26 February 2017

Paint It Black

by R.T. Lawton


Last November, I received an e-mail invitation to write a story for one of those noir anthologies named after a city or an area. You know the ones, Brooklyn Noir, Seattle Noir, etc. Anyway, this one will be titled Rocky Mountain Noir and will be edited by Laureen P. Cantwell who also edited Memphis Noir. Naturally, I was pleased and even flattered to be invited to submit a story to this anthology, knowing that an invite is almost a guarantee of having one's story accepted as opposed to submitting a manuscript in reply to a general call for submissions and ending up in a vast slush pile.

One small problem on my side.

In the past, I had written biker stories, children's stories, historical stories, comedy capers, traditional mysteries, horror, sci-fi..,,and some other stuff. But, I had never written anything in the noir genre. Where to start?


Fortunately for me, at one of our monthly MWA meetings several months ago, an author gave a presentation on noir. And, I had taken notes during that meeting, even though I had no intentions at that time of doing anything in the noir genre.

In short, here's what the notes contained:
 ~ it is an amoral world
 ~ it's about sex and greed and violence
 ~ the protagonist is always flawed, a loser with great humanity
 ~ the plot may be where nothing is as it seems
 ~ the ending may be a twist that no one saw
                                                                                        coming
And, my favorite, the part that stayed in my mind: In epics, the hero falls from the heavens, but in noir, he falls from the curb.

There was also a suggestion that we should read "The Simple Art of Murder" essay by Raymond Chandler. Okay, so I did that.

Further research on Wikipedia showed that noir "is a literary genre closely related to hardboiled genre with a distinction that the protagonist is not a detective, but instead a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator." The website goes on to say that the protagonist has self-destructive qualities and is opposed by a corrupt system which puts him in a no win position.

Surprisingly, there are now sub categories of noir. For instance,Mediterranean Noir where the cities of the Mediterranean are looked upon as broken and distorted by crime. In this sub category, authors explore the duality of local foods, fine wines, close friendship, warm skies, blue seas and joyous living against a backdrop of greed, violence and the abuse of power.

There is also Urban Noir, where the story is set in the underbelly of various large cities or certain areas vulnerable to crime. Akashic Books has published several of these, and is the proposed publisher for the noir anthology from which I received the invitation. At this point, my story submission is finished. Now, it's up to Akashic Books to accept the proposal and for the editor to accept my submission.

If the proposal or the story acceptance goes bad--hey, noir is French for black--then I can always submit the story to AHMM or EQMM.

Either way, wish me luck.

Never say die.

Oh, wait a minute, in noir everything goes wrong and the protagonist usually does die.

Damn.


POST SCRIPT ~ How little did I know that the last five paragraphs would turn out to be prophetic. Seems I wrote an e-mail to the editor in late January inquiring if she would like to receive my story in advance of the proposed schedule. Her reply e-mail said the project died aborning. Akashic Books did not accept the proposal at this time. Maybe sometime in the future. In which case, I'm off to remove some of the sex and violence from the original manuscript to see if EQMM or AHMM will find the story a home.

PPS ~ As of 02/16/17, the time of this article's final editing, the story will have been at EQMM for twenty days. Their usual rejection turnaround is about two weeks, but then Janet Hutchings, the editor, may be busy elsewhere.

Catch ya later, as I'll be gone when this is posted.

14 comments:

Robert Lopresti said...

Best of luck. My definition of nior: You're nobody. You try to be somebody. Life's bitch and then you die. Oscar Wilde captured it when he said "We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars." The noir hero tries to something bigger than he or she is - could be something good or bad - and gets squashed for trying.

Some have said CASABLANCA is a noir movie. I say, only if Peter Lorre's character is the hero. "I have many friends in Casablanca but you despise me, so you are the only one I trust." THAT'S noir.

Paul D. Marks said...

Good luck with the story, R.T. And I think everyone has their own definition of noir and that definition has changed over time. But there are some things that never change and those are the darker elements to the story and the characters.

David Dean said...

Enjoyed the article, R.T., and best of luck with the story--I'm betting you have a sale there. I seldom give much thought to the genre of the story I'm writing (Robin says I don't give much thought to anything, but that's another subject)and am sometimes surprised with their categorization afterwards. Janet placed my story, "The Children Of Espiritu Santo" in EQMM's Black Mask section which I didn't see coming at all. Interestingly, it does not meet some of the criteria you've mentioned, though it certainly does in other regards. You (or at least me) just never know, do ya?

janice law said...

That PS is the noir touch for sure!
My reservation about noir is that it rarely makes room for humor. Hope your story finds a home soonest.

Art Taylor said...

As Paul said, noir is one of those things no one can ever agree on how to define--but maybe that's proof of something vibrant about it? Sorry the anthology fell through, but good luck with EQMM. Fingers crossed!

Steve Liskow said...

Great post, R.T., and good luck on your story. Let us know when it sells.
I usually get an EQMM rejection in two to three months and haven't sold to them yet.

Janice, like you, I wish noir had more humor. I managed to sneak some into a story I have coming out in the first issue of Switchblade Magazine next month, but it grew out of the story without my forcing it. All the characters in that story are flawed though, and they generally get what they deserve.

I need to try more noir...

O'Neil De Noux said...

Good post. Love Noir. More difficult for me to write because, as Otto Penzler tells us, "Noir is about losers." My detectives and private eyes usually win. I hop you'll let us know when the story sells.

John Floyd said...

Good luck with the story, RT. Like David Dean, I seldom think much about the genre or sub-genre of the stories I write, and others wind up categorizing them later. I had one story published in an Akashic noir anthology, and I wasn't even sure it was a noir story--so yes, I think the definition can be pretty broad.

One interesting take on it that I've heard is that noir should involve a conniving woman and a not-so-bright guy who's talked into committing a crime (robbing a bank, killing the woman's husband, etc.). I always think Double Indemnity, Body Heat, The Postman Always Rings Twice, etc.

Eve Fisher said...

Noir is hard. I love John's definition, and I too always think of James M. Cain at his most ruthless. (I like noir, but can only take so much of it. Then I want someone to have some virtue, somewhere...)

Barb Goffman said...

Thanks for the noir description. I've always found it one of those things that's difficult to define and difficult to pronounce.

Good luck with the short story!

Leigh Lundin said...

Fall from the curb… ha!

I had not realized the main character wasn’t supposed to be a detective… I think of Hammett and Chandler as essential noir. We live and learn.

On the other hand, Cain’s novella The Butterfly has been called Appalachia noir, the subsequent relocated movie became Nevada noir.

Sorry about the anthology, but good luck with EQMM.

Jeff Baker said...

R.T., good luck with the story---please keep us posted! I've never written a noir story, and after reading this I'm going to have to try! Rob, thanks for the Peter Lorre quote, it made my day!

Fred Zackel said...

Noir is about the Consequences of Sin. Sinners! Very Old Testament in flavor and texture. The Book of Job is Noir. So is Steinbeck. Especially Of Mice and Men. Big Trouble nowadays with noir? Every publisher claims This Book is Noir!! Good luck!!

B.K. Stevens said...

That's too bad about the anthology, R.T.--best of luck with EQMM. I faced a similar dilemma when Ken Wishnia invited me to submit a story to Jewish Noir--I had only a vague idea of what noir is, and although I'd written some fairly dark stories, I didn't know if I could do a convincing job of writing about the kinds of characters and settings usually found in noir stories. So I tried writing a noir story with an academic setting, and it evidently worked well enough to satisfy Ken. I even worked in some humor (though you have to know a little Yiddish to get the best joke).