I do however, see this being more entertaining as a movie, which I rarely do. I actually liked the Godfather book a tad more than the movie (a true classic), so you get the idea.
In closing I quote the book once again: "I was thinking about a run. A run that was nothing special." "Business as usual". Thankfully my "run" to the bookstore did not end up being business as usual. I enjoyed the book(even though at times it may not sound like it), and if a sequel were to appear, or movie to be made, I would plop my hard earned money down for both.
Now I go to re-hab my crossface-stricken neck!
RUN: Douglas Winter's Thoughts
Thanks so much, Lance, for featuring RUN in Book Marks. I know the book presented a dilemma – it’s a first novel by an unknown, and its language, style, and subject matter are ripe for controversy. As the comments confirm, this is not a book for everyone. Your decision to champion RUN showed the same kind of conviction and determination you’ve shown so many nights in the ring – working hurt, working tired, working for jeers instead of cheers. Thanks, too, to everyone who spent time with my dark fable, and for the kind words (and even the occasional unkind ones). I’ll try to respond to your thoughts and questions, and hopefully offer some insight into my intent and the writing process.
RUN is my first novel. I’ve published short stories, reviews and criticism, and nine other books; but like one of my literary heroes, Raymond Chandler -- whose first novel wasn’t published until he was 51 -- I didn’t even try to write a novel until I was in my forties. I was working too hard as a lawyer. When Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed on takeoff at Detroit, Michigan, one hundred and sixty people were killed, and I lived on the road for more than three years, finally moving to Detroit for a jury trial that lasted nineteen months. The appeals dragged on for five more years. We won. Professionally, it was the greatest achievement imaginable; but personally, I was at a turning point.
I’d gone for years without family and friends. Years without writing. I knew I had to try to write a novel, even if it meant devoting years to a book that might never be published. And I decided that this novel had to be mine, not just another lawyer novel or horror novel – that, whether you close the book after the first page or the final page, whether you like it or not, you have to say it’s Doug Winter’s book. That’s what I love as a reader: Novels with their own voice and attitude. Novels that don’t always play by the imagined “rules” of fiction.I made a conscious decision to write a book that wasn’t “safe” commercially. I knew RUN would be rejected by certain publishers (and by certain readers) because it didn’t conform to expectations. I knew some folks would be put off by its style, its subject, my entire approach to storytelling; but that risk made RUN appealing to other publishers -- and, obviously, to readers.
Fiction, as Bob and Janis noted, is about emotion. That’s why novels are often categorized in emotional terms -- romance, horror, suspense. Good writers try to move readers, to touch us in ways we can’t shrug off or laugh away. And as David Morrell taught me: If you’re going to call a book a thriller, then by God it should thrill. David’s early novels -- FIRST BLOOD (1972), TESTAMENT (1975), and LAST REVEILLE (1977) – taught me so much about momentum, which I tried to put to good use here. Mike Wester was one of several readers who enjoyed my attempt to live up to my title. People like to say that certain books are “page-turners,” but I prefer to think of myself as a page pusher. My goal was to excite readers, energize them, compel them to keep turning the pages – but also to construct a Trojan Horse, a novel that wasn’t simply about unexpected plot twists but also about unexpected messages.
I don’t like novels written as pure escapism. Fiction is entertainment, but that doesn’t mean it should distract us -- or worse, give us a false sense of reality. The best stories make us think, and open our mind and spirit to the world around us – and our place in that world.
RUN has something to say about the American culture of violence and bigotry – the problem of guns, the problem of race, the problem of “good” and “evil.” I couldn’t tell its story honestly or convincingly without descending deep into the moral underworld, and offering repugnant words and deeds. We’ve seen too many novels and films that gloss over the real demons in favor of symbols -- swastikas, flaming crosses – and never confront the pathology that gives these symbols power. In subverting conventional crime and suspense novels, I told my story from the inside out -- from the point of view of a hardened criminal.
You’re not supposed to like Burdon Lane -- not at the beginning, and maybe not even at the end. Burdon tells you from the get-go that he’s not the good guy, but we learn that his world isn’t one of good and bad -- it’s bad and worse, but most of all shaded in grey. And although he’s a criminal, a killer, a racist, when seen from a broader perspective, he’s carrying some of the sins of America – and I named him for that burden.
