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Category Archives: Noir

With humidity like this, who needs a steam cleaner?

It was a hot summer night. The sort of hot that left you feeling warm all over.

Really, really warm.

The sort of warm that led to misdemeanors. And maybe, if you were lucky, a high crime or two.

My kind of night.

Unlike me, a fair number of the good citizens of this city were loitering in the shadows and the sickly yellow pools cast by the sodium streetlights, listlessly nursing the futile hope that the evening air would provide some relief from the ungodly warm.

As I passed one particularly rundown tenement, I was met with the hard stare of an old man slouched on the stoop, his suspicion baked in by the oppressive weather. Knuckles white and unyielding, he held a struggling, foam-covered cat in one hand and a straight razor, paused mid-air as I passed, in the other.

Just before he passed out of my peripheral vision, he resumed shaving the cat, I could only assume to help her beat the heat too. Didn’t look to me like either was too successful in that endeavor. But if one was less successful and less happy with the result than the other, this hissing told me it was definitely the cat.

I’d been tailing a mark in the green light district, where the road signs never slept and the cars never stopped. It made crossing the street a real exercise in life insurance actuarial tables.

And not the good tables.

My mark was a married man, but his wife had a hunch he didn’t act married. Hired me to get the scoop, dig up the beans, look under the rocks for the ugly, ugly truth.

You’d be surprised how much ugly truth can hide under a rock.

Even a small one.

As a general rule, I hated this sort of work, but as an even more important general rule, I liked having the dough to pay my bills. Office rental doesn’t come cheap, and neither does life insurance in my line of work.

Plus the slap and tickle on the side cases generally worked out better for my clients than the shoot and stab murders I sometimes found myself (and my clients) embroiled in.

What’s a little infidelity when you get to wake up the next day still alive?

Of course, more than once, my efforts on these more unseemly cases led to murder after the fact. After I reported the bad news to the aggrieved spouse.

Sometime right after.

There was probably irony to be found in this, but for the life of me I couldn’t see it.

The jilted spouse turning to murder then getting arrested before paying my bill might have contributed to that myopia.

And if life in my line of work had taught me one thing, it was that some wrongs even eye doctors can’t fix.

– – –

I’m bored and my imagination tends to wander when I should be trying to sleep. Tonight, unlike most nights, I didn’t ignore the impulse and then realize the next morning just how stupid the idea was. No, instead I jumped on the Missus’ computer and started typing away.

My apologies.

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Posted by on 23 June 2019 in Mystery, Noir, Story, Writing

 

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Deadly music isn’t just a Sirens thing: Intro to the Ludite Faith

With the planned publication of Balloons of the Apocalypse, the sequel to Marlowe and the Spacewoman, coming up Very Soon Now™ [IT’S OUT NOW!], the time is ripe for an exposé on a group that features prominently in the book.

I speak, of course, of the Ludites (pronounced LEWD-ites).

Adherents to the Ludite faith, also known by the (derogatory) term Beeters, worship the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and await His return to complete His 10th Symphony.

It turns out this wait can be a dangerous one, for many of the faithful have died in the course of trying to expedite Beethoven’s return.

I will offer no person judgments on the ludicrous beliefs of this reckless cult, but will instead, in a series of articles, paint a picture of their history and beliefs, and allow you, my gentle readers, to come to the conclusion that they’re kooks.

In this first installment, I talk about the basic tenants of the Beeter faith.

But before one can talk about the rules of the Beeter faith, one must describe the events that led to it.

This brings us, of course, to the period of history known as the Partially Thwarted Apocalypse, and the collapse of the Big Fed (known in its heyday as the United States) that occurred as a result.

A great deal of chaos and fear ensued amongst the general populace immediately following the global collapse of all large governments. However, instead of driving the unwashed, and now ungoverned, masses to church as conventional wisdom suggested, this uncertainty so disheartened people that they fled from faith in droves.

Those who failed to be circumspect about their lack of a lack of faith often found themselves on the wrong end of a hail of stones and other heavy, sharp projectiles.

In the North American continent, secretive, isolated cults did well in the first few years after the fall of the Big Fed, as did religions that masked their beliefs behind faith in more secular items.

Prominent examples of these neo-secular faiths would be the Ludites and their fixation on Beethoven and his music, the Church of Mickey D and its holy Shroud of the Clown, which held certain types of fast food to be hallowed, and the deadly Bunny in da Hat cult, which placed a high premium on violent street magic.

