Tales of the Old Detective
and Other Big Fat Lies
PHIL AUSTIN: "The Old Detective" was released in May, '95 by Audio Partners, out of California. It's a collection of about 10 short stories I wrote, half of which are about a character called "The Old Detective", who is an elderly Hollywood detective, telling hilariously funny stories of the past in LA. I also read it. The character is just called "The Old Detective". All my detective characters, I think, tend to run together after a while. In a way it's almost as if Nick Danger is talking when he's 85 . These could be stories of Nick Danger, or they could be stories of anyone. It's unclear because I try to keep it unclear.

I continue to be real happy with it, every time I listen to it, and I've listened to it more than I expected. It was done in 3 sessions. Pat Fraley, the producer and director, was real easy on me, and we make an excellent team. I think the whole thing sounds pretty relaxed. We kind of made a pact that we weren't going to over produce this thing, We were just going to try to let it ride mostly on the words, secondarily every once in a while I do a little bit of a voice, the Old Detective in particular, he has a distinct personality. The thing I hate on talking books is when the actors try to do all the parts. I just hate it, when its overdone. To me you've got to hit it as subtle as possible.

"The Tales Of The Old Detective" doesn't have to do with Nick Danger or anything else. Except, God bless it, the people at Audio Editions really wanted to get that on the cover. It sells a few copies, which I'm happy to do. I'm real proud of Nick Danger, although except for the word detective, it really has little to do with Nick Danger. I don't think any of it strings together, to tell the truth. I think I tend to naturally write about forms of transportation and women, my 2 carnal interests. The Old Detective at one point says that there's only 2 women in his life that he's loved deeply but there seems to be 7 or 8 more in these stories. You know, these stories are also very about living in Los Angeles too, outside of being about women. They're about the setting that they're in, in a lot of ways, I think. It's like these stories are like little paintings or something. They sort of stand on their own.

I'm most interested in the detective genre. I'm most interested in what Chandler opened up so strongly which was the falling in love part of it. So to me that just becomes traditional, and to me it virtually has to be in every story, because that's what the definition of what a detective story is to me, because I'm writing in an exaggerated form of the genre. I knew that I wanted to do something that was generally in the same form that the Sherlock Holmes stories were written, and I wanted to try that. For a lot of different reasons, I don't feel comfortable with first person singular for the most part, in a story. Although it works OK in "The Precipice Of Angels", he's really writing a diary. I like it when there's like a specific, when its like somebody who's reading you a letter that he's written, or something like that. But in general, I think that's one of the problems with a lot of modern fiction. There's way too much first person writing, and by God its got to stop! So I wanted to not do that with the detective stories, and I wanted to back out of third person in a way.

So the writer is first person with you and he turned out to be an interesting guy. I originally just meant him to be the way Watson tries to be, a blank, but he developed a personality of his own, and the two of them started fighting with each other, it's just constant. A lot of things I hadn't really anticipated happened. They're both like real characters, I think. So when the Old Detective dies, the story teller is not happy about it, at all. There is some kind of affection for the old man, that comes across, sometimes. He believes very little of what the old man says and somewhere, there's evidently somewhere out in the nether world he's publishing these stories. Somewhere, but we don't know where. We prefer not to know. Doesn't Watson always publish these little monographs or something? It's important somehow for the form that they be published.

"The Precipice Of Angels" comes from Edgar Allen Poeland in some weird comic way. I don't know quite where that stuff comes from, so I guess, in a way, from thinking about sports. I watch a lot of sports, and I like sports. I'm a big sports fan and I'm always trying to think of ways to incorporate my wasted life, in which I've wasted in knowing about sports. So I desperately try to use the material anyway that I can. It works itself into my work now, and there's a big part of "Beaver Teeth" that has to do with sports. Its like cars and women it just keeps getting bigger all the time. My wife Oona and I have always been backpackers. We're in the mountains a lot. I'm not a rock climber, I'm a backpacker, but I know enough about rock climbing, because I have to know enough about it for emergencies in case anything goes wrong. I've watched, fascinated, as the sport of climbing has developed, particularly in France, over the past few years, to now to the point that these fake climbing walls are in every sporting goods store, practically. There are whole kind of Malls made out of them, and amusements for them. It a whole 'nother of these kind of odd, for a lack of a better word, Yuppie sports, like Nordic Trac. Ha, Ha. All these sports that require huge amounts of equipment, and skill, in order to do sort of nothing, to prove to yourself that you're still young.

