MysteryPeople Q&A with Jerry Thompson and Eddie Muller, editors of OAKLAND NOIR

The latest city to get in Akashic’s sights is that tough city by the bay. In Oakland Noir, Jerry Thompson and Eddie Muller have gotten a cadre of authors that reflect the diversity of both the city and the genre. Eddie also contributed a story dealing with one complicated land lady. Both editors were kind enough to do an interview with us.

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

MysteryPeople Scott: What unique quality does Oakland bring to noir?

Jerry Thompson: Oakland is a city with eyes, fingers and a rich memory of events that created some of the most legendary characters in fiction, film.

Eddie Muller: I grew up with an image of Oakland as the most noir city in the world—by which I mean black. African-American. Which was supposed to scare us white folks. After living here for more than 25 years I now see what BS that was, and still is. Sure, scary shit goes on here—but most of it happens inside gangs and on the police force. I’m more wary of City Hall right now than a rough corner of West Oakland.

It’s funny: We got a great review in Kirkus and a so-so review in Publisher’s Weekly. And guess what? Kirkus dug the fact that the stories showed the cultural diversity of the city and offered some surprises—while PW bemoaned the fact that the stories weren’t really all “noir” and there was a lot less crime in them than expected. Somebody was working off some pre-conceived ideas …

“The plan of attack came out of a need to make sure we stayed authentic to the city of Oakland,  Her voice, her silences, her drumming…her shadows.”

MPS: Was there a plan of attack for choosing the authors?

EM: I was only interested in participating in this project if the lineup of authors reflected the actual demographics of the city. The last thing I wanted was to cater to a bunch of self-proclaimed “noir” writers from the outside feeding off a notion that Oakland was a violent, crime-ridden city. Jerry knew the local authors better than I; he had a better sense for achieving that right mix. In large part, Jerry was the “acquiring editor” on the project; I worked more on honing the stories.

JT: The plan of attack came out of a need to make sure we stayed authentic to the city of Oakland,  Her voice, her silences, her drumming…her shadows.  I  started with my phone book. Scouring every page for authors I had introduced, hosted, and worked with over the past 27 years.  Each writer had to live in Oakland or near by, and they had to be in touch with aspects of Oakland’s political, racial, sexual and literary history.  Of course the first names we thought of were legendary writers like Gary Soto, Nichelle Tramble, and Ishmeal Reed,  who I corresponded with from time to time.  He and I would chat when we saw each other on Grand Avenue by Lake Merritt on Sunday afternoons.   He was gracious and encouraging, and happy to listen to the ideas I had about the book but was too busy to come on board as contributor or co- editor, to fine tune to stories.   Eddie and I knew Oakland Noir  first and foremost had to represent the racially mixed community.    We really lucked out with the choices we made.

MPS: What drew you to your story, Eddie?

EM: There are bits of my own life in there—as I’m sure there are for all the authors in this collection. For me, writing “noir” is largely about examining things in your life when a different choice here or there, an exertion of pressure, internal or external, can push you over the edge into darkness, and perhaps tragedy. For me the essential ingredient in noir is empathy. I wanted to write a short story that logically and convincingly followed a character from the prospect of happiness to the pit of despair, while touching on some social issues of the past 25 years that have put many people on that course. I noticed recently, looking back on the fiction I’ve written, that I never write “villains.” Everybody’s got a reason.

MPS: What is the biggest misconception about the city?

JT: The biggest misconception about the city is that it’s chocking with violence and back biting.  I write in the introduction for instance that Oakland is a city that holds a grudge… that’s a misconception because in reality it’s a small town where people know each other somewhat intimately, especially in the black communities.

EM: I don’t know about misconceptions, because I don’t pay much attention to what the media is selling these days. But I do believe that Oakland suffers—on the national stage—from being judged by the expectations that are applied to other more glamorous cities. This is a working person’s town. I hate that it gets looked down on by the elites—just look at what’s happening with the sports franchises here: the Raiders want to move to Las Vegas, the A’s want to move to San Jose, and the Warriors are moving to San Francisco. This after the Oakland fans for years have given these teams nothing but undying loyalty and rabid support. And the owners just spit in their faces and say “It’s just business.” Bullshit. If owners expect loyalty from fans, it should cut both ways.

“Oakland has always been San Francisco’s ugly kid sister. But that’s a very shallow media perception—which is the specialty of our very shallow media.”

MPS: How do you see its relationship with San Francisco?

