Showing posts with label F. Scott Fitzgerald. Show all posts
Showing posts with label F. Scott Fitzgerald. Show all posts

08 September 2015

Noir and the Returning War Vet Sub-Genre

by Paul D. Marks

My name is Paul and I’m a film noir addict.

If I don’t get my fix of noir “I feel all dead inside. I'm backed up in a dark corner, and I don't know who's hitting me.”*

Fodder for another piece is why I’m so addicted to noir. For this piece I want to talk about a specific sub-genre of noir, the returning veteran. My latest book, Vortex (released 9/1), comes under this category.

The story originally went to a different publisher, a publisher of mystery-thriller novellas. somewhere_in_the_night_xlgUnfortunately they went belly up. But in talking with that first publisher, my pitch was to do a story—homage might be too strong a word, but yeah, let’s call it an homage—about a vet returning from the war in Afghanistan a la some of the classic film noir movies like Somewhere in the Night, The Blue Dahlia (written by Raymond Chandler), Ride the Pink Horse, and Act of Violence, etc., and books like David Goodis’ Down There, whose main character had been one of Merrill’s Marauders, or from later, Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone and James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss, both inspired by the Viet Nam War.

Hey, even Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins is a returning World War II vet, who helped liberate the concentration camps.

47694-devil-in-a-blue-dress-0-150-0-225-cropMy favorite short story of any genre is Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home, about a disaffected WWI vet returning home and how he can no longer relate to anyone or anything. Close to that is Mayday by Fitzgerald. Both were written in the aftermath of World War I. Neither could be classified as noir, but they have a sort of hopeless noir sensibility.

When the vets in all of these stories come home it’s usually not all mom and apple pie.

There are arguments in some circles as to whether film noir is a post war movement or whether it was a result of (mostly) homefront conditions during the war. I think both sides are right, but ultimately I don’t think it matters. For me, the quintessential film noir is Double Indemnity, which came out on September 6, 1944, almost exactly 71 years ago from today. As the war still had a good year and half to go, this would preclude it from being a post-war movie.
But, of course, the Neff charac20_robert_stone_dog_soldierster (Huff in the book) is not a returning vet. Still, this film is (for me) the pinnacle of all noir movies and the jumping off point for the true noir cycle. Then, with the war ending, came a string of movies about returning vets, including those mentioned above. But not all were noir. The Best Years of Our Lives, Till the End of Time and others dealt with the difficult adjustments many vets faced on returning home in a non-noir way.

The war changed American society in a variety of ways. We lost our innocence as a country. Soldiers had seen things no one should have to see. Many came back cynical. Black soldiers came back wanting full rights for the country they had fought for. Women, Rosie the Riveters, weren’t so sure they wanted to be only housewives anymore.

And the Hells Angels motorcycle club (gang) was formed in Fontana, California (not far from LA, the noir capital of the world), in 1948 (just three years after the war) by disaffected World War II vets.

Many soldiers came back from the war who, if not physically wounded, were psychically wounded. Shell shock, combat fatigue, PTSD, “invisible” diseases but diseases that, nonetheless, tear at a man’s soul. Soldiers coming back from Korea were “forgotten,” those returning home from Viet Nam were often called “baby killers”. Those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are often depressed and alienated. One recent study says that roughly 22 veterans commit suicide every day, more than any previous generation of war vets.

It’s from there that the creative process began and I started to create characters and situations in Vortex. Call it an updating of the returning war vet noir genre.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]Vortex is the story of Zach Tanner, a recently returned Afghan war vet, who finds more trouble here than there. In his words, he went to “hell and back and back to hell again,” upon returning home. But that latest hell is one of his own making. A quagmire of quicksand that he’s sinking deeply into and struggling hard to get out of. And that predicament is fueled by his own greed. He’s also bringing his girlfriend, Jess, down into the mire with him. They’re on the run, careening down Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, being chased by a flashy red Camaro, when Jess says to him:

“What’re you doing?” Jessie said, clutching the handhold.
“We have to get out of here.”
“Talk to them, Zach.”
“We can’t go back, Jess. Don’t you understand, they’ll kill us.”
“They’re your friends.”
“Yeah.” The first rule of war is know your enemy. And I knew mine, too well—or maybe not well enough.

They’re on the run—from Zach’s best friends, or should I say former best friends. And now it’s up to Zach to get himself and Jess out of trouble, while at the same time trying to make sense of a world that has changed radically for him. A world that he now perceives differently because of what he saw and did in the war.

