Archive for David Goodis

David Goodis – Poet of the Damned

Posted in David Goodis with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2011 by gustravis

David Goodis – Poet of the Damned

All good writing is autobiographical someone once said. In general that’s true but I would have to qualify that by saying in some authors more than others. There is a kind of professional writing that is more about expertise, structure and craft than it is about self revelation. It isn’t easy to do and requires a lot of hard work to develop those skills. I respect those who can do it and do it well. But I love the kind of writer who can’t help but bare his/her soul everytime they sit down and put pen to paper. One such is the pulp noir writer David Goodis (1917-1967) best known for the novel Down There (1956) that was adapted by film director Francois Truffaut into the French New Wave classic Shoot the Piano Player (1960).

 

Now long before I knew anything about writing or literature especially the middle class hierarchy that placed original paperback novels on the bottom shelf of the literary woodpile I had been reading guys like Frederick Brown, Jim Thompson, Day Keene, Charles Willeford and Charles Williams not just as entertainments but as literature as well.  And later on when the teachers of various academic courses tried to tell me different I stubbornly held on to the notion that I was right and they were wrong. Not just wrong but foolishly and snobbishly so. And I still hold to that.

 

Lately I began reading Goodis again and now I’m more convinced than ever. He has been called “The poet of the down and outers”… “The spokesman of the losers”… “The Herald of the bad dream Bogarts” etc. All of those descriptions are wholly appropriate. Read any one of his novels and you’re not just immersed into his world of waterfronts and cheap whisky bars, you’re submerged into a no-exit zone of low lifes and disenchanteds whose only escape from the twilight world they live in is the crime they can get away with. His principal characters are drunks, sexy and frequently possessive women, and a whole herd of weak men in the service of heartless cruel ones.  They are works that for the most part rob us of our innocence and take us into the underbelly of society where alcohol and violence define the boundaries of existence.  It’s a world we don’t want to see or acknowledge but somehow can’t look away from. All thanks to Mr. Goodis. Someone had to speak for these lost souls and I as a reader am grateful that it’s him.

 

And as it turns out his writing reflected the life he lived. They reflect his world both inside and out. He was down and out in a way that George Orwell never experienced in either London or Paris. But damn could the man write.  Here’s a quickie from his novel Black Friday (1954).

 

     Frieda was a big woman. She was one sixty if she was an ounce, more solid than soft, packed into five feet five inches and molded majestically. He guessed she didn’t wear a girdle and when she turned her back to him and leaned over slightly he was certain of it…She bent over even further and her calves were the same as the rest of her, solid, round fat coming down rhythmically to slim ankles giving way to high heels that she hadn’t been wearing before.

 

From Cassidy’s Girl (1951)

 

     He was seeing the night -black hair of Mildred, the disordered shiny mass of heavy hair. He was seeing the brandy-colored eyes, long lashed, very long lashed. And the arrogant upturned curve of her gorgeous nose. He was trying with all his power to hate the sight of her full fruit-like lips, and the maddening display of her immense breasts, the way they swept out, aimed at him like weapons. He stood there looking at the woman to whom he had been married for almost four years, with whom he slept in the same bed every night, but what he saw was not a mate. He saw a harsh and biting and downright unbearable obsession.

 

Most of the books, the best ones anyway, are still available and I recommend them without hesitation. Some titles besides the ones already mentioned that you might want to look at include; Nightfall (1947), Street of No Return (1952) and The Burglar (1953). The Black Lizard editions come with a terrific introductory essay on his life by Geoffrey O’Brien.

 

Our literary heritage is considerably richer than we think but we sometimes don’t know it. The reason being that so many worthwhile writers fall through the cracks because of middle class/ academic elitism. David Goodis is one of them. It is now time to bring him out and into the light.

 

– GE.

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Pulp and Hard Case Crime by Gus Edwards

Posted in Hard Case Crime with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2010 by gustravis

Pulp and Hard Case Crime

 

