Re: RARA-AVIS: Neo noir: a question

From: Kevin Burton Smith (
Date: 20 May 2007

On May 20, 2007, at 3:06 AM, Juri Nummelin wrote:

> Just who are the fake neo-noirists people in here - Kevin, for
> example - are criticizing for being phony?

In here? I don't think I said the writers I was referring to were specifically "in here" but as a reviewer and editor and stuff I've received an awful lot of novels and stories, both published and in manuscript form, that bang the drum loudly for their noir-ness. No doubt most of the folks in here have also seen some book or story tagged with the noir or hard-boiled label, and found it really didn't fit the definition they had. Or sometimes anyone's definition, except maybe the author's or their publishers.

But generally, I've found that the louder they beat that noir drum, the more disappointing the book. And usually for all the reasons I've cited before.

Here's one of the first cases where that sorta thing came up for me, a rather embarrassing tale out of school. Years ago, when I first started running fiction on the site and really didn't know what I was doing (still don't, actually) one misbegotten writer used the term
"NOIR" about ten times in his brief query letter, each time capitalizing it so I wouldn't miss the point.

The writer was using a tongue-in-cheek "tough guy" pen name and the story itself was so ham-handed (Lots of obscenities! Lots of violence!! Lots of sex!!! Lots of ALL CAPS!!!! Lots of exclamation marks!!!!!) and so over-the-top I thought it was a parody, a sort of grimmer version of Shell Scott. Very funny, very dark.

I told him I thought it was hilarious and we'd love to run it with a few minor tweaks, mostly toning down a bit here to build it up somewhere else, and cutting a few repetitions and inconsistencies.

But, uh, evidently, it wasn't a parody. He sent back a withering reply full of obscenities and suggestions about what I should do to myself.

I bit my tongue, and apologized and trotted out the old blather about
"not meeting our present requirements." And then I never heard from him again. Or saw his name anywhere. Ever. And I never knew his real name, so he could be anyone. Maybe the story was published elsewhere and he went on to bigger and better things under his real name. Hell, he could be a big shot author now, for all I know.

So maybe noir's a label best left for readers to pin on you. Just like it's hard to bestow a nickname on yourself without coming off as pretentious. It's almost like a little boy thing: cute when it's done by a six year old; a little sad when it's done by an adult.

Anyway, as I said, my definition is pretty open, encompassing everything from MILDRED PIERCE to BLADERUNNER, and covers the spectrum from dark, dark grey on down, whereas purists may want it only to be the darkest black.

So whether recent books by Duane' and Jason and Megan are pigeonholed as noir or not isn't that big an issue to me. Whether they're good reads is more important to me, and I enjoyed them all.

But being tagged "noir" is absolutely no guarantee of quality. A book can be as noir as hell, and still be lousy.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 20 May 2007 EDT