After almost a week of beautiful summer weather here in Sitka the clouds are back with a westerly breeze blowing in off the Pacific. My great nephew Jed Bynum is mowing the lawn and my new Cecil book is out in the stores. I’ve decided to write another blog entry.
Why? I’m not sure, I suppose I owe it to a couple of my old friends who actually remember that I used to write this blog and might come back to it.
Here is an update on my life since my last entry: I’m still retired from my life of crime with the Public Defender. I lost the vision in my right eye I wrote another Cecil book, called "Baby’s First Felony" and Soho reprinted all the other Cecil books. I published two books of Haiku poetry with Shorefast Editions of Juneau and expect to publish two more soon. Our old dog Gypsy got sick this winter and had to be put down. A man named Barry Burger in Sitka was dying of a brain tumor and asked me to write a book about a local veterinarian named Burgess Bauder, so I did that. There are a thousand copies of that book and they are only available at Old Harbor Books in Sitka. They would be happy to ship one to you. I’m working on another Cold Storage book called "What is Time To A Pig?" Our garden is half wild and half planted and quite beautiful this summer. We thought about moving to the lower 48 for health reasons but decided against it, so we will stay in Sitka on into our decrepitude. Last week a pod of four killer whales came right up to our boat and looked us in the eyes, which, I think, we all enjoyed. I turn sixty-five on July 23, and am thinking of getting my first tattoo, then when someone says, “You know, you’re going to have that the rest of your life!” I will respond, “Why, yes, I do.”
So, that’s done. Now here are some frequently asked questions about the Cecil Younger Series and some top of the head answers. :
Do I need to start with the beginning and read them in order? Not really but from left to right here are the books in order, with their new covers:
If you want to follow a kind of arc in Cecil’s development you can start with "The Woman Who Married a Bear" and read them in order. In the first six books Cecil Younger starts off as a drunken low life and kind of pulls himself up to be what passes for a respectable citizen in Alaska.. He is more mature and more responsible by the end of "Cold Water Burning" In the seventh, spoiler alert, he has some set backs. In "The Woman Who Married a Bear," Cecil is not adverse to brutality. In the rest of the series violence finds him. He does not carry a gun, but guns find him. This reflects reality as I experienced it working as a criminal defense investigator. I would have been jailed instantly if I had flourished a gun in the course of my work, and the skill was in not having to. Cops clearly did not want me carrying a gun around and if I had they would have arrested me for anything from tampering with witnesses to assault. It just wouldn’t have worked. Also I think I would have been very unlucky if I had carried a gun. It’s true what Cecil says, “If someone wants to shoot me they are going to have to bring their own fucking gun.” Guns in my line of work give you false courage and cause you to commit crimes. So Cecil did not carry a gun, for a good reason.
What’s up with the cursing and the crass jokes? Criminal investigators live in the melieu of murder and suffering. It’s been my experience that they blow of steam with crass humor. Also, actual murder is more obscene than any word they can say.
Why the gory body parts showing up in the series: the hand in the ice bucket or the severed foot showing up in the mail? See the above. We are just human animals, flesh and bone. When we are murdered, we are nothing but butchered meat. Now I know, and people have told me, “but I don’t read mysteries to have my nose rubbed in reality,” and I try to appreciate that. I don’t think these books are moralistic in anyway, I’m not trying to preach in the books, but I do try to make them unique. I try to make the violence have some human meaning and not just stagecraft. Like all writers I suppose, I’m trying to recreate a fictional dream, and this dream involves murder and murder by its nature is horrible, and the characters react to it. There are funny things that happen in their lives, and lovely things, but as long as there is a murder too, there will be some horror, I cannot unsee the things I know and have felt about actual murder and death.
Is Cecil based on you? Sure he is, based on me. But I’m neither as interesting nor as stupid in my decisions as he is. I’ve never drank as hard as he has. I was never as irritating, I hope. But I’m as flawed and as human, probably. I’m shorter and weaker and we raised a son, not a daughter.
Why Todd as a sidekick? I have a cousin like Todd, a high functioning autistic adult. In the first book, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make Todd a series character and he was not quite in focus. In fact, I killed him off in the second or third chapter and Jan, my wife refused to finish the first draft if I left him dead. So I had to bring him back. I like Todd because he redeems Cecil, and his serial obsessions come in handy for the themes and the plots.
Why the long break from Cecil? I didn’t think anyone liked him. I tried lots of other things. I gave up for a while. Jan has Parkinson’s disease and she had brain surgery, so we have to deal with that, I started the Cold Storage, series. I write non-fiction and poetry. I’m lazy and not all that keen on writing books that people already don’t seen interested in. But a while ago, I actually thought it would be fun to resurrect him if for nothing else but to spend some time with him and Todd and I had all these jokes and had been thinking about jokes and language and their similarity to poetry and how autistic people use them to replicate emotional relationships and I thought it would be fun way to spend my time. So I wrote it. The jokes in "Baby's First Felony" are not just thrown in there willy nilly, by the way. There is one joke told after a killing that is a terrible joke, that is meant to punch you in the gut and upset you for how wrong it is. I know it's disgusting and awful, so you don't have to write to me and tell me that. I put it there because it is awful, it is put there as a kind of commentary on what it feels like when things go wrong. As Cecil tells the Judges, "Context is everything." When things starts spinning out of control it feels like an obscene almost hysterical battering. That's why the awful joke is in there. So please don't yell at me. I was trying something different. If you don't like it. I understand. You were not supposed to.
I hope, if you are new to my work, you look around and read some of the old blog posts. Write to me and I will try and write back to you. I sometimes forget to check the comments on the blog. I’m bad about that and the formatting is weird so it’s not obvious to me when they come in. Write to me in the contact section and I should get those directly. I won’t respond to crazy flaming political criticism, so if you are looking for a fight you will be disappointed. Life is too short to make enemies. If you really want to discuss differences of point of view I am happy to do that. I'm not Cecil and I'm really not a bad guy. If I'm not up to my eyeballs with other things I will write you back.
It is cool day here and my nephew has finished the lawn and now I promised him that I would teach him how to tie a bowline, so I better get to it.
Cool summer evening,
and the floxgloves are blooming.
I miss our old dog.