Short, Sharp Interview: John Grant

PDB: Can you pitch A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Definitive Reference Guide in 25 words or less?

Nope. I can’t. I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve . . . But I’ll see if I can at least keep this short. My latest book, published in October, is called A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide. It contains entries on about 3,250 movies, covering roughly a century of moviemaking, from the earliest protonoirs to recent neonoirs, drawn from all over the world.

As a sort of annex to the encyclopedia I’ve created the website Noirish, which is devoted to more expansive entries on a sort of ragbag of movies that are (generally) way out on noir’s fringes — too far out to have made it into the encyclopedia.

PDB: Which music, books, films or television shows have floated your boat recently?

The most recent piece of music to have bowled me over is Tubin’s Symphony #6. For the past few years I’ve been on a classical jag, although playing rock CDs occasionally. Among the latter, Vienna Teng’s Inland Territory stands out in my memory. Another to get played pretty frequently is Earth Opera’s self-titled album — which I bought way-back-when on vinyl, when it (ahem) first came out, and now listen to on CD.

I don’t watch TV much. I guess the last TV show I really liked was the first season of Sherlock. I wasn’t so enthralled by the second, but am hotly waiting for the third to reach these shores.

Books? I recently read Tara French’s The Likeness and loved it: a truly amazing piece of work, and bugger its occasional detractors. Rees Morgan’s The Freshour Cyclinders was good too. I’m currently enjoying the much more light-hearted Swing, by Rupert Holmes.

And movies. Friends — like Sam Juliano at Wonders in the Dark — have recently been talking about their Top Ten Movies lists for 2013. I don’t go in much for that sort of thing — if ever I try to make a Top Ten it ends up being a Top Sixty-Seven, and then I immediately change my mind about what should be in it! And, of course, by far the majority of movies that I watch are old ones, sometimes decades old. But my friends’ list-making activities got me to thinking about which were the movies I’d most enjoyed among the relatively few 2013 movies I saw. Of those, two stood out for me: Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep and Zal Batmanglij’s & Brit Marling’s The East. They have oddly similar themes, both being about radicalization and the difficulties of doing something to change a manifestly unjust, often brutal society without being demonized.

PDB: Is it possible for a writer to be an objective reader?

I think so — in fact, I think writers may be better objective readers than most. I certainly hope so, because I’ve done a lot of book reviewing in my time! (Indeed, there’s even an ebook of my reviews: Warm Words and Otherwise, published by Infinity Plus Books.)

PDB: Do you have any interest in writing for films, theatre or television?

Yes, but I don’t know how to do it. I keep meaning to get hold of a book on the basics of that art to see if it’s something I could work happily with. Unfortunately I don’t know any professional screenwriters well enough to take them to the pub for an evening and pour beer into them while picking their brains — a far better way of learning than from a book! Back in the 1980s I spent a month or two on the Disney lot in Burbank as part of the research for my book on Disney animation, and I’d hoped for the opportunity to pump a few screenwriters while there . . . but I was moving in different circles from them, alas.

PDB: How much research goes into each book?

It varies very, very widely. The film noir encyclopedia took a couple of years of seven-days-a-week solid toil, including the writing, but I’d been doing research on it here and there since fairly early in the 2000s. Of course, I’m hoping that this research will pay off for other projects too — I’m planning a book on femmes fatales at the moment, for example. (Eager publishers should contact me pronto, oh yes!) And there’s another movie book I’m sketching out, again overlapping enough in subject matter that a little of my earlier research should contribute to it.

PDB: How useful or important are social media for you as a writer?

Because of the colossal amount of work on the film noir encyclopedia, I’ve been pretty remiss about social media in recent years. I’ve only started to get my act together in the past few months. Currently, in addition to Noirish, I’m on Live Journal, letterboxd, Pinterest, Digg and Twitter, though I’m probably less active on those than I should be.

I was also on Facebook for a few weeks before the Facebook robots decided I wasn’t a real person. (*user pinches self, goes “ow!”*) In order to prove my personhood, they wanted me to send scans of my passport and/or driving license. Yeah, right, like I’m that enthusiastic to lay myself open to identity theft! (I’m surprised, to be honest, that the FBI hasn’t felt Facebook’s collar about this.) I suppose I ought to make an effort to get myself reinstated there, because everyone tells me it’s important . . . but then so are all the other things I’m doing, like writing books and stories.

PDB: What’s on the cards for 2014?

I’m now working on a kids’ book called (provisionally) The Young Person’s Guide to Bullshit. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. My agent is somewhat lethargically hawking around a collection of my fantasy-noir slipstream stories, Strange Detections. And a fairly major novelette of mine, “His Artist Wife”, is coming out shortly in the magazine Black Static; I’m pretty excited about this, because that mag has a very literate readership and it’s a privilege to be appearing in it.

That’s about as much as I know at the moment about 2014.

Bio: John Grant is the author of more than seventy books, including the critically acclaimed Discarded Science, Corrupted Science, and Bogus Science. In addition to his popular science writing, Grant is a prolific science fiction and fantasy writer. He has won two Hugo Awards, the World Fantasy Award, the Locus Award, and a number of other international literary awards. He co-edited with John Clute The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and wrote all three editions of The Encyclopedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters; both encyclopedias are standard reference works in their field. Under his real name, Paul Barnett, he has written several books and run the world-famous fantasy-art-book imprint Paper Tiger, for this latter work winning a Chesley Award and a nomination for the World Fantasy Award. For more on this prolific author, see here.

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