Sunday, March 11, 2012
Background Check on Bone Polisher with TImothy Hallinan
Timothy Hallinan, member of the Hardboiled Collective has a new ebook on sale, featuring one of my favorite PI's Simeon Grist. Get it here, and read all about it in my interview with Tim.
Tell us what the novel is about.
THE BONE POLISHER is a private-eye mystery set in West Hollywood, back in 1995, when the cops tended to be less than enthusiastic about investigating crimes against gay people. My protagonist, Simeon Grist, is hired to investigate the murder of an older man, a former television actor, who is known in the community for his generosity and kindness. Things grow complicated fairly quickly as it becomes obvious that the killer has struck before and is undoubtedly planning to strike again. And it's about a detective—Simeon—who is on the verge of losing his nerve, and has to deal with what that might mean, to both his career and his self-image.
How long did it take you to write the novel?
The books in this series tended to take about six months, but this one took longer because I was trying not to commit any howlers about the gay community of the day, which I knew relatively little about. So I was asking a lot of questions and relying heavily on readings of the manuscript by two gay men who very generously gave me their time, and who had an enormous positive impact on the story as a whole. Bless them both.
Did it take a lot of research?
No. I did some checking on the demographic and political history of West Hollywood, which was (and still is) a unique enclave, but the rest of the writing was mainly letting the characters loose and following where they went, with occasional corrective readings by my two experts.
Where did you come up with the plot, what inspired you?
I was arrested for drunk driving in 1994 and sentenced to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. This curdled my blood. When I thought of Alcoholics Anonymous, I imagined dingy rooms with curling linoleum floors in which a bunch of unshaven, toothless men in raincoats chain-smoked and gummed uninteresting confessions at each other. Sort of like bad film noir, but a lifetime long and without a plot.
But that was not to be. I lived in West Hollywood, which even then had a demographically anomalous number of gay people. When I walked into my first AA meeting, I was expecting a budget production of “The Lower Depths,” but what I got was more like the moment in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy opens the door to reveal that Oz is in color. The room was full of the best-looking group of men I'd ever seen, although some of them were painfully thin. It soon became apparent that quite a few of them were there because they were determined to die sober—AIDS was in full rage then—and others had come to support them. I saw more grace and courage in that first hour than I'd ever seen in such a concentrated period in my entire life. And I learned I was definitely an alcoholic, and that I was in good company.
A lot of the guys in those meetings are gone now. When I started The Bone Polisher, I was thinking of them.
Which scenes did you enjoy writing the most?
The book's climax is a three-chapter-long party, a combination West Hollywood Halloween celebration and a wake. It's got dozens of characters, all in costume, one of whom is a serial killer, one of whom is a vicious and violent cop, and all of whom are getting drunker by the moment. Oh, yeah, there's a fountain of holy water, too. Several main story strands play out in this section, which I think is both funny and exciting. This is the kind of big show I used to undertake but don't do so much any more, mostly because of the amount of sheer energy involved.
Who is your favorite among the characters in the novel?
My favorites are usually the equivocal ones, and in this book I particularly like Ferris Hanks, an evil little swine who for years was one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood, with a stable of (mostly gay) guys whose names he made up on the spot. His time has passed, though, and what's left is about 140 pounds of high-density spite. He has a memorable rant about how times were better when gay men were in the closet: “We were united then. We shared our problems, our jokes. The straight world was there for us to plunder, like King Solomon’s mines or the Hall of the Mountain King. We were the Knights of Malta, a secret society, smarter and prettier and funnier than they were, and we had what they wanted, and they didn’t know what it was or even why they wanted it. They had one little life each, and we had as many as we wanted. You can develop a lot of useful skills if you’re leading a secret life, or three or four. God, it was a glorious time. And look at it now. The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name has become The Love That Cannot Shut Its Trap. Gays have become the one thing they never were: boring. Look at them, a bunch of bank tellers and dental assistants, holding hands on the sidewalks and mooning at each other. Joining neighborhood watch organizations. The fucking Kiwanis.” Lot of venom there, and pretty funny, too, I think.
Is there anything else you'd like to say about the novel?
When I read it for re-publication, I hadn't looked at it in years. I'd completely forgotten huge chunks of it, including the twist ending – when Simeon, after the party, goes into someone's house, I thought, What in the world is he doing? I hadn't remembered the book with much fondness, but reading it again, I could see why the critic for BOOKLIST had liked it so much. He wrote, “Read [it] as a straightforward detective novel, or read it as a slightly off-kilter philosophical tome, but do yourself a favor and read it!”