Writing Noir for the 21st Century
I’m a fraud.
I sat at Noircon—the noir crime author’s convention in Philadelphia this Saturday at the Society Hill Playhouse—and I worried I’d be discovered for the imposter that I am then thrown under a SEPTA bus on South Street by the seasoned and experienced Noir authors. I have not read Elmore Leonard and only seen a casual amount of the movies, and this is why you as noir authors need to listen to me now.
Noir has always been a side for me, though much of my horror blurs the boundaries. And this is why noir authors must listen to me. My lack of experience gives me a fresh perspective. I’m outside the clique, the mainstream of noir and crime fiction, and I’m coming at the genre from a unique point-of-view. Somehow I stumbled into this field with my first book, The Street Martyr. The book has been successful and is being made into a major motion picture by Throughline Films. I didn’t expect this for my first book. I wrote the book to teach myself how to write long fiction, a process I continue. I didn’t set out to write a crime-noir book. I developed a plot—something not related to horror as I had written too much of the macabre—and wrote it in a character voice, drawing upon my love of true mafia books. I wrote about true horror—drugs, poverty, exploitation of those who can’t defend themselves. This is what haunts me.
Lou Boxer invited me to sit on the panel for Existential Noir. I had no idea what this was, and I’m told that’s the heart of existential. We were blessed with our moderator, William Lashner, and sitting on the panel with me was K.A. Laity, Paul Oliver and Carole Mallory. We closed out the evening with our discussion, touching on the nature of God existing in a dark alley.
One of the questions I was asked was about femme fatales and their place in existential noir. It was a legitimate question using old industry terminology; and that’s part of my point. I find the term to be sexist, outdated and part of a genre geared towards men. This is endemic of a genre trapped in the past, a dark style that is not joining a modern sensibility. Now, I do appreciate the old styles of the past in many ways and hope to preserve some of those qualities. The long hero, or anti-hero, hitting the streets, staying to the shadows and exploring what is darkest in the human heart will always have a place in the genre, but there are many elements that need to advance. The femme fatale is really a concept of love, the potential for transformation and redemption. It doesn’t have to be a female. The archetype goes back to the idea of Eve corrupting a pure Adam in the Garden, and really this could be anyone in love. The detective could be a woman and/or a homosexual. It’s about love verse selfish desire, about the hope to be lifted out of the darkness. It’s time to retire the term to bring noir into the next century.
What worries me is the esoteric nature of modern noir. Sometimes it feels as if we’re writing a tribute to the past like creating a museum exhibit. Something’s off. It’s confirmed by the lack of paying crime markets—and non-paying. When I do a search for horror on Duotrope, I have to sort through at least 100 dedicated journals and anthologies. I get maybe twenty crime markets, accept for those few literary and pulp journals that have added noir to their submission genres almost as an afterthought. Why isn’t this a popular market? There was a time when dime-store gumshoes were the popular hero.
At Starbucks today where I go to write when my fiancée works, I was asked where and when my book, The Street Martyr, was set. He expected a 1940’s detective story when I said it was crime novel and was surprised when I said Philadelphia in 2012. It almost didn’t seem like Noir to him unless it was cast in a specific setting. Have I written a thriller? Or is my novel about two low-level drug dealers who must solve a murder and bring street justice to a monster really noir? It is the heart of noir. Our detectives need cell phones. Our criminals should steal credit cards and hack bank accounts. We need a modern context for our gumshoes, or we will be left behind. So I advise that we let go of the past, though we can use it for inspiration. The spirit of the work is the same, just update it to the world around you.
When Vincent is enlisted to throw a scare into a deviant priest, he does it dutifully, leaving the man bleeding on the floor of a seedy apartment. But when the priest is found brutally murdered, life as Vincent knew it ends and he has to flee as killers on both sides of the law make him the target of a city-wide manhunt.
BUY THE STREET MARTYR on AMAZON.COM!!!
But it was a lovely convention, educational and inspirational. I got to spend time with Lou Boxer. Lou and I have been trying to hangout for the last year now. Lou deserves the gratitude of the noir community for organizing Noircon and bringing us together. I appreciate the chance to be on a panel and speak my thoughts about the genre. I appreciated both the panels on politics in Noir and Jewish Noir, and I learned much.
|William Lashner, K.A. Laity, Paul Oliver, T. Fox Dunham and Malcolm the plush Fox|
You can read Mark C. O’Connor’s write-up on Noircon 2014 at the Out of the Gutter website: http://www.outofthegutteronline.com/2014/11/raining-in-philadelpia-noircon-2014.html
Carole Mallory's write up for the Huff Post:
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Fox upcoming appearances for November:
Friday, 7th November - 7PM to 9PM:
Book signing at The Cat’s Meow in Lansdale –
105 Walnut Street , Lansdale Pennsylvania
Friday, 14th November 2014 – 7PM:
Experiences of a Successful Author
My writing seminar evening at the Lansdale YMCA talking about my experience as an author.
608 E. Main Street, Lansdale, PA 19446
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So here’s book promotion for this blog entry:
From Knightwatch Press and Editor T.M. McLean. This book has gone through a few different forms, and I was pleased to see it finally published. Tim’s a good friend, and it includes my zombie story, The Birthday Boy. Some odd and original stories in this collection. We need more zombie fiction!
BUY ME AT AMAZON!