Tag Archives: film noir

Snapshots: John Grant interviewed

What are you working on now?

I’m currently writing a fairly massive encyclopedia of film noir. I’m not yet certain what the title will be – the publisher and I have batted around possibilities like A-Z of Film Noir and Dictionary of Film Noir. My personal favourite at the moment is The People’s Encyclopedia of Film Noir. It’s going to be very different from other books with similar titles in that (a) it’s going to cover far more movies, somewhere in the 2000 to 3000 range, I’m guessing – and (b) its coverage is going to be truly international – not just the usual suspects (geddit?) like the US, UK and France but also the other European countries, Eastern as well as well as Western, plus Australia, HK, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, the South American countries, you name it. My eyes are getting sore from reading all those subtitles.

What have you recently finished?

I think the most recent book I’ve finished – aside from some stuff I’ve ghostwritten – is the novella The Lonely Hunter, which is coming out Real Soon Now from PS Publishing. I’m not sure exactly when: the pub date hasn’t been formally announced yet, but the artwork has been done and dusted and I’ve signed all the endpapers and so on.

What’s recently or soon out?

Well, I’ve just answered part two of that question!

As for its part one, last fall saw two of my nonfiction books released. One, from Prometheus, was Denying Science, which has so far been surprisingly well received. I’d been expecting far more of an uproar from the denialists than there’s actually been. One review site went berserk because, so far as the reviewer is concerned, climate change has been proven to be a complete hoax and I was living in a fantasy world if I thought otherwise. Meanwhile, in the real world, the daffodils have been coming up a month early around here the past two springs.

The book earned me, from writer Gregory Frost, an accolade that I’ll treasure ’til the end of my days: “John Grant is the living heir of Martin Gardner.”

The other major nonfiction book of mine to come out last fall was also my very first straight-to-ebook publication, Warm Words and Otherwise: A Blizzard of Book Reviews, collecting most of the reviews over the past fifteen years or so from venues like Infinity Plus and Crescent Blues that I’m still prepared to acknowledge. I was startled to find, when I was putting the book together, that the final text came to something over 150,000 words. If I’d put in the reviews I’m not still prepared to acknowledge, who knows what the total might have been!

This struck me – and my publisher, Keith Brooke of Infinity Plus Ebooks (hey, that’s you!) – as a perfect example of how ebook technology ought to be used. Not many print publishers would look at a collection of book reviews as a viable project, but the extraordinarily low production costs of ebooks made it, I think, worthwhile for author and publisher alike.

There were also ebook publications of three of my short stories in the Infinity Plus Singles range.

Describe your typical writing day.

Get up. Smooch wife, who’s usually up before me. Have pee. Make tea. Ruminate about pointlessness of latter two activities. Spoil various cats. Switch on computer. Stare at screen. Open up Thunderbird and check email. Open up Firefox and check cricinfo.com. Stare at screen a while longer. Open up WordPerfect 5.1 (because I’m a boring old fart and still prefer a DOS program that does everything I want to whatever the latest Microsoft product is). Start writing.

It’s slightly different at the moment, because I’m working on a movie book. As when I was writing the three editions of my Encyclopedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters and my book Masters of Animation, not to mention the movie threads of David Pringle’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and my own and John Clute’s The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, part of the day is likely to involve watching one or more movies. My next phase of work on the film noir book is going to be a couple of months during which I have to watch and write about four, five or on occasion even six movies a day. Friends say I’m a lucky dog to get paid for watching movies. I tell them to try as much as a weekend’s worth of that sort of intensive viewing.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?


You mean you want me to narrow things down a bit? Well, of my novels I’m really proud of The World, The Far-Enough Window, The Dragons of Manhattan and Leaving Fortusa – all four of those do things I think really needed to be done, and in my humble opinion do them well. I’d also stand by my novel The Hundredfold Problem; one of the reviewers said that he read it on the basis that it was fun, and enjoyed it, but that it actually forced him to do some thinking about pretty profound issues. I can’t think of higher praise than that.

