Thursday, November 13, 2014

Number Thirteen Press Launches Inaugural Novella...

In case you hadn't noticed, Number Thirteen Press launches fully today with Of Blondes and Bullets by Michael Young.

More details at the website.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Creative Writing Courses - A Student Speaks

Another day, another criticism of creative writing courses. This time it is from a Nobel Prize judge, no less. And there's this. And then this. And this. And here I am, having just handed in my dissertation for a creative writing master’s degree. I was initially sceptical, but since I was being paid to do the course (lucky me) and since I planned on spending the year largely on writing anyway, I figured why not. And I got exactly what I hoped I might. I am a convert. However, the questions about creative writing courses remain, so let’s deal with them one by one.

Is it all just a big con, designed to allow writers to pad out their pay packet?
Well, yes about the pay packet, to a certain extent. I won’t argue that. Consider Hanif Kureishi, who regularly criticises the notion of teaching writing while collecting a pay packet (from the very establishment I attended) to do just that. Incomes from writing are decreasing year after year, and everybody has bills to pay. Offer me tenure to talk about writing and I’ll bite your hand off.

But can you teach writing?
Stop asking this question. It’s really stupid. Of course you can teach writing. Most of it is craft. I could paint your portrait now and it would be bollocks. I could study painting for 3 years and then paint you. It would still be rubbish and uninspired, but at a much higher standard because I would at least have some knowledge and experience of the skills involved. The same is true for any craft (writing, drawing, pottery, film making) used in the pursuit of what may well aspire to the status of art. The basic skills can be taught, practiced, criticised, practiced some more, upgraded. You cannot learn to be a genius, but you can learn to be competent and then add geniusness if you have it.

So, why didn’t all the old, good writers need creative writing courses?
This is the most frequent point people bring up. Problem is it’s just not true. Many great writers did take a course (um, Raymond Carver, anybody? Kazuo Ishiguro? Ian McEwan? Toni Morrison? Thomas Pynchon? There are many.) More importantly, this question ignores the fact that many old writers were taught by someone. Dig into any writer’s biography (Faulkner, Hemingway, whoever you want, really) and you find the same: people who criticised, edited, worked with the writer and helped them to improve. You know, taught them. Like you get on a course.

Because that’s what used to happen. Writers have always been guided by knowledgeable or more experienced literary types/writers. They have always been developed by agents and editors who could afford to invest a lot of time in a book or in the writer’s whole career. Years, even, if they thought the writer was talented enough, developing them to the point they were worthy of being published. This has always, always, always happened.

Until recently.

Now, fewer authors will take other writers under their wing because either a) they’re too busy on the promotional merry-go-round trying to earn a crust, what with incomes falling year after year, etc, and b) they might as well get paid to do it. On a creative writing course. Agents and editors, on the other hand, spend almost no time at all developing young writers because that’s the new economic reality. They can’t afford it. There are thousands of books to publish and millions of wannabe writers, so instead they just reject, reject, reject and wait for something already polished to come along.

Which will usually (or at least, often) be from somebody who has been on a creative writing course.

Basically, all writers have always studied creative writing from other people. Now it’s on a course, and the industry no longer does it in house. The model is different but the process is almost exactly the same. A creative writing course gives you exactly what all the old, good writers were given by other writers, agents and editors.

So can a creative writing course turn a shit writer into a great writer?
No. Of course not.
Yes, the institution will still take your money, because they have bills to pay.

To be a good writer, you still need talent. But talent must be developed. To develop as a writer, you must a) read, b) write, and c) receive informed feedback on your writing and learn from that feedback, with the help of a teacher. Whether the feedback comes from a knowledgeable person on a course or a knowledgeable person not on a course is not really important. Whether the teacher is a person or a book makes a difference, but both are possible.

So, can you do it yourself instead of paying all that money?
Well, yes. I’m sure you can. Same as you can learn rocket science by going to the library and studying really hard. It just takes longer, and it’s harder to make a living writing rubbish while you serve out your apprenticeship, the way many old pulp hacks did it.

