Monday, July 30, 2012


    Sometimes a writer’s life is so full of color and drama, it can be as interesting as the story he, or she writes. Raymond Chandler comes to mind.  In my younger years I read five of Chandler’s published novels, and just recently picked up a copy of his   Spanish Blood, A Collection of Short Stories copyright 1946. Chandler's writing never fails to capture, and hold my attention. 

     Because I grew up in southern California, I liked Chandler chose   Los Angeles, and  the landscape of southern California  for  settings  in his novels – his apt description allowed me to easily picture southern California of the 1940’s, and 50's .   Not necessarily the crime and grime,   but city and environment with its street lined palm trees , stucco apartments, and  Craftsman style  homes; the great detail Chandler gave to clothing his characters wore provided a wonderful description of  fashions of the time.   Santa Monica became Bay City, Idle Valley the San Fernando Valley, and his Lady on the Lake, Big Bear Lake – all places I was familiar with, and visited many times.

      After losing his job as an oil company executive because of womanizing, drinking and threats of suicide, Chandler began writing out of desperation.  He was 44 years old, and taught himself to write reading Perry Mason crime novels by Erle Stanley Gardner, and studying their format.

    Black Mask, a popular pulp fiction magazine, published Chandler’s first story, Blackmailers Don’t Shoot in 1933; His first novel, The Big Sleep was published in 1939.

     Born in Chicago in 1888, Chandler and his mother moved to London after his father abandoned them in 1890. Chandler was never to see his father again.  Residing with his maternal grandmother Chandler was educated at Dulwich College, the same school P.G. Wodehouse and C.S. Forester attended. He spent childhood summers in Waterford, Ireland with his maternal family, and according to Wikipedia also spent time in Paris and Munich improving his foreign language skills.

     By 1913 Chandler was back in the United States, and moved to Los Angeles where he worked odd jobs stringing tennis rackets and picked fruit – most probably oranges from one of the many groves decorating the landscape at that time, and finally finding permanent employment at the Los Angeles Creamery.

    Chandler enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War I, upon his return he began a love affair with a woman 18 years his senior, the step-mother of his friend Gordon Pascal. Cissy Pascal and Chandler would eventually marry, and remain married until Cissy’s death in 1954.

    There are several good biographies of Raymond Chandler, including the recent The Long Embrace, Raymond Chandler And the Woman He Loved by Judith Freeman.  Another one I  highly recommend is Raymond Chandler Speaking.  Described on back cover as “a collection of fascinating letters, the legendary Raymond Chandler gives his tough –minded , idiosyncratic and always spirited  views on everything from writing, Hollywood and T.V. to crime, cats and the human condition.”

     At one time, I think even now, if I could write like anyone, it would be Raymond Chandler with his crisp, clear, succinct dialogue, and plot of story.

    In his own words he shares his thoughts on the craft of writing:

    In a letter dated Dec. 27, 1946 to Mrs. Robert J. Hogan (editor of magazine for writers, Lake Mohawk , New Jersey Chandler writes:
My experience with trying to help people to write has been limited but extremely intensive. I have done everything from giving would be writers money to live on to plotting and re-writing their stories for them, and so far I have found it to be all waste. The people whom God or nature intended to be writers find their own answers, and those who have to ask are impossible to help. They are merely people who want to be writers.”

    In another letter to Mrs. Hogan, dated March 7, 1947 he says,
Another of my oddities (and this one I believe in absolutely) is that you never quite know where your story is until you have written the first draft as raw material. What seems to be alive in it is what belongs in the story. A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled. In the long run, however little you talk or even think about it, the most durable thing in writing is style. , and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off. “

    Raymond Chandler is one of the great stylistic and profound American writers to influence popular literature – not dated, but for all time.

***NOTE: Chandler's novels  The Big Sleep,  Farewell, My Lovely, The Lady in the Lake were adapted for the movies . Chandler  also wrote scripts for movies, including  the original  screenplay The Blue Dahlia (1946) . He   collaborated on the screenplay with Alfred Hitchcock's Stranger on a Train , and co-wrote Double Indemnity (1944) with Billy Wilder - based on James M. Cain's novel of the same name.

The Raymond Chandler website


Jennifer Rova said...

I love Raymond Chandler's writing also. His ability to set the scene in sparse and as you say crisp words is a wonder. I agree with him:writers are born not made.

I think of Stephen King's pyramid of writers. The bottom and biggest section are bad writers even some well known names. The middle section which is much smaller is made of good writers. This is where he places himself. Then there is the top. There he puts about 7-8 writers like Flannery O'Conner and James Joyce, the great writers. Great post.

elizabethbrinton said...

If a story is well structured, it will make a great movie. If impossible to adapt, there may be something amiss. It has always amazed me how the classics can go straight to film.

Patty said...

Fascinating, Kath! You caught my attention from the first sentence. I will definitely seek out more to read on Chandler.

Anonymous said...

I will pick up book by Chandler. Reading this article makes me want to drive to the library right now. You writing keep me learning more and I love that. Thank You so much and please never stop!