I think Chandler’s biggest defect was plot. He was consciously reacting to the Agatha Christie/locked room mystery, which he felt was unrealistic. Apparently, he felt that loose ends in the plot were more realistic. He freely admitted that whenever he was stuck in the plot, he would have a man come charging the door with a gun. Compare Chandler’s plots to James M. Cain’s. Cain’s cohere much, much better than Chandler’s. If you want see the complete noir package, watch Double Indemnity and see how the razor-sharp dialogue (from the screenplay by Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder) enhances Cain’s plot.
This is what Chandler did well: atmosphere. The dialogue, Marlowe’s monologues, and Chandler’s trademark similes took tough guy dialogue beyond pulp gratification, and made it an art form. To this day, that is why people read Chandler.
I could recommend scads of pulp/noir fiction. The best place to start might be by perusing the Currently Reading tag.
She was tall. On the tall side to begin with. The 4-inch dominatrix heels only emphasized the point. The dame seemed to want to not only emphasize points, she wanted exclamation points after she made her point. Points upon points. Summed her up pretty well. Her short coat was studded with menacing metal pyramids. Points upon points.
It was 20 degrees out, but the coat still stopped short of her miniskirt hem. The heels were giving her calves a workout. They didn’t seem to need it. Maybe it was just to emphasize her taut legs, put them in display. Points upon points. Some guys call that statuesque. Other guys pay to have it walk all over them.
But she wasn’t walking on anyone then. She was just clicking down the street with short, assured strides. Her blonde hair was pulled straight back in a slick ponytail. Sunglasses weren’t necessary after dark, but they kept her remote.
She had a leash in her hand. I half expected to see a naked man on the other end. But it was a pit bull. The dog suited her.
I’ve seen the blind leading the blind before. Pal, that was my first time seeing one pit bull walking another.
I’m not well-versed in the esoterica of publishing, so I’m not sure if this is a specific subgenre. I find that “suspense,” as a genre, is rather broad—to put it mildly. Like “thriller,” suspense includes so much that it is nearly all-encompassing. Noir is sometimes classified amongst suspense—and for good reason. Good noir is suspenseful. But a film or book promising to be a “suspense” is no promise of noir.
There is also romantic suspense in a more general sense. Hitchcock made scads of these: Vertigo, The Birds, North by Northwest, etc. I’m of the opinion that romance can weaken bleak noir, but a few films noir can pull it off: Laura and Notorious come to mind. Jonathon King’s Acts of Nature isn’t quite noir, but is a damn suspenseful novel with a pair of romantically involved protagonists.
As always, other are invited to leave suggestions!
I’m a political scientist, so I don’t know that I can offer any tips on how to be an author. My creative writing is pretty much limited to this blog—I used to write poetry, but have not done so in years. I am less an author than a hobbyist—I just play around with a genre I love.
But I can offer tips on how to do that. I don’t know if real writers would concur, but I invite anyone who knows about writing more than I to reply with their tips.
For me, the most important part is reading. Immerse yourself in the writers you want to be like. It will affect your vocabulary, the structure of your sentences, etc. And then write frequently to keep in practice. This is what I do. I’m sure if I were more ambitious about writing, I would do other things as well. For better or worse, it’s just a hobby.
This is anonymous, so I have to reply publicly. Thanks, but I’m just a twenty-first century Walter Mitty. I grade papers and write research papers because I have to. Every moment I can spare (and some moments I probably cannot afford to spare) is devoted to dreaming about a time that’s long gone—and may have never been here to begin with.
A time when a man wore a suit and a hat. When he was surrounded by devious thugs and even more devious femmes fatale. He’d slug the former. He might not hit a lady, but the tramp might not be a lady. Either way, he’d have a savage quip for her. Better that way. That’s what separates him from the brutes all around him. And that’s what a man is—a possessor of brute strength who is not himself a brute.
I suspect several dozen films could be billed as “film noir at its finest.” So I’m not sure what separates Kiss Me Deadly from these. But it’s a fine film noir, certainly. Why? Mickey Spillane’s novel gives it an impeccable hardboiled pedigree, and Mike Hammer is an excellent hardboiled hero.
That said, the film’s Hammer is not the novel’s Hammer. Ralph Meeker is sadistic, even by Spillane’s standards, as Hammer. But the film also adds to the novel’s plot by adding elements that illustrate what many analysts of film believe to be a prime component of film noir: Cold War uncertainty. I’m not sure I agree with them. Hardboiled crime fiction begins long prior to the Cold War’s inception, and it’s inevitable that such a popular genre of fiction would be filmed. But the espionage/nuclear subplot added to Kiss Me Deadly does address Americans’ postwar consciousness, and perhaps paranoia. I’d say this is what separates it from The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, The Lady in the Lake, and other P.I. films.
Readers are, as always, welcome to provide any additional insights here. It’s been a couple years since I’ve seen Kiss Me Deadly, so I might have missed something.
Morg was out of his element. This wasn’t too uncommon an occurrence. But Morg wasn’t surrounded by flower-children every day. Morg steered clear of the College. But the case came first. Knowlton House might hold some clues. To Knowlton he went.
The girls didn’t like him, and he returned the favor. Each regarded the other as an unfortunate anachronism. To the students, Morg was patriarchy itself. They were sure his necktie was Freudian—to say nothing of his snub-nose. But Morg would have been equally glad to leave behind his own memories. Morg had known plenty of hippie peers. He had despised them for it. He didn’t see any need to revive the trend.
