Friday, July 10, 2015

Know Your Noir

When I think of noir fiction, my imagination turns black and white, with smokey overtones, cigarettes, booze, and of course murder mixing in a bowl of dry wit.

But that's being stereotypical.

I actually didn't know I was a noir fan until I flipped through the book Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites and gasped: Heat, Pulp Fiction, The Dark Knight... these were noir? My favorite movies? Granted, these are film and not books, but there's so much more to noir than just a cigarette and angst-y detective work. This is more than the Guy Noir skits of Prairie Home Companion. Noir, as author and veterinarian T.D. Hart says is, really, life.

T.D. Hart, a pen name for Dr. Jennifer (Mathews) Adolph, now writes noir fiction after selling her equine veterinary practice. On her website, Jennifer lays it out: "Noir characters fuck up, then fix it. Life goes wrong, then works out. And oh man, do they ever carry baggage...And yet... Noir protagonists survive, then win. Despite the deep, crawling ugliness of the crime, they find humor and beauty and honor in their fellows. Like sailors who survive a crippling hurricane, they know they will face other storms. And they damned sure enjoy the sunshine."

Let's meet Jennifer in a bit greater detail. She seems interesting.

"I was the kid with her nose in a book," Jennifer says. "A hopeless geek who loved horses more than breathing. As a young adult I turned that passion into a profession, working on breeding farms in Norman, OK." During this time, Jennifer worked with some of the elite Thoroughbred mares in the country. A veterinarian she knew encouraged Jennifer to return to college and apply to vet school. "You are better than you think," he told her.

Jennifer took the sage advice and graduated from Oklahoma State's vet school in 1997. "I started my equine ambulatory practice in Tulsa and worked for thirteen years as a solo practitioner," she says. "Along the way I got married, had three children, and built a haul-in facility for the business."

Busy bee. Enter, stage left: WRITING.

"The creative bug hit around 2008," Jennifer says. "Oddly it started with guitar lessons. Within months, I was writing--almost as though a dam had broken and my creative waters were again flowing. And things have never been the same."

During this period of creative re-discovery, Jennifer was still practicing veterinary medicine. Here, then, came the struggle we've explored before on this blog: how to balance practice with creative expression?

"I LOVED being an equine veterinarian," Jennifer stresses. "My clients and patients felt like family to me and I loved being able to ride in and save the day. But I didn't love not knowing whether I'd get to finish my dinner, take a quiet bath, or watch a movie with my family without being called out on an emergency."

A simple case of burnout, Jennifer diagnoses. We know the feeling, right? Empathy abounds. "In the end, I found myself having to work and getting to write, which seemed backward," she says.

So backward, in fact, that Jennifer decided to sell her practice. "Selling my practice is the scariest thing I've ever done... and also the thing I'm most proud of," she says. "I miss my clients and the sense of accomplishment at the end of a long, physically challenging day. I miss the foals and the high-fives at getting mares pregnant, the sense of wonder at transforming a gaping wound into a row of neat sutures. I miss being the hero." Realistically, Jennifer says she also, at the moment, misses the paycheck. But, the writing life is full of new, different rewards. "I get up every morning knowing I get to create a story out of thin air," she says. "And that's the most exciting, most fulfilling job I've ever had."

"I get up every morning knowing I get to create a story out of thin air."

Now a full-time writer, Jennifer hones her noir craft in a recently converted garden shed. She is polishing the final draft of her debut novel about a San Diego homicide detective who investigates the death of a rock star, discovering he had secrets worth killing for. Her character-driven stories capture deeply flawed protagonists. "The inspiration for my debut was seeing the furor over Michael Jackson's death and wondering how it would be to investigate the suicide of a star and discover he was quite different from his public persona," Jennifer says.

Early success has helped Jennifer's travels down the lonely road of writerdom. "My first [writing] award was the CNW/FFWA award for Best Novel Chapter and when I logged on and saw my name at the top, I screamed so loud my family thought I was being butchered!" she says. "Since then I've won the OWFI best mainstream novel and best mystery category and been a finalist in the Colorado Gold."

However, the reality of the tortoise-paced publishing world has taught Jennifer some lessons in patience and revision. "When my current manuscript won some contests back in 2012, I was sure I'd made it," she says. "Three years and umpteen revisions later, I've come to see the journey as a long, beautiful marathon through gorgeous scenery. If I'm tired, I rest. If I want to stop writing and go for a trail run, I do. Then I come back and finish my work. Honoring my craft as worthwhile work keeps me focused."

Jennifer thinks of her daily writing as exercise. "I've learned that writing is a muscle," she says. "Use the muscle, it gets stronger. Too much rest and it atrophies. So I write every day. I need time and quiet to really hear my characters. For the last several years I've escaped for intensive writing retreats. When I'm drafting, I shoot for 1,200 words a day. When I'm editing, I go as fast and far as I can."

"Honing my craft as worthwhile work keeps me focused."

Jennifer says over the years she's learned to relax into her writing and trust the creative process. She has an agent and a hopeful publication date for her debut novel in 2017. I'll certainly be watching for it.

"Writers are a welcoming bunch," Jennifer concludes. I concur and include myself in that group of open arms. *FREE HUGS FOR WRITERS!* "We're all learning and we're always willing to help other writers. The generosity is amazing. For me, it was a fantastic choice."

Recent update from Jennifer... As she continues to build her writing platform, she is now offering developmental editing to help new and aspiring writers get their manuscripts in shape for publication. If in need/interested in this service, please contact Jennifer via email at: jenniferadolph@ymailDOTcom. 


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