Guest Blog: Some Thoughts on Blue Collar Noir by Vicki Hendricks

GUEST BLOGS, NEW PULP PRESS, noir, pulp fiction, Short Story, Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks head shot-cropped (2)When my first noir novel Miami Purity came out in ‘95, with its graphic and multitudinous sex scenes, it was described as lurid in such a way, especially in the UK, that you could almost visualize reviewers licking their lips. The world was ready for the explicit sex James M. Cain couldn’t write in his day—not that his novels suffered any for lack of it. The heavy dose of sex in Miami Purity put a new spin on the noir genre, finding a new audience. Noir fiction continues to evolve and remake itself while the underlying themes remain similar to naturalist literature of the late 19th Century. Crime-noir protagonists are still basically like characters in the works of writers like Dreiser and Crane, formed through inescapable forces of heredity and environment, confined by class and lack of opportunity, but with the traditional noir enhancement of committing murder as a way of breaking out of their predicament. Of course, it never works!

The latest evolution of noir, sometimes called blue-collar noir, fits the classic noir/naturalist definition without the necessity of murder. Manslaughter and misdemeanor thrive, as survival tactics, rather than the fantasized ticket to wealth most often associated with murder. Coal miners, sanitation workers, and other outliers of the American Dream, neglected by the literary mainstream (except in the South) have come into the limelight as protagonists in the current blue-collar inspired remaking of noir. Noir characters can never climb out of the pit, by definition, but current noir writers don’t necessarily believe that people are stuck at a low station in life, as the naturalist novelists did, though rising in status ain’t never easy. We read to see these bold, raw humans reach resignation, minor epiphanies, or an elevation of spirit.

Voluntary Madness final cover 55-a (1)Years ago, the poet Charles Bukowski defined the “blue-collar noir” category infamously, without giving it a genre name.  At Noircon 2014 (held every other year in Philadelphia), the debut of the anthology Stray Dogs: Writing from the Other America highlighted contemporary writers of blue-collar noir: Willy Vlautin, Daniel Woodrell, Sherman Alexie, Eric Miles Williamson, Ron Cooper, Joseph D. Haske, Michael Gillis, and me, among others. Paul Allen, Mark Safranko, Dan Fante, and Matthew McBride are also recent, noteworthy writers whose work arguably falls into this blue-collar evolution of the noir sensibility. Evie Wyld does great blue-collar, murderless noir in Australia. Wherever you’ve got a working man or a man out of work (or woman), you’ve got the makings of the newest noir: hard-nosed, hard-hitting, and relevant to our society because of its realism.

My novel Voluntary Madness, which just came out in a reissue from New Pulp Press, features manslaughter in the Hemingway House. And Fur People, my newest novel, is filled with misdemeanors—crimes due to poverty and animal hoarding. These novels take place in Florida, the un-southernmost southernmost state. They take their inspiration from traditional noir but seek to extend the range of this ever-changing and vital genre.

Short, Sharp Interview: Vicki Hendricks

NEW PULP PRESS, noir, short sharp interviews, Vicki Hendricks

Voluntary Madness final cover 55-aPDB: What’s going on now?

Lucky for me, my novel Voluntary Madness is being reprinted this month, or I would have to say not much. I’m taking a break from writing to finish my 35th year of teaching with less stress. But I’m particularly excited because New Pulp Press is in Key West where the story takes place, one of my favorite cities. I plan to make a visit.

PDB: How did you research this book?

I lived in Key West for one sweaty fall in the mid-nineties, when I was finishing Iguana Love, doing what I’d always dreamed of doing as a writer, hanging out and getting drunk. I was ripe for a new idea, and the atmosphere and infamous characters from Old Town inspired my best effort. Many a night I biked home, inebriated, from Viva Zapata, (alas, long gone) down the crumbling, tree-lined alley, Catherine Street. It was easy to imagine my character Juliet, naked and feeling invulnerable, leaping from the shadows to surprise lone men and create a scene.

PDB: Which of your publications are you most proud of?

Right now, I would have to say Fur People because it’s my newest, so that’s natural. But overall, my favorite has always been Voluntary Madness. It’s my most original plot, with the quirkiest characters and place. I’ve feathered in memories among the fiction. The ending might be my best too.

PDB: What’s your favourite film/ book/ song/ television programme?

I can never decide, but for today, let’s go with the film: Fargo; then my truly favorite noir novel: The Postman Always Rings Twice; the old song “Those Were the Days”; and for TV, a current selection: Breaking Bad.

PDB: Is location important to your writing?

Definitely. It helps drive the plot. I’ve always set my novels in various parts of Florida, having spent my adult life here. Its people, often seekers of paradise, invite drama, and the landscape is vibrant year-round, available for boating, scuba, sailing, skydiving, running around naked–sports that I’ve incorporated into my novels.

PDB: How often do you check your Amazon rankings?

Rarely. Only if I happen to be looking at that page for some other reason. Since I haven’t made my living on writing for years, selling is mostly a game, and I don’t have much time to play. But I’ve gotten my rights back for everything and put all my books up on Amazon, so now and then I check my sales dashboard and think, Hmm. Guess I need to make a Facebook post. Or, Oh, good month. Time to celebrate with a beer milkshake! When sales make a leap, it generally means somebody’s mentioned me in Salon.

PDB: What’s next?

I’m relaxed about the future.  Possibly, I’ll finish my memoir, a biography about my deceased cat Snickers, my companion of twenty years, who counseled me during the rigors of publication and concurrent adventurous lifestyle.  Snickers knew all. Then I have a screenplay, Chez Usher, that I might turn into a novel, then a secret idea for another novel that I’m certain no publisher will touch. It doesn’t matter. I’ll probably write it anyway because I’m interested to find out what happens.

Vicki Hendricks head shotBio:Vicki Hendricks is the author of the novels Miami Purity, Iguana Love, Voluntary Madness, Sky Blues, Cruel Poetry, an Edgar Award Finalist, and Fur People. Her short stories are collected in Florida Gothic Stories. She lives in Hollywood, Florida, and teaches writing at Broward College. Participation in adventure sports and knowledge of the Florida environment is reflected in her plots and settings. Her website is at http://www.vickihendricks.com