The city just got brighter, cleaner, and lost part of its gritty soul.
The much anticipated Noir Nation No. 3 — The India Issue — has hit the Amazon Marketplace. Click here or on the image above to have a look.
The issue contains over thirty entries from some of the very best literary crime fiction writers in the world, among them Suparn Verma, Samrat X, Yaeer Talker, Bianca Bellova, JJ Toner, Richard Godwin, Simon Rowe, Graham Wynd, David Siddell, and Meah Cross; as well as ace contributions from emerging noir writers Alastair Keen, Terrence P. McCauley, Frauke Schuster, Ryan Gattis, Chelsea L. Clemmons, Gila Green, Paul Alexander, Carmen Tudor, and Anthony Pioppi; and established hard-boiled wunderkinds Jonathan Sturak, Ed Lynsky, Mark Mellon, Christopher L. Irvin, and Nik Korpon, The issue also includes essays on noir-related poetry, music, and the visual arts by Atar Hadari, Vicki Gundrum, and Robert Brunet and two works of classic noir: “The Turkish Brothel” by the late Cortright McMeel and “The Perfect Courtesan” by Kshemendra.
Here is snippet from the issue, the introduction by Eddie Vega:
A Search for Beauty, Dark and Brutal
Noir Nation is a search for beauty, dark and brutal. We can hear the initial call in these lines from W.B. Yeats’ masterful poem “Easter 1916”:
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
A terrible beauty is born.
There is a turning away from the light and the banal, the casual comedy, and a turning to the murderous passions and dark depravities of human nature and transgressive political bodies. In real life, such turns result in death, disfigurement, and prison. In literature, we can live and relive the mechanics vicariously and safely through the prism of the imagination. Even Grimm’s Fairy Tales had dark elements which helped children prepare for both the magic of life and its harsh realities. Cheerful weddings are counter-balanced by the cries of funeral birds.
In any case, the very definition of noir varies depending on whom we ask. Many will relate it to U.S. crime films arising from German expressionism, D.O.A., The Big Combo, and The Maltese Falcon, among others—and books by certain writers, such as David Goodis, Georges Simenon, James M. Cain, and, among the more literary set, Celine, and among the more drunken set, Charles Bukowski. There seems to be an effort, coming really from the academy, to classify it according to these 20th Century referents. But there are powerful elements of noir in Gilgamesh, The Cambodian Book of the Dead, The Book of Ecclesiastes, The Book of Job, and the mother of them all, Dante’s Inferno. In the visual arts, it spurts like dark blood through the works of Goya, Caravaggio, and Artemisia Gentileschi—who took vengeance on male figures in her paintings after being raped by her tutor—as well as Theodore Gericault, whose Raft of the Medusa depicts a horrific scene based on an actual historical event where many shipwrecked passengers died and the rest survived by eating the dead bodies. More recently, Edward Hopper, Jack Vettriano, and Peter Illig have moved the subject matter closer to elements familiar to crime pulp: isolation, voyeurism, sex.
But for us the kernel of noir lies in Federico Garcia Lorca’ seminal essay, “Theory and Play of the Duende.”
Duende is the dark goblin spirit that animates the deep song of Flamenco, songs soaked in human misery, and that my mother loved to listen to. It is also the ragged genie that animates artistic and religious expressions about crime and punishment. It is the ax of Raskolnikov and the Necklace of Kali. Lorca wrote that it wouldn’t appear unless it could see the possibility of death and that it loved the edge of the wound.
Lorca argues that there are two angels that animate art, the bright angels and the dark angels. They are both important to art’s creation. But of the two, the dark angels are more interesting. History indicates he is right. For example, Catholic scholars have argued that Dante’s Paradiso is the most important part of his Divine Comedy, a work clearly animated by the bright angels. That may be true. But it is The Inferno, the first part—where evil acts are punished by brutal means—that excites the imagination and that has had the more lasting impact on world literature.
So the definition of noir can be very broad—anything that is dark and/or transgressive—a fact that no doubt annoys some academics who need well-defined categories for their lectures, panel discussions, and articles for scholarly journals. They need a workable definition. Crime Noir, for example, has a more limited scope than simply Noir. With crime noir, there must be a crime or the possibility of one. It can’t just have the dark mood of Ecclesiastes. There must be a violation of the civic or moral law.
