Thursday, July 16, 2015

John Patrick Lang: A Noir Perspective

Today I welcome my friend John Patrick Lang. John Patrick Lang is the creator of The Jackson “Doc” Holiday series published by Coffeetownpress. His first novel The Big Bitch is being released August 1, 2015 and the second in the series A Hot Shot for Moochie will be released in the spring of 2016.

John Patrick Lang: A Noir Perspective

A telling result of spending one’s formative years as a lit major is that you end up revering so-called “high art” and looking down your nose at popular culture. Until approximately twenty five years ago, I had never read a mystery, a western, any sci-fi or (please!) a romance. My idea of appropriate reading material was The Parable of the Grand Inquisitor, The Iceman Cometh, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, The Plague and anything and everything by Faulkner and Bellow. My girlfriend at the time gave me a copy of The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler, and I recall asking her what could possibly motivate me to read “such stuff.” She said that if I did, perhaps I wouldn’t be such a snob. All I knew about Raymond Chandler was what an American Lit professor of mine had said: “Raymond Chandler is trash. But he’s good trash.”

Like anyone who enjoys good prose it was hard for me not to be impressed. Quickly I fell under the spell of Chandler, and soon I gave up the classics and started an inclusive if haphazard study of hardboiled/noir crime fiction. In the intervening years, I have read and studied about four dozen authors from Carroll John Daly to James Sallis. They have been almost all male and with the exception of Jean-Claude Izzo, William McIlvanney and Ken Bruen, all American. I also began a study of the top ten or twelve critics and authorities on hardboiled/noir finally deciding that my two favorite books in this field were Which Way Did He Go? by Edward Margolies (1982) and The American Roman Noir by William Marling (1995).

Along the way of my haphazard studies, the author of two of my favorite novels, They Shoot Horses Don’t They and Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye, Horace McCoy, became one of my favorite authors, While Chandler was a darling of the English literati of the fifties, McCoy was championed by the French intellectuals of the 40s. He was admired by Gide, Malraux, and Sartre, and in fact, Simone de Beauvoir called They Shoot Horses Don’t They “The first American existential novel.” While it’s hard not to be struck by the ability of the French for overstatement these two novels are both emblematic of the Black Mask school. So it was bothersome to me when at Bouchercon some years ago I attended a panel discussion on the crime novel as literature. There were four people on the panel: two lit professors, a novelist who had published twenty five novels, and a gentleman who had been an editor of Argosy, Manhunter and what I refer to as “the barbershop magazines of my youth.” When I sought the panel’s opinion on McCoy neither the professors nor the novelist knew who he was. The editor spoke up, “Horace McCoy. Now there was a good writer.” When I was half way through my first draft of The Big Bitch, I hired an independent editor, Ralph Scott, who helped me immensely. After I found a publisher and the novel was complete I sent him an advanced reading copy. Ralph called and said, “This is great, John, you are going to be known as the new Horace McCoy.” I said, “By whom, Ralph? Nobody knows who the old Horace McCoy is.”

To paraphrase Prufrock, “I am not Horace McCoy nor was meant to be.” When my publisher asked me for a blurb about why I chose the form I did for The Big Bitch for our press release I wrote: “I was attracted to the noir genre because of its capacity to convey social and cultural perceptions, indict the false values of the American Dream, create existential allegory, and ultimately turn pulp into parable.” When I wrote that I certainly had McCoy and a number of Black Mask writers in mind. The writers who were the pioneers who built the pillars and the paradigms upon which the hardboiled novel rests today. As for today, how do I feel about Raymond Chandler? Despite his treatment of plot as an annoying afterthought I think he is as much a genius as his masters: Fitzgerald and Flaubert. I believe he casts the longest shadow of any crime writer in America or in the world and still is a gateway writer for the reader to discover a great idiom of expression. An idiom where for me the line between high art and popular culture has become blurred, and where if I am still a snob I have become a different type of snob.

1 comment:

M. A. Adler said...

I just ordered your book -- before I forgot its title -- and look forward with great pleasure to reading it although I have been reading more foreign mystery novels and not too hard-boiled at that. I loved the humor and style of your post and wish you great success with your books. I,too, was an English major but loved mystery novels. It would have been perfect for me if they had offered courses in mystery novels at University as they do now.
Mary Adler