Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lawrence Block, and using digressions in dialogue

This week I’m in New York for Thrillerfest, the annual convention for writers and fans of the thriller genre.  It’s a busy time, with classes on writing technique, interviews with leading authors, and approximately six dozen cocktail receptions hosted by publishing houses.  Per day.  But I wanted to post at least one video while in NYC (even if it means staying up very late to have the Grand Hyatt ballroom lobby as a fun background.) 

I had no trouble choosing the author for this episode.  I’ve been a fan of Lawrence Block, whose various series range from hardboiled to humorous, since I started reading fiction for grown-ups.  To keep this post from going all night, let's focus on just one of Block's strengths:  Conversational tangents that keep the dialogue light and snappy, while also revealing bits of character and situation.  The excerpt I read in the video is included at the bottom of the post.

From Lawrence Block’s A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, read in LiG Episode 5:

            “It’s not surprising if you never heard of him, because he was very small-time, and it’s no surprise you didn’t hear about the homicide.  If there was anything in the papers, I didn’t see it myself.”
            He was frowning in concentration.  “Jack, Jack, Jack. Did he have a sobriquet?”
            “Come again?”
            “A nickname, for Christ’s sake.  And don’t tell me you didn’t know the word.”
            “I knew it,” I said.  “I’ve come across it in print, but I’m not sure I ever heard anyone say it before.  I certainly never heard anyone say it in Poogan’s.”
            “It’s a perfectly fine word.  And it’s not exactly the same as a nickname.  Take Charles Lindbergh.  His nickname was Lindy –“
            “As in hop,” I suggested.
            “—and his sobriquet was the Lone Eagle.  George Herman Ruth, nickname was Babe, sobriquet was the Sultan of Swat.  Al Capone—“
            “I get the idea.”
            “I just wanted to keep on saying it, Matthew.  Sobriquet.  I know from reading, and I don’t think I ever heard it before, and I know for certain I never said it before.  I wonder if I’m pronouncing it correctly.”
            “I’m the wrong person to ask.”
            “I’ll look it up,” he said, and picked up his glass and put it down without drinking.  “High-Low Jack,” he said.  “Wasn’t that his fucking sobriquet?  Isn’t that what they called him?”

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