Monday, 14 March 2011

Dancing With Myself: HINKSON on HINKSON

Floodgates opened at A Twist Of Noir last night as the 600 - 700 series got back on the road.

It didn't just limp back either, but shone like a carnival. You'll find Kieran Shea, Matthew C Funk, Paul D Brazill, Katherine Tomlinson and Jim Harrington as well as a little something from myself called 'Breakfast TV'. Enjoy.

And here with some amazingly great news to share is Jake Hinkson. Let's hear all about it.

Let’s start with the obvious, is it weird to interview yourself?

I’m a big believer in conversational masturbation. I talk to myself on a daily basis. I was talking to myself a few minutes before I sat down to do this interview, and I’ll be talking to myself after it’s done. It is odd to do it in writing, though.

Right now is a busy time for you. Tell the roiling masses the big news.

The big news is that I’ve just signed on to publish my first novel, Hell On Church Street, with New Pulp Press. We’re looking at a release in January 2012.

How did that come about?

I like a lot of what they’ve done in the past—The Disassembled Man by Nate Flexer, the Gil Brewer reprints—so I decided to send them something. I had this novel, and it seemed like such a good fit for what they’re doing.

What’s the novel about?

The youth minister at a Baptist church begins an inappropriate relationship with his preacher’s teenaged daughter. When the town’s corrupt local sheriff finds out about it and tries to blackmail him, murder and chaos ensue.

So something light and airy?

It’s noir for sure. As dark as the human soul.

Is it a critique of mainstream religion? A condemnation of professional clergy? A rage-filled attack on the hypocrisy of the self-righteous?

Next question please.

Come on, Hinkson.

Here’s how I think it breaks down: Some clergymen are deeply admirable people. Some are lazy, second-rate conmen hiding behind a title. And some are monsters. I write about the conmen and monsters.

What’s your back story?

I was born and raised in Arkansas, the buckle of the Bible belt. I came from a very religious family, and we lived for a while on a religious campground tucked away deep in the Ozark mountains. So I grew up in an environment where the phrase “Jesus Freak” was a badge of honor. I was like a Flannery O’Connor character. Now, that’s as far as you can get from the mean streets, but at the same time I always had a weird attraction to the hardboiled stuff.

Like what? What was the first hardboiled writing you came across?


What can you remember of those books?

Vengeance is Mine begins, “The guy was dead as hell.” I loved that. Spillane once said, “Your first lines sells the book, and your last line sells the next book.” Eventually, I outgrew Spillane—once I discovered Hammet, and then Chandler, and through them, Parker. For my money, Robert B. Parker was one of the great American entertainers. I don’t write like him—I write noir and he wrote pop adventure-mysteries—but he’s one of my heroes.

How can he be a hero if you don’t want to emulate him?

Parker was, I think, essentially an optimist about human nature. I’m essentially a pessimist. But I love his optimism precisely because I lack it myself. Spenser was Parker’s idea of the perfect man. He’s pretty much my idea of a perfect man, too. But I don’t write about perfect people. I tried, and I can’t.

So how would you describe what you do?


Which you would define how?

Transgression and ruination.

I hear the smack of Calvinist theology there.

I think it’s an intrinsic part of noir: crime and punishment. The pleasure of sin and the agony of consequence. I don’t know if that’s exclusively Calvinist or not, because if you look back at the development of noir—both in literature and in film—there was a code that mandated that the criminal be brought to justice. In America, there’s a religious undercurrent to damn near everything, and that applies to crime fiction as well. We dig transgression but we want to see it punished as well.

Which brings us to Thompson and O’Connor.

If Jim Thompson had knocked up Flannery O’Connor in a cheap Ozark motel, I’d be their offspring. Between his godless Oklahoma and her Christ-haunted Georgia sits the tormented terrain of my sweaty little slice of Arkansas.

Do you write rural noir?

Depends on the story. Someone commenting online on one of my stories called it “hillbilly hardboiled.” I love that term, and I’ve certainly written stuff that fits into that genre. But I haven’t lived in Arkansas for ten years now. I was in DC for the last few years, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York. And now I live, of all places, in suburban Jersey. All that experience goes into the hopper. So I don’t know what it makes me. It’s not that I’ve replaced my rural roots—I couldn’t and I wouldn’t—but I’ve added volumes and variety to my store of material. I’m working on a novel right now that’s set in DC. Nothing rural about it.

And for the last two years or so you’ve been working on a guidebook to film noir. By all means, tell us more about this magnum opus.

It’s a collection of essays, 365 days of film noir. Full length essays on 365 films. Knowledgeable and well researched, but irreverent and fun. There are a lot of guides out there, but this one will be unique in its tone and perspective. One man—one distinct voice—transversing the bullet-riddled corpus of film noir. It’s a guide book so it’ll have the functionality of a guide book (in other words, it’ll help you figure out what to Netflix first), but it’s not a bunch of capsule reviews. It’s a collection of essays, each essay giving you a sense of the film but it also focusing on a different aspect.

So for example…

I talk about Robert Mitchum as a symbolic child molester in The Night of the Hunter. I talk about the post-war fear of disease in The Killer That Stalked New York. I highlight largely forgotten films like Too Late for Tears and Roadblock. I focus on different personalities like the tormented writer Cornell Woolrich, the massively underrated Norman Foster, and the scrappy journeyman director Felix E. Feist. I also make a pretty strong case that Lizabeth Scott is the true Queen of Noir.

How far along are you?

Over halfway. I’ve watched a shitload of films noir. I’ll watch a shitload more. I’m not in a rush. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a project. I’ve gone from being a well adjusted man to being someone who can’t stop thinking about Robert Siodmak’s camera angles.

So do you consider yourself primarily a fiction writer or a non-fiction writer?

I’m a writer. Fiction and nonfiction are just different expressions of the same impulse. Both are acts of creation. Both are about looking at the world. Nonfiction is about holding up a subject (a movie, a person, an experience) and examining it, figuring out what it is and how it works. Fiction is about taking a lot of elements from life and art, scrambling them into a mix, and letting your imagination take over. It is, in its way, much like talking to yourself—a dance between your conscious and unconscious.

And that seems to bring us full circle.


Nice one, Jake.


  1. Congrats on the book deal. Excellent interview. I didn't know about your Ozark/religious roots but I can relate (only Appalachian/religious instead).

  2. I dig the plot to your new novel and will be the first to snag a copy.

    Informative interview, Jake. Thanks.

  3. I am psyched for you, Jake! (breaching Nigel's fourth wall) That's fantastic news!

  4. Good stuff, Hinkson. I'm first in line for Church Street

  5. Very nice. You already have fans, sir. The novel will surely bring more.

  6. Congralulations on the book.

  7. Jake's "Night Editor" is one of the best stops on the net for learning about film noir. I can't count how many movies he's introduced me to.

    Congrats on the book deal, Jake.

  8. Great stuff. I'm a big fan of Jake's fiction so the novel is one I'm really looking forward to. The Night Editor is pretty damned essential so I'm sure 365 Days Of Noir will be beaut.