So, You Want to Write Noir…

By Cornelia Read

Does anyone remember now whether it was Fran Liebowitz or Nora Ephron who wrote the great series of quizzes with titles such as, “So, You Want to Be the Queen of England…”

and “So, You Want to Be the Pope…” (My friends call me: a)Sparky b)Bubba c)Supreme Pontiff)

I don’t currently have a clue, and I can’t seem to find my copy of Field Studies to check, but I thought it would be good to offer a similar aptitude test for those considering a career in the Noir Services Industries(tm).

So, You Want to Write Noir…

1. Who killed Roger Aykroyd?

a. Ken Bruen
b. Leonardo Da Vinci
c. I can’t tell you, it would be a spoiler
d. The knitting cat

2. “They threw me off the hay truck about noon” is the first sentence of which classic novel?

a. The Secret of the Old Clock
b. The Woman in White
c. Princess Daisy
d. The Postman Always Rings Twice

3. You come home to find your significant other doing the nasty on the kitchen table with the private investigator you hired. Do you…

a. Pour yourself a slug of bourbon while full of angst.
b. Close your venetian blinds while full of angst
c. Straighten the seams on your stockings, stand dramatically backlit in the kitchen doorway, take one deep drag off your cigarette, and then exhale while full of angst
d. Slap yourself across the face repeatedly, yelling “My mother! My sister! My mother! My sister!”
e. All of the above.

4. Your landlady, a slatternly old drunk, is banging on the door demanding the three weeks back rent you owe her. Do you…

a. Invite her in to join the party
b. Shoot a man in Reno, just to watch him die
c. Tell her you don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies
d. Unbutton your shirt, open the door, chuck her under the chin, and ask her where she’s been all your life


5. Of the following, who’s the most noir?

a. Rita Hayworth

b. Jessica Rabbit

c. Gloria Grahame

c. Claire Trevor

e. Frances Farmer

6. In order to avoid bruising that might harm business, pimps often beat their “girls” employing

a. a towel filled with oranges
b. a roll of nickels in each fist
c. coat-hangers wrapped in cotton batting
d. dressage whips

7. If you’re “on the gooseberry lay,” you have been…

a. stealing clothes from clotheslines
b. picking fruit as a migrant worker
c. trying to score some heroin
d. breaking into chicken coops after dark
e. Shooting men in Reno, just to watch them die

8. Of the following, who’s the most noir?

a. Charles Bukowski

b. Tom Waits

c. Prince Philip

d. Sylvia Plath

9. The line “reader, I married him” appears in which novel?

a. Jane Eyre
b. The Grifters
c. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
d. The Magdalen Martyrs

10. Eddie Muller is

a. the fourth Pep Boy that Manny, Mo, and Larry don’t talk about.
b. the Czar of Noir
c. The Sultan of Swing
d. The bastard love-child of Barbara Stanwyck and Charles Willeford

11. Why does “she walk(s) these hills in a long black veil”?

a. because she shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die
b. because her lover’s alibi for the night of her husband’s murder was “I’d been in the arms of my best friend’s wife”
c. Because she was a man in Reno, before the surgery
d. Because she looks good in hats

12. How much does an eightball weigh?

a. one half pound
b. an eighth of an ounce, give or take the weight of the baggie
c. the same as a cueball
d. two keys of Lebanese blonde hash, man

(Lucky Number) 13. What color is a typical nickel bag?

a. silver
b. the same color as a Nation Sack
c. green
d. manila

14. What is the perhaps apocryphal real-life reason that Orson Welles included the word “rosebud” in Citizen Kane?

a. He was a fan of Miss Marple, and gardening generally
b. He still missed his boyhood sled
c. It was William Randolph Hearst’s pet name for a rear nether-portion of Marion Davies’ anatomy
d. He was deeply moved by the poignancy of allegorical chivalric love poetry

Bonus question:

15. Complete the following sentence: “Third boxcar, midnight train…”

a. “…drinkin’ wine, spo-dee-o-dee”
b. “… destination: Bangor, Maine”
c. “…falls mainly in the plain”
d. “…beads and Roman sandals won’t be seen”

Give yourself five points for each correct answer:

1. a 2. d 3. d 4. b 5. e 6. c 7. a 8. d 9. a. (And you lose five points for knowing that.) 10. b 11. b 12. b 13. d
14. c 15. b

How you rate:

0-10: Stick to “cats that knit” as protagonists
15-25: Cheese it, you’re about as noir as Nanny and the Professor
30-40: Go home and memorize some Bukowsky
45-55: Pack your bags, you’ve won a free trip to Angst-erdam
60 and up: Step away from the bourbon… and don’t ever go back to Reno


How’d you do, ‘Ratis?

12 thoughts on “So, You Want to Write Noir…

  1. QE2

    I stand behind my vote for Prince Philip as most noir. See, I AM the Queen of England, so I know these things.

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I guess Reno’s out for me.

    This is a wonderful quiz and I usually refuse to take things like this.

    "Third boxcar midnight train," etc. are some of the best lyrics ever written. Ever.

  3. Leslie


    I’m so jealous! You’ll have to send me a postcard. I was told the classics would help me in life… what happened here?

    I’m a Jane fan too! Although I read it very young APA (Against Parental Advice)… my mom was going down the street to play bridge. She said I’d get scared, so I should wait to read the book… I got to the bed burning scene and called her.


  4. Stephen D. Rogers

    I thought I had all the answers, so I decided to make some easy money off them by selling the information to this guy who seemed to be in the green. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and he was the son of Ice Waleski, and so now I’m running for my life.

  5. Elaine Sokoloff

    So odd. The Bukowski photograph is by Joan Levine Gannij and is part of a book a friend of mine published that I edited and helped to bring to fruition.



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