Amy (better late than never!), Breanne Blank, Ryan Byrne, and others enjoyed my refusal to embrace a “good guy.” And that’s a risk, because many readers want to have a sympathetic character from page one.
I disagree. I think novels need to have an interesting protagonist -- someone who engages the reader and, in time, earns their understanding, perhaps their empathy. And he’s hopefully charismatic enough that most readers want to turn the page and find out what happens next – which takes them on his winding path toward redemption. Mike Patry was right in finding empathy with Burdon for another reason: Despite his many flaws, Burdon is the “good soldier” -- a role we’ve all experienced in school or work, family or nation. We’re called upon to do things for “the good of the business” or “the good of the project” or even “the good of the country,” and we soldier on, even if we have doubts or we know we’ll see none of the benefits.
Like Lance, Ryan Burne noted the novel’s underlying themes of brotherhood and honor (and thanks, Ryan, for calling RUN “the most violent and curse-filled book that I have ever read” -- can I use that as a blurb on the next edition?). Although Burdon lives outside the law, he has a code, a sense of honor and in a society that has forsaken interdependence, trust, and respect in favor of selfishness and materialism.
Most people prefer “good guys.” We’re comfortable with heroes because they’re easier to understand, easier to trust, easier to embrace as our avatars in book and film (and wrestling) adventures. They represent our hopes and dreams as well as lofty ideals – fairness and integrity, romance and virtue.
But we know from experience that “goodness” isn’t innate, and it isn’t reality. One day the swerve is going to come, because whether we like it or not, there aren’t any “good guys.” Not in the real world. There are only human beings.
I never liked Hulkamania. When Terry Bollea ripped off his T-shirt and ran wild in the eighties, my interest in wrestling waned because its ghost-dance with reality had changed. Hulk Hogan was the consummate face, but unlike earlier champions, he was also in your face – to the point that the real mania seemed one of ego. He was larger than life, and he would win and keep winning (unless, of course, someone cheated) simply because he was the “good guy.” Until Hogan’s loss to The Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania 6, there was no ambiguity in the WWF. There was no sense of moral balance.
But there was Roddy Piper.
The Rowdy One was a heel, but a heel of compelling complexity – the perfect nemesis for Hogan. “When I’m good,” Piper once said, “I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m much, much better.” Truer words have never been spoken.Piper did cruel things -- remember his assault on Superfly Snuka? -- but his actions always seemed more honest, more real, than those of the Hulkster. Piper became wrestling’s conscience, reminding us that our world wasn’t a fantasy where things would turn out right if you took your vitamins and said your prayers. He proved that you didn’t have to win matches to win hearts and minds. He was so over as a bad guy that he became more than a heel – he was what literature calls an anti-hero.
That’s Burdon Lane.
We live in an either/or world where our politicians and pundits (and even some of our wrestling promoters) try to put us in boxes -- good/bad, left/right, black/white, gay/straight, pro/anti, face/heel -- but as Burdon learns, we’re all these things . . . and more. We’ve been taught superficial ways of looking at the world, and it’s the Big Lie of our generation. As RUN underscores, this zeal to categorize ourselves and other people is the source of misunderstanding, bigotry, and violence.
What makes us human is our remarkable individuality -- and that’s often a function of ambiguity. The truth is all around us. Sometimes it’s good news: Tiger Woods blurring racial lines, or Jesse Ventura blurring political lines. Sometimes it’s bad news: Corruption in the LAPD. Wars based on lies.
Writing in first-person and present tense was another risk, but I wanted to put you inside Burdon’s head, because the most open and honest way to talk about violence and racism is through the very words of someone buried deep inside the horror. Readers like Amy Tribes enjoyed that point of view; others found it uncomfortable. Joe Filippone -- this is the first time I’ve been compared to Jacqueline Susann! – is right about voices. It’s fascinating that so many readers and writers believe that “literature” is about elegant words and grammatical perfection. In truth, the staying power of great books is usually based in linguistics – the writer’s ability to choose words that form an emotional connection between his readers and his story. If we look to Hemingway (the best example), we find that his fiction is moving -- and literary – precisely because of the simplicity of his words and his refusal to embellish.
