Monday, August 13, 2018

You CAN Go Back in Time: Guest Post by David Handler

You CAN Go Back in Time

Trust me, this wasn’t part of my plan.

When I retired my Edgar Award-winning Stewart Hoag mystery series back in 1997 it never, ever occurred to me that after a brief hiatus of twenty years I would actually return to writing once again about my witty, dapper celebrity ghostwriter and his faithful, neurotic basset hound Lulu.

After all, I’d moved on. The world certainly moved on. The advent of our modern Internet age, complete with smart phones, twenty-four-hour-a-day tweets, viral videos -- not to mention the blood sport competition among competing cable news channels -- had convinced me that the era of celebrity secrets was over and out. And so was Hoagy. There are no celebrity secrets anymore, certainly not the big, fat juicy ones that would make readers keenly interested in a star’s memoir and in the failed novelist whose second career was penning those memoirs.

And yet here we are again.

Hoagy and Lulu returned last year in The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes and on August 14 will be back in another new mystery, The Man Who Couldn’t Miss. Meanwhile, as I sit here, I’m busy working away on their next adventure.

How did this happen? It was, in the immortal words of Ozzie Nelson, one of those funny little surprises that make life so interesting. Dan Mallory, the executive editor of William Morrow, was having lunch one day with my literary agent, Dominick Abel, and happened to mention that the Hoagy series had long been one of his family’s favorites. In fact, Dan’s mom had introduced Dan to his first Hoagy novel, The Boy Who Never Grew Up, when he was 14, he later told me. Which did not make me feel old. No, not in the least. Dan asked Dominick if I’d ever considered reviving the series. Dominick gave him my standard response, which was that Hoagy and Lulu belonged to a bygone era. There was no place for them in today’s digital world.

End of story, right? Not so fast. Dan, who I discovered is not to be denied, threw a wicked curve ball at me: Reboot the Hoagy series as period novels that take place back when I was originally writing them. Back in, say, 1992, when I used to tap away on a Mac LC that was connected to a printer but not to my phone line. Why would it be? I had no dial-up connection to anything or anyone. America Online was still in its infancy. E-mail was not yet a part of anyone’s life. Neither were cell phones. The Internet, Google, Facebook, Twitter? All were way off in the future.

I was instantly hooked by the idea. Couldn’t resist the opportunity. And I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I’ve had writing Hoagy and Lulu again. Especially Lulu. I really, really missed her.

I’m continually asked if it was hard to find Hoagy’s signature, wisecracking voice again after so many years away from him. Actually, it was no problem at all. I just sat down and started writing him. That’s because Hoagy’s voice is my voice. He is me. There was no groping around in the dark to find him. He was right there. Same Hoagy. Same me.

Actually, I should rephrase that. Same Hoagy. Not the same me. My very first Hoagy novel, The Man Who Died Laughing, was published exactly 30 years ago way back in 1988. Which does not make me feel old. No, not in the least. I distantly recall deciding that I would make Hoagy approximately my age. I also decided that as the series moved ahead I would obliquely reflect the passage of real time. Over the span of the original eight books Hoagy goes from being someone who is starting to notice that 30 is receding in his rear view mirror to someone who sees 40 getting closer and closer in his headlights. In The Man Who Couldn’t Miss he’s still staring at 40. Still wondering whether he’ll ever rediscover the elusive writing talent that prompted The New York Sunday Times Book Review to label him “the first major new literary voice of the 1980s.” Yet as I worked away on this book I became aware of a reality that should have been incredibly obvious to me from the get-go but wasn’t.

Hoagy’s the same age but I’m not. I’m 20 years older. That’s 20 years of wisdom and bewilderment, heavy on the bewilderment. Twenty years of success and failure. Twenty years of joy and agony. Twenty years of friends and loved ones lost. I’ve published 15 books during those 20 years, including 11 in my Berger-Mitry series. It never occurred to me that any of this would make Hoagy’s voice sound different.

And yet it has. When Dan finished reading The Man Who Couldn’t Miss, he wrote me at great length to tell me how much the relationship between Hoagy and his beloved ex-wife, movie star Merilee Nash, has grown. Dan even tossed around words like “poignancy” and “maturity.”

Seriously, he really used the word “maturity.” In connection with me. Could it be possible that these Hoagy 2.0 novels have more going for them than the originals did? More depth? More emotional weight? Based on the responses I’ve gotten from loyal longtime fans I believe the answer is that they do, which I must confess comes as a complete surprise to me. Another one of those funny little surprises that make life so interesting. The new books are still funny. Or at least I think they’re still funny. Hoagy is still Hoagy. Lulu is still Lulu. And I’m still the same smart aleck who was always getting sent to the principal’s office for being “a disruptive influence” and constantly “sassing” the teacher. I haven’t changed a bit. Really, I haven’t.

I’m just a teeny, tiny bit older, that’s all.

A recovering journalist, David Handler was born and raised in Los Angeles and wrote two critically acclaimed novels about growing there, Kiddo and Boss, before resorting to a life of crime fiction. David is an Edgar and American Mystery Award winner and an Anthony, Dilys and Derringer Award finalist, and has written extensively for television and films. He currently lives in a 230-year-old carriage house in Old Lyme, Connecticut.


Auntie Knickers said...

Somehow I missed these the first time around, so it looks like I have a bunch of reading to do. Thanks for the tipoff!

Marja said...

Thank you for a wonderful post. I, too, have missed your series but I think it's time to rectify that right now. Looking forward to Hoagy and Lulu.

Coco Ihle said...

I missed them, too. They sound really interesting. can't wait to get started!

Paul D. Marks said...

Sounds like a fun series, that I also missed. It's hard to write about things in the recent past. You really have to be careful not to put in any modern conveniences :-)

Sue Trowbridge said...

Wait, what? Hoagy and Lulu are back?! How did I not know this?!?!?!? I absolutely ADORED that series when I first read it back in the 90s. I can't wait to read the new novels!