Friday, June 29, 2007


I dunno.

After reading a spate of recent books by some of the more highly touted (or is that highly tooted?) practitioners of the "new noir," I've noticed something.

Not in all of them, mind you, but in enough of them to be disturbed by what seems to be a developing trend. I hope not. Maybe I just hit a bad string of books (and no, i don't want to name them). But...

Many of these books have increasingly little to do with the classic noir films and novels their authors all claim to admire and adore so much (but may have never actually read).

If the original noirs were usually about normal -- or at least identifiable characters -- being drawn into the darkness, that's long gone. So many of the recent noirs I've read are populated by amoral sociopaths who are already plenty dark.

Like, really, really, dark.

In the original noirs, the main characters were usually just more-or-less regular joes: migrant workers, insurance salesmen, professors, news hawks, coffee shop waitresses. B-girls, cut-rate private eyes, mildly bent cops, low-level crooks. The sort of people you'd meet in a bar or on the street. Or getting off a hay wagon. Just regular schmucks, with more-or-less normal levels of intelligence. And their fall is presented as tragedy, with one bad decision, one moment of weakness, one fatal flaw serving as the catalyst that ignites a world of hurt.

Nowadays, though, the characters are more often big shot celebrities, serial killers, globetrotting hit men, cannibal dope fiends and the like, over-the-top sociopathic cartoons who seem to exist mostly in books. And these guys are usually criminally clueless. These books aren't presented as morality plays, but as clusterfucks of stupidity and venality. These characters come pre-doomed and pre-damned; dumbfucks who seem compelled to make one obviously bad choice after another -- the sort of stupid choices that owe more to plot machinations than anything.

What happens to them isn't some slow, inevitable tragic fall from grace into the darkness of the abyss, but more a turned-to-eleven amplification of atrocities and bad luck, betrayals and misunderstandings and coincidences that, again, only exist in fiction.

Certainly, things are more graphic and there's far more obscene language, violence and sex than in the old noirs, which is to be expected, I guess. But so much of it just seems so strained and self-conscious; like a bunch of little boys trying to out-do each other. These neo-noirs aren't presented as tragedy at all, but as comedy of the cruelest sort, the "grown-up" equivalent of slipping a frog down a girl's back.

And what's with all the torture and mutilation going on? Is Cheyney secretly moonlighting as an acquisitions editor?

Chainsaws! Woodchippers! Cruxifiction!

Like, "You fed a guy's testicles into a Waring blender? Fine, I'll do that, too, but I'll toss in some Coors Light and then make my guy drink it! And then gerbil him to death!"

I may be imagining this, but it seems to me that there's also a growing contempt among the authors for their own characters, a kind of mean-spiritedness that's creeping in -- a condescending sort of self-righteous authorial stance being adapted that says "Yeah, they're all scumbags, so I make them go through all kinds of shit. Cool, huh?"

The old noir characters, whatever their flaws, had souls of some sort. Hell, the books themselves had soul, and you got the sense that the authors -- and readers -- cared about these characters on at least some level. The characters who inhabit this cynical new breed of noir too often are unlikable two-dimensional cardboard cutouts who exist only to be put through their paces by an author with one hand down his (or her) pants for the edification of their like-minded buddies.

All the meanness and carnage of these soulless wallows comes off more like pornography than noir, at least to me.

Makes me wonder who's getting off on it.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

You Puts in Your Money and You Takes Your Chances

Imagine using a vending machine to buy a POD book.

That's the "bold new publishing paradigm" the makers of ESPRESSO ( ) envision. It's a glorified vending machine/ATM that they have high hopes for. It can theoretically print and bind a book in three minutes.

I don't see any real advantage for unproven writers, since most publishers or retailers still won't waste disk or shelf space on books that nobody wants, but what would be the advantages for readers?

A bookstore anywhere you could fit a Coke machine? ("Hey, I got the new Stephen King at the Jiffy Lube!" "Oh, yeah? Well, I got the complete works of Shakespeare in the men's room!").

No more waiting for an ordered book to be delivered, I guess, and always (theoretically) being able to get the book you want almost immediately, but at what price will that convenience and instant gratification come?