On television, The Sopranos, The Wire, Law & Order, and Breaking Bad, are among the most popular TV shows in history. Aesthetically, many crime films and television shows have a noirish feel, which they create not only with deft use of shadows but also with the use of cool light that relies on the blue spectrum (the original CSI with William Peterson offers good examples of these elements). Many of these shows are available internationally.
But we don’t see this as an exclusively U.S. phenomenon. Crime noir has ancient and aboriginal roots in Japan, India, Spain, Mexico, Cambodia, indeed just about every country in the world. What we are seeing today is an exquisite confluence of all these cultural rivers forming an Amazon of Noir. Its most potent stream comes from India and her large cities, Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai.
With over 1.2 billion residents, India is not only the world’s most copious producer of crime pulp, it is also its hungriest consumer. Even in her chirpy feel-good Bollywood films, guns and gangsters vie with the singing and the dancing. Although the work of many Indian writers of crime noir are not to be found in fashionable bookstores—next to the hardcover books of Jhumpa Lahiri, Salmon Rushdie, and Vikram Seth—they are in much more popular spots: the stalls and book carts of A H Wheeler & Co found among the 8,000 railway stations that serve India’s 25 million daily commuters riding 71,000 miles of uneventful track. That is India’s open secret: crime novels stay close to their devouring readers. This needs commemorating.
Hence Noir Nation No. 3: The India Issue. Dark, brutal, and beautiful to the eye that loves the shadows—where the dark angels flock.
Mademoiselle Noir addresses the outlaws, the outliers, and strange people in society and the often dark ways their lives end.
Although the film follows a Gothic-Romance-Noir approach to the subject, far from the hard-boiled material we generally write about, its theme made us think of the terrible ways people are dying because they are different from the majority in political or military power: Albinos in Tanzania who are being murdered for body parts used in religious rituals; gay men in Bagdad who are treated like a cancerous growth that must be excised and who are shot or burned to death; young unarmed black men in Florida who are being legally murdered for wearing hoodies.
Mademoiselle Noir: A Musical Tragedy. Yes. A tragedy.
One of the areas touched upon in my Warsaw set novelette Red Esperanto is the rather, louche and down-at-heel world of the city’s ex-pat EFL teachers. The ‘flotsam and jetsam of life’ that make their living teaching English in Poland’s capital. A world I know well.
To give you a further — and very noir — taste of that bitter-sweet life here’s All About Steve, a documentary that was made a few years ago by James Torr and Jonathan Walsh.
The focus of All About Steve is a teacher known as EFL Steve who disappeared from Warsaw after claiming he was being poisoned by a sinister and mysterious group but as the mystery unravels we also get a good look at EFL life in Warsaw.
I first saw this documentary about five years ago and it’s great to see so much — if not all — of it on You Tube.
Court Merrigan, whose story “Slog On,” appeared in Noir Nation 2, is a prolific novelist and short story writer living in the banana belt of Wyoming. He taught English in Japan and Thailand for a number of years and holds an MA in Japanese, hence his strong interest in Southeast Asia, which serves as the setting of many of his stories. He took time away from his busy writing schedule to talk with Noir Nation editor, Eddie Vega, about his recent novel with Snubnose Press, Moondog over the Mekong.
Interview with Court Merrigan
Noir Nation: Your story, “Slog On,” which appeared in Noir Nation 2, was a war crimes story set in World War II. Your most recent collection of short stories, Moondog over the Mekong, has a title that suggests the Vietnam War but the stories cannot be pinned down to anyone time or place. Nevertheless, they seem to have a seedy war time atmosphere. Was that done on purpose?
Merrigan: It’s all war out there, war on the individual, war on dignity, war on pride and love and hope. You don’t find out what any of these are worth until they are challenged, right? I hope that my stories do some work towards finding out just how much.
Merrigan: I actually joined Twitter because of Snubnose – last year when they were just getting started up, there was no obvious way to contact them, except on Twitter. I really thought that the stories I was writing were what Snubnose was looking for, so I started tweeting at them. Eventually I got hold of an email and we went from there.
Noir Nation: The word on the street is that short story collections do not sell as well as novels. Yet you invested your time and writing talents on putting one together, and Brian Lindenmuth of Snubnose published it. Is the street wrong?
Merrigan: I don’t think the street’s wrong, but it should be! I don’t know why – you’d think that in our Twittified, Facebooked, Tumblrized age, short stories would be the ideal vehicles for driving good fiction, but that hasn’t come to pass.
