Booksquawk: Tell us a bit about the Fem-Noir manifesto. What are its roots?
The first rule of Fem Noir is you don’t talk about Fem Noir.
The second rule is rules are there to be broken.
Quite honestly, we’re making it all up as we go along. But very approximately, it’s about pensioning off the traditional big strong action hero – he of the chiseled jaw – and writing stories that deal with issues that matter to us. While having fun with the genre and f*cking with the rules.
The roots? That’s a longer answer.
When I was younger and confused about all kinds of things, it was a rare pleasure to discover a writer or character I could feel a real connection to. Val McDermid’s Lindsay Gordon was one. Mary Wing’s Emma Victor another. However, the literary roots of FemNoir come from two more of my favourite series.
Andrew Vachss’s Burke was a supreme creation. Along with his cast of supporting characters – or Family of Choice – most especially Michelle and Mole, Burke has been a huge inspiration to me. As has the uncompromising and appropriately brutal minimalism of Vachss’s writing.
Lauren Henderson’s Sam Jones series is another that I cherished growing up. The first lady of Tart Noir – yes, it was a thing – Sam was a dirty, dirty girl and she’d punch your lights out if you dared call her feisty. Willful, irrepressible, razor sharp, and far too damn cute for her own good, she stood in stark contrast to the typical mystery-crime-thriller female of her day. Who was invariably either love interest or victim. Along with Lindsay, Emma, and Modesty Blaise, Sam showed me things didn’t have to be that way.
I've been a huge fan of noir, pulp fiction, and kick ass heroines ever since, and the intention for Cars and Girls was always to take those forms, push their boundaries, and subvert them. I think we’ve made a decent stab at that.
Lauren Henderson is now my FB friend – which only goes to show how ridiculous the world has become. She *likes* my posts from time to time and we chat about shoes and TV. Her Tart Noir concept was not a direct influence on the style of FemNoir but it definitely pointed the way. I understand Lauren originally wanted to call her genre Slut Noir, and I came very close to stealing that but in the end – after a popular vote – we decided to go in a different direction. Perhaps that was a mistake. I’m not sure. (Evangeline)
I detected a wee hint of Bond in 500 – were you deliberately looking to subvert Ian Fleming’s hero?
Zoë Spencer, who wrote 500, isn’t available at the moment. She’s somewhere in the Mediterranean dancing on a boat. But I worked with her as the editor of 500 so I can tell you the answer is a resounding Yeah, kinda.
Zoë came into our project very late after another writer dropped out so she was able to see what Tee, Maddy, and I had already written. And she decided to do everything differently. Where we were all writing first person, she decided to go with the third. Tee and I were both writing in the present tense, so she went with the past. And since our characters were waitresses, whores, and runaways, she came up with Emily, the blue-blooded daughter of a peer of the realm. And although Emily is clearly not a spy or licensed to kill, Zoë went out of her way to have a little fun with the classic Fleming Bond. I don’t know how many you noticed and I don’t want to spoil the read for anyone but she did some very clever things. Luckily you don’t have to spot them to enjoy the story but knowing they’re there definitely makes us smile. (Evangeline)
One for each of you – what would be your ideal road trip car, and why?
I'd drive a Ford Thunderbird. Like Elvira's Macabremobile from Mistress of the Dark. Because it's badass. Enough said. (Tee)
A Lincoln Continental. I’m less likely to get hurt when I get into the inevitable fender bender. Also, I could sleep in the backseat and not waste money on hotels. I’m pretty cheap at heart. Zoë would probably say her own Fiat 500. (Maddy)
I’m a huge roadtrip fan – it seems to go with my love of mixtapes – and I once drove from Houston to Olympia – just short of Seattle – non-stop in a rattling old Mustang sharing the driving with a friend. So my answer now is entirely practical. Give me something comfortable, spacious – with room to make up a bed in the back – and wholly reliable, with a great sound system, even better AC, and windscreen wipers that will never ever die when I’m driving along the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge in a big mad massive storm. Basically, my 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe with decent wipers and an instant magical warranty. (Evangeline)
The stories were very good at showing some decent men, as opposed to the loathsome villains. Was it a conscious decision to let in some light?
Definitely not a conscious decision, but maybe subconsciously we put some good men in to counteract the real motherf*ckers. I’m struggling to think of anyone good in Crown Victoria, but in general maybe we love the idea of having a white knight on reserve. Like I'm going to do this myself, but I will take a bit of help from a nice gentleman along the way. And none of them were conventionally beautiful or heroic. The women called the shots and the men fell in line. That can't be coincidence. (Tee)
Holly Hellbound’s backstory (Roadrunner) was the most affecting in the book, for me. Was it difficult to build in such harrowing content in a seemingly straightforward revenge tale?
I wanted the reader to root for Holly. How do you get them to cheer a vicious woman on a killing streak on? You give them reason to. Her story bothered me. And I remember crying at a certain part near the end. I wanted there to be growth with her too which was also a bit of a challenge. (Tee)
I liked the setting for Barracuda – of all things, I thought of the Dukes of Hazzard. Could you see the two sisters stealing the General Lee for a road trip?
I think they already have. I'm embarrassed to say I had to look up the Dukes of Hazzard. Bit before my time and I never saw the poncy movie with that Jackass bloke. Still, the General Lee is Etta's style for sure! I intended for the story to have a dusty feel to it. Not sure if I pulled it off. (Maddy)
Crown Victoria was a kinky one, but it seemed to me that all the stories were very deliberate in their use of fairly explicit sex scenes. To paraphrase Pat Benatar, was sex used as a weapon in this book?
Yes. And as a release. All the characters knew what they could get with a wink and smile and hand job. But I don't think sex was just sex in any of these stories. I think it changed the characters. Opened them up. Made them more vulnerable. And let's face it, sex is a matter of life. It happens. Even to vengeful women. (Tee)
Maybe it depends on your definition. Or what your question means. I don’t believe any of our characters used sex as a weapon. Although you could make a case that Emily and Holly both exploited their appeal. As writers, I don’t think we were using sex as a weapon, per se. Certainly there was never a party line. Zoë, for example, wrote her first ever sex scenes for 500. She thought it was important to show that Emily had a healthy – if slightly Bond – sexual appetite despite her backstory.
If anything, these stories are a reaction to the fact that men have always used sex as a weapon.
That or we just like sex.
I’m inclined to disagree that Crown Victoria is kinky. I think it’s actually highly moral within its frame of reference. It’s about loyalty and trust, and the cycle of abuse. The fact that the lovers at the core of the story are ‘unconventional’ in their needs and desires is less kinky to me than it is natural given their backgrounds. But I may be playing with words. (Evangeline)
Tell us a little bit about Pankhearst. What can we expect in the future?
The original idea was simply to have fun writing together. It seems to have become a little more than that, and the official line is now that Pankhearst is a collective of emerging writers who want to learn by doing. Personally, I’ve always seen it as an independent record label for books. That’s why Cars and Girls is described as a ‘sampler’.
It took us a year to get our stuff together and make Cars and Girls a reality, but now we’re on a roll and with luck we’ll release two or three more full length books this year. The next will be Heathers, a brilliant collection of very different YA short stories featuring contributions from a host of exceptional writers. It’s going to be legendary.
I’d also like to see us release a few ‘singles’ later in the year. (Evangeline)
Read the review of Cars and Girls here.