On The Origin of Erotic Noir
On The Origin of Erotic Noir

On The Origin of Erotic Noir

I recently got the opportunity to do an interview with Erotica X Filth, the website companion to the All the Filthy Details podcast. I talked a little about my writing style and where the whole Erotic Noir thing came from. My answers mostly skimmed the surface of that topic, but it occurred to me that there was more to tell along those lines. That was how this entry came into being, though I’ve been thinking of doing something like this for some time.

Similar to my personal brand of art, to explain the origin, I’ll have to break it down into two separate tales – one for the erotica, and one for the mystery/noir. The erotica piece came first, so we’ll start there.

Baptism in Smut

It happened at my grandmother’s house, of all places. I was a teenager, and we were visiting for the weekend. The room I was staying in was this musty, disused nook my grandmother used to store all sorts of furniture and other things she no longer had a use for. One of them was a bed, which is how I wound up staying there. Another piece was her old piano, which she’d ceased playing decades ago due to arthritis. One afternoon I was bored, my relatives otherwise occupied, and I decided to dig through the room’s castoffs to see what sort of odds and ends might have been squirreled away and forgotten about.

I found it in the storage compartment under the piano bench.

Amid the books of yellowed sheet music and dusty hymnals, there was another book. A different kind of book. It was titled Daughters and Nieces, and I could tell from the cover it held secrets my teenage brain was dying to unlock. And boy, did it not disappoint.

In case it’s not obvious, it was erotica. Not especially well-written erotica, but it was my first exposure, and I guess it stuck. It wasn’t my first exposure to the idea of sex, or even porn. This was the late 90s and the internet was a thing, after all. But it was the first time seeing smut in the form of the written word, and as an avid reader already, it resonated. Plus, the cover was an instant grabber.

If you’re squirming over in horror at the notion of finding a smut rag in your grandmother’s house, please don’t. I’ve never understood the squeamishness that plagues some people about the notion that their parents or other relatives could be sexual beings. Sex is part of the human condition. It happens, it has happened, and it will happen to just about everyone. And besides, I don’t even know if it really belonged to my grandmother. It could have been squirreled away and forgotten about by any number of relatives who lived under her roof at one time or another. But I digress.

Now that I’m a parent, I recognize that I was introduced to this shit too young. Maybe that’s why it imprinted so strongly in my psyche. Maybe I was leaning that way regardless and just needed a nudge. I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that it formed a core aspect of my sexual identity that I know affects what I’ve decided to write as Logan Black.

A Short History Lesson

That book was published in the early 70s in what has been termed, “The Golden Age of Adult Book Publishing.” This era came after a couple of landmark supreme court cases, including Grove Press v. Gerstein and Stanley v. Georgia, in which the court ruled that erotica could have redeeming social value and therefore not be considered “obscene” and also that a person had a right to possess “obscene materials” in the privacy of their own home. After that, the floodgates on erotica and all sorts of other sexual content burst open.

Prior to that, adult books were a kind of “under the counter” kind of enterprise, and a lot of the material was printed abroad in the UK or Scandinavian countries. The particular book I’d found was from a publisher called the Liverpool Library Press (LLP), which banked on this history by trying to appear through its name and publishing address to have originated abroad. Actually, they were from California and all their authors were stateside. Regardless, it was regarded as one of the better publishers in a market flooded with books that were, quite honestly, fucking trash. Most were poorly written, hardly edited, and rushed through production in an obvious money grab. Which, honestly, doesn’t seem all that different from some of the “get rich quick” schemes on KDP these days.

Either way, the LLP books are regarded as some of the higher-quality titles from the era. Their line also included a LOT of dubious shit that wouldn’t fly on KDP these days and isn’t to my taste. Everything from incest to non-con to bestiality, there was a lot of taboo stuff that got tossed into the erotica publishing melee that erupted in the wake of those court cases. So if you go hunting around for LLP titles, be forewarned.

Where the Noir Came In

I had no clue that Noir was even a thing until my junior year of college. The class I was taking was called “The American Novel,” and for one of the last books in the syllabus, the professor chose Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler.

That book blew me away and kicked off a love affair that goes on to this day. It was the typical noir stuff, of course—things I’d only seen parodied up until that point. But it was also the inventive turn of phrase Chandler used that really grabbed me. I’d never seen anything like it. And while Chandler can definitely be over-the-top with his dramatic language, it didn’t matter to me. The inventiveness of his metaphors, the mix of overstatement and understatement, and his treatment of the darker side of human nature made it such a unique reading experience. Take this for example:

The house itself was not so much. It was smaller than Buckingham Palace, rather gray for California, and probably had fewer windows than the Chrysler Building.

Raymond Chandler – “Farewell, My Lovely”

Or this one:

It was a nice face, a face you get to like. Pretty, but not so pretty that you would have to wear brass knuckles every time you took it out.

