I have a piece of paper Dennis Lehane gave me during my first graduate workshop; it's probably the best bit of writing advice I've ever received. On that paper he listed a number of authors and books he thought I should read. The book at the top of that list: The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley. I've since read it about four or five times. I even wrote part of my MFA thesis on it. I was hooked on Crumley, and I went and read everything. I introduced my grandfather to Crumley and he quickly became one of his favorite writers, along side Elmore Leonard.
I've encountered many writers who can recite, if not exactly, then at least in some close facsimile of it, the opening lines to The Last Good Kiss. Everyone of them remembers the bulldog. Crumley was one of the first writers to usher in the modern era of the crime novel. C.W. Sughrue and Milo Milodragovitch were different kinds of heroes (if one could really call them that) than their predecessors. They were most definitely flawed characters who struggled with life more than they struggled with whatever crimes they were investigating. After reading about Sughrue and Milo, well, one could never look at a crime novel the same way again.
I was shocked yesterday to learn that Crumley had passed away. He was the second major influence to have died in the past week; the first being Gregory McDonald. I owe a lot of my writing style to McDonald, as well as my understanding of dialog. Hell, I wanted to name my son Fletcher at one point.
I don't know why the passing of these men has affected me so much, after all I didn't know either of them on a personal level. Maybe because writing becomes a sort of personification; a representation of its creator, and when a book or story has any type of impact we feel connected to the writer. Perhaps it's similar to having a crush on someone - it's a rather selfish endeavor in which we are the only ones who take pleasure in it, the only ones who derive any meaning from such a frivolous bond, which is often non-existent, only a one-way relationship.
But whatever the reason for my connection to these two writers, I still feel that something in my life that once was there is no longer. A sad time, indeed.