James Mallahan Cain (1892-1977) was a U.S. journalist, screenwriter, and novelist whose work, when not written explicitly for the screen was often adapted for it, resulting in such classics as Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, and The Postman Always Rings Twice (twice, here and here), although Cain’s relationship with Hollywood was reportedly marked by contempt for movies as an art form and loathing for the industry that produced them.
While he has widely been identified with the hardboiled school of crime fiction, Cain’s view of himself was different: “I belong to no school, hard-boiled or otherwise.” Be that as it may, Cain wrote novels characterized by a realistic and unsentimental portrayal of crime and human vice.
Cain died at the age of 85 in 1977, either on October 27 or on Halloween (just like Harry Houdini) depending on whether you have more faith in Wikipedia on The Paris Review, which published a characteristically thoughtful interviews with him in 1978.
The interview is well worth a read. For instance, Cain speaks entertainingly at some length on such things as the origins of his stories and the origins of his writing style:
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any memory of the origins of The Postman Always Rings Twice?
CAIN: Oh yes, I can remember the beginning of The Postman. It was based on the Snyder-Gray case, which was in the papers about then. You ever hear of it? Well, Grey and this woman Snyder killed her husband for the insurance money. Walter Lippmann went to that trial one day and she brushed by him, what was her name? Lee Snyder.* Walter said it seemed very odd to be inhaling the perfume or being brushed by the dress of a woman he knew was going to be electrocuted. So the Snyder-Grey case provided the basis. The big influence in how I wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice was this strange guy, Vincent Lawrence, who had more effect on my writing than anyone else. He had a device which he thought was so important—the “love rack” he called it. I have never yet, as I sit here, figured out how this goddamn rack was spelled . . . whether it was wrack, or rack, or what dictionary connection could be found between the word and his concept. What he meant by the “love rack” was the poetic situation whereby the audience felt the love between the characters. He called this the “one, the two and the three.” Someone, I think it was Phil Goodman, the producer and another great influence, once reminded him that this one, two, and three was nothing more than Aristotle’s beginning, middle, and end. “Okay, Goody,” Lawrence said, “who the hell was Aristotle, and who did he lick?” I always thought that was the perfect Philistinism.
He also speaks just as entertainingly, but this time with pithy brevity, about the art of novel writing:
INTERVIEWER: You were nearly in your forties then. Wasn’t this quite late to think of becoming a novelist?
CAIN: A lot of novelists start late—Conrad, Pirandello, even Mark Twain. When you’re young, chess is all right, and music and poetry. But novel-writing is something else. It has to be learned, but it can’t be taught. This bunkum and stinkum of college creative writing courses! The academics don’t know that the only thing you can do for someone who wants to write is to buy him a typewriter.
Now Cain has reportedly risen from his grave, like one of the vampires or zombies that so frequently populate fiction these days (that’s no slight on supernatural fiction, I love me some vampires and zombies). Or, at least, a final novel of his called The Cocktail Waitress has risen from a hiding spot somewhere.
(WordPress doesn’t appear to allow links in captions, so the Shag image above can be found here.)
According to David Knight writing on Firefox news (an eclectic reviewer who makes some interesting choices for his subjects, including 70s martial arts films and the death of Ronnie James Dio), the novel will be published later this year (links added):
The ‘new’ Cain novel is called The Cocktail Waitress. It was the last novel Cain was working on. According to the Titan Books press release, Hard Case Crime publisher Charles Ardai first heard of it from prolific talent Max Allan Collins, and then spent nine years looking for the author’s manuscript to work from to bring about the work’s best presentation as close to Cain’s intent as possible. The author’s copy of the manuscript had notes and revisions in the margins from near his end.
In the novel a young widow — a beautiful young widow naturally — loses her husband under suspicious circumstances. She takes a job as a cocktail waitress to pay the bills and meets two men (well, probably more, but two in particular): a young one whom she falls in love with and a rich older one whom she marries. Somehow I don’t think it’s going to end happily for anyone.
The Cocktail Waitress will have a fall 2012 release in hardcover and ebook formats. A paperback edition will follow in 2013.