HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: One of the things “they” always tell you is that you can’t write just dialogue. Your characters must be DOING something while they talk. I mourned the loss of flip phones, you know? Because snapping a phone shut was such a nice subtext-y gesture. Smoking was another good bit of business...so much you could do with a cigarette. (And sometimes it was actually about smoking.)
In real life, I never smoked. I tried, in college, Jan Roche and I went out and got the coolest packed ones we could find—Montclair, in a navy package with a gold crest. Jan smoked proficiently. I coughed, and hacked, and burned a whole in my dorm room bedspread the first day, so I stopped, never to return.
The wonderfully talented David Burnsworth (Did you see the reviews for his new BURNING HEAT? Whoa.) had a different experience.
Smoke 'em If You Got ‘em
The femme fatale in black and white lounging on the couch with the mesmerizing eyes caught my attention. It was another “Noir at the Bar” post on social media. And cradled between two long, elegant fingers was the ever present cigarette, its thin smoke trail rising above her to suggest an atmosphere of sin. Right or wrong, what is it about smoke and noir paired together that just hits all the right buttons, Surgeon General warnings aside?
I confess that I’m a reformed smoker. Joe Camel and a couple of delinquent high school friends hooked me on the coolness of lighting up and sticking it to the man which at the time was most likely my parents. Camel Lights got me through high school. College meant the usual warped sense of maturity and a move up to cigars. I was equally happy with Hav-a-Tampas and cigarillos as I was with six dollar Dominican Republicans.
With the millennium came a sense of needing to do more than a few things differently. And so I became smoke free.
That is, until my protagonist, Brack Pelton, showed up in my life. While I haven’t flicked a Bic or snapped open a Zippo and caught fire to some tobacco in over twelve years, Brack fought his way onto my laptop screen in 2007 and filled my manuscript pages with enough secondhand smoke to threaten a visit from the EPA. His choice of vice was mine from college: Dominican cigars.
And his sidekick, Mutt, fires up a Kool every chance he gets. Riding together, you can bet the windows of their car are down and the smoke escaping its confines can be seen by any big brother satellite a thousand miles up.
My noir characters aren’t the only smokers. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe were there long before. So were the hard hitting Mike Hammer and elegant James Bond. Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins loves his Chesterfields. Mosley’s other gumshoe, Leonid McGill, has the coolest rule for smoking I’ve come across. Leonid’s an ex smoker, but if he falls into temptation of the nicotine temptress he gives himself a twenty-four-hour smoke-filled window and then he stops again. James Lee Burke’s ever-licentious Clete Purcel has been lighting up since the eighties. Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salandar can be found nervously puffing away as can Jo Nesbo’s methodical Harry Hole.
Burgeoning healthcare costs aside, it seems there will always be a percentage of the population that smokes. You can experience Brack and Mutt and all their vices in my latest book, Burning Heat, the second in the Brack Pelton series.
But who’s your favorite literary? Or cinema cigarette aficionado?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Does Sherlock Holmes count? Not cigarettes, of course. (Or wait. Dana, did he smoke cigarettes? WERE there cigarettes?) The famous two-cigarette ritual in Now, Voyager. And when –wait, who is it? Puts out her cigarette in a grapefruit? Or am I confused? (Don’t answer that…) Authors, do you use smokers in your books? Readers, do you wince when people smoke? Or do you even notice?
David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel.
Southern Heat is his first mystery and the sequel, Burning Heat, debuted in January. Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife call South Carolina home.