The wise-cracking, action detective is a bit of an archetype. What makes mine special,? Well, I thought it would be interesting if he was serious about music. Jazz helped define the era 1920-1940s, symbolizing moving away from formal traditions, opportunities for minorities and women to have their talents recognized, and a celebration of individuality. Raf’s love of jazz shapes who he is, lively and open-minded. As the years go on, he’ll be interacting with the music of different times, too, helping describe his relationship with the period. Another thing about Raf is that he mostly likes people. He’s no loner. His friends are an important part of his stories.
As for his friends, Eugene Marshall fits another archetype, the millionaire playboy. Except he’s both self-made *and* has autism symptoms. I didn’t want him to be obnoxious, so I looked for a way to make him a little vulnerable. The autism traits are taken from me. When Allan asked me, “Which of your characters are you most like: Rafael or Clara?” I had to say, “Honestly? Eugene.”
Analytical and smart, but naive and not great at filtering what should be said and what shouldn’t in the speed of a conversation.
World War Two brought out the strength in a lot of women. Agent Carter is a large part of the inspiration for Clara Thomas, but so are the real women of Bletchley Park, the WAVES, WACs and WASPS, and so on. But too often a strong woman is considered enough ‘development’. I thought it would be great if her strength came out of her weakness– she’d been an abused woman and had help getting herself together. Going on missions rebuilt her confidence in herself. Her strength isn’t an innate gift, but the result of fighting back and finding her power. I think that’s not just a good example, but a way to push back against the stereotype that abuse victims choose victimhood.
I mention in the acknowledgments that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. But the names I list might not be familiar to everyone.
Raymond Chandler was the creator of Phillip Marlowe. He didn’t create the hard-boiled detective genre, but he saw untapped potential in it. He started writing his own, bringing in a more sophisticated style of writing. He believed that people could enjoy exciting plot twists and still get literary touches.
Dan Curtis was a television producer, but not just a producer. He came up with and developed ideas for shows. His first foray into fiction was based on a dream that a friend told him sounded like gothic horror. He’d never heard of that genre before, plunged into it, and came out with a successful gothic soap opera that saved a television network. One of his followup projects, Kolchak, the Nightstalker, features a classically abrasive investigative reporter who keeps finding paranormal dangers at the heart of strange events in Chicago. It was brilliant and funny, and I was delighted to be compared to it.
Marv Wolfman might seem like the most obscure name I gave, but he’s been a tremendous influence on comic books and has wrtiten television shows. One of his specialties is re-imagining classic monsters into contemporary stories. He’s also remarkable for working out how to fix inconsistencies in an ongoing story line..
I’d also like to say Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books helped me see there is a market for this kind of old-fashioned character and cross-genre writing. Unlike the Dresden books, this is actually set back in the heyday of the private eye’s he emulates. And my detective, rather than starting out as an expert on the occult, begins blissfully unaware.
Less directly, I’m sure Terry Pratchett has been an influence, if only because he’s my favorite writer and I’ve read the Watch books over and over.
And… Star Wars. No, really. Watching The Force Awakens, I thought, “This guy doing Poe Dameron would be good as one of those smart-alec detectives.” And the idea of doing a Latino detective in period was intriguing. I’ll get into that in my next post.
Can a book be film noir? Well, given that “film” is in the genre title, I’d say not.
But, there are many film noir movies that are based on books.The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, for instance, came from novels by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler respectively. Thus, it may be useful to categorize a book style as film noir. There are many kinds of detective stories: police procedural, cozies, analytical, and forensic, to name a few approaches. Film noir gives you an idea of what to expect.
Some of the defining aspects of the film noir cinematic style are visual– tilted camera angles and dramatic lighting. That isn’t readily captured in a novel… but it helped me choose my author photo.
One of the absolute requirements of film noir is sexual tension. I’ve kept that in mind while writing these. Many characters are attractive and there are complications in their interactions with each other that keep it interesting. First person narration means that, although the protagonist is himself a very attractive man, the descriptions focus more on the female characters.
Of course, film noir also dwells on the darker side of social behavior. Usually, it has to do with crime. Not all film noir stories are mysteries. Some are capers; some are escapes; some are thrillers. But at heart, there’s generally a legal line being crossed or contemplated. Rafael has plenty of that to deal with, mostly from others, although he has to skirt the line himself in a few ways.
Finally, while this is not genre defining (film noir movies have been made since), the bulk of film noir movies were made from 1944-1954 in AMerica. Forever’s Too Long is set in 1947, in New York City, so describing it as film noir (or just noir), helps imply the setting.
Film noir movies have an air of fatalism, pessimism and menace, though, and… The Forever Detective moves in and out of that. Rafael faces a heavy menace. There are hints that he’s following a fate he knows nothing about, but others do. More will be explored about that in the sequels. As for pessimism, Rafael is torn between hope and fear. However, action helps him keep his focus emotionally and his warm personality and sense of humor contrast with the noir aspects.
So…. noir light? A dance/action number in shades of grey? Read it and decide.