Having said all that, Brian and the Snubnose crew are putting out a bunch of kickass short story collections, looking to turn back that tide. If it can be done, Snubnose seems like the vehicle that can get there.
Noir Nation: You go back and forth easily between realistic fiction and what some call speculative fiction, which includes anything with a fantastical element, such as time travel, the presence of ghosts, and out of body experiences. Yet they all seem to share a certain brutal tonality and hence a sense of unity. Are you conscious of this?
Merrigan: I shy away from the overtly fantastical, but I am not above inserting the fantastic, if that makes sense. A story needs what it needs and if a particular piece is pushing me away from realism towards the speculative, that’s where I’ll go.
Noir Nation: You have a long publication list. How do you manage your professional and personal commitments to maintain such a high productivity as a creative writer?
Merrigan: By not getting enough sleep, first and foremost. I carve out writing time at the very beginning and the tail ends of the day, when the kids are asleep. I grew up on a farm and I try to keep a farmer’s sensibility about me – before me lies the work, which ain’t getting done if I don’t do it. My dad and grandfather worked every day of their whole lives, routinely putting in 16 and 20-hour days, and if they ever complained, they never once did it around me. Comparatively, I have a vastly easier life, plush with luxury and ease. Writing is difficult but it’s not hard. Scratching a living out of a hardscrabble Nebraska farm – that’s hard. I bear that in mind when my going gets a little rocky.
I think it helps, too, to not be particularly social. Parties, gatherings, get-togethers – they make me tired. All that conversation and smiling. I prefer dimly lit, empty rooms. With desks and books. And bourbon.
Noir Nation: How are you marketing Moondog over the Mekong? Are there any special secrets you’d like to share? Any back doors in the online marketing Matrix?
Merrigan: Man, I wish you’d hook me up with the marketing gurus who know the locations of these back doors, and have the keys. Moondog is being marketed on Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, the usual. My blog is undergoing a site redesign and will soon be transformed into an actual website.
I’m no expert, but I think one of the keys to marketing might be longevity. Hell, it took me ten years to write all the stories in Moondog. I’m not going to give up pushing it online after a few tweets.
Noir Nation: The book’s cover is truly beautiful. The colors, the simplicity of design. Who designed it? And how involved were you with its creation?
Merrigan: The one and only Eric Beetner, a fine writer in his own right, did the cover design. The two of us worked together closely but he’s the one who actually got the work done. Still gives me little shivers of pleasure every time I see the cover.
Noir Nation: What do you think the future holds for eBooks? For print?
Merrigan: Here’s what I can tell you: sometimes now when I pick up a dead-tree book, I get sort of annoyed at all the “flipping” you have to “do” with all these “pages” getting in the way of the story. A book just doesn’t fit in your hand like an iPhone or a Kindle… I’m being flippant— a little.
I’ve been a longtime proponent of ebooks — I started singing their virtues online before I even had an ereader, but I think the time for being a proponent one way or another is past. People prefer what they prefer and I am totally format agnostic when it comes to my own stuff. If you’re reading it, I don’t care how you get it!
Sometime soon, I think, we’ll hit a saturation point where everyone who wants an eReader will have one, if we’re not there already. But because eBooks are just so much easier to get, keep, and transport around, I think you’ll see them continue to eat up market share.
Noir Nation: Tell us about your literary influences.
Merrigan: These days I’ve been reading everything Jim Thompson ever wrote, as well as gobbling up Daniel Woodrell, Hilary Davidson, Lawrence Block, Larry Brown, Jake Needham, Stephen Graham Jones, Philip K. Dick, and Dennis Lehane.
A while back I was introduced to Will Christopher Baer. It is criminal that Kiss Me, Judas didn’t make him Quentin Tarantino-famous. If there’s one novel I could imitate in terms of the sheer sorcery of its fictive dream, that would be the one.
With the publication of its second issue, Noir Nation is gaining fans in exciting places. We are especially delighted that the Journal is experiencing a growing interest in India. We think India has the largest quotient of crime fiction readers and crime film fans in the world and hope that Noir Nation No. 3 will include work by her writers and photographers.
Of course India is better known for her Bollywood movies, which often have a crime element. But India is quickly becoming the leader of international crime noir on other fronts — a development that you can read more about here.
We hope to encourage these developments, as well as the development of the noir literature of other nations, by bringing international attention to its writers through the Journal and through this blog.