JT: When I was called to the east bay I felt as if Oakland was looked upon like the folks who lived across the tracks ya know, there was nothing really going on in Oakland except for crimes being committed, people struggle or just getting by.   These days, it’s  like the new frontier, for all the people who have been squeezed out of SF because of the tech industry pioneers and trust fund brats.

EM: As I just suggested, Oakland is like a dog who stays loyal even though it’s kicked in the head routinely. So don’t be surprised when that dog finally bites back. Oakland has always been San Francisco’s ugly kid sister. But that’s a very shallow media perception—which is the specialty of our very shallow media. These days, San Francisco is obsessed with selling its soul to the highest bidder. My hometown is like a whore who’s doing so well she sells herself only to the highest-paying clients, who all look and act alike. Oakland, by contrast, is the woman you make a life with. She may be a businesswoman, a nurse, an artist—she’s a lot of things, and she’s tough.

MPS: What do you think the biggest misconception of noir is?

EM: That it’s violent. At least that’s the perception that bothers me the most. That noir means lots of gunplay and high body counts. Not my noir. I’m into it for the psychological and sociological aspects. Why do people hurt themselves and the people around them? That’s really at the root of every crime story, and lots of crime and mystery fiction exploits that fact very superficially—noir isn’t afraid to explore it.

JT: I feel the biggest misconception of noir is that it’s limited to a specific time, like the 40’s and 50’s.  Exclusively white gangster types and red headed bad girls strapping blades between their thighs…  Not a bad misconception but somewhat narrow.  One immediately thinks of the way films captured noir with pictures like Maltese Falcon, and Don’t Bother to Knock. We are refreshed to know that noir also includes the amazing worlds of Chester Himes, Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim…  Wonderful extremes.

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

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.

Read More »

Crime Fiction Friday: “Harp in the Key of B” by George Masters

 

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  • Selected and Introduced by Scott Montgomery
Since the MysteryPeople crew will be in New Orleans next week at Bouchercon, we thought this week’s tale should be set there too. Luckily, we happened on one of our favorite writers, George Masters, who writes with a no-nonsense attitude that is compelling. From Akashics’ Monday’s Are Murder Section, he shows why the city is a perfect setting for crime.

“Harp in the Key of B” by George Masters

New Orleans, Louisiana

Thirty-five minutes before kickoff, my brother Pat got a phone call at the Superdome from his wife Trudy.

Trudy was alone in the back of her antique store on Magazine. Pat walked in, and the bell on the door tinkled.

“What’s the problem?”

Trudy dropped a manila envelope on the counter. “Our daughter, the fucking movie star. No pun intended, and no, you don’t want to see it. Came in this morning’s mail. I want to kill somebody, and I’m not sure who.”’

Read the rest of the story.

Crime Fiction Friday: “Riviera” by Julie Smith

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  • Selected and Introduced by Scott Montgomery
Akashic Books recently released Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin, a great addition to their Noir series. The volume features established talent like Ace Atkins and Megan Abbott and talented up and comers like William Boyle. To get us amped for the collection, Akashic posted this great story set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Julie Smith on their Mondays Are Murder Site.

“Riviera” by Julie Smith

‘”Shit on a stick,” Roy said. “It’s her.”

“You’re lyin’!” Forest said. “Not The Dutch Treat, please, Jesus. Anything but that!”

“AKA Spawn of Satan.”

They were at the Gulfport Shaggy’s, about to celebrate a decent haul on a pot deal with a late-morning bloody and there stood The Treat, looking less Dutch than usual, a little more redneck, talking to some senior stoner with ass-length white hair in a sectioned-off ponytail…’

Read the rest of the story.

Three Picks for August

 

  • Post by Scott Montgomery

August brings us new works from favorite authors, new explorations of old cities, and new variations on old themes for a set of books that do justice to the classics while forging their own path.

9780399169359


The Sixth Idea by P.J. Tracy

After almost a decade, The Monkeewrench crew is back! Here, they put their skills to use with a mystery that goes back to the cold war. The mother-daughter team of P.J. Tracy are masters of mixing humor and vivid characters into their suspense. The Sixth Idea comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9781617752988


St. Louis Noir edited by Scott Phillips

Finally Akashic looks to the city with the highest U.S. crime rate. Scott Phillips has assembled a talented group to explore the race, class, and social divisions of this decaying city, providing levity with some dark comic relief. St. Louis Noir comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9781943818006


Rough Trade by Todd Robinson

Robinson’s follow-up to Hard Bounce has his bouncers Boo and Junior pinned for the murder of a man they playing a hand in beating up. Using a touch of humor and humanity, Todd Robinson proves he is one of the masters of modern tough-guy fiction. Rough Trade comes out August 9th. Pre-order today! 

