Sunday, January 27, 2008

NOIR CITY 6—The Evening Class Interview With Editor Megan Abbot and a Handful of Writers from A Hell Of A Woman

Kneeling before each and every one of them as if they were the pantheon capriciously in command of my life at that given moment, I took advantage of Noir City's book signing for A Hell Of A Woman (Busted Flush Press, 2007) to speak to "Queenpin" Megan Abbot—the anthology's editor—and to several of the contributors to the volume.

In her introduction to the anthology, Megan Abbot explains: "The women in these pages are climbers, dreamers, hustlers, holders of secret truths tucked close to their shuddering chests. They're both hardscrabble and manor-born, regal yet gutter-sprung. They're guileless and stout-hearted. They're steely and smooth as silk. They're love-riddled and heartbreakers. They're shopworn angels and stone-cold dazzlers, avenging angels and knights in shining armor. We have a boxing cutman with a fierce heart, a trailer park Madonna whom neither man nor nature can vanquish. We have a police detective with a wicked bluff and a housewife with hidden steel. We have one, two, three waitresses, dreamers all, and a milky-eyed recluse with a past darker than she can bear. We have a country girl, lashed with fear, finding her chance to make things right. And they all bear secrets heavy as this blue, sick world can hold." (2007:5)

Kneeling Before the Queenpin

Michael Guillén: So does Eddie Muller call you "The Queenpin" because of your book of the same name?

Megan Abbott: I think so, yes.

Guillén: How did you go about gathering these voices for your anthology? What strikes me most about these stories is that I can hear these characters telling them. There's a strength to the narrative personas.

Abbott: The idea was to take these women on the fringes of most noir—characters that wouldn't keep the center because they're not traditional femme fatale or woman in distress—and move them from the fringes to the center. Among the authors there was a revelatory feeling that they were finally getting a chance to speak for these kinds of characters that always interested them…. There was an enthusiasm among the authors to write about the diner waitress, or the secretary or the postal worker and give them the full glamour noir treatment.

Guillén: Forgive me if this sounds too simplistic; but, what is the value of such an exercise?

Abbott: These were things we talked about early on. There's a sense that noir is a man's game but I actually don't think that's true, which film festivals like Noir City show; when you show a full range of noir films beyond the traditional canon, for instance. There are great virtuoso female parts. The same with noir fiction. Our idea was to draw attention to that and to expand our definition of noir from that of a hard-boiled tough guy and the woman with the long legs, which is such a cliché.

Guillén: How has the book been received as you've been taking it around?

Abbott: It's been very well received. It got really good reviews. I think there was a desire for it. It's time had come. We were lucky. We were in the right place at the right time. I've heard actually that there's a new anthology going to be coming based on the success of A Hell Of A Woman about women pulp writers; bringing back and rescuing forgotten female pulp writers.

Guillén: I noticed that—other than for your intro—you didn't include one of your own short stories in this collection?

Abbott: No. I felt a little funny about doing that. Picking myself as one of the 25 seemed fascist.

Kneeling Before David Corbett

David Corbett's contribution to the anthology is situated in an Appendix aptly named "Women in the Dark" where "an array of authors, booksellers, critics and film aficionados pay homage to favorite noir writers, characters and performers." I had a question for him regarding "I Re-Dream Mrs. Dietrichson."

Guillén: Does poet Kim Addonizio know you're casting her in the role of Double Indemnity's Phyllis Dietrichson?

Eddie Muller: [Interjecting] He sends her copies of it every day. Every day he drops it in her mail box.

David Corbett: Please, Kim, please! No. I sent it to her friend Dorianne Laux. I figured that she'd forward it to her; but, I've never heard from Kim about it.

Kneeling Before the "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller
Eddie Muller's contribution to A Hell Of A Woman is a story entitled "The Grand Inquisitor", which—since publication—has morphed into a screenplay and then into a film. The film version of The Grand Inquisitor, in fact, was a mere few hours away from its world premiere.

Guillén: Are you excited about your premiere?

Eddie Muller: Uh, yeah. I'm very excited. It's great to have done this for Marsha Hunt. I'm more excited for Marsha. It keeps me calm.

