Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Do you get much—"

(Two scenes on Bush Street, Nob Hill, San Francisco. Photos, as always, by your humble blogkeeper)

Your kind comments on my previous post got me reflecting fondly on San Francisco's Bouchercon 2010 and my other recent crime-fiction convention, and I realized I had more to show and tell. (So does Ali Karim, though he exaggerates about me and the waitress.)

Back in Philadelphia, a pair of profane utterances ran through Noircon 2010 like leitmotifs through a Wagner opera. Here, then, are some of that conference's best-loved lines:


"Do you get much pussy?"

— inmate to George Pelecanos after Pelecanos had talked to a prison audience about being a writer


"Do you get much pussy?"

— shouted response to "Any questions?" following every subsequent panel session. Much laughter ensued.


"Fuck you!" (and variants including "Fuck you, Cullen!", "Fuck you, Peter!" and "Fuck you, Megan!")

— panelists' response to the equally ubiquitous (and equally jocose) post-discussion question "How do you define noir?" Much laughter ensued.
Want more? See you at Noircon 2012, Nov. 8-11.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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25 Comments:

Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I love the word leitmotif. What a great time you all must have had. Thanks for the laughs and again such intimate insights into the event.

November 28, 2010  
Blogger Ali Karim said...

Very good, and a Good Knobbler festive season

November 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Sean. I like leitmotif, too. It runs through my writing like a— oh, never mind.

Funny thing is, right after I wrote this post, I saw the word on another blog. It's running through the blogosphere like— oh, never mind.

November 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the good wishes, Ali, and the same to you. But on Thanksgiving we eat turkeys —gobblers, you know — not knobblers.

November 28, 2010  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Are the Noircon people tongue-tied? I fail to see the point. Perhaps we should all give up defining Noir.

Hmm. You'll probably say, "You should have been there."

November 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You see the point perfectly: Perhaps we should all give up defining noir.

Noircon's coarse verbal ejaculations expressed that very point, only more concisely than you did.

November 28, 2010  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I see. I suppose one must feel it, or one knows it when one sees it. :) For writers, that's a cop-out.

I don't do noir and don't like the term. I've always associated it with certain formulaic films from the 50s and didn't buy into it then either. From what I've seen, the term is now applied to anything from the merest fribble to novels with literary claims.

November 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"From what I've seen, the term is now applied to anything from the merest fribble to novels with literary claims."

You're absolutely right. You'd have enjoyed a presentation at Noircon 2008 on the elusive, protean nature of the term noir. It's a visual style, a commercial label, a type of narrative characterized by hopelessness, grim romance, moody saxophone music or some combination thereof. For whatever reason, it can mean almost anything.

(My contribution to the discussion is that almost everyone wants to be noir, but no one wants to be what is arguably its opposite: cozy.)

If I were an author, I'd just write the stories I wanted to write (or that my publisher demanded), and let readers and reviewers decide whether they were noir or not -- as long as no one called them cozy.

My own ideas of noir are close enough to those of other reasonably intelligent readers that we can talk about books and writers we like without staring at each other in slack-jawed incomprehension.
=========
P.S. This post may provide evidence of noir's protean nature. Stories I think of as noir feature protagonists who embrace their own doom, whether consciously or not, or who are in a hopeless predicament as a story opens and go downhill from there. Yet I call the photos with which I illustrate this and other posts "noir pictures," though they have nothing discernable to do with anything I've just said about noir stories.

November 29, 2010  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Ah. Fascinating. I think Bruen's Irish series (Jack Taylor) would qualify, but I just think of them as outstanding detective fiction of literary quality. It isn't necessary for the protagonist to be on a downward spiral to make for a fine novel, though.

As for cozies, well, their authors and fans prefer "traditional mysteries". They sell extremely well. What troubles me is that one has to have one or the other to get a slice of the pie. I don't like formula of either kind.

November 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I sometimes wonder how and why these various crime-fiction labels originated. Some authors I know of write traditional mysteries that are not at all cozy. And one author who calls his books comic cozies writes books filled with far more angst that I'd have expected.

November 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can't decide whether I'd call the Jack Taylor stories noir. (And it does not matter much whether I do, but the exercise does clarify my thinking about them.)

I lean against calling them noir because of their dogged sense of hope, believe or not. Bruen likes to quote the Beckett line "I can't go on. I'll go on," and that describes the Jack Taylor novels well, at least the four I've read. So Taylor may keep spiralling downward, but I never get the feeling he's doomed.

