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A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part I

Suffering from post-Comic Con withdrawal? Get your fix with the below conversation between award-winning writer Ed Brubaker, author of CRIMINAL, SLEEPER and INCOGNITO, among many others, and Duane Swierczynski, originally appearing to celebrate the publication of FUN & GAMES. Hardie endures!

Ed Brubaker: So, Duane – FUN & GAMES, am I right in saying this is your first non-Philadelphia book? (Not counting any co-writing) Did you leave your hometown behind in life and fiction?

Duane Swierczynski: You’re right — this is my first book set in a place other than Philly. I still live in Philadelphia (for the time being), and my fictional heart still lives here, too. But I do cop to a little bit literary wanderlust. The idea for FUN & GAMES, grew out of repeated visits to the Hollywood Hills over the years, and even though I tried (at one point) to set it closer to home, it refused to work anywhere but L.A.
Ed, how important is “place” in your work? You’ve created this brilliant fictional location in CRIMINAL‘s “Center City,” but was that on purpose? Why not, say, Chicago, or Seattle, or NYC?

EB: I think with CRIMINAL, it was to make it like the city in Walter Hill’s The Driver, or to use Chandler’s Bay City and Macdonald’s Santa Teresa as location names. Also, I was a Navy brat, so I don’t have that hometown thing a lot of writers have. I lived in DC (or right across the bridge in Arlington) in the summer of 1979, so I get Pelecanos’ views of it from the little I experienced at age 12, but I think one of the reasons I’m drawn to a lot of crime writers I love is the way their books inhabit a city, in a way I never could, as the always traveling outsider.

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A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Ed Brubaker: Part II

This week, we celebrate the publication of FUN & GAMES by Duane Swierczynski, a book that CNN.com says “reads like a Quentin Tarantino movie on speed, full of high-octane action, flying by at a breakneck pace, not for the faint of heart, but also with plenty of humor.” Here, we present Part II of a conversation between Swierczynski and award-winning writer Ed Brubaker, author of CRIMINAL, SLEEPER and INCOGNITO, among many others.

Missed Part I? Start reading it here.

DS: The idea for Charlie Hardie, the house sitter, came first, though he didn’t have a name for a long time. You think “house sitter,” you kind of think “burnout.” (My apologies to the many fine professional housesitters working the mansions of America today; I don’t mean you guys.) Anyway, at the very least, I imagined somebody’s who’s been through a rough patch. Someone who used to know how to handle himself, but maybe had fallen on hard times, and was more than a little rusty. Like you said, all of this stuff goes into a mental blender and spins around for a long time… and slowly, a character emerged.

See, I like your question a lot — and it applies to Charlie, because it’s clear he wants to escape from his life. Yet, life won’t let him. It keeps picking on him.

The idea for the… uh, female lead (don’t want to spoil anything) was more or less inspired by certain pieces of celebrity gossip. As well as the whole idea that you can easily bump into a celebrity in L.A., which I find interesting — would you recognize, say, Blake Lively in a very out-of-context situation? Like, if she suddenly broke into your hotel room and told you people were trying to kill her?

Question for you, along the same lines: Do you get starstruck at all? And if so, is it for actors, directors, writers, or musicians?

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Noir Seal of Approval

As a contributor to LA Noire: The Collected Stories, we asked Andrew Vachss to give us his thoughts on noir. Read Andrew Vachss’s story “Postwar Boom” in LA Noire: The Collected Stories.

Available free (for a limited time) from your eTailer of choice. Amazon.com | BN.com | iTunes | Sony

I learned, a long time ago, that people can read for entertainment and come away with enlightenment, so long as the vein of truth runs throughout and doesn’t detract from the narrative force. I understand there are those who believe “noir”—or “hardboiled,” or whatever term they prefer to lavish upon themselves—writing shouldn’t be cluttered up with “that other stuff.” As if littérature engageé is only acceptable in “magical realism” novels translated from original Incan scrolls. All these “outlaws” who want me to live by their rigid little rules … good luck to them. I understand I am too “pulp” for the literati, and too “literate” for the pulpsters. Lost a lot of sleep over that. I’d rather burn a bridge than crawl over it, and genre- worship isn’t one of my disabilities. Apparently, as with all religions, some people believe they can dictate definitions. I don’t ask these self-appointed high priests for the “Noir Seal of Approval” that only they (think they) can grant.

Andrew Vachss has been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social-services caseworker, and a labor organizer, and has directed a maximum-security prison for “aggressive-violent” youth. Now a lawyer in private practice, he represents children and youths exclusively. He is the author of two dozen novels, including The Weight, his latest. To read an excerpt from this crime-fiction novel about Sugar, an old-school professional thief, visit http://vachss.com/weight.

