Stuck on an Idea

A combination of things has gotten my creative juices sloshing around.

I spent a good part of the weekend listening to The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast talk about the strange and creepy stories of Lovecraft written during the early 20th century. It’s a very well done, professional podcast by a couple guys who are big fans of Lovecraftian stories, movies, comics and the like. They have a subscription model, but most of the early podcasts are free to listen.

Last week I started listening to Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye on audible. It’s a story I’ve listened to before, but the version I listened to was abridged. They cut a lot out in that version, 2h 24m vs. 11h 43m. It doesn’t even feel like the same story. I’m enjoying it, but the narrator, Ray Porter, isn’t quite selling me on that vintage dialogue the way Elliot Gould did. Of course, he’s giving me a lot more of it than Gould had to sell.

And then there’s the fact that I was looking through some old pulp and vintage art work and an idea started to form in my head. Some people keep their ideas as scraps of paper in a shoe box or file cabinet. Some people keep a notebook that they scribble these things down in. I’m a bit more visual when it comes to this stuff. I tend to go looking for an image that encompasses the idea stumbling around in my head. Something to help the idea congeal into something more solid and workable.

I’ve used a city in three of my stories, a place called Renaissance. In one story, it’s a city on the verge of collapse, a place where commerce has dried up and left the city an empty husk of it’s long past former glory. In the second story it’s a place of technological wonders, a place that was destroyed by a terrorist and then rebuilt with alien technology as a shining example of what humanity can accomplish when it works together. And in the most recent story, set in the distant suburbs, it’s just a silhouette on the horizon. But all three places are the same and all three create a timeline of the place that I haven’t ever really thought much about. This latest idea would be in Renaissance as well, but set in the pulp past of the city. And of course, you’ve got to do these things in threes, because the reader expects at least that much story.

I’m not going to start writing on this idea. It’s just an idea at this point. It is something that needs to be stewed and simmered on the back burner of my imagination, until it all congeals into a cohesive story arc. Then, when the time is right, I can bring it out and see what becomes of it.

Noir
art by Fabian Perez

NOIR

Branson Dillon is just trying to get by. Trying to forget. But war has come to renaissance and has brought with it an old flame with a sticky problem, a new man, and a favor to ask.

I recently read an article that was very explicit in stating that noir fiction is not Hard-boiled fiction. The idea being that noir is about losers. Everyone in a noir story is driven by greed, lust, jealousy, or alienation. These are characters that are on a path that inevitably sucks them into a downward spiral from which they cannot escape. The characters in a noir film are so blinded by their lack of morality that they don’t even notice they’re driving themselves to ruin.

Which got me to thinking about the classic film, Casablanca, and what it might look like if it were projected through the lens of that particular take on noir fiction. An thus was born the first part of this idea.

Fatale
art by Robert Maguire

FATALE

Renee Pierce is a master in the game of seduction. In occupied Renaissance the war has been good to her. Lust is everywhere, sex is easy, and betrayal is expected. Only she may have attracted the attention of the wrong man.

So once I decided to go with NOIR as the title of the first book, I knew immediately what the title of the follow-up story would have to be. The femme fatale is so intrinsic to a noir or hard-boiled story that if I were going to continue to write about this city in this time, there was only one way to go with it.

Renee Pierce would be an archetypal femme fatale. A woman trying to achieve her hidden purpose by using all of her feminine wiles; beauty, charm, and sexual allure. A self destructive noir character unafraid to use lies, coercion, or a snubnose .38 to get her way. Only this is her story and this time she is caught in a situation from which she cannot escape;  or is she.

Pulp
art by Tyler Jacobson

PULP

The lives of two soldiers, a private dick, a pair of road agents, and a mobster’s wife intertwine in war torn Renaissance to form a tale of violence and redemption.

The first two ideas tied together so obviously that it was a certainty that coming up with a third would be difficult. But I think I’m on the right path with this idea. The third story will be a bit more of an adventure. Still dark and still set in a worn weary city occupied by enemy forces. But from here we start to transition from noir to hardboiled. The cast is still self-destructive noir losers, people driven by greed, lust, and jealousy. But this time hidden beneath a heavy coat of cynicism and world weariness there is a glimmer of self sacrifice. We may not have a hero, but we most certainly have found ourselves an antihero.

I envision this one as a take on the film, Pulp Fiction; not an homage, but definitely inspired by the story told in that film.