Florida Gothic Stories: Delightfully Disturbing

Vicki Hendricks is the author of noir novels Miami Purity, Iguana Love, Voluntary Madness, Sky Blues, and Cruel Poetry, the last nominated for an Edgar Award in 2008. Her short stories appear in collections including Mississippi Review, Best American Erotica 2000, and Miami Noir. Florida Gothic Stories, a collection of her short works, recently came out (Kitsune Books of Tallahassee).

INTERVIEW WITH VICKI (PART I)

For the non-literary folks, would you please define the term “gothic”? Is there a difference between “gothic” and “noir”?

If I were to go into all the history and nuances, it might take me several pages to answer, but I’ll try to give a general explanation. Gothic, like noir, is a word that has more than one definition. In the popular sense, gothic relates to the preternatural and romantic, connected with authors such as Poe and Hawthorne, as well as classic stories like Frankenstein and Dracula, often chilling or thrilling. We seem to be going through a gothic revival right now with the emphasis on vampire books and TV series. On the other hand, in a more literary sense, a less fantastic, more earthly, gothic style was developed in the South by Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, William Faulkner and others in the twentieth century. The Southern Gothic tradition is based more on “monstrous” characteristics of human nature, such as misogyny and racism, rather than supernatural frights, and bears a dark sense of humor drawn mostly from the human condition. Sometimes there are moments involving the supernatural, but not to create suspense.

In contrast, the roots of noir are in French film and crime fiction although noir writing also emphasizes the dark side of human nature, similar to gothic concerns. Specifically, to me, noir writing involves a main character on the bottom, digging in deeper, with a demented quest of reaching upward to salvation. There is also the dark humor of life’s ironic consequences that runs throughout noir. In general, noir can be applied to any situation where dark characters are involved in illegal activity. There are usually no elements of fantasy in noir; tension or suspense results from fear of violence. Both contemporary noir and contemporary gothic can be explicitly sexual.

To me, the use of the word gothic works for my collection with both Southern and popular gothic definitions, being based mostly on human flaws, sometimes with a blending of  the unnatural or supernatural, and all with a dark sense of humor. The word noir can also be applied to some of the stories for their unraveling narrators and crime. I enjoy overlapping and mixing both genres. I considered calling the collection Florida Gothic-Noir Stories, because it would be precise, but that’s such a mouthful, so I kept it simple.

Vicki, you’re renowned for your noir novels—Miami Purity, Iguana Love, Voluntary Madness, Sky Blues, and Cruel Poetry. Who were your literary models?

Ah, an easy question. The most obvious is James M. Cain, renowned author of many noir novels including The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. Miami Purity was modeled on Postman, and I was delighted to find out that Camus modeled his famous existential novel The Stranger after Postman, as well. The Stranger had been a favorite of mine years before I discovered Cain. Also, I give much credit for the crustiness of my fiction to Harry Crews and after him the late Larry Brown. Also, I spent some months of my adult life reading straight through all of Charles Bukowski’s fiction. I’m often compared to Jim Thompson; “Jim Thompson in a G-string” is my favorite, and I’m certainly flattered, but I haven’t read many of his novels.

Florida Gothic Stories, your first collection of short stories, is now available at selected independent bookstores. Would you say there’s a common theme in these stories?

It’s the noir connection, my criminal past, that gets me into the mystery bookstores, which are most of the independents remaining in the country. However, we are lucky enough to have Books and Books in Miami, a great supporter of local writers, as well as a bookstore extraordinaire.

What do you think makes Florida the perfect setting for a story that is dark and sends chills down the spine?

In a word, irony. “Sunshine state” on the surface and sharks in the murky depths provide unlimited opportunities for interesting conflict. Not to mention, the musty decay of jungly hammocks and the vast reptile-infested Everglades. Our natural resources for fiction are abundant. I pray that we can keep them.

Which story in the collection is your favorite?

This is such a fun question!  But also difficult. I change my mind all the time. I chose “Stormy, Mon Amour” to be first  because I think it’s the best, or at least, I used to think it was the best. Lately, I’ve had a few people tell me that “MF Dog” is their favorite and I could go for that one, too. “Cold-Blooded Lovers,” is the newest, so I’m not worn out on it yet. I enjoy those male narrators, reading through the eyes of the opposite sex, sort of channeling men through myself. I guess it’s a feeling of power!

To learn more about Vicki Hendricks and Florida Gothic Stories, don’t miss Part II of the Interview with Vicki, later this week.

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