I’m non-linear -- some would say anarchic -- when I write fiction. I write the way I think, which means that, even though I wanted RUN to read like a warp-speed conversation between narrator and reader, it was constructed in a slow and painstaking way -- almost like a jigsaw puzzle. I knew my beginning. I knew my midpoint: The assassination. And I knew my ending. The pleasure of writing RUN was in hearing Burdon Lane tell the story. That was difficult at times, but I loved it – because I love to listen. Conversation is free-form poetry, with such unique and personal rhythms; but too many novelists write dialogue in an artificial way. Characters speak in complete, grammatically correct sentences; they never interrupt each other; they always say what they really mean – things none of us does in real life.
Reading George V. Higgins and Elmore Leonard taught me that nothing brings life to a character more than the way he speaks. Yet so many novelists waste their time (and ours) describing the shape of a character’s nose, the color of their hair, the cut of their clothing -- and when they’re finished, we have a picture of the character; but that’s all it is, a picture. Characters come alive through their thoughts and words and deeds. It doesn’t matter whether Hannibal Lecter’s nose is pudgy or thin; it’s his sense of smell, and the way he talks about it, that’s compelling. Clarice Starling is alive in Thomas Harris’s novels whether she looks like Jodie Foster or Julianne Moore. Thus: When you read RUN, you don’t learn the shape of Burdon’s nose or even the color of his eyes; but you know him.
There was also something liberating – at times, hypnotic -- about writing in Burdon’s voice. Lance probably knows the feeling on those nights when he lets loose on the microphone. It’s cathartic. Burdon gets to say things we don’t say in ordinary company, but he’s honest -- sometimes painfully so. He’s world-weary, angry, violent, bigoted – yet if you accept Burdon’s humanity, you see through his bravado and bluster and into his pained soul. We all share his feelings at times (although not at this revved-up level), because we’re only human. And we all have to make that same choice between damnation and redemption.
Now . . . about those missing quotation marks. I’m tempted to say that my publisher was so cheap that it cut them out to save on printing costs. Some folks grooved to the absence of quotation marks and my reinvention of syntax -- and understood that indulging a more conventional style would have lessened the story. For Ryan Seek and other readers who found the style confusing or distracting, look at it this way: RUN is like trying sushi, or (back in the day) seeing ECW for the first time. Not everyone may enjoy it, or get it, but perhaps that’s part of the pleasure. I’m the kind of person who’ll try just about anything once (I ate squid in its own ink in Italy, and believe me, once was enough), and again, the point was to try to be different.
Writing in stream of consciousness -- which tries to relate the narrator’s entire experience, so that the reader learns about the narrator through the way in which he tells his story -- is like offering a camera for the mind. Because we see everything through Burdon (and not an all-seeing, all-knowing “omniscient” narrator), conventional character and plot development is limited; but in return, you find that your imagination starts to work along with mine. The early pages may be tough if you’re not used to this style, and I’m grateful to Tracy Westren, Max Chittister, Justen Collins, and Paul McIntosh -- greetings, Scotland! – for sticking with me. As for Tom, I’m sorry about the headache. The solution, I guess, is to take two aspirin and read me in the morning – or, in truth, to take a second look, as I hope Dale will do. (Actually I’ve been told by many fans that they enjoyed a second reading, since the puzzle parts are there to be found, as well as moments when I tip readers, however subtly, to the true identities and intentions of characters.)
And Terra: Actually you and Lance are both right about how the dialogue works without quotation marks. Although readers do “hear” different voices, those voices are filtered through Burdon, who (like each of us) hears things the way he wants to. That approach was vital, as Lance notes: A chapter like “eighty f” couldn’t have been written the right way -- and without cheating the reader -- if we weren’t hearing everything through Burdon.
Now for a few shout-outs: Thanks to Bobby Atkins and Josh Skufca for stepping away from their usual reading preferences to lamp RUN -- and Bobby, if you enjoy fantasy, look for a breathtaking epic by E.R. Eddison called THE WORM OUROBOROS (1922), which inspired J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s my favorite fantasy novel, and I was fortunate enough to be asked to write the introduction to its most recent edition (from Ballantine Books).
Thanks to Mark for noting the dangers of expectation. “Suspense” and “mystery” often seem like dying artforms because too many people want to be told what they like and why they like it. Remember when movie previews were teasers, not summaries of the entire film?
