Letter from the Dark Side: Paul D. Brazill and Noir

November 20th, 2011

Paul D. Brazill is the go-to guy for noir. In addition to running an endlessly entertaining and provocative website, You Would Say That, Wouldn’t You? Paul is a fine writer whose work has appeared in magazines all over the place and in books, one of which, 13 SHOTS OF NOIR, has just come out for the Kindle on Amazon.  Born in Great Britain, Brazill now lives in Poland, which seems to me to confirm that this is a guy who takes the precepts of noir to heart.

I’ve never been a big fan of written noir, although certain books have grabbed me by the throat and made it onto my Top Ten or Twenty list, and I’m a total sucker for noir movies. So I thought I’d take advantage of the publication of 13 SHOTS OF NOIR of Noir to get Paul to enlighten me on his chosen form.

Q: How do you define noir? What differentiates it from the conventional mystery genre?

I think noir is lacking in the resolution of the mystery.  Like in life, there is no happy ending.  No loose end is tied up neatly. It’s the story of someone who gleefully buys a one way ticket for a runaway train. And we’re tied to the back and dragged along with them just waiting for the thrill of the crash.

Q:What work of noir first caught your attention? What elements in it did you respond to? What was your emotional reaction?

Like most people, I became familiar with noir during my childhood, through the films that were shown late at night on television ( or sometimes during a long, dark winter afternoon). Despite its resolute fatalism, I think noir is about shining a little light into the darkness.The pre noirs of the gangsters film era and the post noir films like Taxi Driver that I saw as a teen were all part of the lethal cocktail.

The first noir books that I really discovered were Jim Thompson’s, in the early ’80s.  Woolworths sold loads of them really cheaply and I was unemployed at the time. His world was brutal and had a nihilistic view of small town life that suited me down to my scuffed shoes. And Patrica Highsmith, whose romantic sociopaths were both chilling and comforting.

Q: What effect(s) do you want to have on your reader when you’re writing?  What do you hope they’ll experience and/or take away from the work?

My main aim is that people laugh-whether it’s at the stories’ most absurd situations or their own. Preferably both. My stories may take place in dark waters but I hope they’re amusing to dip your toes in. Charlie Chaplin said “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”

Q:If you were a traveling genre salesman, going from door to door and trying to interest people in a specific genre, what would be your sales pitch for noir?

‘You think your life’s out of control? A whirlpool dragging you down into the abyss? Well, take a gander at these guys and gals! It could be worse!’

Q:Why do you think noir has been the basis of so many great films?

It lends itself to contrast and clashes, emotional ones and, of course, visual ones. Dazzling neon. Dark and dingy alleyways. What people say. And what they mean. This is where drama-sometimes melodrama- comes from.This is what we want in our ninety minutes at the popcorn salesroom.

Q: Can you pick five essential works of noir that would give all of us a good introduction to the genre/worldview/whatever — at least one of which is a film — and give us an overview of what it is and why it’s indispensable?

Well, just for a bitter nibble on the noir pizza:

The Postman Always Rings Twice– James M Cain. Life at the bottom and the struggle to crawl upwards. Timely.

The Outsider – Albert Camus. Whichever I choose it amounts to the same. Absolutely nothing.

Act Of Passion – Georges Simeneon. How doomed is a doomed romance?

This Sweet Sickness – Patricia Highsmith. The seductiveness of the downward spiral of delirium.

… and the film would (or could) be Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing,” because of Sterling Hayden’s existential shrug of resignation at the end of the film when the inevitable smacks him in the face. Written by Jim Thompson.

If you want to learn more about noir, and who wouldn’t after reading this, go to Paul’s site (I visit it all the time) and/or get your hands on 13 SHOTS OF NOIR.

3 Responses to “Letter from the Dark Side: Paul D. Brazill and Noir”

  1. Paul D Brazill Says:

    Thanks very much for letting me crash on your sofa, Tim

  2. EverettK Says:

    Thanks, Paul and Tim! Now I have MORE recommendations to check out. Just what I needed. 🙂

  3. K. A. Laity Says:

    Love your definition of noir — I think that’s what appeals to me, the lack of neat resolutions that often make mysteries seem a little formulaic. I lean toward those that focus more on characters in crisis than police procedurals. But c’mon! No Hammett, no Chandler — sure, sure, Thompson, Simenon, Highsmith, Cain — can’t go wrong there. I’d throw in a nod to Woolrich as well. Great stuff all around.

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