Zach and Jess are part of a generation that’s grown up on unreal reality shows that give them a false expectation of what success is and how to achieve it. A generation that watched the Bling Ring climb to fame and success by breaking into celebrities’ homes and stealing from them. And though some got minor  punishments they also got movies made about them and a couple starred in their own “reality” shows. That’s the quick and easy way to the top of the American Dream that many of Zach’s friends feel entitled to. They fall out when Zach realizes that getting something for nothing isn’t meaningful and when he wants more meaning and purpose in his life now.

Unfortunately, that’s what Zach’s friends still want when he returns home, that quick ride to the top at any cost. But after recuperating for some time in a hospital with plenty of time to think it’s no longer what he wants. Still, he’s part of their plan and even though he wants out, like quicksand they pull him in and under and won’t let him escape.

But what is escape? Zach and Jess hide out down at the Salton Sea, in the desert near Palm Springs. A once promising resort community that’s now dilapidated and going to hell, the underbelly of the American Dream. Built to be a waterfront paradise, it’s now a wasteland of dead fish and dead end streets.

As Zach, the narrator says, “The American Dream crashed and burned right here at the Salton Sea.”
And that’s where Zach finds himself. Now he must extricate himself from a mess largely of his own making and find some kind of equilibrium in a changed world. Will he?

I hope Vortex does a decent job of carrying on the returning war vet sub-genre.  I think these two quotes from Robert Stone and Ernest Hemingway epitomize that genre, even if they’re not noir per se.

“At first Krebs...did not want to talk about the war at all.  Later he felt the need to talk but no one wanted to hear about it.” ―Ernest Hemingway, Soldier’s Home

“If you haven't fought for your life for something you want, you don't know what's life all about.” ―Robert Stone, Dog Soldiers

*Quoted from “The Dark Corner,” written by Jay Dratler, Bernard C. Schoenfeld, Leo Rosten, directed by Henry Hathaway


***
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24 November 2014

USC Scores

By Fran Rizer


The University of South Carolina scored big in October, 2014.  No, I'm not talking about the football team.  I'm referring to 150 boxes containing 2,400 linear feet of documents, a couple of typewriters, and some other writing equipment.

What makes this special?  The fact that the documents belonged to Leonard Elmore.

The following article appeared in Columbia, SC, weekly newspaper Free Times:


USC Scores Collection of Crime Writer Elmore Leonard
By Rodney Welch 

Elmore "Dutch" Leonard was a true son of Detroit, but this week Columbia became the eternal resting place for his literary legacy. At a Wednesday ceremony at Hollings Library, USC President Harris Pastides announced that the university had acquired the complete archive of Leonard, who died in August of last year at 87. The university would not disclose the cost of the acquisition.

Besides all of his published work, the collection includes over 450 drafts of Leonard's novels, short stories and screenplays. The collection also includes appointment books, research files, letters, photographs, director's chairs from movie sets, many awards, his desk, typewriters--and even some Hawaiian shirts and a pair of sneakers.

The collection covers a 60-year writing career that spans Westerns--including the screenplays for films like Hombre, 3:10 to Yuma and Joe Kidd--to crime fiction, where he made his name with novels such as Swag, LaBrava, Get Shorty, Rum Punch and Maximum Bob, among many others. Many of these drafts can be seen under glass at the Hollings Library, such as the handwritten draft on yellow legal paper of his oft-quoted "Ten Rules of Writing."  (Rule One:  Never open a book with weather.)

Elmore Leonard
1925-2013
"Each page is unique primary research material that will bring researchers from around the world," said Pastides. The acquisition is a considerable boost for the university's research collection, which also holds the papers of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and in recent years has acquired both a significant Hemingway collection as well as the Pat Conroy archive.

"Certainly, he's one of the most significant and influential writers of the second half of the twentieth century," said longtime crime and mystery editor Otto Penzler, who was at Wednesday's ceremony. "The number of very accomplished mystery writers who have tried, to some degree, to emulate Duch's style--in terms of quick, punchy dialogue, leaving out the parts people tend to skip, and that sort of thing, is enormous," Penzler said. "Almost everybody now, to some degree, has been influenced by Elmore Leonard and his style of writing."

One such devotee is writer-director Daniel Schechter, who found Leonard a deeply cinematic writer, which proved beneficial when Schechter made the recent Life of Crime, starring Jennifer Aniston, based on Leonard's novel The Switch. "It felt like I was given not just a good book, but a great script by Elmore Leonard.:

So just how did the university snag the collection? Because USC Dean of Libraries Tom McNally went after it, and Leonard liked what the university had to offer. When McNally first made inquiries, he half-expected that the well-heeled Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin--which has the manuscripts of everyone from James Joyce to David Foster Wallace--had already snapped up the rights.