I love swerves in novels and films – and, of course, in wrestling. The best ones are those you don’t see coming . . . but that, if you stop and think, were there all the time, just waiting to happen. You may feel whiplashed, but you don’t feel cheated. And that’s what great suspense writing is all about.
Thanks also to Mark – and to Mike Patry -- for noting my research. Since I was writing about the problem of guns, the weaponry had to be depicted with utter factuality, and I spent a lot of time with law enforcement and weapons experts. Attention to detail is important – and I’m pleased that Denise Rouse noted the local detail. We’ve had far too many novels and movies and TV shows about Washington, D.C., that warp reality. Too many people think that D.C. is the White House, the Capitol Building, the Pentagon; but “Dirty City” and its suburbs are a far more complex and interesting landscape.
Laura Paquette asked if I based my characters on people I’ve known, and the answer is yes and no. Doctor D and the U Street Crew are based on real gangbangers who plagued D.C. in the 1990s; but I tend to evoke memorable traits or words of people I’ve known, rather than paint them completely into characters. Thus Jules Berenger’s self-absorbed patriarchy is based on an older lawyer – for whom I served as a “good soldier.”
A few readers were disappointed that I didn’t explain every plot element. Erik’s questions are the ones that confront every novelist: How much should a writer reveal? How much should be left to the reader’s imagination? I’m a minimalist. I don’t like novels that force-feed information to readers -- the color of every room, the color of every lampshade in every room, the complexion of every face -- or worse, that tell readers how they should feel. RUN asks the reader to participate by giving them an opportunity to fill in the blanks and connect the dots. You’re not told much about the characters’ looks or their surroundings. Instead I offer glimpses and impressions, allowing each reader to become an imaginary filmmaker, visualizing the story as it’s told. I also dislike those tried-and-true endings where the action stops to allow someone -- usually the villain -- to explain the mystery or tie up loose ends. That’s not real; that’s Hollywood.
RUN is about conspiracies within conspiracies, but the ultimate conspiracy is never revealed. There are hints, but readers are left to their own conclusions. That’s an honest finale, since our narrator, Burdon, doesn’t have the answer; and it’s also consistent with my intent. We can’t trivialize gun violence by sloughing it off on a gunman like CK or Lee Harvey Oswald, or on corporate greed or rogue FBI agents. Like so many ills facing our nation, the evil of RUN is a mingling of intent and neglect, politics and economics. Thus the notion of a “secret state” shrouds the endgame of RUN, if only to underscore the fact that so many decisions affecting our lives have been taken – or given -- to a higher political power over which we have no real control.
The finale takes place in a church -- during a wedding, no less -- because I wanted to show the realities of violence in a way that was shocking and apocalyptic. That concerned Karen Brickhaus and a few others, but let’s be honest: It was supposed to concern you. I wanted readers to understand that violence breeds violence; that it has no limits; that, as Doctor D says, it will never be over . . . unless and until we learn to put down the gun. Ironically, just after I finished the book, my ending didn’t seem so shocking: Eric Harris and Dylan Kleibold opened fire at Columbine High School.
As Kingsport, TN noted, violence can be numbing, and that’s another aesthetic challenge for writers: How much is too much? Yet gun violence in America has become so mundane that most killings are no longer “newsworthy.” Crimes that tweak TV viewers – the Laci Peterson murder, the Kobe Bryant rape case -- receive prominent coverage, but if there’s a gun death in D.C. (and there have been more than 160 homicides thus far this year), it’s a blink of the media eye. I’m not keen on hearing or reading about violence in a church -- or a school, a shopping mall, or even a combat zone. But we can’t close our eyes to the problem of guns and wish it away. That’s what the Catholic Church did with reports of errant priests – and, as is usually the case, the cover-up was more damning than the original crimes. Said another way: Unless we acknowledge the problems, get them out into the open, we can’t even begin to find the solutions. The same is true about race.
The racial currents of RUN troubled Robert Demond; but bigotry, like violence, is alive and well and living next door – indeed, it’s in each of us. When Mark Fuhrmann took the stand in the O.J. Simpson case and said he’d never used the “N” word, I knew he was lying -- although I also knew this had nothing to do with Simpson’s guilt or innocence. Anyone who denies a capacity for bigotry denies human nature. I’m old enough to remember American apartheid. I grew up in a steel town in southern Illinois. Black men labored in the mills, but not one black person lived in my hometown. There were no black kids at school. Some said that geography divided the races; that people liked to keep to themselves. Others said my hometown was a hotbed for the Klan. I remember separate restrooms and entrances for “colored” people, and signs in restaurants that denied blacks service. I heard people cheer when Martin Luther King was killed. That, dear readers, is real. The “N” word, on the other hand, is just a word.
