MysteryPeople Q&A with Daniel J. Hale

Daniel J. Hale is one of those writers who could have been comfortable writing for Black Mask in the ’30s or Manhunt in the ’60s. He’s the consummate craftsman. “In The Air”, his story in Dallas Noir, which uses The Texas State Fair as part of the backdrop, is a throwback to classic noir suspense. We asked him a few questions about his story and his style.

dallas night

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea of your short story come about?

DANIEL J. HALE: I wanted “In The Air” to include Deep Ellum and Highland Park, perhaps the two parts of the city with which I’m most familiar. I also knew it had to feature the State Fair of Texas, specifically the Texas Star, which was until a few months ago the tallest Ferris wheel in North America. I had a vague idea for a storyline until a chef friend showed me an expensive knife he’d just bought — the protagonist and the plot sprang forth from that chance encounter almost fully formed.

MP: Your story takes place in Deep Ellum. What makes that a distinct part of Dallas?

DJH: I lived in a renovated factory on the edge of Deep Ellum for five years before moving to a leafier part of Dallas over a decade ago. During my time there, the area held a distinctive mix of the seedy and the trendy and the artsy. There were nice restaurants on the same block as seedy tattoo parlors and luxury lofts. It was Disneyland for adults. It was one of the places to “be.” Deep Ellum’s seen better days, but lately there’s been a resurgence in the area. With Pecan Lodge (one of the top BBQ destinations in the USA) moving there next year, Deep Ellum may well be on its way to recapturing its former glory.

MP: Your work has a very classic feel. Who are some authors who influenced you?

DJH: That’s very kind of you to say. Jim Thompson is, for me, quintessential noir, and he continues to be a big influence. I also love the works of Elmore Leonard and Patricia Highsmith. Some good friends of mine are brilliant (i.e. best-selling and/or award-winning) authors of noir, but I’d rather not mention any names for fear of accidentally omitting someone.

MP: What can you do with a crime story in Dallas you can’t do any most other towns?

DJH: Dallas is city of contradictions. It is, in some ways, a manifestation of cognitive dissonance. It’s a beast of blatant capitalism carefully cradling a helpless child. It’s a glitzy city with a wild-west mentality. It’s sin city and the buckle of the Bible belt. There are lawbreakers in the best and the worst parts of the city. Dallas holds so many different sets of conflict, it’s a natural for crime fiction.

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David J. Hale, along with other authors featured in Dallas Noir, will be here at BookPeople to talk about his work and the collection on Friday, December 6 at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Harry Hunsicker

Included in the new collection Dallas Noir is Harry Hunsicker’s story Stick-Up Girl, about an ex-stripper and her sister who take up a life of crime. It has all the hard boiled elements with a disarming touch of humanity. We talked to Harry about his story and his home town.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea for your story come about?

HARRY HUNSICKER: I wanted to do a story from a woman’s POV. One thing led to another and I came up with a stripper/hooker trying to go legit by becoming an armed robber. Made sense at the time.

MP: What made you take the area of South Dallas?

HH: There’s a scene in South Dallas but story is really set in West Dallas, the area of town where Bonnie and Clyde got their start. It was pretty impoverished a hundred years ago and not much has changed, great noir territory. Also, the main character is a descendant of Bonnie Parker’s.

MP: You told me this was a much longer story before. How did you approach the streamlining process?

HH: In the original version, believe it or not, there was a love story in the middle–our ex-stripper heroine and a cop. I deleted that and everything fell into place.

MP: Many of the stories in Dallas Noir deal with real estate. As someone who comes from that business, why is land in Dallas more important than it might be in other cities?

HH: One of the main industries in Dallas is real estate. Real estate is the realm of a new city which Dallas likes to think of itself as. No patience for anything historic because that equates to old. Dallas is on a continual cycle of reinvention, tear down the old, replace with the new. Again, a characteristic that makes for great noir stories.

MP: Your short fiction tends to be darker than your novels. What about the form leads you to go in that direction?

HH: That’s a great question. I think with short fiction I don’t worry so much if the characters are likable or not.

