RARA-AVIS: Getting to Know Block

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 27 Dec 2007

Earlier this month, Jacques had this to say about Lawrence Block:

"Block seems to be one of the most mysterious personalities among the great modern crime writers... If I try to figure out the person from the books
(which is something the reader does almost unconsciously), I come up with aspects: great knowledge of arcana, wicked sense of humor, great virtuosity with the pen, the ability to be as hardboiled as anybody, a sense of aesthetics, a lurid side. He comes across as a half dozen writers put together."

I'd suggest that if you want to get a better insight into the kind of guy Block is, you might want to read what he writes about fiction, rather than his fiction itself.

He wrote a excellent monthly column on fiction writing for WRITERS DIGEST for several years. Many of these columns were collected in TELLING LIES FOR FUN & PROFIT (one of the best books about writing fiction ever) and SPIDER, SPIN ME A WEB (almost as good).

Of course Block wrote about other writers and how they manage to hold their readers, tell compelling stories, crate believable characters, construct convincing dialog, etc. But he also wrote a lot about his own work.

Consequently, in those fiction columns, you can find out how he came to create Matt Scudder, Bernie Rhodenbarr, Evan Tanner, and his other series characters. In a column on the process of collaboration, he described how he came to write the atypical CODE OF ARMS with Harold King. In several columns he described a work in progress, a very unusual novel for him, that eventually was published as RANDOM WALK.

The description of the writers he admires give us an insight into the admirer, as well. For instance, how many would guess that Block is a big John O'Hara fan?

He'll even use writers he doesn't particularly care for to illustrate points. In one column on how to make smooth transitions between scenes, he describes how effortlessly Mickey Spillane, a writer he really doesn't admire much, manages such scene transitions so smoothly and with such apparent effortlessness.

Fiction, by its very nature, puts the writer at a remove from the reader. But Block's comments about the craft of fiction are as close to an inside look into Block's personality as you're likely to get.

And, if you're a writer, or aspire to be one, they're among the best "how-to" books out there.


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