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The Dark 13: Noir in Horror and Other Adventures that Made Us Evil

Still from a horror movieWe have a theory that most movies and books in the noir mode actually aspire to be horror movies and books.  And we think that a lot of horror films desperately want to be noir.  Come to think of it, a lot of your action/suspense/thriller-type-things tend to feel an awful lot like they want to be noir AND horror. Then you have those berserk stepchildren who happen to be all of these things and none of these things. Those are brave writers and fearless directors playing around with theme and technique while they gene-splice genres and re-write the rules.  You can do a lot when you throw away the playbook. You can invent your own stinkin’ genre.  We took a stab at this recently with our collaboration on BLACK LIGHT for Muholland Books, which is a novel about a private eye with supernatural powers who gets in deep with a bunch of ghosts on a high-tech bullet train—how’s THAT for genre-bending?  We’re pretty happy with how it’s shaping up and we think it owes a dark debt to a lot of the crazy films and books we grew up with, many of which probably had no idea how many rules they were breaking.  We’ve been asked to share some of these bad bastards with you this week, by way of introducing you to our raunchy little pop-lit power trio, and we thought it might be a good opportunity to throw out some keen observations, witty personal anecdotes and clever banter that will almost certainly mark us as “serious authors” to the world at large.  (Hear that sound?  That’s Stephen with his tongue so far up his cheek he’s licking out his ear.)  At the very least, you may find some of this information useful on a bar trivia question or something—after all we ARE professionals.

So let’s rack ‘em  up:  THE DARK 13, baby.  Who wants to go first?

Marcus: If I may offer…THE CROW.  I remember painting my face up and driving out to the Coralville, Iowa 3 Plex to buy tickets for myself and buds to see this film opening night. I then found myself watching it another twenty-four times over the next couple of years. Over and over again, this stark revenge tale sucked me in with a pulsating score & soundtrack that honored the graphic novel’s inspirations as much as the cinematography honored the novel’s panels.  I knew I wasn’t the only one this film affected—for on subsequent Halloween’s, no matter which University Of Iowa kegger one may attend, there were always a handful of ‘Crows’ quietly hanging out in a circle with filled red cups, bobbing their heads in unison. Every now and then, you have a film which anchors itself to a terrific feeling or a sense-memory which is far beyond the running time of a movie.  It meant a lot to share a love for THE CROW with buds and it raised the bar for graphic novel adaptations to come.

Stephen: Man, twenty-four times!  That almost beats my record—I saw ALIENS thirty-seven times when it came out.  On the subject of THE CROW, I think it’s worth noting the comic book also, because it really is an amazing work of gothic noir in the supernatural vein—so much bleaker than even the film was and just oozing with vision and style.  All the art is in black and white, and it sometimes has the feel of an old classic horror film or crime thriller.  It actually derives from a senseless tragedy the author was grappling with when he wrote and illustrated it—which is an artistic impetus I can really identify with.  In the book, the crime that kills Eric Draven and traps his soul is more of a random occurrence—something that could happen to anyone by the side of the road, and the Crow itself is more of an Edgar Allan Poe specter.  Beautiful, haunting stuff.

Patrick: Ha!  I was at that Iowa kegger and I distinctly remember Marcus with electric tape wrapped around his jeans because he couldn’t find black leather pants in Iowa City.  What a dork.  Yeah, that movie was pretty badass.  Not until years later did I discover the comic book.  Stunning work.  I heard a rumor at some point that the remake would be shot in black and white to emulate the comic book.  The marketing people would never let that happen, but we can dream.  Then again, can projectors these days even show black and white prints anymore? (wink-wink)

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Welcome, PW Daily Readers…

It is highly likely that you find yourself here today because you’ve read about Mulholland Books in our dedicated issue of PW Daily. If that is the case, welcome! We hope you will spend some time here, reading about our books, authors and all of the amazing content that we have been posting here since August. We recommend you check out all the posts by Mulholland Authors, our original fiction (notably an original story by Andrew Vachss) as well as the ongoing Popcorn Fiction showcase, a web comic by China Mieville, as well as articles by Nick Tosches, Nelson DeMille, Brad Meltzer, Ian Rankin, and our serialized novel Black Lens by Ken Bruen. Part 5 of Black Lens will post on the site tomorrow. And on Thursday and Friday of this week, we will be featuring a two-part Q&A with Academy Award-winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland.

We’ d like to encourage you to sign up for our eNewsletter so that we can keep you posted about acquisitions, excerpts, reviews, events and everything that is going on here at the website.

You might also want to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, become our friend on Goodreads or Librarything, and if you really want up-to-the second Mulholland news, text the word Mulholland to README.

James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice

The following article was originally published in the fantastic Edgar-nominated anthology Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, edited by David Morrell, who has  kindly given us permission to re-print Joe R. Lansdale’s essay here. Please support this wonderful and timely collection available wherever books are sold.

Born in Annapolis, James M. Cain (1892–1977) studied at Washington College, in Chesterton, Maryland, earning his B.A. and master’s there. He worked as a journalist, screenwriter, and novelist. His novels are often mentioned in the same breath with those of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as a key contributor to the so called hard-boiled school of crime fiction. Cain resisted that label, however, stating that he belonged “to no school, hard-boiled or otherwise.” Several of Cain’s novels were adapted into films. Three—The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), Double Indemnity (1936), and Mildred Pierce (1941)—are considered classics of the American screen. Cain’s post World War II works include The Butterfly (1947), a story of incest and murder set in Kentucky, as well as his personal favorite, a Depression hobo novel, The Moth (1948). In 1970, he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America.