And yet, within ten years, as city-states formed and imposed order in the form of local government, the uncertainty and disheartenment of the masses faded back to comfortable, or at least tolerable, levels. In this environment of structure and perceived stability, faith came back into vogue and there followed a period of openness.

With this new openness came conflict, and then, inevitably, consolidation.

The Ludites proved quite adept at co-opting and absorbing other religions, and as one of the first faiths to embark upon such a course of action, quickly built itself a large and stable fan base.

The best example of this absorption of other faiths is the annexation of the Church of Mickey D. To ease the merger, the Ludite Church declared fast food a required staple of the faithful (more on Ludite eating habits in a later article), and by the time fast food was phased out of Luditism, three years later, the Mickey D members had either embraced the Ludite faith completely, were excised with ruthless precision (sans all their worldly goods), or died due to poor heath resulting from their preferred diet.

The Shroud of the Clown became the Shroud of Tourette, reportedly donned by Beethoven prior to delivering his frequent public verbal flayings. According to the new Church doctrine, the shroud cloaked Beethoven in an impenetrable aura of obscenity and invective that left those subjected to his withering diatribes gibbering, broken shadows of their former selves.

The incongruity of a bright yellow and orange shroud in Beethoven’s era was glossed over as an article of faith not to be questioned. The golden ‘M’ emblazoned on the front of the shroud was explained as an emblem of the Church’s supreme leader, and thus was the office of Il Maestro born.

It is towards the end of this period of consolidation that the Ludite Church, now confident in its ability to safely operate in the open, published its basic tenants. Prior to this, the articles of faith were passed down only orally, in the form of hauntingly beautiful cantatas.

Initial circulation of the tenants was poor due to the use of stone tablets as the medium of publication. This was quickly rectified by phasing in the use of parchment and paper.

The basic tenants are simple:

  • Only through Beethoven’s music can one find fulfillment
  • Beethoven shall return to this Earth to complete his Tenth Symphony, bringing harmony and peace to the world
  • To prevent false prophets from claiming to be the Bringer of the 10th Symphony, Beethoven cast upon the world the Curse of the Tenth Symphony
  • Thou shalt not write a Tenth Symphony before Beethoven’s return, and after His return, His 10th will be so perfect there’s no reason to finish yours
  • The Return of Beethoven will be known and heralded by the Ludite Church’s holy leader, Il Maestro

Surprisingly, from those five basic tenants, Church bureaucrats have derived eight thousand pages of rules and regulations. This includes, to mention but a few, minutiae on offices that can be held within the Church, proscribed and prescribed food stuffs, acceptable methods of travel for missionaries, hierarchy of techniques for indoctrination (ranging from ‘kill them with kindness’ to use of drugs and sleep deprivation to break resistance), and proper posture of orchestra members when performing Beethoven’s music.

But whatever you might think about the Ludite Church, there is one fact that no one disputes:

They have excellent taste in music.

Part 2 of this series, Indoctrination into the Ludite Faith, can be found here.
 
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Posted by on 29 July 2014 in Marlowe and the Spacewoman, Noir

 

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First World Problems – Not Being Able To Bet On Honey Boo Boo’s Cage Matches

Are there any First World problems more annoying than an inability to bet on toddler fights online?

I don’t think so.

Sure, people always trot out the multi-flush, low flow toilets as a biggie, but that’s still less aggravating than being unable to slap down fifty simoleons on 100:1 longshot Honey Boo Boo in a no-holds barred playpen fight.

And let’s face it, even if she loses, we win.

“Toddler fighting?” the more naive among you are asking.

Yes, toddler fighting.

Toddler fighting, as defined by Wikipedia*, is a blood sport in which toddlers are made to fight.

Well, I say ‘made’, but as anyone who has owned or raised a toddler can tell you, the creatures are inherently vicious and naturally inclined to do battle with one another as well as anyone else foolish enough to move within their cutely diminutive but oft deadly reach.

The sport goes back to the beginnings of recorded history, and probably even further back than that. But for the purposes of this article, I am ignoring the rich and varied oral histories that can be found within every culture on this planet.

Ming Dynasty records detail horrific tournaments pitting tyke against tyke. Staged inside a roped ring of ivory, Ming vases, at the time considered reasonably inexpensive, were a favored weapon.

Also commonly used? Dirty silk diapers.

The records detailing cleanup after these matches are nearly as horrific.

Egyptian hieroglyphics depict epic combat between what is either two toddlers wearing lavish headdresses, or an individual suffering from dwarfism and a creature with the body of a very small lion and the head of an inexplicably ginormous eagle.

