Author has written 10 stories for Perry Mason.
I've been a fan of Perry Mason a long, long time. I remember my mother standing at the ironing board, a brown beer bottle of water with a sprinkle cap in one hand, cigarette in another, glued to the flickering black-and-white image of Raymond Burr. I was a bit too young to remember the show during its initial run, except for that one vivid memory, and the theme song, of course. The show very quickly went into re-runs at noon on a television station in Grand Rapids, and in the summer, when I wasn't outdoors playing baseball, riding my bike, or swimming like kids did back then, I watched episodes with my mother. And when we moved to New Jersey, I made bargains with my mother to let me stay up until midnight to watch the show on WPIX out of New York a couple nights a week.
Two years before our move to New Jersey, my family headed for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Big Bay on Lake Superior. Big Bay is a famous town, having been the setting for a murder in the 1950's immortalized in a great novel and a wonderful movie starring Jimmy Stewart, titled Anatomy of a Murder. There are lots of stories I could tell about Big Bay, but I'll only tell one right now.
Our neighbors, whom we called Aunt and Uncle, had bought a house in Big Bay, and at the edge of their property was what the locals called 'the miser's shack'. I guess 'the miser' had lived there for many years and had died within the past couple of years, and the shack just sat there, slowly disintegrating. Early one morning, my brother and I were exploring, and as we approached the shack, a cat shot out from underneath it and ran into the woods. Curious, my brother and I entered the shack.
We found a wooden box containing four brand-new kittens huddled together, nearly frozen in the October chill. We moved the box into a sunbeam, hoping that the warmth of the sun would allow them to survive until their mother returned. We shouldn't have been in the shack because the floorboards were rotted, the windows broken, and filthy, tattered bedding and clothing was strewn everywhere. In the far corner was another wooden box, and I saw that it was full of paperback books. My brother, afraid bears would eat us, wanted to get out of the shack. I, however, wanted to look through the box of books. I pawed through the box, quickly selected about a half-dozen books, and after a final look at the kittens, climbed out of the shack.
You know the books I selected were written by Erle Stanley Gardner. I took every single Perry Mason novel in the box, and quickly hid them in the back seat of our station wagon. On the long drive home, I snuck one book out and read it from cover to cover, in less than two hours. I was eleven years old.
Yep, at eleven years old I fell in love with Perry Mason. Oh, I had liked Raymond Burr as Perry on TV, but I LOVED Perry on the pages of those novels, as ESG had written him: brash, egotistical, tough, boyish, barely ethical, brilliant, funny - Perry Mason fascinated me. As young as I was, I recognized that he liked Della Street - really, really liked Della - and that while he gave Paul Drake and Lt. Tragg all sorts of guff, they were his best friends.
The first novel I read was TCOT Crooked Candle. It's my absolute favorite. I read another novel that trip before we arrived home, and all the rest of the novels I'd pilfered from the miser's shack, one every night cuddled in bed with my kitty cat. When I was done with those, I rode my bike to the library and checked out five more novels. It took only three weeks to read all the PM books the library had.
Mr. Gardner had passed away just one year before I discovered his novels. A publisher re-issued some of the novels to capitalize on his death (the paperbacks that have gold covers and ridiculous photos of women who were considered attractive in the 1970's), and I bought them as quickly as they were released. We moved to New Jersey one month after I turned thirteen, and I continued to buy the re-issued novels as well as used novels I found at a fabulous second-hand bookstore in Dover, New Jersey. I also bought several at an enormous flea market in Pennsylvania we visited on a weekend trip. By the time I was fifteen, I had collected all of the PM novels, including the novellas.
So that's my story of how I became a Perry Mason fan. And I told it in less than 34 chapters!
There is more, much more, including a tragic donation to Good Will; almost a heart attack; losses of loved ones; an eight-month stint of unemployment; penny novels; and finally, the day I dared to post my first story on fanfiction.net.
Mr. Gardner was not a great writer. He was, however, a great story-teller. His characterizations were not terribly consistent, and in the later years his novels were...bland. You can see how the TV show influenced the novels, and what vivid characterizations there were in the earlier novels disappeared completely as novel Perry inched closer to TV Perry. Relationships were neutralized, the dialog wasn't as clever, and the story-telling wasn't as slam-bang as it once was. For both the novels and the show.
Don't get mad at me. I like the show. It's one of my top five favorite shows of all time. But again, I LOVE the novels, and the later ones suffered from being aligned with the show, which sacrificed character development for the sake of story-telling even more markedly than the novels. Perry had to be likeable, and a hero, because that's what audiences wanted and what the mores of the times dictated. Novel Perry, while definitely the hero, wasn't always likeable and things he did to win cases were legal trickery.
By writing my own stories, I'm attempting to 'fix' what I perceive as not quite right, or what confounds me, and trying to interject some consistency of characterization while filling in the gaps between the novels and the TV show. I want to give the characters personal lives and see how they react, forcing the legal stuff and adventure into the background, so that Perry can be infuriatingly imperfect, Della can be a savvy, sassy brat, and Paul can be whiny. It makes me happy and keeps me out of trouble, and I can only hope my stories are as much fun for people to read as they are for me to write.
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