Guillén: We were talking yesterday and she told me she hasn't seen the film yet.

Muller: She has not seen it. I didn't intend it to work out this way to keep her in suspense. I've tried to show it to her, but we've had technical problems that have kept me from showing it to her. The same thing happened when I showed it to Megan on my laptop in New York. I invited her up to see my film to some fifth floor walk-up, this little garret in the East Village. She didn't know what was happening! We got almost to the end and then it froze. It's not like she didn't know the story. She was the first one to read this story and know how it ends.
Kneeling Before Sara Gran
Sara Gran contributed "The Token Booth Clerk" to A Hell Of A Woman. She is the author of the novels Dope, Come Closer, and Saturn's Return to New York. Her work has been published in nine languages and fourteen countries. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times and the New Orleans Times Picayune.

Guillén: "The Token Booth Clerk" is an absorbing study of the transitory importance urban strangers have on each others' lives. Where did this story come from?

Sara Gran: Taking the subway every day for 30 years.

Guillén: How did you find the voice for this character? What was it like for you to write in the persona of a man, or is that a stupid question?

Gran: It's not a stupid question; I just don't know. I don't know if you write; but, you just do it. I always feel stupid because I don't know how to answer questions like that.

Guillén: I don't mean to put you on the spot; it's just that it struck me interesting that in an anthology of women's voices, you chose to write as a man.

Gran: I had written the story previously. I didn't write it for the anthology. I'd written it a while ago and I'm friends with Megan. As soon as she asked for a story, I thought, "Well, maybe this will fit the bill." I usually write in a female narrative. That's about the only thing I've written through the voice of a male. I tried to write a book first person male and I found it was challenging. I ended up not finishing it for a number of reasons.
Kneeling Before Christa Faust
An admitted cynical, hardboiled bitch with a fetish for noir cinema, tattoos and seamed stockings, Christa Faust is older than you think and younger than she feels. She's got great gams and perfect size five feet, if you can handle the razor-edged tongue that goes with them. Her contribution "Cutman" to A Hell Of A Woman was one of my hands-down favorites for its cajones (yes, she's got 'em) butch dyke persona.

Guillén: Great story. How did you find the voice for this character?

Christa Faust: It seemed very natural. It just kinda came out that way.

Guillén: Do you have a boxing background? You evoked the ring excellently.

Faust: I'm a fight fan. I enjoy that whole world.

Guillén: And the story had a great twist to end its tale. I'm glad she got away. I'm glad she wasn't punished for what she did.

Faust: But in a way it's sadder because women get it up to do something like that and then nothing happens. She built up so much to do this murder and then she might as well not have murdered at all. It's kinda sad in a lot of ways and very noir, of course.
Kneeling Before Cornelia Read
Cornelia Read is the acclaimed author of A Field of Darkness and—more recently—The Crazy School, both which feature the acerbic and memorable voice of ex-debutante Madeline Dare. The voyeuristically perverse "Hungry Enough" was her contribution to A Hell Of A Woman.

Guillén: Where did you come up with this grisly idea?

Cornelia Read: I had a friend who was a starlet in the '80s. She told me that Sylvester Stallone had a suspended slab of glass above his bed and liked to hire blonde girls to wrestle on it and that they were paid extra if they got all "messy". The other thing was I had a stepfather who was in early television in L.A. and his secretary saw a rich producer in the pool one brunch at Belair. She was in high heels and a bikini and she pointed at him and said, "Hey you, out of the pool."

Guillén: One of the sexiest come-on lines ever!

Read: Yeah, that's one of the great family stories. And then my mother always said, "I love driving drunk" and a friend of mine who I once repeated that to looked at me and said, "Of course you do. It's so easy." So it was all that and so much fun to write. I hadn't done a short story since college.

Guillén: And I like how—towards the end—these two women were allowed to get away with their murder.

Read: It was interesting because most of the stuff that I write is vaguely autobiographical so to really be in somebody else's head and make something up from scratch and then see where that takes you was like almost doing improvisations.

Cross-published on Twitch.


Michael said...

Hi Michael,

You continue to put all other film bloggers to shame with your great stuff!


Michael Guillen said...

Thanks, Michael! Very kind of you to stop by and say....