The Edge of Nothing

We asked all the contributors to LA Noire: The Collected Stories to tell us their thoughts on why Los Angeles is so associated with noir. Read Megan Abbott’s story “The Girl” in LA Noire: The Collected Stories.

Available free (for a limited time) from your eTailer of choice . Amazon.com | BN.com | iTunes | Sony

Noir in both fiction and film has taken rich advantage of cities like San Francisco (Hammett) and New York (Spillane, Himes). No city—or region—truly owns noir, which is a mood, a feeling, a set of universal principles (no sin goes unpaid for; desire will doom you).

But, for me any many others, its deepest roots lie in the lush turf of Los Angeles. No other place evokes, with such extremity, noir’s foundational opposition: that there are two worlds, the world of daytime—of family, respectability, business, progress—and night—of crime, corruption, danger.

In his book City of Quartz, Mike Davis terms this opposition “sunshine vs. noir,” capitalist utopia and urban nightmare, land of “milk and honey” and city of “seduction and defeat.” And, maybe most of all, no other city has Hollywood. From Sunset Boulevard to L.A. Confidential to L.A. Noire itself, noir offers up countless tales of failed starlets and shattered dreams. Not a physical location, not even an industry, Hollywood stands as a bright symbol of limitless promise that gives way to decadence and ruin.

Los Angeles is, by geographic fate, the dropping-off of the American frontier. Manifest Destiny at its endpoint. You reach your dream here or you’ve lost it forever. Raymond Chandler, L.A. noir’s founding father, once said, “I have lived my life on the edge of nothing.” The edge of nothing: that is where Los Angeles sits, precarious, beautiful—a femme fatale waiting for her kiss.

Megan Abbott is the Edgar-award winning author of five novels. She has taught literature, writing, and film at New York University, the New School and the State University of New York at Oswego. She received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University in 2000. She lives in New York City. Her new novel The End of Everything will be published in July 2011. Start reading on Facebook and follow Megan on Twitter.

Insulting Your Intelligence (“Just gimme some noiriness”)

toys'r'usI sometimes wonder if the popularity of noir isn’t largely due to the fact that no one seems entirely clear on what the hell it is.

Not that a busload of perfectly smart people haven’t ventured a definition or two. A great deal of thought is expended on virtually a daily basis trying to pin this sucker down, but it’s proved too supple a creature for that. One might even say noir’s ambiguity is its genius.

Is it?

Noir’s resurgence hasn’t taken place in a vacuum. Call it noiriness. So-called reality programming has become the middlebrow darling of TV executives and viewers alike. Not only has documentary filmmaking enjoyed a renaissance as well, its techniques have infiltrated TV comedy: consider The Office, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation.

There’s a trend here: a desire for the lowdown, the real deal, the inside dope. A craving for the authentic — or at least its veneer.

Noir responds to the same impulse, though the underlying need is edgier. Trace the trend back, and you’ll find Frank Miller reinventing the Daredevil and Batman franchises in the 1980s, and Alan Moore creating Warrior and V for Vendetta. And before that, in the late 1960s and early to mid-1970s — when Lennon was belting “Just gimme some truth” — the lunatics were running the Hollywood asylum, giving us such neo-noir masterpieces as Mickey One, Bonnie and Clyde, King of Marvin Gardens, Scarecrow, Klute, Mean Streets, Midnight Cowboy, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, The Sugarland Express, Thieves Like Us, Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, and Chinatown.

I use the term neo-noir grudgingly. It’s become a truism that these films were in the noir tradition, but in fact many were simple, honest tragedies. Just as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman falls prey to the delusion of making it in America, Jake Gittes in Chinatown is betrayed by the mistaken belief that we can figure things out (in Polanski’s reworking of Towne’s script, anyway), and Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy is misled by his conviction that a perfectly devised mask can shield him from the pain of being unloved.

Nearly all these films had tough, blatantly tragic endings, and even the ones that didn’t had a sense that if the hero survived, he did so through luck or guile, not virtue. These stories appeared in the context of the Vietnam War, when America was searching for a deeper understanding of itself, something that would remain once you tore away the paranoia and the swagger and the teary, knee-jerk flag-waving. Watching wood-hut villages napalmed before our eyes on nightly TV, we were obliged to confront a much different America than we’d grown up to believe in; it showed in our art.

Here, yes, neo-noir echoed classic noir, which was rooted in the Second World War and its aftermath, when soldiers stripped of their illusions returned home to a country desperate for normalcy. Inwardly, many of these vets recoiled from their portrayals as heroes, for they knew what it took to survive combat, and often it was luck, or something much darker, not fit for a chat with the wife and kids or Reverend Tim.

And the graphic-novel noir of Miller and Moore simply continued this thematic thread, yes?

Not exactly.

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