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Harry Hunsicker, along with other authors featured in Dallas Noir, will be here at BookPeople to talk about his work and the collection on Friday, December 6 at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with David Hale Smith

Our Pick Of The Month, Dallas Noir, is the epitome of an Akashic Noir book, featuring a range of writers who offer a wide perspective on both the city and genre. We were able to ask some questions of the collection’s mastermind, editor David Hale Smith.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the project come about?

DAVID HALE SMITH: I’ve been friends with Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books, for many years. In my “day job” as a literary agent representing a lot of award-winning crime fiction writers, I have a number of clients who have written stories for this noir anthology series. Jonny invited me out for a drink and popped the question. He said when it was time to do Dallas Noir, he thought of me right away.

MP: You are mainly known as a literary agent. How did that help the most in being an editor?

DHS: It was fun to wear an editor’s hat in an official capacity. And to write the book’s introduction. I’m an agent who likes to edit, as necessary, to help begin a piece of writing to top final form. I think it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the publishing process. A few of these stories are almost to the letter as they were submitted. Some needed a bit more editorial input to make them more noir. Editing an anthology like this also means selecting the final stories for collection and putting it all together. I’m very proud of how this book turned out. Especially when our publisher picked my photo of the new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge for the cover design.

MP: The stories are broken down into the categories Cowboys, Rangers, and Mavericks. How did you relate those titles to the stories?

DHS: My brilliant wife came up with the idea of using the three main Dallas pro sports teams as our section breaks. It fell pretty naturally after that. Cowboys are wild rides, mavericks break the rules and the rangers deal in nasty surprises.

MP: What makes Dallas a great setting for crime fiction?

DHS: As I write in my introduction, Dallas itself is like a marvelous piece of fiction. The name of the city is of questionable provenance. It’s hard to even figure out why the city exists. It’s a former frontier town turned booming business metropolis, with old forgotten neighborhoods despite a lot of dark history being paved over. People moving in from everywhere, new fortunes being made, and an entrenched old-money elite that still wields power. Perfect noir town.

MP: It seems like the tales that had characters with the least morality took place in the city’s suburbs. Why do you think that is?

DHS: The writers who chose to set stories in the suburbs picked up on the fact that those petty suburbs can serve as a veneer over some queasy stuff, especially when you let your imagination loose.

MP: What I admired most about this collection is that is showed the range of the genre and the different ways the term “noir” can be interpreted. As someone who deals with different writers in the genre, how do you define it? 

DHS: Noir fiction always features massively flawed and morally corrupt (and often corrupting) protagonists. These characters are driven by lust, avarice, or jealousy. Their pursuit of their desires leads them into a figurative if not a literal gutter. Their sorry schemes inevitably go awry. Nobody emerges clean in a noir tale. Darkness pervades. That’s why I love them.

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David Hale Smith appears at BookPeople with several of the writers included in Dallas Noir on Friday, December 6 at 7pm. Copies of Dallas Noir are now available on the shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com

Look Out For: DALLAS NOIR

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Look Out for Dallas Noir edited by David Hale Smith
On Our Shelves November 5th

The Akashic City Noir series takes a dark look at The Big D. Editor David Hale Smith has put together a range of talent in Dallas Noir. Whether crime or general fiction authors, these writers capture every aspect of the city.

The collection serves as a study of the town and noir. We get it all – from the skyscrapers to the tough streets of South Dallas where hard-boiled master Harry Hunsicker’s “Stick Up Girl” resides. Going north, Matt Boundurant’s White Rock suburbs prove to be equally dangerous.

We also get range in the genre. Daniel J. Hale gives us a classic noir nightmare, while Ben Fountain’s, “The Realtor” shows a subtler shade of noir. The collection is capped off with “Swingers Anynmous,” a piece from the neo noir movement by Jonathan Woods. Just try to get that one out of your head.

This collection is a great literary mosaic that describes a complex city. It will also introduce you to more than a dozen authors you need to know. Grab it on November 5th.

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Copies of Dallas Noir are now available to pre-order via bookpeople.com.