MysteryPeople Q&A with Tom Franklin, on Editing the Anthology MISSISSIPPI NOIR

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

One of the best anthologies from 2016, a year of great anthologies, was Mississippi Noir. The stories included in the collection took a hard, if sometimes romantic, look at the underbelly of the state and many of the people who live on its fringes. Many of the writers included, like Megan Abbott and William Boyle, dig in to the psychology and circumstance behind characters’ emotions.

We caught up with the editor, lauded author Tom Franklin, to talk about putting together this noteworthy anthology, released as part of the Akashic Noir series, wherein each volume focuses on crime stories set in a different unique locale. 

MysteryPeople Scott: My guess is that you got half your authors by stopping by Oxford’s City Grocery bar. How close am I and how did you go about gathering the rest?

Tom Franklin: Well, it happens that I know a lot of writers; and a lot of them live in Oxford; and we do love the City Grocery! So your guess is correct. But I also reached out to writers I don’t know personally. I reached out to writers I’d met on the road. I reached out to the big names, John Grisham (didn’t have a story at present), Greg Illes (working on his trilogy), Thomas Harris (no answer). I reached out to a couple of writers who never responded. Also, not wanting to rely only on my own devices, I asked the publisher to help me find contributors. Johnny Temple at Akashic found writers and we used some of their stories. Mississippi is just so chock-full of great writers that, in the end, we had more stories than we would use for the anthology. In the interest of fairness, I send the publisher all the stories we’d got together, gathered, and asked that he choose. And he did. He chose, almost entirely, what I’d have chosen.

MPS: What was the biggest challenge in putting the book together?

TF: The biggest challenge was, honestly, deciding which stories to use and which ones not to use. Hence my decision in the previous question, to let the publisher have the final say. Another challenge was writing an introduction. I was tempted to do a much longer one where I described each story, but I opted instead for a shorter, pithier (I hope) intro, thereby letting the stories speak for themselves.

MPS: What does a Mississippi setting lend to the the noir genre?

TF: Mississippi lends, I think, its landscapes. Some writers practice “country noir” and I think a lot of MS writers excel in this, where much of more traditional noir takes place in cityscapes.

MPS: I noticed many of the stories feature a young person, one section is even titled Dangerous Youth. What do you think causes southern writers to look to the young?

TF: Flannery O’Connor said, and I’m paraphrasing, that childhood gives you enough information to last a lifetime. I believe this. But childhood is also (or should be) an innocent time, and innocence is a delicious time in which a writer can introduce conflict. I don’t think it’s just Mississippi that features this. But many of the writers in this anthology are young — a feature I love. We have so many thunderheads of literature in MS. It’s cool to me to show the world the newer generations.

MPS: You’ve written both novels and short stories. What to you think the short story provides for the reader?

TF: Brevity. A short story can distill a character to his or her essence in a few pages. A novel can do a life. But a story can do a moment. And so many lives are determined or destroyed by one moment. In a sound-byte world, short stories provide the essential quickly.

MPS: One of the great Mississippi writers not in the collection is Tom Franklin. What gives?

TF: I’m usually against an editor selecting him- or herself for inclusion in an anthology they edit. It seems unfair. If someone else had edited this volume, I’d hope to be in it and would, honestly, be hurt if I weren’t! But I couldn’t see pushing myself forward and taking another of these fantastic writers’ spots.

You can find copies of Mississippi Noir on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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