Bless Gayle Malone and so many others for understanding that I needed to use racially charged language. And for those who took offense, there’s a lesson: You’ve been taught to react to a word – just a word. Censorship is never a solution. It’s just a tidy way of sweeping reality under the carpet.
Now let’s talk about RUN and Hollywood. Chris Harris and Mike Da Silva, among others, mentioned Quentin Tarentino. Sorry, guys. Although I love Tarentino’s movies, I wasn’t trying to emulate one. I was trying to evoke my favorite crime novelists – the same writers Tarentino has copied on film. (Why do you think the movie was called PULP FICTION?)A quick lesson in literature, because these aren’t the guys they teach in school:
James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Horace McCoy defined “hard-boiled” fiction during the Great Depression in genuine classics like THE MALTESE FALCON (1929), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1934), THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? (1935), and THE BIG SLEEP (1939). Their novels brought a grim modernism and savvy to mystery and suspense, chronicling the mean streets and back alleys of America in muscular (and usually first-person) prose. After World War Two, Mickey Spillane’s “Mike Hammer” series defined the tough-talking P.I. for a new generation, but Jim Thompson and David Goodis took the genre to even darker places by shifting the perspective from the crime-solvers to the criminals. Thompson’s THE KILLER INSIDE ME (1952) features a small town deputy whose dull, cliché-mouthing persona masks a sociopathic killer; and THE GETAWAY (1959) was adapted by Sam Peckinpah as a gritty showcase for Steve McQueen.
David Goodis, my favorite of the hard-boiled school, battled depression and alcoholism while writing epitaphs for life’s losers and their inevitably fatal flaws. His second novel, DARK PASSAGE (1946), became a Bogart and Bacall classic; and THE BURGLAR (1953) is a despairing masterpiece about the downfall of a band of petty criminals.
Then came Chester Himes, John D. McDonald, George V. Higgins (who taught me more about dialogue than any other writer) and, of course, Elmore Leonard. I was blown away when Leonard sent my editor that wonderful quote about RUN -- before then I’d known him only as a devoted reader. I wanted to take this legacy of noir fiction into the Twenty-first Century -- to find out what would happen if David Goodis were to wake up from a long drunk in a roomful of gang members with crack cocaine and Uzis. As for Chris V, who also wanted to ride the Tarentino pony – hey, Chris, let’s accentuate the negative! But if I can be serious for a moment . . . Thinking that novelists write their books as templates for Hollywood blockbusters is . . . well, off the planet. It’s like saying that Lance Storm suffered through the Hart Dungeon, apprenticeship in the indies, and then ECW, WCW, and ultimately WWE in order to get the chance to audition for acting jobs.
That’s not how things work. Look over a list of all the movies made in the past five years, and you’ll see how few were adapted from novels. Better yet, try writing a novel first. And after you’ve spent all that time thinking and writing and revising -- I worked on RUN, off and on, for four years -- and you’ve filled 400 or 500 manuscript pages with ink, then try finding an agent -- and then try finding a real, honest-to-God New York publisher. And then, my friend, when you’ve done all that . . . try, just try, to sell that book to a Hollywood studio. You’d be better off playing the Pick Six Lotto.
That said, I’ve been fortunate. Janis asked whether a screenplay can do justice to RUN. We’re about to find out. Although I wrote RUN for myself, and not for the movies, it’s in the hands of a Hollywood studio with a prominent director attached, and I’ve just completed a revised screenplay. That was a challenge, because novels are novels, while movies are . . . well, something else. RUN is told strictly through Burdon’s point of view, but films are inevitably omniscient. How do you convey the book’s voice and attitude in a medium that’s about showing, not telling? Hopefully my screenplay can work that magic.
I did enjoy hearing readers’ ideas about actors – their own casting calls for RUN -- since it means, again, that we’re working our imaginations in a collective way. Bruce Willis as Burdon Lane? I like him, especially in no-nonsense roles (TEARS OF THE SUN), but he’s done too much star-time as a “good guy.” Personally I’d like to see Russell Crowe with the Glock 19s.