Working without advice, by imitation of other writers, can take you to a certain level if you are critical enough and talented enough. Instead of a teacher, you can buy Stephen King’s On Writing, and maybe a few Chuck Wendig books as well, because he’s more fun. If you have people to give you quality feedback then you will improve further. Many people do this and reach a reasonable level of writing, from where an agent and then an editor will take you on and help you improve further. This is essentially the same as a creative writing course, without the skills of the tutor at teaching what he is paid to teach.

The truth is that a creative writing course is easier, quicker, and in the long term probably cheaper.

So, should I do a creative writing course?
If you want to be a published writer, then yes, unless you’d rather spend years doing it yourself and hoping to get lucky. Will the course be any good? I don’t know. Some of them are utter rubbish, I’m sure. But the main thing I learned on my course is that the course itself isn’t important. It’s all about the lecturers. I had lecturers who were very, very good but I heard about others on the course who I would not have been happy with and would have learned less under. All this is hard to predict. I was very happy with all my tutors, and one in particular who gave me exactly what I needed to take my writing to a much higher level. Other people will need different things, and they may not have gotten as much from the same lecturers. Bit of a lottery, really.

The most important things are still reading and writing, and books like King’s and Wendig’s can certainly help anyone. But if you are serious about being a writer, your writing is already at a reasonable but not quite publishable level, and you have the opportunity, then it is definitely a good idea.

And finally, have creative writing courses created a generation of nice, safe, samey literary figures all in the same mould as their lecturers but with less flare?
Fuck me, I don’t know. Probably. That’s a question for literary history students. I know that literary fiction in both the US and the UK has been pretty dull for the last 20 years, though thank god it shows signs of emerging from its slump. Whatever. If you’re a writer you are probably more inspired by what you read and your own imagination. And for god’s sake get some balls. The course didn’t change how or what I wanted to write, it just made me better at doing so. Write what you want to write regardless of what your lecturers like. Listen to them on anything else, but stick up for your own aspirations or you’ll only end up a bit shit anyway.

So you're saying that writers have always received the same advice and teaching only now it's on a creative writing course instead of not on a creative writing course, and that you can do it yourself by getting exactly the same advice and teaching from other people and books instead of on a course, if you want to spend more time and money or just can't currently do a course? And, further, that people who question creative writing courses just don't know shit about writing or the publishing industry or its history, or else they're hypocritical and/or self-deluded shits like Hanif Kureishi?
Yes. And yes.

Right, that's the creative writing question sorted for all time, then.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Burma Shave

Here in the UK we glimpse Burma Shave only through myths and legends, not unlike the fall of Troy or the story of Sisyphus.

Some nights my heart pounds like thunder
I don't know why it don't explode
'Cause everyone in this stinking town's
Got one foot in the grave
I'd rather take my chances
Out in Burma Shave
-Burma Shave
Tom Waits

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fragments of Noir - Jack Vettriano

Fragments of Noir is an outstanding website. All round. No argument. This is a guy who really, really gets noir. Who understands noir on a really deep level. Right down to the beating black heart of it all.

One of my favourite things I've discovered through the site is the artist, Jack Vettriano. Wanna know why? Here, take a look.


Consumately stylish, overtly sexual with undertones of violence, loneliness, restrained passions and deep regret. He is like a fusion between Edward Hopper and the sort of classic pulp artist that these days only seems to find employment at Hard Case Crime. So many stories hinted at but left untold.

Fragments of Noir has plenty more Vettriano here.

While you can find out more about the artist here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

QOTM: Kill Kill Faster Faster

You ain't stupid, man. You put out your hand, but then you pull it back. So you deny them. You deny them that. And then what do they have? They have nothing. They have fucking nothing, and you have your name.

My name is Joey One-Way.

What's yours?

