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As Dark as Broad Daylight

We asked all the contributors to LA Noire: The Collected Stories to tell us about their story in the collection. Read Lawrence Block’s contribution “See the Woman” in LA Noire: The Collected Stories.

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

LA Noire?

I have to say it seems counter-intuitive.  After all, it never rains in Southern California, we have Albert Hammond’s word on that, and he’s always been reliable in the past.

Noir is the French word for black, but when we borrow it to categorize books and films, it morphs from color to mood.  It’s been defined in various ways; more often it’s left undefined, and one could say of noir what Potter Stewart famously said of pornography:  he knew it when he saw it.

The definition I like best is Charles Ardai’s.  He’s the publisher of Hard Case Crime, a line of books that is the very epitome of noir, and I can think of no one who’s more at home with the genre.  He defines it as crime fiction written by a pessimist, and the only change I’d make would be to tuck in the words “as if” between “written” and “by,” because the world of a novel does not necessarily reflect the world view of its author.

Dark crime fiction, pessimistic crime fiction.   It would seem to call for rain, or at the very least the threat of rain.  Dark streets, broken streetlamps, shadows in which something—anything!—might  be lurking.

But in Los Angeles?  Noir in the land of surf and sunshine?  Noir in Beach Boys Country?

You’re kidding, right?

Continue reading “As Dark as Broad Daylight”

Pure storytelling, pure action

We asked all the contributors to LA Noire: The Collected Stories to tell us about their story in the collection. Read Francine Prose’s contribution “School for Murder” in LA Noire: The Collected Stories.

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

LA Noir is a world that exists in our heads, eternal and universal but at the same time highly specific: Los Angeles, 1947. It’s a world of hard-luck PIs working in dusty offices with pretty receptionists and shifty clients; of gruesome unsolved murders; of crime films not so much about murder as about dark and light, the inky pools of fear in a victim’s eyes and the stripes from a pair of Venetian blinds on the killer’s face. I loved the experience of writing a story for the collection, imagining that place and time and then letting my imagination go wild. Pure storytelling, pure action. An excuse to enter another world without having to stay there very long. Also for me part of the fun was that, purely coincidentally, my son Leon’s company, Truth and Soul Records, was producing a cut for the LA Noire promotional music download, a remix of Gene Krupa’s “Sing Sing Sing.”

Francine Prose is the New York Times bestselling author of A Changed Man, which won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Blue Angel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and fourteen other books.

Betty Short and Norma Jeane Baker Alive Again

We asked all the contributors to LA Noire: The Collected Stories to tell us about their story in the collection. Read Joyce Carol Oates’ contribution “Black Dahlia & White Rose” in LA Noire: The Collected Stories.

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

Writing ‘Black Dahlia & White Rose’ was an unnerving experience. After Blonde, my novel about the doomed Marilyn Monroe, which was published in 2000, I had not anticipated ever returning to the heightened and intense world of Los Angeles circa 1946-7. But here are ‘Betty Short’ and ‘Norma Jeane Baker’ alive again, living out cruelly prepared scripts in which they have no hand and of which they can have no awareness. That these beautiful and vulnerable young women are ‘Hollywood sisters’ of a kind seems absolutely right to me–in fact, inevitable.

Joyce Carol Oates is the recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, the winner of the National Book Award, and the author of over fifty novels.

My Own Dark Places

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 Jonathan Santlofer’s story “What’s In a Name?” in LA Noire: The Collected Stories.

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

When Rockstar asked me to put together an anthology to accompany their darkly beautiful video game, LA NOIRE, I pounced. Having been enamored with noir both on the page and on the screen since my brooding teenage years, my mind was spinning Chandleresque tales before I wrote a single word or asked another author to contribute. I wanted to invite a hundred writers but it ended up a small collection, every story burnished black as ebony, all jittery gems that invite the reader to trespass along those sunny/seamy LA streets. For my own story I slipped into the mind of a killer and had fun mixing fact and fiction, bringing in shadowy underworld figures I’d only read about, like Mickey Cohen and Johnny Stompanato, real life bad guys who seem quaint, almost harmless, compared to my fictional psychopath, a true noir creation inspired in equal parts by the game LA NOIRE, postwar Los Angeles, and my own dark places.

Jonathan Santlofer is the editor of LA Noire: The Collected Stories, as well as the author of 5 novels. He is the recipient of a Nero Wolfe Award for best crime fiction novel of 2008, two National Endowment for the Arts grants, and has been a Visiting Artist at the American Academy In Rome, the Vermont Studio Center and serves on the board of Yaddo, the oldest arts community in the U.S. He is co-editor, contributor and illustrator of the anthology, THE DARK END OF THE STREET, and his short stories have appeared in every top mystery/crime anthology. He is also the artist behind Ken Bruen’s serial novel BLACK LENS.

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.

The Deep Bottom Drawer: A Conversation with Lois Duncan

shadowy figuresI’m just beginning to realize the flickering presence Lois Duncan’s books still play in my imagination, decades after discovering them.

Most of my reading life, age nine to twelve especially, seemed to be in search of books that somehow conveyed for me, as movies did, a world as dark and tangled and mysterious as the one I glimpsed in my fevered girl head. These were books of shadows, books where the every day—banging school lockers, fights with siblings, sprawling out on the carpet and watching TV—could, at any moment, give way to darkness, beauty, terror, a Grimm’s fairy tale of precipice-peering and descent. The same things I found, and clung to, in true crime and noir.

It was not until a few years ago that I discovered her non-fiction recounting of her daughter’s (still officially unsolved) murder and its aftermath, Who Killed My Daughter?, which is wrenching, unforgettable book. It’s hard to talk about such a personal book, written by a grieving mother, in objective terms, but, to try, it’s also a fascinating book as Duncan undertakes her own investigations, both traditional and untraditional, including working with a psychic.