Crime Fiction Friday: ‘The Life Saver’ by Lina Zeldovich

 

 

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  • Introduced by Scott M.

Our latest link to a story from Akashic’s ‘Mondays Are Murder’ Series in honor of International Crime Fiction Month takes us to Russia with a Muslim cleric as the lead. It is a great piece of suspense as well as a quirky meditation on religion.


“The Life Saver” by Lina Zeldovich

‘A knock on the door interrupted Imam Galim’s late night tea. Resting in his apartment attached to the Qolşärif mosque—the largest mosque not only in Tatarstan’s capital, but all of Russia—he was watching the moon rise over the Kazanka River and the nearby Blagoveshchensk Cathedral.

The stranger at his door had the pale face of a fugitive. “The Russian goons are after me, Imam,” he blurted out, clutching a large duffel bag to his chest, as if holding his most precious possessions thrown together minutes before he left home. “Please hide me!”’

Read the rest of the story.

Celebrate International Crime Fiction Month with MysteryPeople!

  • Post by Molly

June is International Crime Fiction Month, brought into being by some of our favorite publishers to celebrate their incredible international fiction offerings. SoHo Press, Europa Editions, Melville House, and Akashic each have their own imprint for world crime lit, and their catalogs are a great place to start when seeking a murderous armchair vacation. SoHo is in the midst of celebrating their 25th anniversary, so check out our in-store display for some of our favorites from their international crime fiction catalogue. You can also find the first in many of SoHo’s series available for 9.99 as part of their “Passport to Crime Fiction” imprint, so now’s the time to try out some new series!

How does MysteryPeople plan to honor the diverse array of crime fiction from around the world and available at our fingertips? By geeking out about our favorite world crime fiction all month long!

All three MysteryPeople book clubs will discuss novels from international crime writers in June. The 7% Solution Book Club brings in the new month with their discussion of the classic Scandinavian procedural The Laughing Policemanby Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, on Monday, June 6th, at 7 PM. The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club delves into Heda Margolius-Kovàly’s lyrical Eastern Bloc murder mystery, Innocence; or, Murder on Fleet Street, on Monday, June 20th, at 1 PM. The Hard Word Book Club finishes out the month with an exploration of Piergiorgio Pulixi’s Italian crime fiction masterpiece, Night of the Pantherson Wednesday, June 29th, at 7 PM. As always, book club picks are 10% off in-store!

Hopeton Hay Mark Pryor Meg Gardiner jpg
From left: Hopeton Hay, Mark Pryor and Janice Hamrick 

But wait – there’s more! On Sunday, June 12th, at 2 PM, stop by the store for a panel discussion with critics, booksellers and authors, including Mark Pryor, Hopeton Hay,  and Janice Hamrick, on the international crime fiction they love. We’ll feature our favorite international crime fiction on our blog before and after the panel, and those who attend the panel should find themselves pleasantly inundated in give-aways. Monday, June 13th, at 7 PM, MysteryPeople kicks off our Double Feature summer film series with a screening of the classic gothic noir, Rebecca, followed by a discussion of Daphne du Maurier’s novel versus Hitchcock’s adaption.

Our author events for June represent well the glocal [global + local] purview of MysteryPeople. To wrap up our May Texas Writers’ Month celebration, on June 10th, we bring you two stunning literary voices of the southwest, C.J. Howell and J. Todd Scott, visiting with their new books Hundred Mile View and The Far EmptyThen we move into a proper authorial celebration of International Crime Fiction Month with a visit from Flynn Berry, who dwells in England but has visited our fair state before as an attendee of the prestigious Michelin Writing Institute. She’ll be speaking and signing her Cornish-set debut, Under the Harrow, on Saturday, June 18th, at 6 PM.

A week later, we’ll get a perfect representation of the glocal on Thursday, June 23rd, at 7 PM, with visits from two masters of the PI genre, Cara Black and Lisa Sandlin. Cara Black is the author of the perfectly feminist and oh-so-fashionable Aimee Leduc series, set in Paris. Her most recent, Murder on the Quai, goes back in time to the end of the Cold War for thrilling tale of recovered Nazi gold that should delight newcomers to the series and long-term fans alike, although fans especially will appreciate how Black fills in the details for many of the series’ greatest questions (and some of its smaller ones, such as from where Aimee acquired her bichon frise). She’ll be joined by Texas writer Lisa Sandlin, who’s debut Beaumont-set PI novel, The Do-Rightcame out last year to great acclaim. Those who appreciate a vivid setting and a kick-ass heroine should enjoy the evening thoroughly.