Raymond Chandler – “Farewell, My Lovely”

Farewell, My Lovely kicked off a years-long reading spree in which I threw myself into the classic noir canon. I read all of Chandler’s catalog, then worked through Dashiell Hammett, Ross MacDonald, Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, Mickey Spillane, all of it. I loved it. It was a roll in the hay, followed by a punch in the face and a fall into the gutter. It was dark and sexy, and it spoke to an unrealized desire lurking beneath my otherwise banal existence. The covers were the icing on top of the cake—lurid oil paintings filled with action, dread, and more than a little sex.

After that I started getting into Film Noir, which is different from Noir fiction, though they overlap at times. Film Noir is more about intentional choices with lighting and shadow, plus the usual Noir tropes and unhappy endings. I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t delved far enough into the Film Noir canon to be an expert, but I’m working on it. Among many other things.

One film I recently watched was Detour, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. In it, a piano player from New York hitchhikes cross-country to join his lounge-singer girlfriend in California. Along the way, he meets a traveling businessman who dies, and the protagonist assumes his identity and car. He picks up a female hitchhiker played by Ann Savage. She’s hitched with the dead man before, knows the piano player isn’t him, and demands to be cut into the proceeds of his death.

There’s this one scene in particular, after they’ve reached California, when they’re holed up in a rental. Neither one wants to let the other out of their sight—they don’t trust each other, see?—and this is the age before television, so there’s not much else to do but drink and play cards.

Tom Neal and Ann Savage in Detoour – just look at that smolder!

Maybe I’m just a degenerate, but it seems obvious that these two should be hate-fucking their way through that interlude. I mean, look at them! Ann Savage simply smolders. Trapped in a room together, nothing to do. Clearly that’s what they’re trying to insinuate. The film was released in 1945, so they can’t show anything close to that. But there’s so much unsaid, so much sexiness lurking beneath the surface, that an erotic treatment practically writes itself.

How The Money Shot Came to Be

It was 2009, and I was in the midst of reading The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. I watched the movie as well—you know, the one with Humphrey Bogart as the wise-cracking Sam Spade? And I was struck by just how sexy both versions were. In the book it was more explicit than the movie. It even included a “fade to black” sex scene that really surprised me for a novel published in 1930.

That, plus the covers from some of the books from the era, made me think back to some of the old erotica titles that blossomed during The Golden Age of Adult Book Publishing. Both the pulp mysteries and those old adult books used some of the same marketing tactics to draw their readers in—enticing covers that promised sex and danger to titillate the reader’s imagination. I later found out there’s actually a name for it. They call it “pulp sleaze,” which started as a way to entice readers and skirt the censors, then bled over into erotica publishing tactics after those court cases I mentioned.

2009 was also the same year that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released—a zombified retelling of the Jane Austen classic. And I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I did an erotic retelling of the The Maltese Falcon? It’s all there. All you’d need to do is tweak the characters a bit and insert the sex scenes. I bet it would be publishing gold.”

I have to laugh in retrospect. I had no clue about how publishing or genres or reader tastes actually worked. Turns out, my brainchild didn’t have a built-in market. “Erotic mystery” isn’t exactly a top search term on Amazon, if you catch my meaning. It’s one of those things that people don’t realize they like it until they see the final product in front of their faces, and then it clicks. At least, I’ve found that to be true thus far.

But that initial idea grabbed me. It spoke to me, and at the time, I wasn’t concerned with markets or reader expectations. I wanted to write. And that’s what I did.

If you’ve read The Maltese Falcon, you’ll definitely see similarities when you read The Money Shot. The main players are all there—the detective, his dead partner, the secretary, the femme fatale, the fat man, the young gun. As a matter of fact, even my main character’s name—Danny Diamond—is a riff on Sam Spade. There’s the alliteration, sure, but then there’s also the fact that Diamonds and Spades are both suits from a deck of cards.

However,  as these things typically do, my retelling grew its own legs and started to become its own story entirely. There were plot elements that didn’t make good sense. I ended up co-opting some ideas from The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler’s first novel and another Bogey film (fun bit of trivia—the date of the opening scene in The Money Shot is August 9, 1946, the same as the opening night for that film). And when I got done with my first draft, it was 145k words long. I then had to cut approximately 60k words off it in the subsequent drafts. So it eventually became apparent that The Money Shot, while it owed a lot to The Maltese Falcon, had become a thing all its own. What’s more, Danny Diamond had potential for more adventures beyond just this one caper. There were more stories to tell.

And it took me for-fucking-ever.  I did 10 drafts, went through a score of beta readers, and then spent about 6 months languishing in agent-querying hell before I said “fuck it” and decided to self-publish. That whole process was a steep learning curve, which took a while. In all, the process took over six years before the book launched on KDP. Then there was my seven-year hiatus after the initial publishing, but that’s a story for another day (and one I touched on briefly in a prior blog entry, “Why I’m Here”).

The Foundation of Erotic Noir

So that’s it. That’s the foundation—near as I can tell—of the peculiar mix of eroticism and mystery/noir that is Logan Black. Does it make me kind of fucked up? Probably. But normal is boring.

Hopefully the whole thing makes a little more sense now. Maybe I’ve piqued your interest on some of these topics. Maybe you’re burning to do a little “research” of your own. If so, hit me up in the comments or through direct message, and I can assist with a few resources.

Till next time – be seein’ you, kid.

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