Now, with the reissuing and updating of ten of Duncan’s YA books, including my favorites, I was fortunate enough to interview the author herself. On a personal level, there’s something deeply satisfying and more than a little uncanny about it because, as with so many interviews, I came to feel I was revealing (or at least realizing) as much about myself (maybe more) as the author herself was. Most of all, though, I came away feeling deeply inspired by her path as a female author with such a long career in a famously punishing business. The author of 50 books, she has endured countless “revolutions” in publishing and never let any of it stop her from creating, from experimenting, from, well, telling the stories she wanted to tell.

Speaking via a series of emails, we began by talking about the new editions. She told me how exciting it was for her to update the new editions, adding, “I’ve been astonished to realize how well the characters and plots have transcended the years. All I really had to do was tweak the stories in order to change hair styles and dress and give my protagonists access to the technical toys of today—cell phones, computers, digital cameras, etc. That gave me a sense of power. It was like rebirthing my children and being able to provide them with wings.”

Megan: I am a tremendous fan, and have been since I first found your books in the early 1980s, as a young girl in suburban Michigan. It’s a big thrill to see these reissues and to get to revisit these wonderful books and also, somehow, the 10-year-old me who so savored them.

One of the things that strike me now, re-reading them, is how they managed to mingle the everyday (family chores, pesky siblings) and identifiable with the strange, the paranormal, darkness itself. I think it can speak to young girls’ sense that they want to be invited into a book (e.g., a heroine they feel is like them), but they also want to visit murky places. Explore, uncover the unknown. Was that “mix” one of your aims when you wrote them? How could you be sure the darker themes would be speak to readers?

Lois Duncan: I wasn’t sure. And, at first, my editors weren’t either. A Gift of Magic (my first novel that involved ESP) was rejected seven times before Little, Brown daringly published it. The other publishers were certain that young readers would not be interested. I get great satisfaction from the fact that the book, originally published in 1971, has never gone out of print and becomes more and more popular.

As far as my style goes—I think the fact that the books involve “normal” kids in “normal” life situations creates a realistic format that the average reader easily relates to. As paranormal events begin to occur, the viewpoint character finds them just as bewildering as the reader. Then, as that character begins to accept them, the reader does so also, because he or she is following the same thought process.

Continue reading “The Deep Bottom Drawer: A Conversation with Lois Duncan”

Fearful Joys

German Reichstag in BerlinLooking at the Recently Played smartlist in iTunes, I can tell there’s a song that’s had massively more airplay in my world than any other over the last couple of months. That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve put it on at random points during the day. I’ve had it on repeat in the background while I’ve worked at a scene. I’ve sneakily put it on several times while people have been over for dinner, and listened to it again after they’ve gone, while tidying up kitchen. The song is Ich Bin Ich, by Rosenstolz.

And the strange thing is that I have absolutely no clue what it is about.

One of the reasons I like listening to European pop (apart from the songwriters being unafraid of outmoded concepts like ‘melody’) is that if I leave my mind off the hook it’s merely a pleasant sound; with lyrics in English the words pick at me and distract me from working. I listen to a bit of French pop too — I like it, so screw you — and with those songs I can generally make some sense of the words, if I concentrate. Rosenstolz are from Austria. With German, I’m totally lost. It might just as well be in Aramaic, or Welsh, or machine code.

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Mulholland Books and Rockstar Games

We’re thrilled to announce that we will be publishing, in conjunction with Rockstar Games, a series of short stories some of which are based on characters and cases from the world of L.A. Noire, Rockstar’s forthcoming new video game. “L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories” will be available for digital download on June 6, 2011 through all major eBook retailers.

Authors with stories in the anthology include such renowned writers as Megan Abbott, Lawrence Block, Joe Lansdale, Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, Jonathan Santlofer, Duane Swierczynski and Andrew Vachss. 1940s Hollywood, murder, deception and mystery take center stage as readers reintroduce themselves to characters seen in L.A. Noire. Explore the lives of actresses desperate for the Hollywood spotlight; heroes turned defeated men; and classic Noir villains. Readers will come across not only familiar faces, but familiar cases from the game that take on a new spin to tell the tales of emotionally torn protagonists, depraved schemers and their ill-fated victims.

Read Megan Abbot’s story “The Girl” on Rockstargames.com.

Read the full press release here.

Preorder from BN.com | iTunes | Amazon

A Conversation with Alafair Burke

BangAlafair Burke is a lawyer-turned novelist and the creator of two of the most memorable female crime fighters on the scene today: NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid. Jen Forbus is a tastemaker in the crime fiction community and the force behind Jen’s Book Thoughts. Here, they discuss writing great characters, changing perspectives and the best bulldog on earth: The Duffer.

Jen: Hey Alafair!  I thought I’d start off by asking you how you define a great female character.

Alafair: Thank you for jumping back in, Jen. The greatness of a female character should be the same for any character. I like characters who feel real. Who have backstories. Who have good days and bad. Who have unpredictable and yet fully explained reactions to their environments. Who are flawed but likable. Whose voices ring in your head long after the book is closed.

When we see that kind of greatness in female characters, I think we admire it all the more because we sometimes get used to — and perhaps even expect — female characters to fall into one a handful of stock stereotypes: the supportive wife, the hooker with a heart of gold, the femme fatale. I like to think that the women I’ve created are the kind of women readers can imagine themselves knowing and liking in their own lives.

Jen: So do your characters evolve from women you know and like; do those real life women influence how you create characters? Do you feel other writers have influenced how you create characters? Or are they simply organic to the creation of the story?

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