He's sad because his toddler is losing.

Nero watches on, slightly bored, as toddlers tear first his mother, then themselves, apart

Documents that survived the fires of Rome describe a lavish festival of golden diapers, silken blankies, and brass knuckles.

Nero championed the festival during his reign, making it a holiday across the Empire. Under his patronage, the annual event culminated in a spectacular death match in the Colosseum.

In some cases, the Revolutionary courts in France settled legal disputes between families by having their young children fight, the winner in the ring also being the winner in the courthouse.

Even as recently as the 1920s and 30s, toddler fighting bit and clawed its way into cultural references. The famous Diaper Noir novel Tooth and Nail, Baby, featuring the main character known only as the Contiguous Forty-Eight States Op, is the first (and possibly only) modern novel to describe the gory, brutal conditions of battle.

The warehouse stank of stale beer and cheap cigarettes. A string of naked bulbs hung over the ring, casting dim, indistinct shadows as they swayed, angry and restless, like the crowd of spectators hungering for their feast.

A pacifier, tattered and torn, lay in the center of the ring. And then my attention was drawn to the corners, as a flurry of movement introduced the fighters.

Le Tantrum, the heavy favorite, coming in at 32 pounds and all of it muscle, already had her teeth out in a furious rictus of white. Even from where I sat, I could see the fingernails, clipped into sharp points.

In the other corner, the challenger, a local favorite. The crowd was chanting his name, which matched his preferred fighting style. Over and over, like a phonograph with a scratch:

“Brasse Papillon! Brasse Papillon! Brasse Papillon!”

It was heady. It was seductive. It made me reach for my hip flask as I fought back the bile.

Indeed, these were barbaric times.

I am sure, if the Diminutive Combat, as toddler fighting is sometimes called, were legal, it would be strictly regulated.

But it is not legal.

Fortunately, the organizers of these fights are not inhumane. Voluntarily, with no legal requirement to do so, the parent-coaches bravely opted for heavy self-regulation.

As a result, maiming and deaths amongst spectators has dropped precipitously since those rules and regulations went into effect.

But this has not diminished the fallout that surrounds the sport; it has not stemmed the flow of hype and misinformation, the misguided fear that all toddlers are dangerous, cruel animals.

I mean, they are, but with the right upbringing (love, affection, regular feeding and watering, and the occasional hug), they can be held in check.

But no, that isn’t enough to stop some from jerking their knees in reaction.

Many communities ban toddlers entirely, forcing families to choose between euthanizing their babies or shipping them overseas to boarding schools until the age of five.

Ridiculous. No matter how frothing-at-the-mouth rabid a toddler is, he or she cannot climb over a six-foot chain link fence topped with razor wire. There is no need to exile them until their cognitive reasoning develops to the point they can control their impulses.

Even the revelation that some big name, mainstream athletes have placed bets, hosted matches, and even raised toddlers has done nothing to remove the stigma associated with having a small child in your home.

Don’t believe me? Find a toddler, and try taking him or her with you to a restaurant.

Watch the waitress for an almost imperceptible sagging of the shoulders when she sees the child.

See if you get any dirty glares from the other patrons.

Still not enough? Then take that toddler to a midnight movie premiere. I recommend The Hobbit, Part I when it comes out.

While a more nuanced view of toddlers within local government would increase the value my chain link fence company stocks, all of this brings me back to my First World problem.

Since toddler fighting isn’t legal, I can’t openly bet on the fights.

Since the breeding programs that feed this sport have been driven underground, I cannot research the pedigree of the combatants and therefore make more educated bets.

Even online betting on matches in countries where toddler fighting is legal are blocked at the local, state, and federal level.

And when you boil it down, that’s the problem.

Not the toddlers.

Not the matches.

Not the financial loss.

It’s the intrusive government rules and regulations preventing a cultural phenomenon from thriving.

Shame on you, local, state, and federal governments. And religious and child welfare organizations that goad them on.

Shame on you.

* When the entry hasn’t been removed by Big Tantrum interests to cloak the very existence of this controversial sport, that is. If you can’t find the entry, I encourage you to re-create it from the information here. I cannot, as my IP address is permanently blocked by the kowtowers and capitulators at the Wikimedia Foundation.

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Posted by on 5 September 2012 in Noir

 

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Lack of sleep will boldy take you…where no one has gone before! /SWISH/

Sleep deprivation.

It has a way of running you off track.

Making you grumpy.

