For nearly 20 years, Brooklyn’s Akashic Books has published a series of geographically-based anthologies of noir short stories: Buffalo Noir, Belgrade Noir, Boston Noir, Baghdad Noir — and that isn’t even all of the “B”s. For the latest, though, they’re going for an “A” with Austin Noir (hardcover, paperback, Kindle, audiobook), which was edited by Hopeton Hay, Scott Montgomery, and Molly Odintz. In the following email interview, Montgomery discusses this series and his specific installment.
I’d like to start with some background. How is the term “noir” defined as a literary concept?
The often argued question. Some find it more of a style than genre. Which I don’t completely agree with, though I completely get, since the style is what was first noticed. It came out of “film noir” when French film critics noticed the dark tones and shadowy style of many of the American crime films that had a bleaker outlook. One of the more famous explanations is you start out fucked and it gets worse. My favorite is TCM Noir Alley‘s Eddie Mueller who said it is about taking the shortcut to the American dream. It allows for more flexibility.
And then what is the idea behind Akashic Books’ Noir series? Obviously, the stories have to be noir, but can they encompass any other genre — noir sci-fi, noir fantasy — or do they have to be noir crime stories?
I can’t speak for our publisher Johnny Temple, but I believe the result, whether intended or not, is to use the genre to look at different aspects of a city and the different neighborhoods of a city to look at different aspects of the genre. I do believe you can apply noir to different genres. We have both a noir comedy and one with a touch of the supernatural.
Also, do the writers have to be from the city in question, do they have to live there now but can be from somewhere else — how does that aspect work?
We are given free reign with that. However, we only had one author who hadn’t lived or was living in Austin, Ace Atkins. I worked with him the most, just suggesting a few details of the city.
Speaking of which, how did you find the writers and stories for Austin Noir? Did you have an open call for submissions, did you start with a list of local writers and ask them to write something, did you go to the Salt Lick every day for lunch and wait until you heard someone mention that they’d just read a cool detective story and then jump up and say, “Tell me more”?
That wasn’t too difficult. Between the three of us, we have over forty years of experience in the literary world as either book sellers, writers, or interviewers and have made a lot of author friends. Plus, the series has a lot of cache. The few times we were turned down was simply because of other commitments. Gabino Iglesias told me he hoped to write a story in one for years.
Which also begs the question: How often in assembling Austin Noir did you have to tell someone, “No, we already have a story about some BBQ guy getting killed by a rival BBQ guy. I don’t care if you’re mad at Christopher B. Stubblefield…”?
Funny, we had little overlap of ideas and nobody went for the obvious. There is little about BBQ, the music scene, and Sixth Street.
Moving on from my vast knowledge of a town I’ve only been to a couple times, aside from the parameters we’ve already discussed, what other rules did the stories have to follow?
The main idea was to find as many diverse voices as possible.
Austin is somewhat unique in that it’s a liberal city in a conservative state. Did that political aspect come into play in any of the stories in Austin Noir?
We have an entire section influenced by our housing crisis.
There have been over 110 books in the Noir series, with another seven on the way. In assembling Austin Noir, did you look at any of the previous volumes to get a sense of what to do, and what not to do?
I know Molly and I had read several volumes before we got the gig, but we didn’t go by a particular pattern since the individual books don’t. They share a feel that I think we got by just agreeing on the range of authors and putting faith in their individual work.
What about other short stories anthologies? Did you look to any of those for suggestions?
I read a lot of anthologies, since I love short fiction and use it as a way to discover new authors, but there wasn’t anything I applied to directly.
Hollywood loves turning short stories into movies, and they love making noir movies. Are there any stories in Austin Noir that you think would work really well as a movie?
Gabino Iglesias’ “The Pink Monkey” could work. Amanda Moore’s “Reflections” could be turned into an interesting domestic thriller. If the Coen Brothers got a hold of Andrew Hilbert’s “Bangface Vs. Cleaning Solutions, LLC” it could work as a quirky comic mystery. Of course, I’d like to see my story, “A Thousand Bats On An Austin Night,” get the Hollywood treatment so I’d get another check.
Actually, what I like is that the authors wrote stories that were so self-contained that they can only be thought of as short work.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about Austin Noir?
I’m relieved our friendship survived it.
Finally, if someone enjoys Austin Noir, what noir novel would you each suggest they read and why that?
Also, Jesse Sublett’s Martin Fender series, the first one is The Rock Critic Murders. Jesse was a part of Austin’s new wave scene and he wrote three books about a bass player who makes ends meet as a skip tracer. A great look at the music culture and the city in the ’80s and ’90s.