Sunday 18 October 2009

Bouchercon - Panel Report - More Noir Than You Are

Well, I am sitting at Indianapolis Airport waiting to go home - boohoo. Good job I arrived early - my luggage was 10lbs overweight. I managed to re-jig stuff and ended up not having to pay the $150 excess luggage charge. Ah, if only it was so easy to shift the excess baggage that now rests on my hips (on top of the excess luggage that was already there).

Anyway, here is Bouchercon panel report number two.

More Noir Than You Are

Panellists were Frankie Bailey (moderator), Christa Faust, Charlie Newton, Jeri Westerson, Victor Gischler.

First an aside - the great thing about conventions such as Bouchercon is that you get so many ideas for new books to read. The great thing about going to panels is that I always find a new to me author that I just have to read, based on what they say on the panel. On the noir panel I already know and love the books of Christa and Victor. However, I had never heard of Charlie Newton and what he had to say was so interesting that I am now determined to read his debut - CALUMET CITY.

OK, this was a noir panel, so you just knew the inevitable first question was coming - how do you define noir?

Jeri Westerson said that it's like porn - you know it when you see it, and then expanded to say that it's a bad day getting worse. Victor said that a lot of people don't think that humour belongs in noir but he likes the definition that noir is where you are not only screwed, but people are laughing at you. Christa's comment "It's French for black. Goodnight."

Frankie Bailey asked whether noir is rooted in realism, or is more of a romantic style. Christa answered that noir films are more stylised than noir fiction and that the books are less about the shadows and darkness and more about terseness and realism. Victor felt that he doesn't need to be rooted in realism (and there I thought that GO-GO GIRLS OF THE APOCALYPSE was factual). He doesn't want to be bound by realism and wants people to read what he writes in spite of reality. Jeri Westerson agreed, but Charlie Newton felt the opposite - he felt that as writers they had a tool to tell the truth and for him, rooting it in the truth is imperative. He wants his characters to struggle with the decisions they make. Christa pointed out that nice things happen too, in life and that noir is only one reality.

The panellists were asked what draws them to noir as writers. Jeri Westerson liked the lack of control for the character and felt that this leads to a more complex protagonist, who is a lot of fun to write. Victor agreed that writing bad guys is more fun. In noir, the good guys are only slightly less bad than the bad guys. He likes putting his protagonists through the mill - "Maybe it's the sadist in me." There is a quote from someone (not sure if that's me being vague or whoever mentioned it not being sure) that the only thing which is interesting is trouble. In noir, often the person trying to fix the trouble causes even more trouble. Normally, at the bottom of a hole, you would stop digging. In noir, the character just keeps right on digging. Christa said that she likes the grey areas.

Each panellist read a very short passage. Victor read from my favourite of his - GUN MONKEYS - and Christa read from her HELL OF A WOMAN story - Cutman.

Frankie Bailey asked the panellists whether they had been influenced by the style of any particular writers. Jeri Westerson was writing historical fiction prior to writing mystery and she decided that she wanted something with violence and sex, but set in medieval times. Her influences are Dashiell Hammett and Dorothy Hughes.

Victor said that, as a teen, he read almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy. Then one day he ran out and had nothing to read so he asked his stepfather if he could read one of his books and his stepfather recommended that he read a Travis McGee novel. When asked which one he should start with he said “They’re all the same, just pick one.” Victor loved the way Travis McGee went about things and the notion that there are really no boundaries. Charlie Newton cited Chandler as a big influence – his sentences were to die for, even if he couldn’t figure out the plots. Also Hunter S Thompson, Pete Dexter, Thomas Harris’ first three books, and P J O’Rourke. Christa said that she was influenced by the duelling opposites of Richard S Prather’s Shell Scott series and Westlake’s Parker series.

The panellists were then asked what films influenced them. Jeri Westerson said Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice; Victor said Out Of The Past and Double Indemnity (particularly citing the dialogue), Charlie Newton said Double Indemnity, Postman Always Rings Twice, Casablanca, Gilda and Touch of Evil. Christa said Night And The City (with Richard Widmark personifying the noir character – as soon as he walks on screen, you know he’s doomed – he’s the only person who doesn’t know it) and The Set-Up. Christa also likes In A Lonely Place – the book and the movie are very different but both brilliant.

Victor said that he doesn’t set out to write noir “One day I’m drinking beer, the next I’m drinking coffee, and it looks totally different on the page.” He also got a big laugh when he said that even if he thinks the book he has written is crap, he consoles himself with the thought “Wow, that was a lot of typing – maybe some of it will even get published.

Modern noir writers the panellists enjoy - Christa said Ray Banks, Charlie Newton said Pete Dexter and Megan Abbott, Victor said Richard Morgan’s ALTERED CARBON and Jeri said Christa.

Charlie Newton loves noir because he says it is one of the only genres that talks about things that matter.

Finally, Christa threw out her sperm and egg theory of writing. The egg theory is the nurturing of one precious baby, coddling it for 20 years before letting it loose on the world. The sperm theory – spray out as many as possible and hope that one or two will catch.

It was a really excellent and entertaining panel.


  1. Bag Check: :)

  2. I bet you did not release any shoes, they must add to the overweight problem

  3. Damn, Donna, we saw the same panel ... You got all the major points. Anyone who missed it? Donna has the gist right here.

    Jack Bludis

  4. Nicolai - very funny!

    Dad - surely not? :o)

    Jack - thanks! Great panel, wasn't it? Good to see you again.

  5. I was there Donna. Very good recap of the proceedings. It was indeed a great panel.

  6. I might also add that my favorite moment was Christa Faust's comment that noir fiction is less about shadows (a la film noir) and more about realism.

  7. Mike - thank you for your comments - and I liked Christa's point too. Very true.

  8. Hey Donna, does that mean you don't want to give my book a try? To sweeten the deal, I'll send you a free copy. Email me with an address.
    --Jeri Westerson

  9. LOL Jeri - no - all I meant was that I found a completely new to me author whose name I had never heard before, that's all :o)