-Kill Kill Faster Faster
Joel Rose

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ascenseur pour l'echafaud (Malle, 1958)

aka Elevator to the Gallows

Two men.
Two women.
Two murders.

And the most perfect noir soundtrack imaginable from Miles Davis:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ask the Dust - John Fante

(If you want to skip the pointless rant, the actual review is at the bottom.)

Here's the thing about John Fante's Ask the Dust:

In 1977, The Runaways released their second album, Queens of Noise. By the time I was old enough to start searching out decent music The Runaways had pretty much been forgotten. I eventually came across Joan Jett, of course, but with so much music to dig through, so much junk covering the good stuff, I never had time to seriously investigate her back catalogue. She released a few decent rock anthems, fair enough, good stuff, so did a lot of other people.

In 1977 I was one year old. It wasn't until last year I got around to digging up Joan Jett's sordid past and discovered a song from the album called Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin.


I mean, come on people. Do you see that title? The song simply cannot fail to be excellent with a title like that. But because I was a babe in arms at the time and the music fell out of fashion, I was left digging through thousands of hours of mostly tedious and overrated music before I even discovered that the song existed. Why have you wasted so much of my life by not telling me there's a song called Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin?* Why would you do that to me? There's so much shit I've had to wade through, so much money spent on the wrong thing, when practically my entire life there's been a song with that title, but no-one thought to tell me.


So that's why society is wrong. It is wrong and it is shit, and it is obviously unfair I've had to spend half my life without knowing that there was a song called Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin. Somebody should have told me when I was sixteen, so that I didn't have to waste the next couple of years believing that Oasis were actually quite good.

And that's how I feel about Ask the Dust by John Fante. It was published in 1939. It was a huge influence on Charles Bukowski. I never heard of it until this year. Why have I had to wade through hundreds of shitty recomendations when this work of obvious genius was sitting there all the time? Why does so much shit get thrust into our faces, making it so hard to fight through the crowd and find the works of momentous truth and beauty on the other side? Why does society throw Coldplay and the Stereophonics at me, Chris Brown and Miley Cyrus, instead of genuine artists of skill and passion, whether they're to my taste or not?


If you don't know about John Fante, and you haven't read Ask the Dust, then read it. Especially if you like, for instance, Bukowski. Or perhaps I could place it somewhere between Hemingway and Steinbeck, and it was quite possibly also an influence on the likes of Chandler and Goodis. Not everyone will love it, of course, there's still the matter of taste. But that doesn't stop it being brilliant and everybody should know about it. Everybody. When they are of age, tell your children. Don't force it on them. But for God's sake, at least let them know it's out there.**

*It's not the Best Song Title of All Time, of course, because that award has been retired and given in all perpetuity to Je Suis un Teenage Zombie de la Outer Space, Baby, by Les Prostiputes. But it's a good candidate for runner up.

**It's a semi-autobiographical novel about a deluded aspiring writer in LA, struggling to cope with both failure and limited success, filled with poverty and dreams and his love-hate-love-hate infatuation with a crazy waitress. It's frequently funny but also filled with moments of genuine despair and terror at the bare facts of life in depression era USA, and also at the existential crisis at the heart of the creative life which the protagonist naiively romanticises but which the novel examines in usparing, highly critical detail. File under: Essential.

Further reference:
Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin
When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? Play from your fucking heart.
Stewart Lee: Talking Books
"The world of publishing is in crisis...No I haven't read it because I'm a forty year old man."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Number Thirteen Press

Okay, so the other thing I've been up to recently is setting up my own small e-publishing company: Number Thirteen Press has now officially launched.

True, there are plenty of small e-presses around at the moment. As the publishing industry goes through seismic upheaval, a lot of genre fiction is going electronic. The pulp/crime field is perhaps lead by Blasted Heath and New Pulp Press, both of which are marvellous. But there are plenty of others doing little great things. You know who they are.

