First of all, how are you doing these days? The world’s gone to hell the last year and a half, what are you doing to maintain a healthy state of mind?
As an introvert, social distancing and lockdown haven’t been a problem for me, and have given me permission to spend more time with my creative projects, in particular a major website I’m building dedicated to classic film noir. As a college instructor, I’ve been teaching over Zoom and must admit I have grown to like it a lot and don’t have a yearning for the classroom as many other teachers do. I’ve also deleted all my social media accounts, except LinkedIn for staying in touch with students, and I highly recommend it. There has not been a single day when I thought to myself “Oh, I wish I still had Facebook so I could share this thing.” Instead of posting to the world, I’m texting actual friends more.
When writing a short story, novella, or novel, what are some things you think you have to achieve to write something that will stand the test of time?
In short fiction, I tend to be philosophical in my approach to writing, which means I begin with the big idea. There’s an idea I want to communicate, and my story is crafted in a way that best illustrates that idea, or at least comes closest to my vision for it. I know this is unusual, and indeed it’s fraught with risks (characters who are more symbolic than human, for example) but I think the reason I write this way is because I want to tap into universal truths and feelings, which are more likely to help the work stand the test of time. For example, I’m currently on my fifth story inspired by an episode in the Bible. Obviously, the Bible is rich in human conflict, and I’ve enjoyed taking one incident (the adoration, the resurrection of Lazarus, the entrance into Jericho) and hanging a whole new story on it, keeping the moral but changing everything else and setting it in present day. These stories would be unrecognizable as Biblical to the average reader, but I drop little clues so that someone who is looking for the Biblical context could find it.
Who are some contemporary writers every writer today should be reading (and why)?
Tana French is a brilliant suspense writer and should be required reading for anyone working in that genre. Michael Koryta strikes me as a good, old-fashioned mystery writer who also incorporates elements from other genres (sci-fi, horror), which I think makes his work more interesting than most.
It’s been said print media is dead. What is your response to those who claim audiences in the future will have no need for books, short stories, etc. (i.e., visual media will take over all modes of storytelling)?
Funny, I teach a graduate course on storytelling in the digital age, and I made the final project a video rather than a written format. Video is absolutely an essential medium, especially for corporate marketing and communications (my school’s emphasis), and one in which surprisingly few young people are skilled beyond posting a selfie video on Instagram. But the written word is not going anywhere. No visual medium can immerse the mind in a story or subject the way prose can, in my opinion, and that includes both fiction and non-fiction. Once you visualize something, you’re removing it from the audience’s imagination, which can often be a mistake.
Who is an historical figure you’d like to sit down and have a drink and conversation with (and why?)?
Oh, wow, there are too many to choose from. I’ve always been fascinated by Alexander the Great. I mean, a Macedonian kid privately tutored by Aristotle who then went on to conquer so much of the known world and influence everything we know about our current Western civilization? All before the age of 25? I have questions.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
Here’s something that many of your readers will love. I’ve been building a website called Heart of Noir which I intend to be the most comprehensive information resource available on classic film noir. I’ve finally finished entering the 700 films that made the cut and now I’m working on all the educational content about the definition, history and implications of film noir. I plan to have plenty of community aspects and other features too. There is a huge population of classic noir fans around the world, but very few resources for them besides simple Facebook groups. I also hope to inspire a new generation of film lovers to appreciate the noir style and themes. If anyone is interested in contributing, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leon Marks is a writer and college professor living just outside New York City. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing and currently teaches writing and communications at City University of New York. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, his fiction has been published in The New Haven Review, The Westchester Review, The Stockholm Review of Literature, Thug Lit, Pulp Modern, Typehouse and Union Station Magazine, among others. He served as editor for Now What? The Creative Writer’s Guide to Success after the MFA (Fairfield University Press, 2014), an anthology of essays and articles about the writing life. He also serves as editor and publisher of Heart of Noir, a forthcoming website and publication which will inventory the canon of classic film noir and its literary influences.