Big and loud: My Favorite Writers by Frank De Blase

The other night I had the opportunity to speak as a special guest at a ladies monthly book club meeting. You know the deal; they all read the same book then get together to discuss its finer points. This month’s selection was my debut novel for Down & Out Books, PINE BOX FOR A PIN-UP.

OK, look, I know what you’re thinking: a suburban hen party, plenty of merlot, and healthy snacks that no one touches as long as the chocolate/peanut clusters hold out, where they gossip about whoever didn’t show up and punctuate it all here and there with discussion of 50 shades of some Agatha Higgins cozy yawn.

I was flattered yet wary and somewhat hesitant. I’m a dark writer and though I adore women immensely, in my writing they are the source —and the victims — of much of this darkness. In many cases if a woman shows up in one of my stories, it’s either as a painstakingly described femme fatale or dead. They are all to be admired, even if they make the scene as a corpse. There’s some perverse value in being deemed killable and I wasn’t in the mood to debate misogyny or exploitation or “What the fuck is wrong with you?” with some chick who thinks I’m a creep.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. They were full of questions; my process, where did I get my ideas? Did I know how it was all going to end when I started? Would I like some more chocolate/peanut clusters? And the general what for, why is, and when by.

But it was the question of influence that rendered an epiphany. And as I began to explain, it became increasingly clear to me. Sure, I got turned on to the crime/noir genre by Spillane, Chandler, Prather, Hammett, Thompson, Goodis, Slade, Ellroy, Edgerton, Mosley, and so on. But I’ve been an outsider in every artistic endeavor I’ve ever pursued. Why should writing be any different?

Photography sprang from music and writing sprung from both. Though there are procedures and rules and technical knowhow required, I always drove around all that silly stuff and did it wrong. In other words: my way. I applied what I knew of other artistic expression to the art at hand and it has served me well. My pictures look like my writing and my writing sounds like my music.

But I’m getting off track, here. We were talking about influential writers and mine, I discovered, aren’t really the masters of the printed page you would think. No dark, brooding chain-smoking types haunted by the characters they create as they peck away at their own demons on an old Smith-Corona and drown in booze, no. One slinked around the stage like a panther with a loud guitar, the other celebrated in film, women with breasts the size of Volkswagens. Yup, the two biggest influences on my writing are guitarist Link Wray and filmmaker Russ Meyer.

You can talk about early rock ’n’ roll, how its savage beat was going to warp our youth, rape our women, and allow America to fall into the hands of the Reds. Or rant about either its nonsensical rama lama ding dong-ing or double entendre, and Link Wray’s 1958 hit single “Rumble” was banned because it was said to incite juvenile delinquents to riot. But “Rumble” was an instrumental — no lyrics, jack — just the swaggering throb of three chords pounded out with a clenched fist.

Link’s primal rhythms echo a femme fatale’s strut: swivelin,’ swingin,’ sexy and capable of causing a riot. His guitar is the sound of the getaway car, the five o’clock shadow on a killer’s face, it’s bullets ricocheting down the alley.

Mr. Nice Guy spit blood and cursed under his breath. Propping himself up, he wiped his mouth. He wasn’t used to being at the wrong end of a gun…his gun.

Take it easy, pal,” he said to the little man with the big gun. “Let’s not get excited. Let’s not do anything we’ll regret.”

You were here to k-k-kill me,” the little man stammered. Mr. Nice Guy had to think fast.

You’ve got it all wrong, pal,” he said. “I didn’t come here to kill you. That’s all big talk to keep up appearances for the real deadbeats. Look, you’re a pro, everyone knows that. But I gotta come on hard, or the fresh fish will take advantage. I came here to work it out, pal. I wasn’t here to kill you.”

Mr. Nice Guy was there to kill him. The little man with the big gun was a skell on the skids, a degenerate gambler who owed the wrong people a lot of money; people Mr. Nice Guy worked for. His account was past due being past due. He was out of strikes, he was maxed out. An example needed to be made.

— From the story “Big Man, Little Gun” included in the short story compilation BUSTED VALENTINES AND OTHER DARK DELIGHTS by Frank De Blase

Though couched in social commentary, Russ Meyer’s name is synonymous with the Double D cup and the often violent, sexified sexpots that routinely spill out of it.

He frequently filmed and photographed these top-heavy, cantilevered cuties from low angles to accentuate their dominance and celebrate — and accentuate — the gonzo, jaw-dropping busty-ness of it all. There are obvious literal references to Meyer when I describe the desired female victim, villain, or vixen. And like Meyer, I try to balance objectification and worship as both are desirable and dangerous, perfect for setting up the male character who can’t tell the difference.

It was early evening when I set out to look for Mickey. He wasn’t hard to find. He hung out at The Bamboo Club on East Avenue. And it was easy to see why. The Bamboo Club was a tiny burlesque joint—about three times the size of a phone booth—catering to folks who liked to tie one on as the girls took it off, bump’n’grind with a twist of lime.

It was intimate, as the crowd was shoehorned in elbow-to-elbow to take in a striptease act that was practically in their laps, given the establishment’s diminutive layout. The gals at The Bamboo Club all had maximum peel and squeal appeal, with torrid displays of agility and anatomy that periodically had owner Hy Isaacs in court explaining this was art and the girl in question was convent-bred and taking care of her sickly mother.

I strolled in as a large breasted and rather callipygian dancer on sparkly heels was in the final stretch of her routine. She was what some might call plump, but something I just considered busty all over—built for comfort, my kind of gal.

The strip portion was over and now it was all about the shimmy and shake. This gal was wholeheartedly shaking her backside into a delicious blur. Around and around it went just like the mesmerized eyes of the guys in front. — From the novel PINE BOX FOR A PIN-UP by Frank De Blase

When I sit down to write, these are the tools I apply to a story: the D chord and the D cup, the ferocious kerrang of the guitar, the mouthwatering allure of generous pulchritude. Both celebrate extremes, both inspire bravado, and fear. It’s just big and loud and undeniably cool. And frankly, who wouldn’t want to read that?