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     Trent Zelazny is the acclaimed author of numerous short stories and the longer noir fictions Fractal Despondency, The Butterfly Potion, Too Late To Call Texas and others. He is also the author of the story collection The Day the Leash Gave Way. In 2012 Trent edited the dark fantasy collection Mirages: Tales from Authors of the Macabre.
     Earlier this year he assembled and published a collection of classic noir tales, Dames, Booze, Guns & Gumshoes


     I had the opportunity to ask him about the new book, noir fiction in general, and his own future plans. Here's what he shared.

1- When did you first become acquainted with noir fiction? Was it love at first sight or did it grow on you?

I had little interest in crime/noir for a long time, with the exception of a couple of guys, like Donald Westlake aka Richard Stark, and Lawrence Block. I worked at a video store for ages and one perk was we got free rentals. I saw The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and said to myself, “I can’t believe I’ve never seen this.” So I took it home. That was when it really started. Suddenly I needed to see everything with Bogart, Cagney, Robinson, and the more and more I got taken by the film genre, being a writer, I started quickly jotting down, if it was based on a book, what the book was called (if different) and who the author was.  Dark Passage with Bogart and Bacall grabbed me so hard I had to find the book it was based on.

It was based on a novel by a guy named David Goodis. I immediately went to the library but the only book they had by him was one called Shoot the Piano Player and I thought, “Huh, I know that movie, too.” So I checked it out. I remember I was meeting a friend at his house but he wasn’t home yet when I arrived, and I finished the book in the car. I was stunned and beyond moved. If you know about me and my writing at all, you know that I most often site David Goodis as my favorite writer. This of course led to other greats, W.R. Burnett, Horace McCoy, Day Keene, Cornell Woolrich. Ahh… I was there.

2- What prompted you to explore 'the dawn of crime' in your anthology? The majority of these authors are new to me. Were you familiar with all of these stories before assembling them or did you discover some of them as you researched the field?

Most of them I knew, from this old anthology or an old magazine or people posting some of the classics online. I couldn’t get enough. I actually read so many crime short stories and novels at one point that they all became one giant black and white blur. To be honest, I honestly can’t always say whether or not I’ve read this or that until I hear more about the characters or the story line. All the titles—great titles—kind of blended together.

3- Did many of these authors go on to write longer works (novels, novellas, screenplays) or did they confine their output to the short form stories?

I’ve mentioned Goodis already, who did both novels and screenplays as well. Now here is where that blurring comes in a bit. I’m a fan, not an aficionado. Joe Archibald had a kind of kooky tongue-in-cheek short story series about a character named Willie Klump. I could be wrong, but I think it was Archibald’s Klump series that really inspired Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder series. I mean, even John Dortmunder’s middle name is Archibald. But honestly, to my knowledge, no, or they are extremely obscure. You can stumble upon novelettes by some of them, but to my knowledge, at this point in time (and please tell me if there is something you know that I don’t, folks), not many of the others in this collection really had the kind of career Goodis had.

4- Do you think these stories differ in any substantial way from the works of the better known noir practitioners like Chandler, Hammett and Cain, aside from each writer's specific prose style?

Chandler, Hammett and Cain are considered the “Literary” of crime fiction. The masses accept them as master wordsmiths, whereas a lot of the authors in this anthology would never receive that type of respect (except for maybe Goodis; he’s come a long way in recent years). While I love all three authors you mentioned, the only one I personally hold in high regard is James Cain, but I think that’s more a matter of personal taste than anything else. But give me “To Hell With Death” by Cyril Plunkett, the closer of the anthology, any day over Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. I know, here is where I’m to be booed and have vegetables and such thrown at me. But it’s true, or at least at this point in my life it is. Our life, our tastes, all of it is subject to change.

5- Are there themes present in these stories that speak to readers today?

I think so. Things are often cyclical. A lot of the original crime stuff was born out of the depression and/or World War II. Well, we’ve been in a depression for some time now. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that crime fiction, both classic and from new authors, is, for want of a better way to put it, en vogue at the moment. I think fiction, or certain types of fiction, speak on a sort of collective level, sometimes for years, sometimes only for a few days. But like so many of the characters from these old stories, today we have a high unemployment rate, more and more people struggle just to try and make ends meet. A lot of people do commit crimes as a means for survival, while many like to escape into a world where they can be the criminal, whether the end result is good or bad.

6- Where do you think noir fiction is heading? Are you thinking about publishing any anthologies of new noir stories?

If someone asked me to, and I had the time, I would definitely do it. I’m honestly not sure where the genre is heading—I’m more just thankful that it’s still around, because while I write in a few genres, the crime/noir area is my favorite to write in, even though, say, Butterfly Potion, is both considered crime/noir and also has been simply called existentialism. I love existentialism but find the word and a lot of people associated with it pretentious. I would rather people call it crime or noir. While I’m not leading some crazy literary crusade (though I’ll be pretentious for a second and say I think I sometimes get overlooked), there is great stuff coming out these days. Megan Abbott immediately comes to mind. So does Daniel Woodrell, Bill Crider, Tom Piccirilli, Joe Lansdale and Ed Gorman. Thinking on those authors right there, I’d say it’s still strong, still original, and has some fantastic people guiding it.

7- What about Trent Zelazny? Do you have any forthcoming projects you'd like to mention to prospective readers?

Currently working on two novels simultaneously, as well as trying to get caught up on some short stories I agreed to do. I’ll be at Readercon this year in July, which will be my first convention appearance in a long time. Looking forward to that. Otherwise, just trucking along, I guess.

Thanks so much for your time, Trent.

To learn more about Trent you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. To purchase his new collection click on the link above.

Happy Reading!