Could you tell us about your childhood, Ms Abbott, and tell us how you came to writing crime literature ?
As a kid growing up in Detroit, I spent Saturday mornings in front of the TV watching old movies, falling into their world. And my favorites were always film noir, which seemed to capture all the drama, danger and glamour that I imagined could be possible. It gave me such a larger idea of life, and made the adult world seem so thrilling. The movies led me to the books (James Ellroy, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett) and the books led me to writing myself. I wanted to write my way into that world.
You’ve already received many prizes for your books (Mystery writers of America and Edgar Allan Poe in 2008), how does it feel, winning all those prizes so early in your young career as a writer ?
It’s wonderful. An honor, absolutely. I feel incredibly lucky and very, very surprised. Sometimes I feel like an imposter.
Human relations are the strongest aspect in your last last novel published in France, Red Room Lounge, at the Le masque Editions, how did you get the idea to write this novel ?
The idea began with an article I read in Newsweek about a schoolteacher, the wife of a military man, who was accused of drug trafficking. As the story unfolded it became clear that her husband went to all kinds of means to protect his wife and conceal her crimes. It seemed like such a classic noir story—the kind that would usually be told from the husband’s point of view. The man who falls for a dangerous woman and she brings about his downfall. I started to think about what it would be like to look at the story from different angles. To see the supposed femme fatale from different vantage points.
One can recognize your novel thanks to the very detailed depiction of your characters , could you tell us about Lora King and Gloria ?
My idea for Lora was that she be the kind of woman who’s likely never appear in a classic noir novel. She’s a school teacher, a seeming “straight arrow.” The book is about her “crossing over” from the world of suburban propriety, to the underbelly. But we see she has her own darknesses. I think that’s what I love most about the noir tradition : we all carry lightness and darkness inside. We all carry both.
Tell us about the novel that made you famous in France : Absente (the song is you) , published by Sonatine Editions ?
Several years ago, I found a reference to Jean Spangler as one of Hollywood’s unsolved cases, from 1949. She was an aspiring actress, gone missing. There were rumors of gangster boyfriends and dates with movie stars. And one day, just gone. I found a lot of coverage of the case in Los Angeles newspapers of the time. Then, with no leads, the stories just stopped. I tracked down one of her movies, called The Miracle of the Bells. She’s on screen for just a few seconds. She’s witnessing the “miracle” of the title and she has this frightened look on her face. Watching it while knowing what happened to her, I felt these chills up my spine. I began researching. Her story was so sad, this working single mother struggling to make ends meet, dancing in revues and taking any part that came her way. And I’ve always been interested in people who seem to lead two lives. Here was Jean Spangler, working hard to support her five-year-old daughter, sister-in-law and mother—and then she has this whole other life: dating Kirk Douglas, Mickey Cohen’s goons, big shots, all taking her to these nightclubs on the Sunset Strip. I couldn’t get the story out of my head, so Absente came from that.
The main characters of your novels are women, are you an active feminist ?
I’m certainly a feminist, but I don’t think about any of that when I write. It’s two parts of my brain—the social-political and the creative. Those two parts don’t intersect much !
Your novels remind me of Hitchcock , your plots are real puzzles.
Thank you! I’ve been watching his movies since I was little. I think I read the Truffaut interview book with him a 100 times. Vertigo remains a touchstone for me.
What are your writing habits ? (in the morning, the evening, at your desk …)
Mornings are best, early as possible—I run out of steam! I used to only write at home, but lately I’ve been writing at cafes as well. Sometimes, I write on the subway, on the front flap of the book I’m reading. It’s so quiet there, in its own way. And good ideas can come.
The fifties are your favourite period for your novels, why is that ?
I don’t think they’re my favorite, but I am fascinated by the movies from that era—the stark contrast between the lush Technicolor melodramas and musicals and the grittiest of film noir. The fact that the two existing at the same time speaks to a fascinating duality of the time.
Does your family read your novels ? What do they think of them ?
Oh, yes. They’ve always been big supporters. My parents are both writers and my brother is a prosecutor, so they are sources of both support and inspiration.
Le concierge masqué is very curious : what will be your next novel published in the US, and in France ?
In the U.S., I have a book coming out in July 2012, called Dare Me. It will be published in France in a year or two, but next in France will be The End of Everything, which is set in the 1980s and is about a missing 13-year-old girl. It’s very different than my previous books in terms of time and place and yet somehow connected to them thematically. A tale of innocence and experience.
Could you tell us about the site The Abbott Gran Medicine Show ?
It’s a blog I started with my friend, the author Sara Gran. Just a tiny corner of the internet for us to explore our strangest, most obscure interests. Everything from crime-scenes-rendered-in-miniature to conspiracy theories to V.C. Andrews novels to murder ballads.
Do you have a funny anecdote about one of the characters in your novels ?
Gloria, the main character in my novel Adieu, Gloria, is based loosely on Virginia Hill. Today, she’s mostly known as the girlfriend of gangster Bugsy Siegel, the one after whom he named the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. But she was so much more than that. She was a trusted courier who would move money and jewels and whom the mob would send to Switzerland to open bank accounts—big stuff like that. She was so steely, so hardboiled. When the press tracked her down in Paris to inform her that Bugsy Siegel had been murdered in the home he bought for her, she told reporters, “It looks so bad to have a thing like that happen in your house.” That’s a tough lady.
If you were alone on a desert island, what books would you take with you and why ?
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. That seems to cover every corner of the human heart.
What memories do you have of your visit to France last year at Quais du polar ?
I found it utterly intoxicated. In the U.S., noir is primarily a subgenre. Sometimes even an obscure one that I have to explain (or justify). But there, it was the center of everything and every conversation I had was so stimulating I could barely fall asleep each night.
Could you tell us about a young crime writer that you have discovered, whose talent surprised you, and that the French readers don’t know yet ?
I’m not sure which authors French readers would or wouldn’t know, but I love the work of Derek Nikitas. He has two dark, strange and wonderful novels out already : Pyres and The Long Division.
What international news topic makes you fume at the moment ?
What are your favourite music and song ?
Good question. I like all kinds of music, but my favorite song ever is probably anything sung by Frank Sinatra, preferably played on a juke box in a dark bar.
The last question from Le concierge Masqué : if you had a last word for your french readers, what would it be ?
Viva la France ! One of the greatest experiences of my life was visiting your country last year, talking noir wherever I went. I felt so alive.
Thanks for your patience and for answering my questions, it was a real pleasure to read your books and i’m impatiently waiting forward to reading your next.
Thank you for your marvelous questions !