The future of pulp fiction is electronic. It's all about cost. The original pulp paperbacks in the 50s and 60s were produced in massive quantities on the cheapest paper possible, and sold cheaply. Same with the old pulp magazines. But you can't do that anymore with physical books because of the economic models. The big players don't take any risks, they're all about the latest mega hit by the latest mega writer, and small (non-electronic) presses are on the tightest possible budgets. They make money on 1 book out of 10, and that pays for the other 9. 

So (mostly, the likes of Hard Case Crime apart) it's only in e-publishing that you'll find original, inventive, incredible fiction that takes risks. This goes for crime, horror, sci-fi, anything that pushes beyond the mainstream. Lee Child is all very well, but people want something different sometimes. Small presses can take risks.

But none of the other small presses are doing exactly what I would do. So why the hell not start my own?

Here's the idea: an initial list of 13 crime novellas (or short novels), published one per month, on the 13th of each month. Professional editing; stylish, distinctive covers.

Why 13? Well, I figured if you're going to publish one book every single month, you want to avoid the beginning and end of the month, what with Christmas, New Year and other holidays. So in the middle of the month is the 13th. Then I thought about Black Friday by David Goodis, and it all seemed to fit into place. Also, being part of an exclusive and regular list can only help sales for all the books. Why not buy the set?

So all I need now are the manuscripts. If you think you've got something I might like, check out and send it in. I want pulp crime novellas, but all those terms are taken at their broadest possible meaning and I'd rather take a look and not like it than potentially miss out. So send it in, and tell your brother/sister/cousin/friend with the manuscript in their bottom drawer to send that in, too.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

He Died With His Eyes Open - Derek Raymond

Technically this is a police procedural, but the unnamed protagonist in the first of the Factory series has more in common with a classic hardboiled private detective. He works alone, on cases nobody else cares about. He is dedicated to his job because he thinks it matters when somebody is murdered, even though no-one else gives a damn. It's his one redeeming feature as he drinks his way through the sleazy underbelly of London.

And London is important. He couldn't really be a private detective, because the UK doesn't have real private detectives, not in this mold. But London is one of the trio of voices in this book, each more damned than the last. The unnamed detective is a no good piece-of-shit, lacking personal or proffesional ambition, who happens to think that the cases referred to the Department for Unexplained Deaths (ie. cases not worth devoting serious resources to) might just matter, even if only to him and the dead man. Nobody else who knew the corpse in life expresses much regret at his death. But London, London is also a no good piece-of-shit town. London has a voice just as vivid, and it's a voice which damns its occupants precisely because it doesn't care. London prefers to leave its inhabitants to their own miserable company. An uncaring and neglectful father who watches its children swirl down the drain without lifting a finger, tainting the lives of everybody who breathes its poisonous air, watching them piss their lives away in desperate alcoholic fugs, or drown in the backstreet violence of its dingy alleyways.

Derek Raymond has been called the Godfather of British noir or somesuch, and I don't remember reading any older British fiction this dark. The thing that really drags this book into the depths is the third voice. In a trick he would repeat throughout the Factory series, the voice of the dead man is given equal weight to the city and the detective. As the policeman listens to a number of tapes the victim recorded before his grisly and brutal murder, we are dragged into both the life and death of a man who was himself desperate and damned. He is a failure, a miserable drunk abandoned by his family and everything he might once have wanted to live for. As he narrates his movement towards death and the detective sleazes his way deeper into the dead man's story, the true loneliness at the heart of the existence of each is played out both in the present and the past. The detective insinuates his way into the dead man's life, into his bed, and ultimately into a bizarre and tortuous meta-sacrifice, almost a ritual claiming of equality between the dead and the damned of a heartless city awash with alcohol and violence.

Derek Raymond carried a notion of the Black Novel, which would address: 

‘the question of turning a small, frightened battle with oneself into a much greater struggle – the universal human struggle against the general contract, whose terms are unfulfillable, and where defeat is certain.' 

