Ken Bruen: A Writer’s Writer

I’ll say it again: It was Ken Bruen and the cover design of The Do Not Press that got me reading crime fiction. Browsing the shelves of the NYPL, there was the distinctive cover branding, blue …

… with that shout-off-the-shelf red dot:

All their books looked like that, so I could find them scattered across shelves easily, to pull and borrow and read.

Bruen’s book was on the New Books shelf, not in Mystery — which was good, because I avoided Mystery.

The Hackman Blues was a frikkin revelation.

There was everything that I’d found lacking in so-called fiction: realistic characters with believable motivations. And. Things. Happening.

The fiction everyone raved about put me to sleep. Made me think there was something wrong with my brain. What the hell were they all raving about?

Nothing! My instinct was right: the fiction was crap!

It wasn’t art. It wasn’t even what they called “literature.” Literature was Balzac and Baudelaire and Hugo and Dickens, which had — all together now, class — realistic characters with believable motivations. And. Things. Happening.

But beyond the aspect of story, there was Bruen’s style. I’d never come across anything like it before. It was stripped down to only what was needed to tell the story. This isn’t to say it read like a dry outline. Hell no! The man had style. He did with words what an artist did with brushstrokes — made it all his own.

And Ken Bruen was also the most generous writer I had ever encountered.

Chapters would be separated by quotes from crime fiction novels by others. He’d also mention other books and writers inside the stories, as things his characters were reading.

Bruen was providing everybody with a Crime Fiction 101 in his books!

And then, like all good things these days, some bastard smelled money and put a stop to it. Suddenly, his Fair Use wasn’t. It required a license. Despite the fact every single writer would die to be mentioned in one of his books, the Suit middlemen — the publishers, the agents, who I’m sure never, ever told the writers involved — wanted to Get Paid.

I saw Bruen at a signing and he was so disgusted by this — especially the RIAA/ASCAP-like extortionate pricing being demanded — that he was considering stopping writing altogether!

Fortunately, he did not. But now his books quote Pensées by Blaise Pascal. And let me tell you, it’s just not the same as having a sentence from John Straley or James Crumley!

Anyway, today, Mulholland Books ran a post by Bruen. And it’s the man himself in his very essence: standing up for the legitimacy of what he writes, full of praise for others, and again naming names, giving everyone out there Crime Fiction 101.

Go read it. Then go buy Bruen’s books.

Not all of them are available in e (damn you Suits!), but get them anyway.

Because then you’ll demand more — and maybe I can finally have them all in e for myself.

Yes, Bruen is generous — but as you can see, in the end, this post comes down to want I want. All of Bruen in e. Ha!

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Filed under Writer, Writers, Writing

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