Morg tried to question them. Tried to elicit information from what he regarded as an unwashed mob. Worse, they were an unshaven mob. Morg didn’t go for that. He didn’t see the point of going to a girls’ school if they didn’t act like girls.
One girl in the back seemed especially amused. Her eyebrows were heavy, but her eyes danced—nonsensically, Morg thought. She alternated between looking high and mephistophelean. Morg shoved the girls in between them away as he made his way to her. She was holding a roll of toilet paper in either hand, but he didn’t pay any heed to that.
“Where were you last night at 3:00 a.m.?”
She smirked. ”I was with my girlfriend. I don’t live in Knowlton anymore. I’ve graduated two years ago.”
“What the devil are you doing here now?”
She lifted up the rolls of toilet paper. ”Just came back to get supplies.”
”What have you been doing been doing for the past two years that you can’t buy toilet paper for yourself, kid?”
She shrugged. ”I do what I please. I’m free. You’re not, man. You know, my friends were pornstars in Toronto? They left after after an STD scare and hitchhiked down to South Carolina. They got caught in a hurricane they didn’t even know was coming! I haven’t done anything like that. I want to live.”
He wasn’t impressed. ”I’m old enough to remember when your parents were all like that. What, did you gals all come from a colony or something? I’ll tell you what I told them—and I wasn’t any older than them. Get a job.”
She laughed. ”I have two jobs. I have everything I want.”
“Well, it ain’t enough, kid. Get a real one.”
“Isn’t that just like society? Tell me what I want. You’re just a stooge for capitalism. You don’t have to work for the city to be a pig, Mr. Private Eye. Resist the neoliberal tyranny!”
Morg rolled his eyes. ”Capitalist tyranny? Maybe I don’t know all about that. And maybe I don’t like all of it. Do whatever you want, sister. But I’m pretty sure I like the part of the tyranny where you wipe your own ass with your own toilet paper.”
The phone rang and I snatched it off the cradle. It was Brennan. I hadn’t heard from him in a while. But I wasn’t expecting to, so that was all right. We had been friends since we were kids playing stickball. He was scrupulously fair. I said he loved to lose. He was a chump, but he was an honest chump. And you don’t come by honesty too often.
Especially not in my business. No one tells the truth to a reporter. There are pieces of it in what they say. But sifting through the shit is a laborious process. I never got to run to a phone and yell “Get me the city desk! I got a story that’ll break this city wide open!” No, that would be too easy. And the news gods want us reporters to work for it. So I report, I interview, I compare alibis. Slowly but surely, I can write up a story that I think might be the truth.
If I’ve never broken the city wide open, I’ve at least put a few cracks in here and there. I wish I could crack the Church of the Beginnings. Run by a crackpot named Randy Pope, the Church had several buildings around town and even put a member on the city council. They were a cult of personality—or would be, if Pope had one.
I’ve covered this town long enough to see plenty of cults. I wish I had two bits for every grandiloquent messiah I’ve had to cover. But Reverend Randy Pope was a small, poorly dressed man. He rambled in a reedy voice. Had no charisma. But people bought his shtick. The bizarre doctrines, the conspiracy theories, the lies. I wrote a few stories describing Pope’s racism and swindling, but it was useless. His adherents couldn’t be convinced he was wrong. Everyone thought he was crazy. And no one in city government thought shutting him down was worth their time.
Brennan knew all this. He didn’t read much, but I warned him when he started going steady with a girl from the Church of the Beginnings. He assured me that she was just a member of the cult because her family was. I knew her parents. Her mother acted like a junkyard dog, and was about as attractive. Poor Brennan.
He was soon head-over-heels in love with Faye. He went from minimizing her ties to the Church of the Beginnings to assuring me that the arguments for and against swindling had equal merit. It was bullshit. But when a man’s in love, his bullshit detector is usually broken. I should know. But at least I’d never joined a cult. For love, money, or any other reason.
I don’t know why Faye impressed him. The Church of the Beginnings frowned on fornication, and Brennan was too scrupulous to self-aggrandize. She talked like she’d been reared in a totalitarian country. Always hesitant. She didn’t appear to know anything worth knowing. She looked like every other 20-year-old—and who wants to marry an aging child, anyway? I don’t know what he was getting out of it. I would have only gotten bored.
Now Brennan was marrying his occult beauty. At the Church of the Beginnings. By Reverend Randy Pope. He wanted me to be best man. Only he wanted me to give a toast without any mention of the fact that I disapproved of the cult, of her demented folks, and of him selling his soul. I told him that was all right. I could give a banal toast. I didn’t have anything good to say about him anymore.
“You’re pussy-whipped,” I told him.
“Say whatever you want, I just want to keep the peace.”
“Not peace, Bree-boy. Pussy. And not just for pussy, because Faye isn’t bright or stubborn enough to care. For pussy-in-law.”
He was silent. I’ve never been one to resist piling on.
“That’s what this whole goddamned mess is about, Brennan. Pussy. You’re a pussy, and pussy-whipped to boot. You sold your integrity for pussy. To appease the ferocious, ugly pussy she popped out of. This whole business is one big, stinking, fishy pussy. You want a toast, I’ll give you one. As inoffensive and generic as I can get. Then I’m going straight to the hospital.”
He was used to histrionics and sighed. ”What for?”
“For antibiotic cream. You may not care, but I don’t want to catch VD.”