This quote seems to encapsulate the black heart of noir and few writers have come as close to actualising such a book as Raymond does here. An incredible novel, as dark as any I've yet come across. If you like noir then read this book, because this is it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

I know what you're thinking...

Did he fire six shots? Or only five Who's counting?

No, what you're thinking is (probably not, but roll with me on this) apart from watching inutterably cool French crime films and reading the odd Scudder, what the hell has Chris Black been up to these last several months?

Well to tell you the truth, in all this excitement

In fact, what I've been doing is getting myself a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. A year ago I would have told you I didn't really believe in Creative Writing degrees. The odd course, a bit of friendly advice and/or a good editor, sure. But a degree? Hmmm, no. Especially for genre writers. I mean, literary writers who just want to churn out the same boring stuff that many of them have been churning out for the last 15 years (thank God literary fiction is finally picking up after some dull, dull times), but a crime writer? Horror writer? Science Friction? Not sure about that, my friend.

Has my opinion changed?  Hey. I gots to know

Well I guess I'll blog about that sometime real soon. In the meantime the way I approached the course - since I don't really write many shorts I started a number of novels and novellas instead - means I have lots of really exciting, high class projects that all remain unfinished. So what I'll mainly be doing over the summer is drinking gin-based cocktails finishing some of them up and trying to get them out to the public. In the meantime I'm really behind on posting reviews on here, and boy have I read some humdingers, so there will be some very short sharp reviews of my favourite crime, pulp and noir, new and old, starting with Paul Brazill* later this week (making a public promise to force action, classic lazy blogger technique).

*Cancelled since Guns of Brixton doesn't seem to be currently available. I believe something is happening on that front so I'll post a review at the more appropriate time. Replaced with Derek Raymond who's also totally Brit Grit, an anyway I'll have a review of Mr Brazill's latest very soon.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dance at the Slaughterhouse

She nodded. “ ‘That’s him,’ I said. ‘That’s Leveque.’ They bring me back here and I got to let them into his room. They walked in and I walked in after them. ‘You can go now, Mrs. Eigen.’ ‘That’s all right,’ I said. ‘I’ll stay.’ Because some of them are all right but some of them would steal the money off a dead man’s eyes. Is that the expression?”
“The pennies off a dead man’s eyes. Pennies, not money.”
Dance at the Slaughterhouse
-Lawrence Block

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes

I didn’t want one now, but there are the ones you want and the ones you need, and this came under the latter heading. I poured a short shot into the water glass and shuddered when I swallowed it. It didn’t stay down either, but it fixed things so the next one did. And then I could swallow another couple of aspirins with another half-glass of water, and this time they stayed swallowed.
If I’d been drunk when I was born . . . 
 When the Sacred Ginmill Closes
-Lawrence Block

Monday, June 2, 2014

Eight MiIllion Ways to Die

You could call it hustling a buck, except that I don’t hustle a whole lot. The work finds me. I turn down more than I handle, and the jobs I accept are ones I can’t think of a way to turn down. Right now I was wondering what this woman wanted from me, and what excuse I’d find to say no.

'I don’t know what to call it,' I told her. 'You could say that I do favors for friends.'

Her face lit up. She’d been doing a lot of smiling ever since she walked in the door but this was the first smile that got as far as her eyes. 'Well, hell, that’s perfect,' she said. 'I could use a favor. As far as that goes, I could use a friend.'
 Eight Million Ways to Die
-Lawrence Block

The Devil Knows You're Dead

Now and then I'd needed a gun, and he'd provided one without question, and refused to take any money for it. Sitting in his office, talking on the phone with the old-fashioned rotary dial, I'd looked over at the safe and figured I'd get the gun from Mick.

He'd have furnished it with no questions asked. But now I'd have to get it from somewhere else.

Because now he would know what I wanted it for. He might provide it, but my asking for it would be an abuse of our friendship. And that is something I take seriously. Like sobriety, or suicide.