The always politically correct literary police may not agree but I believe that some of the best fiction writing in America, and in the world for that matter, came from the writers of the paperback novels of the 1950s and 60s. The stuff people used to call pocket books. The ones with the vividly lurid covers that sold in newsstands, drug stores, truck stops, soda fountains and even in some liquor stores. Written by guys like Michael Avallone, Gil Brewer, David Dodge, Steve Fisher, David Goodis, Day Keene, John D. MacDonald, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, Charles Williams ,Cornell Woolwrich and a host of others. Guys whose names or works never appear on the “required reading lists” of most college or university literature courses. Yet these guys and a few gals , Patricia Highsmith among them, are the real thing. The central core of top notch American fiction writing of the mid 20th Century. They are the ones who knocked the ball out of the field almost every time they stepped up to the plate which was quick and often. These guys were pros who didn’t sit around too much pondering and meditating on what the right word was or how pretty each sentenced should be. Their business was to punch you in the gut in the first or second chapter. Preferably the first. Then move the plot along and you the reader with it. Somewhere in the middle you would get some sharp characterizations comprised mostly of terse dialogue, brief descriptive passages and some nifty action and sex scenes that made your eyes widen and heart beat faster. The sex was never explicit but lively enough to get the blood pounding through your veins. And they wrote fast, these guys. Generally it took them 3 to 5 weeks to come up with a novel of approximately 180 pages. Some, according to their financial needs would write them in a week. While there were still others who, with a clanky, broken down typewriter, a gallon of coffee or several bottles of booze could knock them out in 24 to 36 hour marathon sessions. The editors of imprints like Dell, Signet, Gold Medal, Ace, Lancer and others accepted the books quickly and maybe gave them the once over before sending them off to the printer because these books rarely needed any kind of fussy editing. More often than not the biggest editorial change came at the title. The author’s title might be Running with a Bad Crowd and the editor might change it to Kiss Me Hard Before I Die or some such thing. The editors knew their stuff. These books were never advertised or reviewed so their major selling point was the catch penny title and the cover art. What we need to remember is that these books generally displayed on rotary wire stands close to where the potential buyer is buying a stick of gum or a pack of cigarettes, listening for the announcement of their bus departure gate. Casually they might spin the book stand and quickly glance at the covers to see if anything might catch their eye. Something that might occupy their 3 or 4 hour travelling time.

 

The covers of these books became an art form unto themselves. The artists who painted them rarely ever read the novels. There was no time.  They had to produce the work too quickly so they usually painted a series of stuff depicting a woman in some provocative outfit be it a tight dress or a bikini, with a man next to her holding a gun. Sometimes it was the woman holding the gun or a knife. And sometimes there might be an explosion in the background. The editor would select the one he felt was appropriate to the novel and that would be it. The turnaround time for these books from the acceptance of the manuscript to the printed book being delivered to the newsstand or bookstore was a little over a month in most cases. Thousands and thousands of these books would be distributed and sold and then disappear while another would take its place. Most of the titles were never reprinted. They just went to the elephant graveyard of forgotten books never to be seen again. Yet, despite their fleeting appearance, these writers and these books, due to the excellence of the writing and craftsmanship of the characterization and plotting influenced a generation of readers and writers along with some filmmakers as well. Virtually everything we read today or see on the screen that’s any good is a result of that kind of writing whether they know it or not. They are a part of America’s literary heritage that has gone unnoticed in many areas. And they are rarely on display anywhere for new readers to discover and enjoy them.

Forty years ago writer Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart) and an editor Don Ellis founded Black Lizard Books which reprinted many of those titles in their original paperback format and interesting covers mostly painted by Jim Kirwan. Some years later the imprint was purchased by Random House who thus far has only reprinted the Jim Thompson titles in large format trade paperbacks.

 
Example of a Black Lizard cover

Luckily in 2006 Charles Ardai and Max Phillips founded Hard Case Crimes which publishes many of the novels from that golden era with several new titles from contemporary authors like Stephen King (The Colorado Kid) and Christa Faust (The Money Shot) adding their voices to that wonderful tradition. I see this as a heroic effort and a labor of love on the part of the publishers who obviously don’t have the money or the distribution clout of the big publishing companies. But they are fighting the good fight on behalf of the genre they love and we the readers who hunger for them.

 

I am especially thrilled that they have retained the idea of vivid cover art and have commissioned some splendid painters to provide them. The way I see it is these guys deserve our respect, our support  and our patronage. So the next time you’re in a bookstore go to the mystery section and pick up a Hard Case Crime book. Any title will suffice because they all will occupy, and thrill as well as amuse you in ways that only a good piece of fiction can.

David Goodis: The Wounded and the Slain

Posted in David Goodis with tags , , , , on May 27, 2010 by gustravis

David Goodis

He wrote for radio.  He wrote for Hollywood.  He shacked up in Philadelphia with his parents and schizo brother and explored the streets at night.  He died from injuries possibly received while resisting a robbery.

The Wounded and the Slain

The city is a perfect place for crime, for the unhealthy, the ones diseased in mind and spirit, for double-crosses and triple-crosses and shoot-outs and beautiful women made of nothing but meanness.  But the slums of a Third World island aren’t a bad setting either and that is where Goodis takes us in this novel, to the tourist havens in Jamaica, where nearby poverty and crime wait for night to sometimes snatch one of the guests away from their blissful fantasy lives.

Of course, his protagonist James Bevan wants to be taken–he craves escape from the spiral of alcoholism he’s thrown himself into, his marriage to a frigid confused woman, the pointlessness of his American life.  It is the slums, the death, the violence, the betrayal and ugliness of human kind, right in his face like the mud that chokes him when he falls in a ditch, drunk, and can’t get out, it is that ugliness that may spark the last breath of courage in his depraved body and soul.

There is something essential and fitting about a character in pulp/noir work that doesn’t want to live, that in fact wants to destroy themselves.  Charles Willeford nails this type in his novel Pick-Up and so does Goodis here, through a couple hundred pages of pain and suffering.

Hard Case, a publisher responsible for the fantastic revival of many authors, put the book out.  Most of Goodis’ work is still out of print.