I’m going start by making what might be a startling admission: I came to noir late. The Gwousz Affair is my first attempt at what might be if not partially classified as noir, then at least clearly influenced by it. In fact, I didn’t read Hammet or Chandler until a few years ago. I didn’t even watch Out of the Past and In a Lonely Place until well after my college years. Yet, I’ve recently come to realize that noir has always been with me, looming somewhere in the background, hiding in the shadows of my subconscious with a cigarette crushed between its teeth. Let me explain.
A few weeks ago, my present publisher, Tom Vater over at Crime Wave Press, tweeted about a Huffington Post article by Otto Penzler, himself a noir editor, publisher, and aficionado. The byline was “Noir fiction is about losers, not private eyes.” And that pretty much sums up the article. According to Penzler, noir does not necessarily rest squarely on the shoulders of the Sam Spades or Philip Marlowes that have come to epitomize the mystery/noir genre. As Penzler rightly contends, noir fiction is peopled by down-on-their-luck, skeptical-that-life-will-ever-be-better-than-a-double-shot-of-rot-gut losers—miscreants so depraved and so full of self-loathing that even if they did catch a break, they’d somehow manage to turn it around into a colossal personal deficit of one sort or another. Yep, losers. Big-time losers.
Needless to say, the article was an eye opener for me. By Penzler’s criteria, most of what I’ve written up to this point in my writing career is at least noirish. Even the earliest manuscripts still hidden in my desk drawers have lead characters who might rightly be called losers—losers trying to make good under bad circumstances. In retrospect, this revelation, if it can be called that, is not really a surprising one. My own reading tastes have always leaned toward those kinds of lone wolf losers. Not surprisingly, then, I’ve always had a fondness for private dicks—arguably, the quintessential lone wolf losers of literature. I love the way they talk. The way they drink. The way they kiss dames hard. The way they hate to fight but don’t mind knocking a man down with a hard right to the gut if they have to (and somehow make us believe it was for his own good). I love the way their own bleak outlooks, their untrusting natures, their hard exteriors hold them back, keep them down, make them losers for life. I love the way it’s always on their own terms—life, that is. Life is always on their own terms. That’s like something right out of a Greek tragedy, or at least, it should be.
So, all of this long and (I’m sure) frustratingly unfocused preamble leads me to my present point: I’ve actually written something truly noir. Okay noirish. Sci-fi noirish to be exact. I mean, Cornelius Planke is a hard-drinking, down-on-his luck P.I. He’s even got an ex-wife to prove it. Granted, he lives in the near future, in a world governed by highly intelligent bovines. That’s where the sci-fi/dystopian part comes in. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Rewind five years. I picked up The Maltese Falcon, a book that had been buried in my bookshelf for at least two decades, and read it from cover to cover. Then The Long Goodbye. Then Double Indemnity. And so on, and so on. At some point during that period I knew I was going to write something with a hardboiled P.I. as its central character.
But I guess I’ve never been one to do anything straight up. It’s my curse or my blessing—I don’t know which. Even my earlier so called literary work routinely strays off into the unliterary now and then. More often than not, actually. So when I sat down to write my latest novel, and I felt the tug and taunt of stranger times and future possibilities, I gave into the unholy urge and let my writerly self go there. The result was The Gwousz Affair. A genre-bender, which may be the nicest possible way to put it. But now, having this odd and admittedly hard-to-characterize work in my sweaty little palms, I had to find someone to publish it. Call it a premonition, but I suspected I may have some trouble. However, just as the thought of not finding a publisher would ever stop me from writing a book, the thought of not finding a publisher would never stop me from trying to find one. And so it began—my search for a home for The Gwousz Affair.
I didn’t even bother with agents. Okay, I tried one or two that were known to deal in noir. More of a formality than anything else, really. As expected, they politely declined. So I went it alone and waded into the world of indie houses, not that it was an entirely unfamiliar world. I’d done it before, but never in genre fiction. My hopes were still quite high as I’ve known and know indie publishers, and they’re generally much more open to works that don’t fit nicely into this category or that than the big six publishers (to whom such works are anathema). But as it turned out, the indie publishers weren’t as open as I’d hoped. Most of them wanted only hardboiled, straight-up crime/mystery. In the words of one publisher, The Gwousz Affair was “simply too far afield” for him to publish. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how anything in literature could be too far afield to publish.
Nevertheless, I persevered. It was about this time that I came across Crime Wave Press. I liked the feel of their website, loved their logo, and thought their titles and covers looked and sounded great. There was something pulpy about the press that really appealed to me. And as luck would have it—they’d only recently opened up submissions to international authors. As far as I was concerned, it was a done deal. This was the place for my dalliance with genre-benders, my special-needs baby. Of course, I had to convince Tom Vater and Hans Kemp of that. As luck would have it, they were amenable to the idea. They liked the novel and wanted to publish it, despite the fact that by their own admission they’d never published anything quite like it before. And that’s fine with me. In fact, that’s great with me. I trust their instincts. And mine, too, for that matter. So I guess now we wait and see if it catches on, The Gwousz Affair. But one thing is certain—and years of writing experience have taught me this—I’m not waiting around too long. Because there’s a sequel to write. And like your cranky, always-hung-over creative writing teacher always told you, it aint gonna write itself. True that.
Bio: Gary Anderson was born and raised on the prairies of southern Alberta, Canada. Upon taking an advance degree in English Literature, he moved to Korea, where he worked in educational publishing. After a ten year stay in Korea, Gary returned to the West. He now lives and writes in Central New Jersey.