The Devil Knows Your Dead
-Lawrence Block

I started the Scudder Week on a Friday. I did this because I hadn't really thought about it. If you're going to do a week, start it on the Monday for God' sake. But then, Friday to Thursday is seven days.

I decided to do a Scudder week because I was reading him at the moment, and because I'd seen the trailer just out for the film, but also because I'd had a conversation about him recently. Specifically: his titles are shit.

Or so is the opinion of someone who's opinion on matters crime and PI is worth noting, because he's a published noir PI author himself. He loves Block as a writer and in fact, as a lecturer, annually gives a lecture deconstructing noir/mystery novels based on a Scudder title as the perfect exemplar of the form he himself writes. Still, he reckons all the Scudder titles are shit. To be honest, Devil Knows You're Dead is okay, but most of them are pretty bad. A Walk Among the Tombstones? Sounds like a western, and not a very original one. A Ticket to the Boneyard and A Dance at the Slaughterhouse are rubbish. So's A Stab in the Dark.

Mr Block himself blogged recently about the rhythm of the titles, and it's true. Blah (blah) di-di blah (blah). Each one sounds distinctly like a Scudder title.It doesn't make them individually good though. I suppose there is the problem of writing as many books as Mr Block has. It's fine as a young writer to come up with three or four great titles that will define your ouvre, but coming up with thirty more could be tricky.

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes is good. It's taken from a song.

Eight Million Ways to Die, however, is brilliant. Referencing the population of New York, the book in which his own alcoloholism is dealt with head on while also investigating murder is perfectly titled. It's very Scudder - bleak, philosophical, raising more questions than answers. In the books, Scudder doesn't answer many questions. Sometimes the who, how and small why of the murder, but never the big Why. There's another quote in The Devil Knows You're Dead where a woman says the murder feels wrong on a cosmic level, that the victim wasn't supposed to die like that, and therefore 'we're all in danger'. In most of the cases he deals with, Scudder seems to feel that something is basically wrong with the universe. He does his little bit to put it right, and he knows he makes sod all difference in the end. But he still does it, and everybody still dies and that's what the title means: eight million people in his beloved New York is just eight million deaths happening now, or waiting to happen, but unavoidable and unexplainable, each in their own way. He can solve the particulars of one, but never the reason of many, including his own. Managing alcoholism through the rest of the Scudder titles is as important to him as solving a tiny (murderous) piece of the puzzle of life. It's all he can control, so he must but the title illustrates that control is an illusion. So is safety. We are all dying right now despite all his best efforts. In encapsulating so perfectly such a great, dark and bleak yet persistant character, Eight Million Ways to Die is one of my all time favourite book titles.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Ticket to the Boneyard

One more QOTM from the 8th Matt Scudder book:

Life, I'd heard someone say, is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel. It seemed to me that it was both at once, even for those of us who don't do much of either.

-A Ticket to the Boneyard
Lawrence Block

The trailer is now out for the film of A Walk Among the Tombstones. Don't watch the trailer if you don't want to know the story for the first hour and a half of the film. I hate it when they do that. It looks plenty dark, so at least they got that right, but with more action than I associate with Scudder. Usually a lot of bad things happen but mostly off screen (off page?) and we see more of Scudder's reaction than the the actual violence. I haven't read that book yet so maybe it has more gunshots than is typical. But it also incorporates (according to the trailer) the story of the shooting that lead to him leaving the police, and which has been related as a memory in other books. That tops up the gun count.

T wo things that really stand out in the Scudder books, and that make them stand out: Scudder's philosophical musings, and the city of New York as a character in itself. I'm wondering how those will come across in the film, or whether they've been sacrificed for plot. I suspect that at least the first will be largely absent, but it would be a very different movie otherwise. Probably a lot longer and less popular and while I may enjoy it, they don't make movies just for me. Unfortunately.

A Week in the Boneyard...

When the aspirin and coffee kicked in I walked a few blocks and bought a paper. I carried it back to the Flame and ordered some solid food. By the time it came all the physical symptoms of the hangover were gone. I still felt a profound weariness of the spirit, but I would just have to learn to live with that.