Impairing your ability to drive.

Most people would say this is a bad thing.

Heck, even I, when my kid screams at 3am like the boogie man is at the foot of his bed and insists he cannot return to sleep unless I sit by his side for the next hour, have been known to utter under my breath, “This is a bad thing.”

But that’s just the sleep deprivation talking.

And why else would we have airbags except for sleep-deprived drivers?

Where was I? Oh yes, Ayn Rand.

I have it on good authority that Ayn Rand was most enamored of the work she wrote while sleep deprived.

Based on what I’ve sampled, I can only surmise she wrote everything while sleep deprived.

And now the more conservative readers of this blog are about to object.

Shut up, conservative readers. I’m about to sing the praises of sleep deprivation writing.

I used to have dreams of being a serious writer.

A literary novelist.

A man of letters.

And numbers (preferably prefaced with a ‘$’).

Alas, it was not meant to be.

The closest I came was to being a man of numbers with a ‘¢‘ at the end of them.

And if you’re familiar with the terms of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, a ‘¢‘ at the end of your numbers means you aren’t getting a royalty check.

Instead, I decided to write an absurdist noir sci-fi thriller.

It’s hard to write an absurdist noir sci-fi thriller when you’re well rested.

It’s hard to write one when you’re tired.

Or drunk (keep missing the keys).

Or bent (don’t SCUBA dive with a computer unless you know in advance it’s water proof).

It is easy, however, to write one while sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation allows you to make intuitive leaps while circumventing that pesky reason thing. This is important, if not downright critical, for any absurdist elements you are trying to incorporate into your plot.

But I would argue that sleep deprivation helps for less lofty works of literature than absurdist noir sci-fi thrillers.

Sleep deprivation will unburden you from the tyranny of logic, from the insidious restrictions of continuity. It enables the sort of ‘outside the box’ thinking that is so popular in the business world, such as at companies like Wang Laboratories, Pets.Com, and AOL-TimeWarner.

Now I’m not saying that you can stay up for eight days in a row and crank out a masterpiece like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

You can crank out the first draft of the Wheel of Time series in that time.

You then need to rest up, get lots of sleep, and edit that first draft.

This, you will be surprised to learn, is the real reason why it has taken so long for all of the books in the Wheel of Time series to come out. Jordan, and his successor, needed to do a lot of sleeping in-between books.

Writing and editing are two distinct phases in the writing process, and it’s best if they don’t mix. They’re like the Jets and the Sharks – when they run into each other, violence and catchy tunes tend to erupt.

I'm not evil, just a stickler for grammar and logic

The odds of this making sense while the reader is sober are currently at 0.0043%.

Sleep deprivation turns off what I call the “douchey Vulcan killjoy gatekeeper of awesome ideas,” or what NaNoWriMo calls the “inner editor.”

(Sadly, NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaisons aren’t allowed to use the word “douchey” in their regional emails, so the management suggested “inner editor” as an acceptable substitute. This completely waters down the magnitude of evil conveyed, accurately, by the phrase “douchey Vulcan killjoy gatekeeper of awesome ideas,” and I for one refuse to pull my punches.)

Sleep deprivation gets that Vulcan drunk off his (or her) ass, allowing flawed concepts and failed logic to slip by unnoticed, or at least with no more than a reproaching arch of the eyebrow, and onto the page.

How do you think the concept of imaginary numbers came about? I’ll tell you this: it did not involve a well-rested mathematician or a sober Vulcan. Square root of -1 my ass!

So you stay awake far too long, pound out a first draft unencumbered by sanity, and then, and only then, you sleep.

Sleep allows the Vulcan, or for the more timid among you, the inner editor, to sober up.

This is important. Do not skip this step if you’re a writer!

In the editing stage, you need that pointy-eared, green-blooded fiend refreshed and alert. He’ll make himself comfortable on your shoulder and the two of you will read that first draft.

You’ll fight and struggle to understand the intent.

You’ll moan and shake your head in wonderment and horror.

You’ll strive and strain to fit the imaginative, innovative workings on the page into a context that makes sense.

If you’ve slept enough, you will succeed.

If you haven’t, I recommend sleeping on it.

Turns out, the sleep deprived writing is the easy part. It’s the editing, the putting the puzzle together into a clear picture, that’s hard.

She didn't shave her pits, either.

Is this John Galt?

Really hard.

And it is this stage, the sleeping and sobering up and thinking about what you wrote and how to shape the raw material so it makes sense, where, I believe, Ayn Rand dropped the ball.

