I’ve mentioned here a number of times (likely too many times if we’re being honest) that I think a lot about my legacy. I took a big step in helping secure not just my legacy, but the legacy of the genre I love and those who will be coming up behind me, by joining the Mystery Writers of America but I’ve also been thinking about my brand. Not in the creepy shilly sort of James Patterson way, but just thinking about what kind of books I want to be known for.
I’ve been reading through these two Library of America collections of Elmore Leonard trying to work out some complicated feelings I have about his work and it’s influence on my own stuff. But one thing I’ve been struck by is how much of his early work doesn’t conform to the standard Elmore Leonard Novel template we all have in our head. They certainly all have elements of his style, but they also widely vary in the amount and execution of those elements. I kind of like that. I came to Leonard when he was an established commercial brand in the 90s and when I tried to read some of his early stuff back then it threw me off and I didn’t care for it. I still find his early stuff very hot or miss, but I’m coming to appreciate it for the pulpy goodness that it is. I’ve also been reading through a lot of the old pulp work from Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake and finding a lot of the same things at work.
This is the kind of style and brand I want to build, a brand defined by variety like the old pulp writers. Too many authors these days are building a brand defined by one character or one style or one other element and then riding that element into the ground. In fact, I think you could make a case this is what Leonard became in his later years writing Elmore Leonard Novels. But I want to write all over the place. Hardboiled, soft-boiled, cozy, fantasy, literary and mashups of all of the above. I love what Victor Gischler is doing. I know it’s hard on his publishers, but he’s survived so far in this game doing what he wants and I hope to have that kind of career in the future. This is one of the main reason I like having a day job. Since my family’s livelihood isn’t tied directly to my writing I have the luxury of really writing whatever I want. My biggest obstacle is myself and getting out of my own way.