-A Ticket to the Boneyard
Lawrence Block

I've decided that this week is Scudder Week.

I don't think I really need to explain that.

Although someone should explain the terrible covers Scudder had suffered from down the years. My copy is the top one, by Orion. Some in the series are alright but not Boneyard, and none of them are great. The man deserves better. But did he ever get it? Did he ever get what he deserves?

No. No, I don't think he did. I don't think any of us ever do. I'll wake up tomorrow just the same.

Friday, April 4, 2014

David Goodis - Down There (1956)

And you thought, Is this the answer? Is this what you're slated for? Well, maybe so. Maybe Clifton has you tagged, with your hands that can't make music any more making cash the easy way. With a gun. You know they use guns. You braced for that? You hard enough for that?

-Down There (aka Shoot the Piano Player, David Goodis, 1956)

image: Tirez Sur le Pianiste (Francois Truffaut, 1960)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quick Review - Pulp Culture by Woody Haut

Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War (1995)
by Woody Haut

"Representing the disfunction of a nation in transition, paranoia was so potent a subtext it blurred the narrative of both text and nation, causing readers and writers to lose track of plot and historical context. This was less disastrous for pulp culture fiction, concentrating as it does on culture, characterization and narrative progression, than for 'whodunnits', preoccipied with plot, linearity, order and detection.

Though it is futile to connect specific pulp culture texts to specific events, the relationship between text and era is more than metaphorical."  p.16

Woody Haut's excellent survey of the pulp culture landscape - neatly defined as the narrative tradition that emerged from pulp magazines of the twenties, continued through hardboiled writers of the thirties and forties, and overflowed in cheap paperbacks of the fifties and early sixties - is a book that walks a number of fine lines. First of all, that between breadth and depth. While it takes in any number of lesser and greater figures from the pulp landscape, Haut wisely focuses on the more important writers within certain strands: The paranoia of Goodis, Himes and Thompson, for example, or Leigh Brackett, Dolores Hitchens and Dorothy Hughes while examining women hardboiled writers. As well as an excellent introduction, other chapters include the politics and finances of private detection, social critique in the crime novel, and the end of the era when real life finally caught up with pulp style.

While making explicit the connections between culture and text, Haut never stretches the material too far. Taking in film but concentrating on the writers, this text also succesfully navigates the tightrope of scholarly style and readability - the book is well referenced throughout, with plenty of primary and secondary sources to back up his assertions. He maintains an easy-going tone throughout, and the book never drags. Writers are examined within context and important books described and pulled apart with a neatness and thouroughness that make this book essential for anybody interested in the books themselves, the writers, and especially the cultural background of the times and the two-way process of influence: literature on the nation, and, mostly, the nation on literature.

Communism, economics and paranoia have always featured in pulp culture, and Haut lays bare many of the relationships between these elements and the many personalities behind the texts, as well as within the books themselves. An excellent, fascinating and comprehensive read.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Le Samourai (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)


Notice the girl in the painting looking impassively (disapprovingly?) over his shoulder as he shoots the club owner.

Trivia fans: Melville was the director's code name while fighting with the resistance during WW2. He chose it after his favourite author, Herman, and kept it as a stage name after the war.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

QOTM: Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley

I was a proud man that day; my fall wasn't far behind.
-Devil in a Blue Dress
Walter Mosley

(Denzel Washington in the film of the same name: 1995)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

QOTM: Murder in Blue - Paul Cain

Her smile melted to  a quick, rather drunken, laugh. "Do I have to poison any babies?" She stood up, poured a drink.
Druse said: "That's one of the things I don't want you to do."
She picked up the glass, frowned at him with mock seriousness. "You're a moralist," she said. "That's one of the things I will do."

Murder In Blue - Paul Cain 
(From the collection Seven Slayers)

Rita Hayworth publicity still for Gilda from The Love Goddess.