The Man with the Iron-On Lunchbox

I finally got around to reading Lee Goldberg’s fun new book, THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE. This one has been on my TBR short-list for a while and it was finally my turn with the library copy this week. I have several ulterior motives for reading this book because it is almost identical in concept to my first book LUNCHBOX HERO. In Lee’s book Harvey Mapes is a young security guard who reads PI novels and watches television PI shows and desperately wants to be a PI. He gets his chance when one of the residents of the subdivision he guards asks Harvey to find his wife. My book is about Kenny Shepard who reads PI novels and watches PI shows and desperately wants to be a PI but all he can manage is a job as a secretary for a former TV PI.

I was ticked when I first heard about Lee’s book because I was convinced I had a totally new spin on the PI genre and I’d help revolutionize things. It got even worse when I found out Lee was having a hard time selling his book that was just like mine. While I was reading it I was hoping to find things I could point out and say ‘that’s why this book wasn’t picked up’ but there weren’t any. The plot is solid and twisty, the characters are fun and well-developed, and the humor and tragedy mixed well. The only thing that started grating on me is what eventually was the downfall of Kenny and LBH. The constant reference to TV and book PIs started wearing thin fairly early in the book. Its not as bad as I think it was in LBH, but it starts seeming like a gimmick after a while and distracts from the story and Harvey’s development as a hero.

Reading this made me see how far I’ve come as a writer in the last year. I couldn’t write Kenny’s voice anymore if I wanted to. I’ve moved beyond it, I’m too old. I still think the PI novel needs a jolt of pop culture to keep it relevant but extensive self-referential narratives and irritating TV-Real Life comparisons are not the way to do it. Not for me at least.

As I made my way through the publishing labyrinth with LBH my biggest fear was being compared to Janet Evanovich. There are several similarities and I’m not saying I wouldn’t enjoy her sales figures, but I saw early on that there wasn’t much potential for the series to grow. And in fact the series has grown into a cartoon of its former self. I’ll be looking more to the Robert Crais/ Elvis Cole school of character development. The early Elvis books are light and fun and had some cool modern pop culture but they were never cartoony or overly self-referential. And after a few solid books, Crais could tell people were tiring of Elvis’s constant one-liners so Elvis grew up a little and then we had LA REQUIEM.

I’m still a young guy and I’d like my narrative voice to reflect that when I can until I’m too old and jaded to pull it off anymore. I hate reading stories from young writers that feature bitter old men or something like that. I think that’s one of the more disappointing things in TONIGHT I SAID GOODBYE. For being such a young guy, I was hoping Koryta would inject the PI field with some of his youth, instead we got the same old bickering middle aged ex-cops.

On the post-Lunchbox Hero novel front, I’m proud to report that yesterday I crossed the 7100 word line which makes this the furthest I’ve gotten on a second novel. Before this there was a five page attempt at a chick-lit novel, a few pages here and there of a second Kenny novel and then a sustained 7K word start of the official second Kenny book before it died last year sometime. I’m working from a word count quota this time instead of a page count and I find that is working better for some reason. I’m aiming for an 80,000 word computer count. With that count I know its not going to change based on my margins or the font or anything. Once I write 80K its going to stay that way. Until I start cutting stuff of course…