What: Editor of the new short story collection, FAST WOMEN AND NEON LIGHTS: EIGHTIES INSPIRED NEON NOIR (Nov. 1 from Short Stack Books). He is the author of the crime noir novella, DEBT CRUSHER, and the collection of noir short stories, NEW ALLEYS FOR NOTHING MEN, as well as the creator and editor of Crime Syndicate Magazine.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Congrats on your fantastic new short story collection, FAST WOMEN AND NEON LIGHTS: EIGHTIES INSPIRED NEON NOIR. Tell us about the concept.
I’m quite nostalgic for the 1980s, from the music to the movies to the culture. It’s a very strange nostalgia, though, in that the 80s were a time when nearly everything became corporate and commoditized, especially music and film and fashion. I sort of feel that if you look back it’s a point where our culture took a darker turn towards money and greed and consumption, though, of course, those things all looked very glamorous on the surface. I wanted to put together a collection of noir short stories that really reflected this dialectic aspect of glossy surface and soulless underbelly. I talk a little more about this in the anthology’s introduction, actually, so if you want to hear more, pick up a copy of the book!
As I mentioned above, it really was a pivot point for our entire culture in every way, not just in artistic mediums or consumption. It brought the rise of personal computing, for example. It’s also the decade I grew up in, so I think people of my generation (who exist on a line between Generation X and Millenials and are sort of “in-betweeners”) all feel a certain nostalgia for the lost world of our childhoods. Plus the aesthetic was just so intense, and who doesn’t like to re-experience that kind of decadence?
A lot of recent short story collections from indie presses have been music-related. How does 80s music figure into the stories in this collection?
Without giving too much away, the music definitely factors in. The best story example I can think of off the top of my head is Patrick Cooper’s Alone Now, which is one we got as a submission rather than from an invited author and is one of my favorite stories in the anthology.
I just never want to bite anyone else’s’ style, if I can help it, so as much as I love the themed anthologies that people like Gutter Books are putting out, I wanted to break new ground, and in the process give the authors a larger amount of cultural leeway to work within. Those of you who are putting those out, hook a brother up though, I’d love to contribute a story, haha. I also figured the authors’ stories would probably reflect portions of their own experiences with the 80s, which turned out to be true in many cases.
Just how personal do the stories in this collection get?
I think Jen Conley’s story In the Swimming Pool probably reflects some aspects of her childhood (just a guess. And Will Viharo’s story Meantime is without question a mashup of some of his favorite 80s movies and shows (Miami Vice, Thief, and Scarface, to name a few).
How did you go about selecting the authors for inclusion? Was there a particular criteria that made certain writers a good fit for this theme?
That part was easy: I picked the authors I like to read, and in particular authors who I read that I believe are either on their way toward a much larger audience or deserve a much larger audience. Neo-noir is in a bit of a renaissance right now, and I would love to see it grow to be as strong of a crime fiction sub-genre as Cozy, Mystery or Thriller. I wanted to do my part in helping to popularize the genre and popularize the incredibly talented up-and-comers.
The 80s are known for coke-fueled decadence, self-indulgence and greed—but also for the rise of the Christian right, Moral Majority and PMRC. How does this collection strike the balance? How important was historical accuracy to you?
I mean, there is definitely a lot of drug use in the anthology. But there’s also several mentions of the cultural “do-goodery” that you speak of (Eryk Pruitt’s story is titled It’s Morning Again in Lake Castor, an obvious reference to Reagan’s Morning In America).
I didn’t really even think too much about historical accuracy, because, at the end of the day, that’s all a matter of hegemony and perspective. I’m not sure there’s any such thing as absolute truth when looking back in history. There are factual truths, sure, but to me, those aren’t as important in fiction as getting to the deeper truths that only individual perspective can delve into. The old writing adage “true even if it didn’t happen” comes to mind here—sometimes you need fiction to get at what is really true about history in a way that historians never really could.
Movies were a big deal in the 80s. What are some of your favorite 80s films? Why? How do 80s films figure into the stories in this collection?
I’m a fan of dark neo-noir crime movies like Thief, but also corporate moneymakers like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Goonies, Back to the Future, Pretty in Pink, Adventures in Babysitting—a lot of these are movies that I know some serious film directors pooh-pooh as having ruined movie making in many ways (I’ve heard Quentin Tarantino talk about this before, actually), but to me, still seeing them from a child’s perspective in my memories, I’m nostalgic for them. There are really too many of them to mention, given that 80s movies are the background to my entire childhood. My all-time favorite 80s movie is Rad, which my older brother Mark and I watched so much that we literally wore out the VHS tape. I still watch that movie every couple of months, it makes me feel SO nostalgic for my childhood.
What did you learn about yourself while putting this collection together?
I learned how much I still have to learn at every level of the game. But I learned greater lessons about my own life, too. Without being too emotionally open here, not long after I began work on this anthology I also began going through a divorce, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through, so putting this anthology together felt almost impossible at times. My own story contribution was literally the last one finished, and to say it was a struggle to meet deadlines that I myself had set would be a huge understatement. Loss of motivation, loss of direction, loss of my entire life in many ways, all of that was the background to editing this anthology.
If I tell you I’m proud to have gotten through it and that it is far better than I imagined it would be, that would be an even bigger understatement. For me, this anthology will always represent personal triumph over extreme adversity, and that’s the greatest compliment I can pay to it. I do not feel worthy to have been given the opportunity to edit and publish authors and writing of this caliber, and I want to thank all the authors for putting their faith in my at a time when I lost all faith in myself, it kind of saved my life.
Absolutely. First things first, I need to focus on putting together a new Crime Syndicate issue after this, and of course, I plan to take a big chunk of time to work on my own writing projects again as well. I can already tell you that I have a nineties-themed anthology idea that I’ve had the title to for almost a year and I think is going to be freaking gangbusters. I’m as excited about that as I was about this one.
But for now, I do need to take some time and work on my own writing career for a minute. It makes me very proud to have these opportunities to use my creativity and ideas to support and build up other writers, and I’m honored just to be a part of the crime fiction community. It’s a cliche that gets tossed around a lot, but they truly are my tribe, and never have I felt I belonged anywhere more than I do when at conferences like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime, so if you see me at those things, please come say hello, I’d love to be friends!
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