Ever so often a professional writer will open the blinds on the creative process and unveils what lies behind the writing of a book. Peter Straub’s wonderful new book Sides has several essays which uncloak the mystery of the writing process. Straub has won multiple awards for his fiction that includes horror, science fiction, fantasy, and mainstream fiction.
He also has collaborated on two books with Stephen King, and that professional relationship has given him considerable insight into why King’s books have commanded such a huge readership. It is not so much their “accessibility” but their “immediacy” that underlies their success. Along with what Straub suggests is “this voice is one of King’s most potent inventions. And I share his view over the issue of free will versus determinism. “King understood that subject matter selects the writer instead of the other way around.” This has the definite ring of truth.
Also Straub’s essay to a Lawrence Block novel titled Hope to Die is a brilliant examination of the history to the Matthew Scudder series as well as to the private eye genre. He revisits the divide between the Chandler school of writing with the flare guns and roman candles illuminating every passage, and the Dashiell Hammett school which prefers a flashlight dancing off the walls of a dark alley. He puts Block in the flashlight corp of private eye writers, dry, cool, and detached but nonetheless delivering an emotional punch in the kidneys along the way.
There are thoughtful passages about two of my favourite Block novels: Eight Million Ways to Die, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse and When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. Blocks later novels descend into the basement where violence is the norm, and the scars it leaves on those who visit in that place are everlasting, real, and horrible.
There are other introductions and afterwords to books such as The Stepford Wives and Tales of Pain and Wonder.
In reading this deceptively small book, you can’t help but wonder how Peter Straub decided to give away so many secrets into the writing process. But as someone who writes for a living, I am glad to have been the beneficiary of his wisdom.