Called "Dutch," Leonard
had his own
director's chair at filmings
"It came about as a surprise," said McNally, to discover that Leonard's collection was still in play.

"Elmore's big statement was 'I don't care about posterity, I care about now," said his longtime researcher Greg Sutter.  Sutter, who has been putting the archive into shape for some time, said there were extensive talks with Michigan State Univesity in Lansing.  But while Sutter was thinking Michigan, Leonard started getting calls from McNally.

"I called him every other week," McNally said. "I got to know him, started talking to him about his collection coming, asked him to come down as a speaker. I told him we wanted to give him the Thomas Cooper Society Medal."

Sutter was already familiar with USC.  He had visited in 2006 for the university's exhibit in honor of crime writer George V. Higgins, and thought of it as a model for a future Leonard retrospective. While the Higgings collection would turn out to have a major impact on Leonard's decision to leave his papers with USC, Leonard's son Peter said Wednesday that his father was a little leery of the award.

"I said 'Do you know who has received this award?" Peter recalls asking. "John Updike, Norman Mailer, William Styron." Elmore said 'I don't write like them.' I said, 'It doesn't matter. This is a prestigious thing.' " Elmore and Peter Leonard and Sutter arrived for the ceremony in May of last year, and the writer liked both USC and Columbia--especially the restaurant Saluda's.

"He loved the fact that they had grits and pork belly on the menu," Peter Leonard said.  His father, who was born in New Orleans, grew up on Southern cooking  What really sealed the deal, though, was Leonard's tour of the Irvin Rare Book Library, when Leonard saw that the university housed the works of the two writers who influenced him more than anyone else:  Ernest Hemingway and Higgins.

Hemingway collector Edgar Grissom, who donated his archive to the university in 2012, showed Leonard the first editions of Hemingway.  "Then Edgar pulled out a manuscript of For Whom the Bell Tolls," Peter Leonard said, "and I could see my dad's eyes light up."

Yes, I know smoking is harmful,
but I had to share this author
photo of Elmore Leonard.
Then there was the Higgins archive, and Leonard got a look at the manuscript of The Friends of Eddie Coyle.  That was the very novel, back in the 1970's that Leonard's agent had insisted that he read. "Elmore said it really influenced him," Peter Leonard said.  "He saw how Higgins was writing, and that book set him free, he said."

The destination of his archive was now clear.  "There was Hemingway, there was Higgins, and I think all of these things just had an impact," Peter Leonard said.

"He was swept away," McNally said, "by the collections, and what we're trying to do here in this library.  We don't have all the money that the Ransom Center has, but we take a real personal approach with our writers.  We make a real commitment to them, that we're not just going to take the collections and put them on a dusty shelf and forget about them."

On the plane back home, Peter Leonard asked his father what he thought of South Carolina.  "That's where I want my papers to go," he said.

Some of Elmore Leonard's works

Peter Leonard, who is also a novelist, admits South Carolina is not the first place you think of a writer whose novels are neck-deep in the crime and corruption of inner-city Detroit.  "Friends of mine have said, 'Why South Carolina?' Because it doesn't really make a lot of sense until you know everything."

"It's kind of hard, when you're a favorite son of Michigan, to leave it," Sutter said.  "It's not that they didn't have the facilities or the energy to do it.  This university is dedicated to creating multiple collections in crime fiction and this acquisition is only going to help them get more."

"I didn't know he had any particular connection to the University of South Carolina," said Penzler. "But I couldn't think of a greater library for those papers to go to. The fact he's associated with Hemingway and Fitzgerald and other significant American writers, I think really does show the level of respect and admiration that Elmore Leonard is getting and richly deserves."


The above is printed in full with permission.
www.free-times.com/blogs/usc-scores-collection-of-crime-writer-elmore-leonard-101614

For more, go to:

www.elmoreleonard.com

I wanted to share this with SS readers, but please don't think I "copped out" by simply copying and pasting Mr. Welch's feature story.  Since that frequently distorts format on SleuthSayers, I typed it out word-by-word.  I tried to remain true to the article, but if there are any typos, please be assured they are mine, not Mr. Welch's.  Since I live very near Columbia, SC, if any of you come to SC to see the collection, let me know and I'll take you out to eat some grits and pork belly.

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you.