POD books are already considerably more expensive than traditionally published books. And could any machine hold all the contents of your average decent-sized bookstore, not to mention the millions of books they won't or don't carry?

Or will they be connected through high-speed to a central database?

Personally, I fear for the disappearance and ambience of bookstores. Or almost any other place that sells books, be it a big soul-sucking super discount warehouse, a grubby used bookstore or a drugstore spin rack.

Because it's not just reading -- I LOVE books, and the idea that grabbing a book, checking out the cover, scanning the blurbs and maybe even reading a page or so will be replaced by some vending machine makes my skin crawl.

And what about the noble art of handselling by retailers who know what they're doing? Will that be replaced by shriller and shriller mindless BSP ?

The technology and the issues surrounding it (royalties, rights, promotion, costs, can a POD book ever "go out of print?", etc.) are still being worked out -- which is why most of the books offered now are public domain. But what do you guys think?

And for God's sake, before someone starts using this thread to plug their own sorry-ass book, POD does NOT mean "self-published."

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer

Damn. I hate it when I'm scooped by my own writers.

But due to the vagaries of my work schedule, I had just officially posted the new "issue" of the THRILLING DETECTIVE WEB SITE when I had to leave for work at Mr. Slate's quarry.

But what the hell, as Dan Turner would say. The important thing is that it's up. That's a big number 42, by my reckoning. Which means that as we crawl toward our tenth anniversary (TEN YEARS! No wonder some people are pissed off!) we're averaging slightly more than four issues a year. Not bad for a "quarterly."

And as usual, we've got a great fiction roster, thanks to the hard work of our two-fisted fiction editor Gerald So.

We've got a little something for everyone this time out: a story or two to break your heart, one with a definite woo-woo element, and at least one that should have you howling in pain.

Marking her first appearance is Patricia "Mom of Meg" Abbot, with a sad little tale called A SAVING GRACE, although it's no sadder or more haunting than CIRCLING THE DRAIN by fellow first-timer Fleur Bradley.

It does seem to be the issue for debutantes. Also making their TD premieres are two names probably a little more familiar: FUTURES editor Barry Ergang gives us the first in what he threatens might be a long line of groaners. And even though you have been warned, we do apologize in advance for ALL IN THE HOLSTER. Also on board and needing less apology is another long-time pal, editor/anthologist/writer Michael Bracken, arguably the hardest working man in short fiction, who FINALLY appears in these pages with MY CLIENT'S WIFE, featuring Waco, Texas P.I. "Moe Ron" Boyette.

Of course site favourite Stephen D. Rogers needs no introduction. He returns with another prime slab of working man's blues, in WHERE'S THE BEEF?, while our latest excerpt is from another P.I. buddy, Peter Spiegelman, who gives us a taste of his new John March novel RED CAT.

Wrapping things up, we've got one more familiar name for you. If you don't know who Gerald So is, you just haven't been paying attention. Gerald checks in -- at my insistence -- with "MICKEY SPILLANE" a powerful bit of poetry and as fine a tribute to you-know-who as I've seen. Hard and fast and unflinching, even the Mick might approve.

Oh, and we're still a paying market for fiction. In fact, we're upping our rates to the staggering total of fifteen dollars. Now your date can have a drink too.

Of course, fiction is only a small part of what we do. In our non-fiction section, Frank Derato clocks in with ON THE TRAIL OF DREXEL DRAKE'S FALCON, wherein he tries to shed a little light on the provenance of one of the forties' and fifties' most popular characters.

Meanwhile, we're constantly adding, updating and tweaking our ever-growing database, which now numbers somewhere around 2500 entries -- and that includes well over three hundred new or revised pages on the site since the last issue, so feel free to browse.

Oh, and be sure to check out our way cool cover, courtesy of Guy Budziak of Film Noir Woodcuts. Guy may just be the only man alive currently selling hand-printed woodcut posters taken from scenes from classic film noirs. This issue's cover is taken from This Gun For Hire, starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.

For more on the painstaking process and attention to detail that Guy brings to each and every one of his posters (and a look at his growing selection) visit his web site.