WEbook: So, Frank, your submission to the November Challenge, The Nothing Blonde, was a wonderfully crafted piece of writing that had the reader hooked from the first sentence - could you tell us a bit about what inspired you to write it?
Frank Ladd: I have always been interested in writing a 1940s-style noir detective novel. I collect old mystery paperbacks from the 1930s-50s. Dell, Popular Library, Gold Medal. I studied film at art school and watched all the great and lesser noirs. I love reading the classic detectives.
So it was a natural. But very hard to do without sounding like a satire or a homage. Your contest provided yet another chance to take a whack at it. I combined ideas and themes kicking around in my notes and my head. I had already tried to write a detective novel set in Boston at that time period, so I’ve done research. What I love most about the noir genre is the strong presence of fate. It’s almost like classic Greek tragedy. The whims of the gods gave the Greeks a way to understand irrationality and bad luck. We don’t have that now, so the
world can seem more bitter to us. Noir captures that.
WB: The Nothing Blonde has a strong Hard Boiled crime and detective fiction feel to it. In fact, it reminds us of a number of great titles from that era - it hints at the sordid underbelly of post war society, like in The Black Dahlia, while retaining the characteristically detached and factual aloofness to the narrative found in Cain and Chandler's work. Did you actively take inspiration from authors of this genre when writing The Nothing Blonde, or is this a style that you've developed yourself?
FL: I began reading Raymond Chandler when I was 12. My father had all the Philip Marlowe novels in his den library. The humor and world-weary sarcasm, and the cartoonish hyperbolism, were perfect for my youth. He has been a big influence. But Chandler is a trap. He has become the most influential writer of detective fiction, and his style is imitated endlessly into caricature. Hemingway suffers the same fate. People focus on the style and forget the content. When I began trying to write a noir detective novel, I tinkered at the edges of Chandler, writing in a way that he didn’t but still recalled his tropes. People would say, stop writing like Chandler. Any 1940s detective voice is going to make people say that. So I’ve spent the past few years moving farther away from his voice.
Here’s an ironic anecdote. My father had many of Ross Macdonald’s books in his den as well. Macdonald’s detective was Lew Archer, written mostly in the 1950s-1960s. I picked a few off the shelf when I was 14 or so, but they didn’t interest me. Too serious. None of the wisecracking weariness. No colorful metaphors. Even the covers were dull. I turned instead to the Travis McGee novels with their blondes-in-bikinis covers. The Lavender this and the Lemon-Yellow that. But today Ross Macdonald is probably my favorite detective
All of this is to say that I’m very aware of the noir tradition, and of how it is caricatured by most modern attempts to write in that style. I’m trying to move away from flourish and sarcasm, to write that book that wouldn’t have interested me as a 14-year old.
Don’t ask me about chapter 3.
WB: Is this story something that you've been working on for a while, or did you write it especially for the Challenge?
FL: I’m actually working on a totally different novel (different time period and different genre). But I’m keeping that one under wraps for now. So I didn’t want to enter its first chapter in this contest. I wanted to enter something, though, so I looked through old notes on my desktop and found a file called The Nothing Blonde. Hey! I didn’t even remember writing that down. I loved the title and thought I could work it into a passable first chapter in time for the contest.Some people find first chapters difficult because you are starting from scratch, trying to get a reader’s attention before they know anything about the characters or the story. I’ve always found first chapters the easiest, once you solve the opening line. You are introducing things: the setting, the characters, the tone, the story problems. If each of them are important, then how could discovering them not be exciting?
WB: Could you tell us a bit about your writing background? How did you get into writing fiction, and have you had any of your writing published as a book or in magazines etc, before?
FL: I am completely unpublished. I have also never submitted. I’m a bit single-minded about a novel, so I won’t submit until it is finished and up to my expectations. I’m also a bit slow (perhaps in many senses of the word). I’ve written some very short stories that I don’t see as more than exercises, and a longer story would take too much time, so I’m riding the novel horse pretty hard. I hope the poor animal doesn’t collapse.I’ve always intended to be a writer since high school. I was trying to write a literary novel about ten years ago, then became absorbed with my design career and paying rent. Three years ago, during one of my long commutes, I decided to get back into writing and focus on genre to provide a framework for my thoughts.
WB: You've been a member on WEbook since 2010 - what first inspired you to join WEbook, and how do you think that your interaction here on the site with other members has been beneficial to you?
WB: What one piece of advice would you give to a new member on WEbook?
FL: Participate in the writing challenges. Comment on writing you think is good and make friends with those writers. Also, have writing you show to others (because it is good to get feedback on style and general writing issues, depth of character, etc.) but also think about keeping your serious writing to yourself. I started posting chapters as I finished them in a project group here, and it started to freeze me up and slow me down knowing that each chapter had an instant audience. Sometimes I think it is better to make early progress on your own, and show it to trusted readers after it is too late to mess up your momentum. Let your ideas come out before your critical minds steps in.
WB: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us Frank - and again, congratulations on being our November Challenge winner!