RARA-AVIS: Manifesto for the Dead

From: William Denton ( wtd@pobox.com)
Date: 13 Nov 2005

I finished Domenic Stansberry's MANIFESTO FOR THE DEAD several days ago and have a couple of questions for him about it.

First, though, let me say I liked it very much. It's about Jim Thompson, making up an incident in his late life where he gets mixed up in murder, and Thompson's one of my favourite writers. He wrote thirty novels, with an incredible run of thirteen from 1952-1955, including AFTER DARK, MY SWEET and THE KILLER INSIDE ME. Anyone like that should end up in a comfortable old age, living off royalties (as I hope all the writers here will), but Thompson had it rough, as he had all his life, and died poor. Admiring readers can't make up the endings they want for the writers they like.

So a story about Thompson won't be a cheery one. For all the boozing and money problems, though, there's a close relationshop with his wife Alberta, and anyone who knows Thompson will be rooting for him. I don't know what people will think of it if they don't know Thompson, but those who do know that as he said would happen, about ten years after he died he got famous. His books got back into print and some good movies were made from them (especially THE GRIFTERS). MANIFESTO FOR THE DEAD is long before that, when he had trouble making the rent.

Domenic, how did you come to write about Thompson? What made you decide to use him as a character, and how did you get into his personal life so much? It seems like a very real picture of him and Alberta.

Also, one passage that struck me was said by Lieutenant Mann, the policeman (who later pulls a Lou Ford imitation):

         "I got a chance to look at some of those books of yours.
         And I been wondering. They got much biography in them?
         Auto, I mean. Tales of the self." Thompson looked at
         him blankly. "I mean, you seem like a nice guy. And
         I ask myself, well, all of us, we got something a little
         weird inside. I say, okay, so it's there inside him too.
         Then I wonder, what's it like? You know, to be thinking
         those kinds of things you think. A man up to his neck
         in a pile of shit. A woman cutting off her husband's
         privates with a piece of glass. A man hitting his
         girlfriend with his fist. In the gut. Hitting her so
         hard her stomach bursts. That blood bursts out her mouth
         like some kind of star exploding between her teeth.
         It makes me wonder.... So don't you ever worry, the
         things you write, just describing things like that,
         back there in the recesses, about what might happen?
         You contemplate a thing long enough, you describe it--
         you make it part of the world. And some things, maybe
         they should be left alone."

Thompson doesn't have an answer. Do you? I wonder if Mr. Starr and Ms. Hendricks and other writers get the same question, and how they answer it.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : www.miskatonic.org : www.frbr.org

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