Monday, December 06, 2010

December Speaking Volumes Selection: The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir

Typically when you think of holiday books, you think of sweet, quaint holiday stories full of magic and mirth. As we progress into our sixth year of book club selections, we have chosen a decidedly offbeat yet thoroughly charming holiday book, “The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir” by Ken Harmon as our December pick.

Harmon, who holds a very serious day job at Wells Fargo writing much of the bank’s marketing materials, decided to tweak this holiday tradition. The result is a book that is both unexpected and thrilling. Harmon took some time out of his very busy schedule to answer our questions.

South Charlotte Weekly: What inspired you to write "The Fat Man?"

Ken Harmon: Most of the stories we have about the North Pole, the main characters are very sweet or befuddled, but good at heart. Don’t they ever get tired? Don't they ever have a bad day? When I started asking these questions, I began to imagine the different jobs elves and others could have in the North Pole machine and started to explore what that world would be like. If things aren't always hunky-dory, then there would have to be some kind of law enforcement - that's where my elf detective of sorts, Gumdrop Coal, was born. SCW: The book has a definite Raymond Chandler-esque tint. What were your influences? Are you a fan of noirs, books and movies?

KH: I am a big fan of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and the fun they have with the language. I reread The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon and some other works to study the rhythm of the language and re-discovered some of the great slang from that genre. I am also a

fan of the old, black and white detective movies of the 40's and re-watched quite a few of those.

To put those tough-talking, hard-boiled guys and dames into the world of the North Pole was where the fun came. It was a great time.

SCW: What was it about Christmas that inspired you to set the story during that period?

KH: In the secular Christmas, there is naughty and nice - a fixed battle between good and evil - conflict that every story needs. We can all identify with the part of Christmas that's full of drama and anxiety as we try to work through that to get to the peaceful promise of the holidays. We see people getting violent in lines shopping for toys. We get angry at traffic and lines. I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if characters at the North Pole did too - and then take it a step beyond.

SCW: How did you manage writing and your full-time job at Wells Fargo? Seems like the skill sets are dynamic opposites? Did that provide a good counter balance for each job?

KH: I get up very early in the morning to do my fiction writing. It's quiet and I can concentrate more easily. The marketing work at Wells Fargo is much more collaborative with lots of going back and forth. The writing of the novel was fun because I had more than a headline or a short paragraph to tell a story. The two kinds of writing do demand two different skill sets, but they do help each other. Even in the novel, I found myself trying to write as descriptively while being as concise as possible.

Meet the author

Join us on Tuesday, Dec. 28, at 7PM at the Barnes & Noble at Carolina Place Mall to discuss the book with its author. Please RSVP by e-mailing

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