But that could be the sleep deprivation talking.

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Posted by on 22 August 2012 in Noir, Writing

 

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Diaper Noir: Pulp fiction’s dirty childhood secret

What the heck is diaper noir, you ask?

I stop and count to ten. I must remind myself that not everyone is as scholarly as me, not everyone has spent years in the dark, dank basements of long-closed and long-forgotten libraries, failed institutions that still have copies of the now nearly extinct works. I must remember that most people are victims of the cover-up, the dark conspiracy to hide the truth about noir’s origins.

So.

Diaper noir is the precursor to noir. An immature form of pulp fiction. And an important part of literary history. (Yes, noir is literary. If you don’t agree, you can sulk over in the Historical Romance section of your local Borders and stay there while the empty building is razed.)

The famous noir writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler had to mature into the genre (Virginia Woolf also tried her hand at it, but her writing in the genre never matured beyond the embryonic stage). Before they cranked out those celebrated pulp fictions, they cut their teeth on diaper noir.

Properly known as petite noir (it was the pulp magazines like Black Diaper that popularized the more common name), the genre was not started by Hammett, Chandler, or their contemporaries. It was actually H.P. Lovecraft who started this genre, though he did not remain with it very long before moving into horror. Fortunately, Lovecraft’s bastard child was not left abandoned to cry alone in the night and slowly starve. Hammett and Chandler readily adopted the genre, making it their own and eventually growing it into the pulp fiction so recognizable today.

Critics and the buying public stayed away from le petite noir in droves, but I think the genre is worth revisiting, if not for the quality of the stories, then for the influence it had on le gran noir.

Still you ask, what is diaper noir? I have drifted into the history without delving into the actual mechanics of the genre. It is the noir we all know and love, but with toddlers and babies as characters instead of adults. Diaper-wearing sleuths, hence the moniker. It’s easy to scoff now, but without diaper noir, we would never have gotten Sam Spade or the Millenium Falcon or Ace Ventura.

In fact, Sam Spade’s first appearance was as a three-year old in Hammett’s novella, Toddler Trouble.  Who can forget that incredible opening?

It had been a long summer, the heat spilling over like my temper after mommy took away a favorite toy, and today promised more of the same. The fan wheezed overhead, pushing around the sticky air, thick like my favorite blanky, without providing any relief. I fumbled open my drawer, pulled out my bottle, took a hit. Burned going down. Whoever said warm milk goes down easy was a liar liar, pants on fire. Then I burped as she crawled in.

Couldn’t have been more than a week over eighteen months. Her diaper stank and she eyed my bottle. She looked hungry. Real hungry.

Hammett and Chandler, as evidenced by correspondence with friends, family, and each other, had a vicious rivalry going when it came to diaper noir, and were constantly trying to one-up each other. This resulted in a string of dark as a dirty nappy stories such as Terrible Twos, I’ll Nap When I’m Dead, The Poison Bottle, Buddy’s Feral Cat (the inspiration, incidentally, for Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat”), Dirt Nap, and Bad Baby, Bad!  Long forgotten now, but as the genre matured into the noir to come, with its adult characters but lighter themes, these ‘childish’ stories served as their templates.

But the undisputed father of diaper noir is H.P. Lovecraft, with his twisted short, The Nursery From the Shadows, followed shortly after by The Squid In the Crib.  Horrific mysteries that drove insane the handful of readers foolish enough to finish them. I can’t even provide an excerpt here, the contents are so dangerous in their non-Euclidean eldritchness. Which is a shame, because having read them, I can attest to their awesomeness.

So I urge you, the next time you pick up a Raymond Chandler or a Dashiell Hammett or an Erle Stanley Gardner or an L. Frank Baum, think about where they came from, what literary exercises and explorations spawned them. Think about diaper noir.

Does your library carry these titles? They’re worth a look (except for the Lovecraft stuff – just too dangerous, and I’m pretty sure the only copies are locked up in the Dark Arts research stacks at the Miskatonic University library, guarded by a very stern librarian with a Colt 1911 and a silencer (it is a library, after all)). If you can’t find them at your library, demand they get copies. Don’t let the librarians tell you there’s no such thing. If they’re saying that, they’re part of the conspiracy to bury this nascent work and it is your duty to stand at the circulation desk and scream at the top of your lungs for them to put these influential works back into circulation. Tell ’em ianmdudley sent you.

 
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Posted by on 19 May 2011 in Noir, Other Blogs

 

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