Instead of like, Oona and I are like, "Oh look a flower." That's what backpacking is to us. "Oh, lets stop, look a flower." It has do with something like being, and looking at things. I like all these sports, where you're just too damn busy to look at anything, like riding a damn bike through the mountains. You know, who cares, its just the most insane thing. The 'Dew Generation' I call them, from the Mountain Dew commercials, the Dew dudes.

I'm just making in that story a contrast between the emptiness of this man's life, and then trying to inject that into this souless, hideous sport that he's wasting his life on. You just walk a woman through the middle of this insane completely narcissistic world that this guy lives in, and then see what happens. We leave him hanging there. What's gonna happen? And it makes her a more interesting character, she's now really fascinating. What is she doing following him? What does she want, you know? I liked it better just leaving him like that. I muddled over that ending for months, finally just leaving it virtually the way I'd first written it.

"The House of Little Men", I'm fond of that too. A lot of that actually happened. Oh yeah, a lot of that is taken from life. I counted myself lucky to be able to come up with at least 2 or 3 different styles of stories. On the Ballinger stories I've finally listened to the piece enough now, and what it is I'm sort of doing there, that it's a form that's worth taking a couple of stabs at. It really is a man remembering, is what it's about, and that's interesting to me. I was living in a house on California St. Yukiro Yoshida, who's mentioned at the end of the story is a real person, and was my best friend. The rest of it is highly made up, in the coincidentalness of it. The two women involved are sort of halfway the way I depict them. It's not a true story, that's why it's a Ballinger story. I decided the Ballinger stories are about a guy recalling his past in a kind of way that isn't exactly... Its an odd thing as a writer that I don't quite understand yet, because I haven't been writing long enough, seriously, though my stuff doesn't seem serious. That the point that which a comic writer such as myself, I was always concerned with comedy, at least with human comedy, in the sense of Balzac, or in that manner Sarroyan, are you always expected to laugh at everything? You know?

The main thing that a novelist has, the kind of the creed of a novelist, that a novelist can always fall back on and say to himself, "Well I'm the real thing because I'm honest." Honesty is not only one of the central tenets of journalism, but it's also one of the central tenets of a novelist, in an odd way. You can afford to be, you pride yourself on your honesty. Most writers seem to me that they do. "I'm not going to go easy over this character flaw in this character because I'm really writing about myself here, so I'm going to write every God damn horrible thing that I can think of, in as beautiful way that I can, in order to point out to you that I'm writing about myself here." And when you're working in a comic novel or story form, I know there are some kind of rules, but I don't know what they are really. I only know what I like, when I read other things.

So with the Ballinger stories they're sort of about my life and they're sort of about his life. I don't wanna write obviously about people that I know. I hate that. I hate when a friend of mine is writing a book or something and actually puts my name in it. It drives me crazy. Please don't do that, because I'm just going to go looking through the book page by page, looking for my name. So I promised myself, I'm not gonna put in any names of my friends, That story was just one of things that stuck in my memory. So I sort of decided to go, well, let's start with the bare bones of what actually was the truth and elaborate on it. Lie about it in other words. So the Ballinger stories are sort of like me lying, but Ballinger's not lying. He's just trying to remember. He is remembering everything, as he goes along. The Ballinger stories kind of weave around in the idea of autobiographical writing, but I'm a humorist, I don't want to get into honesty. I don't want to fall into the trap of honesty. It's so good when you're a serious novelist, God, they get to be so really honest. But the rest of us are trapped in the world of prevarication.