I recently reached out to He of the Honey Voice, Iambik narrator Gord Mackenzie, to see if he had anything to ask the author about his experience narrating Fade to Blonde. Max Phillips, who is the co-founder of Hard Case Crime in addition to writing Fade to Blonde, had a few thoughts of his own.
Gord Mackenzie: Many authors have divided feelings about audiobooks. Some are of the opinion that their words are meant to be read by the eyes, and that introducing a narrator’s voice takes something away from the book as written. How do you feel about audiobooks in general, and in particular the process of turning Fade to Blonde into an audiobook?
Max Phillips: I don’t really have strong feelings about audiobooks one way or the other. I certainly don’t think they take anything away from the original work. I’m afraid I’ve never listened to one, aside from Fade to Blonde, since I like books as objects and would rather read than be read to. It seems to me that they’re a different form than the written novel, and in general, I’m happy to see my novels (and anyone else’s) turned into different forms: plays, movies, TV shows, comic books, strings of linked haiku, what have you. I may not always like the result, but I like the possibilities. And you never know when you’ll get something like The Godfather, where an indifferent novel becomes a masterwork in another medium.
GM: Fade to Blonde won the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. That puts you in good company, with other winners including Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, and Walter Mosley. But, your protagonist, Ray Corson, isn’t really a traditional private investigator. If you had to put a genre label on Fade To Blonde, what would it be?
MP: Just hard-boiled.
GM: You’re one of the founders of Hard Case Crime imprint (along with Charles Ardai). What was it about the paperback crime novels of the 40’s and 50’s that inspired you to start Hard Case, and to write Fade To Blonde?
MP: Charles and I share a love of two-fisted fiction, though we don’t always admire the same writers. But we both loved the look, feel, and philosophy of the old rack-size paperbacks: lurid, entertaining, quick, and cheap. Of course, we can’t make our books as cheap as the old ones. We wish we could.
GM: Of the “classic” crime writers, who would you say is your favorite? Do you have a favorite hard-boiled character (other than your own Ray Corson, of course)?
MP: Hammett’s one of my favorite writers, regardless of genre, and Sam Spade may be my favorite hard-boiled character. Not the cartoon version of a trenchcoat-wearing Bogart that most people think of, but the genuine article, the merry blonde bruiser in the actual book. But in some ways I prefer Hammett’s Continental Op, a short, fat, matter-of-fact middle-aged man whose name we never learn, who appears to have no personal life, and whose only desire is to get on with the job and maybe get home alive. He was the protagonist in the extra-pulpy The Dain Curse and the magnificent Red Harvest, a film that, speaking of crossing from one form to another, has inspired countless movies, including Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epic Yojimbo.
GM: Fade To Blonde is set in Hollywood in the 1950s. The “movies” (in one form or another) seem to permeate the story… right up to the climactic scene. How important was this setting, and why did you select it?
MP: Fade to Blonde was never meant to be a novel. I came up with the title and tagline (“She Was a Little Piece of Heaven… And a One-Way Ticket To Hell!”) simply because I needed a title and tagline to design a sample cover around, back when Charles and I were trying to figure out the look of the line. But one night I actually got curious about what sort of book Blonde would be if somebody actually sat down and wrote it, and started making a few notes. I wound up working all night and in the morning had an opening chapter, a rough outline, and the notion that I maybe ought to go on and write the rest. The title, of course, mandated that the movies be part of the mix.
GM: One of the things I loved about Fade To Blonde was the strong supporting characters that fill the book. There are times when I wanted to follow some of those characters after Ray leaves them (I’m particularly fond of Miss Bellinger). As an author, do you find at times that these “minor” characters sometimes call out to you to tell more of their story?
MP: I’m glad you like Lisa Rae. I’m fond of her myself. I try to write by imagining characters and then waiting around to see what they do. If there’s nothing more to be said about a supporting character than what’s in the book, I feel like I haven’t done my job.
GM: Ray Corson is a bit of an eclectic. He’s played many parts in his time: soldier, writer, actor, bodyguard, boxer. He’s a tough guy, who reads Chekhov and Stephen Crane. You yourself seem to have some eclectic interests. Besides writing the hard-boiled Fade To Blonde, you’re noted for writing more “serious” literature, including Snakebite Sonnet and The Artist’s Wife. But you also write 1960’s espionage thrillers under the pen-name “Forrest Devoe Jr.” (Into the Volcano and Eye of the Archangel). On top of that, you’re a creative director and a graphic designer with a background in marketing, branding and social media. Did some of Ray’s eclecticism come from your own varied interests?
MP: I never thought of it, but of course you’re right. I probably made Ray a bit of a dilettante because I’m one myself. (Don’t know how you got the idea I had a background in social media, though. I don’t even have a Facebook page.)
GM: Ray Corson, Mike Hammer, Phillip Marlowe and Jeff Markham are in a bar and get into a drunken brawl. Who’s going to win?
MP: Jules Maigret glares at them over his beer and they all slink out in shame.
GM: And, finally, what’s next for Max Phillips? Do you have another book in the works?
MP: I’m actually shopping around a children’s picture book I wrote and illustrated. If you liked Fade To Blonde, your four-year-old daughter will love Lois Gets Lost.
Max Phillips’ Fade to Blonde was published in print by Hard Case Crime, and as an Iambik audiobook narrated by Gord Mackenzie. If you hurry, you can still use the code our-favorite-customers for a 25% discount on Fade to Blonde and all our titles through the end of April 2011.
If you have any burning questions for any of Iambik’s authors, publishers, or narrators, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll see what I can do.