Alana Meike Interviews Joyce Carol Oates on Editing ‘Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery & Crime By Women Writers’

9781617757624_e3553In Cutting Edge: New Stories Of Mystery And Crime by Women Writers, celebrated author Joyce Carol Oates got several of the top women in fiction to write a noir story. Authors include, Margret Atwood, Steph Cha, and S.J. Rozan. Our Meike Alana caught up with Oates to talk about the project.

Meike Alana: What was the origin story of this collection? Where did the idea originate and what was the original concept?

Joyce Carol Oates: I have done two previous anthologies for Johnny Temple at Akashic Books, New Jersey Noir and Prison, Noir.  I had suggested to Johnny that I would like to assemble a collection titled Female Noir, but Johnny thought that the Noir series had to remain geographically specific rather than thematically.  I am not sure that there was an “origin” story— the original concept was my own.

 MA: As these contributions came back to you, did your concept morph into something different? In other words, did the finished collection turn out the way you anticipated or did it end up being quite different?
JCO: We had no particular concept when I began to read submissions other than an intention to select unusual and well-written stories.  I am not interested in polemics or any sort of propaganda, though the #MeToo movement is certainly a sympathetic one, and may have overlapped with the writing of some of these stories.
MA: The collection is organized into 3 categories: Their Bodies, Our Selves; A Doom of One’s Own; and Manslaying. Was this the original intent, or did the contributions naturally fall into these categorizations?

JCO: Dividing into sections is a feature of the Noir anthologies at Akashic Books.  The divisions are suggestive rather than precise, though in this case the final section is accurately titled.

MA: What was the process for collecting the individual contributions?

JCO: We contacted likely writers, who in turn introduced us to others, and these to others.  This is the usual way anthologies are organized.  I have many writer friends whom I invited to contribute but, unfortunately, not all could accept.

MA: What challenges did you face in putting these stories together?

JCO: The major challenge is always to acquire the very best work that one can; the reality is that a number of writers will have to decline because they are simply over-committed to other projects.  Among these were Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott, and Laura Lippman.   I would have liked to include one more graphic artist, but this did not work out.

MA: Was there an author whose work particularly surprised or excited you?

JCO: I can’t single out any individual work.  Each is unique in its own way.  But I was particularly happy to be able to include work by a young woman artist, Laurel Hausler, who should be better known.  Her elegantly lurid cover and unsettling illustrations are  just right for the book.

MA: Your introduction makes the case that ‘the great works of American noir have been by men,” but this collection of female noir demonstrates that the genre is undergoing a shift and indeed there is great variety in the female noir perspective. Can you share your thoughts about the future of the genre?

JCO: The future of the genre?— this is a massive question.  really, I cannot predict.

MA: You’ve been writing crime fiction for a number of years. What changes in the genre have been most exciting to you?

JCO: The mystery/crime genre is immense, and grows more complicated and all-inclusive each year.  Regional, ethnic, idiosyncratic— there are no boundaries.

MA: What/who have you read recently that excited you?

JCO: I’ve been admiring the richly researched historical “thrillers” of David Morrell; I am currently reading Inspector of the Dead.  Quite a tour de force, to create a mystery in which Thomas de Quincy is a primary figure!

MA: Any work you would like to recommend to our readers?
JCO: I am an avid reader of Pushcart Prize: The Best of the Small Presses, as well as the Best American Mystery Stories yearly anthologies, for which my friend Otto Penzler is the series editor.
MA: Can you tell us what your current project is?
JCO: I have just completed a long family novel titled Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.  (title from a beautiful short poem of Whitman.)  it is, in part, a crime novel, since the entire action of the novel is set into motion by an act of police brutality that occurs within the first two or three pages.
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Cutting Edge is available for purchase at BookPeople in-store and online now.

Meike Alana is a part-time bookseller and full-time Mystery/Thriller enthusiast. You can find her recommendations in-store.

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