November 30, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Re Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor series. I realize I'm in the distinct minority here but I've read them all and I think the latest, The Devil was rubbish. The first in the series, The Guards, was brilliant and several subsequent Taylors were also quite good but, frankly, I think Bruen has been skating on his reputation in the last 3 or 4 installments. Many repetitive observations, same lines popping up for the 4th or more time, etc.

They've also become increasingly contrived; Taylor's friends and loved ones are beaten up and/or murdered largely, it seems to me, to provide an opportunity for Jack to feel sorry for himself as he feels personally responsible for their deaths. It's tiresome.

I guess I'm longing for another novel with the punch of his early The Hackman Blues.

December 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I've long liked the Brant and Roberts books, Bust and The Max better than the Jack Taylor novels with the exception of Priest and possibly The Killing of the Tinkers. I wasn't so much defending the Taylor books as I was arguing that the four or five I've read are consistent in having Jack spiralling downward without ever giving up or dying.

December 01, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Yes, the Brant and Roberts books and Bruen's updating of the McBain canon were a lot of fun. Oh, and his London Boulevard swipe at Sunset Boulevard was also good.

December 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not sure I knew London Boulevard was a swipe at Sunset Boulevard. L.B. is a movie now, out at least in the UK, I think. Of course a movie has been made of the Brant and Roberts books, too, which I find harder to imagine.

December 01, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I didn't mean "swipe" in a negative way but rather in a light homage way (if there is such a thing). A swipe with a broad brush sort of way. I'll stop before I become even more incoherent.

December 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Whatever the case may be, I didn't know Bruen's book had anything to do with Billy Wilder's movie (which did not wow me, by the way).

December 01, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Isn't the appeal of the use of noir largely in the form of the word itself? I mean, besides the French being the first by coining this term for films (not books) does anyone think we would call this schwarz (German), sort (Norwegian), nero (Italian), czarny (Polish), or negro (Spanish) fiction even if one of of those countries had coined the term to describe films or fiction? Think of the linguistic baggage some of those words have. Baggage that noir doesn't. Many native and non-native French speakers babble about how "romantic" French is. I don't think anyone ever said that about Norwegian or Polish, for example.

December 01, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Yes, London Boulevard is unabashedly copped from Sunset Boulevard. Plot, characters, and all. And SB is a great film. And I'm not saying that because it jabs Hollywood. Why don't you like it, Peter?

December 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, you mean you don't think Polish film critics and viewers talk about film czarny?

But you're probably right that cultural Francophilia accounts for at least some of noir's popularity. Schwarzcon? Nah. And Akashic Books' city noir series might not have stretched to its current 42 volumes had the books been called city dubhs (Irish).

December 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I didn't not like Sunset Boulevard, I just remember not being knocked out by it. I can't remember anything more specific than that.

December 01, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I read this interesting observation of noir in the introduction to the Serpent's Tail reprint of He Died with His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond:

Meanwhile, Derek Raymond occupies much the same position in England as does Jean-Patrick Manchette in France. Manchette salvaged the French crime novel from the bog of police procedurals and colorful tales of Pigalle lowlife into which it had sunk. "The crime novel," he claimed, "is the great moral literature of our time." For Manchette and his followers the crime novel became not mere entertainment, but a means to strip bare and underscore society's failures. Derek Raymond, godfather of the new UK crime novel, who despite his many years in the French language always spoke of the noir novel as the black novel, was in full accord. The black novel shows that the world is never what we in ignorance and denial claim it to be, never what we adamantly insist it is to others and ourselves.

"The black novel...describes men and women whom circumstances have pushed too far, people whom existence has bent and deformed. It deals with the question of turning a small, frightened battle with oneself into a much greater struggle . the universal human struggle against the general contract, whose terms are unfillable, and where defeat is certain."

Black, as in the black dog staring at you from the black hole of depression. I like that; strips noir of its romance. None of the latter is to be found in either of the two brilliant "Factory" "black novels" by Raymond that I've read.

December 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's about enough to get me reading Derek Raymond.

I wonder where our own David Goodis fits in such a discussion. There never seems to be anythinh gerater to his characters' struggles, at least not in the little Goodis I've read.

December 01, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Just received the latest McFarland Publishing "Popular Culture Books" catalog. Per their website, "McFarland is a leading U.S. publisher of scholarly, reference and academic books."

Their titles can be a bit dry, "just the facts, ma'am", but are generally very useful reference sources. They've published a number of books on noir and interested readers can check them out here.

v-word = amigot Is that the Frenchifying of amigo?

December 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I've just browsed the site. It contains some highly intriguing popular-culture reference titles. Thanks.

Amigot is an argot used just among friends.

December 03, 2010  

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