As for my nonfiction books? Well, the Disney and Fantasy encyclopedias, obviously. And I think I’m doing something worthwhile in the books I’ve been writing over the past few years on the misunderstanding of scientific issues: Discarded Science, Corrupted Science, Bogus Science and most recently, as noted, Denying Science. I was extraordinarily chuffed a couple of years back when John Marburger, formerly Science Advisor to the White House, congratulated me on these and described them as important.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?

There are other authors and books?

In fact, I think lots and lots of books and authors deserve plugs. My reading tends to be, by design, pretty scattershot – I cringe when people say things like “I read a book by Melvyn P. Scroit and I loved it so much I read everything else he had written, front to back!” Me, if I really love a book, I start rationing out the other books by that author, to make sure I get the very best out of each of them. I still haven’t read The Quiet Woman by Christopher Priest, even though he’s one of my Top Ten Living Authors and even though it’s been on my shelf for fifteen years and even though I’ve read several of his other, more recent novels since getting that one. He’s good enough that I let myself read a novel of his no more than every year or three, or more. I’m a great fan of Ian Rankin’s Rebus books, too, but I still have plenty of those stashed to read. And so on.

With a writer like Carlos Ruiz Zafon, on the other hand – another great fave – it’s easier, because his books are being released into anglophone markets only slowly.

As for writers you’ve never heard of who deserve a plug? Well, there’s C.S. Thompson, whose City of Strange Dreams is, I think, pretty wonderful. And then there’s a whole slew of little known authors the reviews of whose books you can find in Warm Words and Otherwise, hint, hint.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?

(a) Write. It sounds like a joke reply, but it isn’t. I’ve lost of count of how many people I’ve met who want to be writers but who seem reluctant to do the stuff of actually, y’know, writing. It was a piece of advice offered to me first by, of all people, Alec Waugh, who I met at some bash or other when I was even callower than I am today.

(b) Finish the first book. Again, it sounds like a joke reply, but isn’t. If you’re like I was, you’ll be about three-quarters of the way through that first novel, or more, when you realize it’s total garbage. Even so, finish it. For ever after you’ll know you’re capable of writing a full-length book. When you sit down to write the next one – the one that’s going to win you the Booker and draw the attention of the Nobel committee – you’ll know it’s not going to be one of those unfinished, unpublished masterpieces.

So… the easy one: what’s the future of publishing?

Pretty morose, I’d say. The POD revolution and then the ebook revolution were supposed to “democratize” publishing, and that seemed to be a good thing. The major corporate publishers had reduced literature to the point that there was more interest in a new book “by” Lindsay Lohan than in something you’d actually want to read. Lots of very good books were not getting published because of this dumbass, short-termist, look-at-the-bottom-line attitude. Quite a few of those were getting picked up by small presses (e.g., Akashic) or medium-sized presses (e.g., the Prometheus imprint Pyr), which suffered the disadvantage that they weren’t able to bribe Barnes & Noble to pile the books up at the front of the store, but were still better than nothing at all. Even so, many good books were just not getting published. Come the POD and ebook revolutions, and this’d be sorted. What has in fact happened is that about a billion novels have been published among which a mere several are worth reading.

A lot of that billion have been published for free download. Given the choice between a free book and one you have to pay for . . . You’re following my line of thought, aren’t you?

So our hypothetical reader downloads to his or her Kindle, for free, dozens of books of the generic form Porno Zombies Hit On Sparkly Vampire High School Cheerleaders and discovers they’re all complete mindrot. Does that reader go back for more, even though this stuff is free? Does s/he go further, and investigate books that actually cost money?

You tell me.


John Grant is author of over sixty books, both fiction and nonfiction, and the recipient of two Hugo Awards, a World Fantasy Award, and several others. He coedited with John Clute The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and wrote The Encyclopedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters. Described in Argosy magazine as a “modern Renaissance man,” he has written on subjects as diverse as beer, dreams, science and beyond; most recent (fall 2011) is Denying Science. He is currently writing a major book on film noir.

John wrote the chapter ‘Infinite pasts, infinite futures: the many worlds of time travel’ in Strange Divisions and Alien Territories: the sub-genres of science fiction (edited by Keith Brooke, published by Palgrave Macmillan, February 2012).

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