James M. Cain was the master of hard-boiled prose, lean clean dialogue shiny as a new dime. He wrote like a demon on holiday, sexed up and hung over, and he changed the landscape of literature as surely as Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner or Raymond Chandler. But as Tom Wolfe wrote: “Nobody has quite pulled if off the way Cain does, not Hemingway, not even Raymond Chandler.”

In fact, Chandler thought very little of Cain and then adapted one of his best books into BillyWilder’s noir film Double Indemnity. The dialogue is snappier than Cain’s, and some of the scenes have a kind of high poetry about them. But Cain’s fiction stands quite well on its own and has about it a kind of working man’s muscular poetry, soaked in sweat and hormones so ripe you can almost smell it.

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A Conspiracy to Believe

Anti-helicoidalAs an novelist, the question I’m most often asked actually isn’t where I get my ideas (a shame, as I’ve got a peppy answer to that), but when I’m going to write another book like Only Forward. It happened twice the other night. As this was my first novel, written over a decade and a half ago, I have to fight not to come back with a tetchy “When I work out a way of being twenty-six again, okay?” The question I get asked almost as much, however, is why my work so often features a conspiracy. This is since I’ve been a thriller writer. Before that, when I wrote noir science fiction, I was asked why my novels always revolved around a hidden realm.

They’re the same thing, I eventually realized. And so is the supernatural. And so is crime.

It took me a while to understand this. I tend to write with wide-eyed naivete, blurting what’s in my head rather than trying to promulgate any long-term agenda or plan (short-term plans are ambitious enough: I’m seldom sure what I’m having for lunch). I’ve gotten used to being apologetic for having written in a variety of genres, and for publishing under two names. Only in the last few years have I started to become bullish in declaring that I’ve been writing the same thing all along. I’ve been trying to pull aside the veil, basically, to show there’s another veil right behind—and to keep going through veil after veil, in fact, until I find what I’ve been looking for: the sense of wonder that comes from finally confronting a question that has no answer, and never will.

I’m not claiming this to be a ground-breaking insight. I recall having conversations somewhat along these lines years ago with Ralph, my extraordinary agent, who died a month ago, suddenly and far too young. Ralph Vicinanza was a rare agent (and man) in very many ways, including the profound spiritual faith he had in the power of storytelling. He understood that trying to grasp and celebrate the ineffable was fiction’s fundamental purpose, whatever guise that story took, which is perhaps why he was prepared to be tolerant of me skipping back and forth between genres like some crazed mountain goat with a sugar rush.

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Bouchercon 2010: Photographic Evidence

We thought you might want to see a few photos of our authors enjoying the Bay area.

Former LA Times colleagues Sebastian Rotella and Michael Connelly reconnected.

Mark Billingham with Chris Mooney and Martyn Waites

Fellow Los Angeles writers Marcia Clark and Michael Connelly joined by Zoe Ferraris.


Duane Swierczynski with his agent David Hale Smith and fellow client Stephanie Pintoff.

Daniel Woodrell hard at work signing books.

Sebastian Rotella signs his first book ever.

And now for a few photos from the panel:

Daniel Woodrell.

Master moderator Mark Billingham.

Duane and Marcia.

And your hosts for the evening.

A huge thanks to Jen Forbus for the panel photos!

Bouchercon 2010

holga. san francisco, ca. 1999.We have arrived in San Francisco and are having a blast catching up with old friends and making new ones.

Don’t forget: we’ll be chatting live and in person with Mark Billingham, Marcia Clark, Sebastian Rotella, Duane Swierczynski and Daniel Woodrell at 3PM in the Grand Ballroom.

If you miss it, we plan to have video available shortly after the event (assuming I figure out how to use the video camera…) Stay tuned here for photos and videos as they become available.

Sinking the Titanic

Man with Tommy GunBest interview question I’ve ever been asked: What’s the worst thing your parents think you’ve done? Not actually done, but that they think you’ve done.

My answer: Heroin.

I love doing research. It’s like cheating, but with permission.

Here are some of the things I have done in the name of Research: learned to ride a motorcycle; became a certified EMT for both New York State and Monterey County, California; had my sneakers stick to the floor in a peep-show booth back when Times Square was not a place where you took the kids; drunk tea with nuns; crawled through the Portland Shanghai Tunnels; watched a domme flog her sub in an S&M club while he hung on a St. Andrew’s Cross; visited the Oregon State Police Crime Lab; learned to play guitar from a former member of Everclear; learned how to field-strip an M1911; gone on countless ride-alongs in countless cities; fired an HK MP5 on single, three-round, and full-auto; fired a Tommy Gun (only full-auto); fired many other types of firearms; hung out with junkies; hung out with methheads; hung out with rock bands; argued politics with a Political Officer at the State Department; gotten bronchitis standing in Lancashire fields taking reference photographs; been politely asked to leave the premises of Vauxhall Cross; run a day-long “scavenger hunt” through New York City and the boroughs (had to see if the route was possible, and to get the timing down); gotten sick-drunk with men who wouldn’t talk to me sober; been attacked by rats; trespassed; eavesdropped; learned the best way to burn someone alive; used a Starbucks bathroom seat-cover dispenser for a dead drop; been laughed at, mocked, threatened, and ignored.

Some of the things I’ve done.

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