A Diet of Treacle by Lawrence Block (1961) or, How to Earn Money & Acclaim Writing Fiction in Just Half a Century! Sometimes Less!

I don't usually read two books in one 24 hr period, but these 200-pager Block reissues are like pizza slices, if you're already at the counter might as well get two because you know you will be back. Block's career followed a relatively common trajectory for commercial/genre writers of his generation: semi-hard porn, then paperback originals under several names, and then a series or two (or three) that could grow an audience over a career. This is not meant to sound dismissive. It seems to me an ingenious-enough way of nature to contrive expert storytellers. I guess the closest thing we have today would be the Hollywood model: start out writing sitcom or animation scripts on other people's shows, develop your own, move on to ambitious original single stories. Most writers on either path fall by the wayside somewhere or other, but a talented, lucky (both essential ingredients) few end up having work filmed by independent, acclaimed, story-valuing directors, or become one themselves.

So if you're twenty-two, don't spend a lot of time scanning last year's Witer's Digest at the library for markets that read unsolicited novel manuscripts. The day of the one-draft, three-carbon fast-cash sale is gone, obviously, but what may be slightly less obvious is that online e-book erotica "publishers" that pay a percentage of sales on a $0 advance are NOT their substitutes. Sell off your collected manga, games, DVD's and corresponding players, and move your ass to L.A. (If you grew up in L.A. sell that stuff, buy a VW and drive to Tierra del Fuego, or take Greyhound to Nova Scotia, or contrive to do something else your career-focused, loan-swamped peers would never ever dream of doing, and them come back to L.A. with experiences undreamed of in their high-concept, franchise-brokering life plans.)

Don't be afraid of a long apprenticeship; it took Lawrence Block forty-two years to get from $20 Lust to Small Town. Exercise, eat right, and with a bit of luck and some sweat, you can do it too.

All of which has something to do with A Diet of Treacle. This one finds Block on more familiar territory than Killing Castro. We're back home with him in Greenwich Village. It's a downtown novel of sex, drugs, the yearning for art (if only in the disguise of 35¢ paperbacks), of danger, death-wish boys, and girls in tight sweaters, a novel of those things that tempted certain hungry souls to travel south of Fourteenth Street from the end of WWII until times recent. (I don't know where the boho kids go now, but I think it has to do more with web cams and the YouTubes than geography.) I don't want to oversell this book. It isn't Junky, or Hubert Selby Jr. But it has its charm, an appeal that lies in its innocence more than its darkness. If you wish Mad Men would find a way to tell more stories about Don Draper's season one artist mistress, if Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim and Scorsese's After Hours are repeat rentals for you, if you can’t wait for Pia Zadora and Ric Ocasek to show up in Hairspray, it'll do you fine.

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