As part of The Last Days of Hong Kong Blog Tour, author G.D. Penman joins us with a guest post about how he wrote an urban fantasy noir series.
Urban Fantasy Noir by G.D. Penman
Defining Film Noir is kind of tricky. Some but not all have a stylised use of shadows. Some but not all have a hardboiled crime story at their heart. Some but not all have urban settings. Critics have been losing their minds trying to work out a common set of rules for all Film Noir since the term was coined by Nino Frank, but even trying to define the genre with fixed elements like stock characters has been hopeless, as more films don’t have a down on their luck detective and a femme fatale than do.
Some academics even went so far as to list of elements of mood that taken together comprised a noir; dreamlike, strange, erotic, ambivalent and cruel. Except of course that even those elements aren’t present in all noir.
You could make the argument that the genre is defined by the historical period in which they’re set, the 1940s and 50s, but then you’d be excluding spectacular works like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, which hits all of the emotional elements of Noir, but is set in 80s white-picket fence suburbia. Or Joe Lansdale’s Savage Season, which takes place in rural Texas, doesn’t have a dreamlike bone in its body, and is still undeniably Noir.
It was actually that last book that really helped me to recognise the one consistent element throughout all the Noir stories, regardless of plot, or where they were set. Danger.
The stories set in the 1940s and 50s were in the post-war period where every adult man was most likely trained to be a killer. Likewise with Savage Season, set in another post-war period, albeit in the wake of the Vietnam War.
It is not only the idea that anyone might be a murderer, or trained for violence, but that there is an underlying sense of the damage that war has done to the people involved. War strips the mask of sanity from civilisation, and for those who returned from it, their old masquerade no longer seemed to fit. The rules that they’d lived by seemed pointless in the face of their new existential crises.
So it was with all of this in mind that I set out to write The Last Days of Hong Kong.
The second book of the Witch of Empire trilogy saw the world at war, and four years after it was decisively ended, Sully is back on the street. Her newfound lethality tucked in her back pocket, and her battle-scars on display.
I had a setting, the lawless ex-British Colony of the Fortress City of Hong Kong. I had my main character, a down on her luck detective. I had my femme fatale lurking somewhere off screen. Then it was just a matter of ticking off the elements of mood, dreamlike and strange have never been a problem for these books, thanks to the Urban Fantasy elements and the whimsy that assassination attempts ending in people turning into parrots brought along. Ambivalent and cruel have never been problems in this setting either. Most of the people our heroine runs up against are absolutely fine with destroying anybody to get what they want. As for erotic, well, there are a lot of pretty vampires about to please everyone’s tastes.
All that left was the plot. The Maltese Falcon that would set all of these low-lives into action and force our detective to play the ace up her sleeve. Lucky for me that one of the plot-threads left hanging from the first book in the trilogy was a demon-possessed doll on the loose that everyone in the world wants to get their hands on.
And that’s how I wrote an Urban Fantasy Noir.
THE LAST DAYS OF HONG KONG by G.D. Penman
RELEASE DATE: October 5, 2021
GENRE: Urban Fantasy / LGBT
Book 3 in the Witch of Empire series
In the aftermath of the war, Iona “Sully” Sullivan has lost everything; her job, her friends, her fiancé and even her magic. But when an old friend shows up on her doorstep, offering her the chance to undo one of her long litany of mistakes, there is still enough of the old Sully left to get her on the first boat to Hong Kong. A stranger in a strange land, Sully must navigate alien customs, werebear chefs, the blossoming criminal underworld, religious extremists, Mongol agents, vampire separatists, and every other freak, maniac or cosmic leftover with an iota of power as they all compete for a chance at the most valuable prize in all the world; a little sailor doll named Eugene, and the last wish on earth.
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