As for Chris Pirie’s choice of DMX as Jinx (and hey, Chris, thanks for the very kind words) or Lance’s choice, Ving Rhames . . . I’ll second those emotions, although Rhames seems better suited to playing Doctor D. When I wrote the book, I liked to think of the late Tupac Shakur as Jinx – it seemed a fitting epitaph. And if I have any say in the casting, I do think there’s a role for Lance Storm.
And then we have Edge.
Wait a minute.
I’m being reviewed by a guy named after a shaving cream???
True story: Back in 1998, I was Monday-nighting with RAW when a blonde-locked angel of darkness charged out of the crowd and into the ring. I thought to myself: Star. Great look, ring presence, scientific skills.
Then I asked myself:
But can he read? Seriously now: Thanks, my man, for taking a look at RUN. And thanks for some amazing work out there on the canvas, night after night. Thanks also -- to Edge and so many others -- for their interest in my next novel. It’s called HIDE, and should be published by this time next year.
I don’t like to talk about what I’m writing, but I will say that I like taking perceived opposites -- those divisive absolutes that supposedly denote our politics, our social values, even our morality -- and making them collide like speeding trains. RUN was about the problem of guns and gun control, and about race, and the nature of “good” and “evil” (which even now our President insists are dichotomies). HIDE proceeds from equally divisive issues: Church and state, abortion, and socially acceptable violence -- the level of death and destruction that we seem willing to allow in the name of perceived “rights.”
Ask any writer: The second novel is far tougher than the first. It’s impossible to replicate RUN – or to write a conventional sequel -- and that doesn’t interest me. What interests me is trying to tell stories in new ways -- and trying to craft thrillers that really thrill. I told my publisher that my motto is to “unexpect the expected” -- and that’s what RUN and HIDE are all about . . . about going places where, to quote Roddy Piper: “Just when you think you know the answer, I change the question.”
But breathe easy, folks . . . HIDE does use quotation marks!
While you’re waiting, you might want to check out the two collections of short stories I’ve edited -- PRIME EVIL (NAL/Signet) and REVELATIONS (HarperCollins) -- which showcase some great original fiction from Clive Barker, Stephen King, David Morrell, Peter Straub, and F. Paul Wilson, among others. The first collection of my own short stories, AMERICAN ZOMBIE, will be published in a limited edition this fall by Borderlands Press. And if you have enjoy nonfiction, you might look for my critical biographies STEPHEN KING: THE ART OF DARKNESS (NAL/Signet) and CLIVE BARKER: THE DARK FANTASTIC (HarperCollins).
In closing, I want to quote Sara Tammer, who said very kind things about RUN -- but these were her most important words: “If it wasn't for Book Marks I would have probably never given RUN a chance.” That says so much about Lance Storm and the club. Aimee Rode is right: Lance is a remarkable role model. We hear too many negatives about professional athletes – and wrestling -- and not enough of the positives. It’s wonderful to find someone at the top of his game who takes the time to give back, and in ways that obviously affect the lives of others.
Thanks to J. Gray, especially for recommending RUN to friends. That’s what Book Marks is all about: Word of mouth. Having the insight of trusted readers is vital when it comes to books. How many times have we been told that such-and-such is terrific because it’s a bestseller, only to learn we’ve been treated as a lemming? It’s great to know that Chris Hodgson and so many others are “hooked” on Book Marks. And for Michael S and those who didn’t find RUN to their taste: That’s cool, but please stick with the club.
RUN is something like Burdon Lane – it’s not the good guy, but maybe it’s not the bad guy either. And at the end of the day, it’s not important whether you liked RUN or not. What’s important is that you read a book – and that you keep reading. Find the kinds of books you like and engage your imagination. Keep coming back to Book Marks, because Lance’s tastes are expansive and smart. When he retires from the squared circle – at age sixty or so, of course -- he has a good job awaiting him as a book reviewer.
If you liked RUN, you may want to look for:
THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler
PORT TROPIQUE by Barry Gifford
THE BURGLAR by David Goodis
THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE by George V. Higgins
FIRST BLOOD by David Morrell
FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahuink
I, THE JURY by Mickey Spillane
THE KILLER INSIDE ME by Jim Thompson