A conversation with Jim Ament, author of ‘Waiting for Zoë’

You took up writing fiction after retirement. What compelled you to pursue the craft?

Actually, I worked in the corporate world my whole career—about forty years—a good many of those years in sales and marketing, which involved working on annual and strategic plans. So, I’ve had lots of experience writing fiction.

Okay, that’s funny, but why did you want to write this story—Waiting for Zoë?

I give my mother credit for putting the notion of writing a book into my head. In 1976, at age sixty-three, she wrote a short memoir. It was an impressive achievement, full of warm reminiscences of growing up on a farm and some signal events in her life. I thought, “One day, I could do something like that.” It only took me another thirty-some years to take on the challenge of writing a novel.

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Review—The Blue Room, by Simenon

The Blue Room, by Georges Simenon

The psychological drama was first published in 1955 in French, then in English in 1964. On the first page it begins with “Andrée naked still on the ravaged bed, her legs apart, a few drops of semen clinging to the dark hair, shadowy between her thighs.” In their love-making, she had bitten Tony’s lip, hard enough to make it bleed. Oh, those crazy sexy French! It’s in the “blue room,” at his brothers hotel. We see that he’s either reminiscing or telling a psychiatrist and the Examining Magistrate his story under interrogation. He’s under arrest, for what we don’t yet know. Tony and Andrée are both married to other people and they’ve secretly met like this eight times. The critical questions are less from the magistrate and the psychiatrist, although they certainly help the story move along. Rather, they are the questions Andrée asks Tony during this tryst, fed slowly by the author:

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Review—The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain

James M. Cain’s first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, is a short violent book that was “banned in Boston” for its sexual content. Written in 1934, the obscenity was extremely tame by today’s standards. I liked this, typical of the dialog: “I kissed her. Her eyes were shining up at me like two blue stars. It was like being in church.”

The title is metaphorical. There is no postman in it. It’s more a reference to the fact that something will always come back to those who commit evil. One way or another, there’s no escape. The story moves fast with tough dialog and a murder being planned. The lover’s, Frank, the drifter, and Cora, the Greek’s sexy wife, are into it with no turning back. I kept picturing Lana Turner or Jessica Lange, “a woman ready for anything,” as I read it. That’s the trouble with seeing the movies before reading the book, even though it’s been years since I saw them. But it didn’t destroy the pleasure of the book—gritty, sultry, excellent writing.

On the back of the book, Cain is quoted: “I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hard-boiled, or grim, or any of the things I am usually called. I merely try to write as the character would write, and I never forget that the average man…has acquired a vividness of speech that goes beyond anything I could invent.” Good advice on writing.

Cain helped set the standard for noir fiction. I highly recommend it.

 

 

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Review—Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain

I recall seeing the movie of James M. Cain’s 1936 novel Double Indemnity, probably on television in the ’50, but I don’t remember the story. The book is one that helped establish him as one of the great noir fiction writers, a follow-up to The Postman Always Rings Twice, a dark violent tale, which was his first. Some say Cain created the genre. I decided to finally read it, then maybe I’ll see the movie again—see if it followed the book.

Double Indemnity is fast-paced and short. It’s about slick insurance salesman Walter Huff who meets Phyllis Nirdinger, the wife of a rich client in the petroleum business. Quickly, Huff senses that the seductive wife wants to bump off her husband and collect on an accident policy. Walter may be smart, but he’s also flawed, and Phyllis has him hooked. It didn’t take much to get him into this position, but this is 1936 America and the reader shouldn’t expect long descriptions of raw sex to solidify the link between the two. In the whole book they only kiss, and not often. Walter knows that if an “accident” occurs on a train, General Fidelity of California has to pay double. A policy for $25,000 is organized with an expected payout of $50,000—big money in 1936—apparently worth killing for.

But… Phyllis is not who she seems. She has a shadowy past. Then there is her suspicious step-daughter who has a boyfriend named Nino Sachetti that gets involved. Walter’s nosey insurance pal Keyes adds to the tension. The book is tightly written. Cain brilliantly feeds the reader new elements of the plot as the story builds. I didn’t expect the ending as it unfolded, but it worked. A very good book that I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

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Thoughts on Author James M. Cain

From book critic David L. Ulin at the Los Angeles Times—Reading Life: Revisiting ‘Mildred Pierce.‘ A portion:

Of all the classic noir writers, perhaps none has been as tarnished by the brush of genre as James M. Cain. That’s because Cain — born in Baltimore in 1892, a protégé of H.L. Mencken and, briefly, managing editor of The New Yorker — was not a great hard-boiled novelist but a great novelist period, whose vision of 1930s Southern California is as acute and resonant as anything ever written about that time and place.

His first novel, “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” published when he was 42, is said to have inspired Albert Camus’ “The Stranger”; his second, “Double Indemnity,” is among the finest of all American novels, regardless of genre or style….

Ulin obviously likes Cain, an author I need to explore. After all, I’ve seen all the movies made from his books.

 

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