Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Vulture Has Landed

I'm pleased to announce that Bleak House Books has just reprinted my second novel, Vulture Capital.

Here's a little description of the plot from the back cover:
When venture capitalist Ted Valmont is belatedly informed that the Chief Scientist of NeuroStimix--a biotech firm in which he has invested--is missing, it's not just business, it's personal. Not only is the scientist an old school chum, but his disappearance jeopardizes the development of NeuroStimix's most important product: a device intended to aid spinal cord injury victims. Since Valmont's twin brother, Tim, was paralyzed in a college diving accident, finding the Chief Scientist and getting him back into harness is of the utmost importance to both brothers.

The book has been recognized for its portrayal of Silicon Valley life and culture, appearing--for example--on the cover of Metro, a weekly Silicon Valley paper. But the thing I've always been a little disappointed in is how few people got the big inside joke about the book.

So, here, for the first time in print, I'm going to let everyone in on the secret: Vulture Capital was very much intended as a homage to one of my favorite Hammett books, The Glass Key.

To quote from the description of Key linked above, the protagonist of the book is Ned Beaumont "a new kind of hard-boiled hero: morally ambiguous, of limited effectiveness, neither crack-shot nor pugilist nor deductive whiz."

The protagonist of Vulture is Ted Valmont. As a "vulture capitalist," he can't claim the high moral ground either, and he, too, is ill-equipped to deal with the situation into which he is thrust. And, like Beaumont, he ends up enlisting the services of a private detective (August Riordan) to help him resolve the mystery.

The plots of the two books are very different in the large--Key involves political corruption and Vulture the world of venture capital and high tech start-ups--but both books are written in an "objective" third person point of view, one feature of which is that the protagonists are always referred by their full names. To quote Richard Layman from his biography of Hammett Shadow Man:

Objectivity had long been the principal factor in Hammett's artistic plan, but with The Glass Key he accomplished a new level of third-person narrative distance ... Hammett was betraying no sympathies for his character by treating him familiarly. The narrative comment is restricted to straight description. Characters are developed fully, but entirely by means of dialogue and action.

I found Vulture particularly tough to write because of these constraints--and probably did more rewriting on it than any other book I've worked on before or since. I was only able to achieve a draft I was happy with after going to the Screen Writing Workshop at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, where Judith Roscoe helped me beat the story into shape in screenplay format. I then translated it back into novel form.

In addition to the ones I've discussed, there are a variety of other little "hat tips" to Key in the text, but I will leave those for fans of Hammett who decide to give Vulture a whirl.


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