Join me and fellow Chicago horror lovers at Bucket O Blood Books and Records THIS THURSDAY 7/24 at 7pm to celebrate the publication of the fantastic anthology, The New Black with Editor Richard Thomas. CLICK HERE FOR ALL OF THE DETAILS!
Now is your chance librarians. Too afraid to go to a horror book store? Now you can have a guide-- me-- there to help ease you into the horror scene. But what you will find is that everyone is very nice and NOT SCARY at all.
I have been mentioning this event to librarian friends and some of them have mentioned passing Bucket O Blood [2306 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago] many times, but have never gone in. Well, come on!
This event will also mark the official beginning of the Horror Writers Association's Chicago Chapter. So, you might even consider joining the HWA when you come. Again, you can talk to me directly about why you should join. There is even a special category for librarians. The HWA wants to work with us, so why not consider joining.
And now is a great time to support this wonderful local book store that specializes in many of the books and authors our patrons love because this new anthology is getting a lot of buzz and with stories by people like Benjamin Percy, Stephen Graham Jones, and an introduction by Laird Barron, this is something you should be adding to your library collections. To help convince you, I enlisted Richard Thomas himself to write about this new anthology.
Enjoy and I hope to see you there. And even if you cannot make it, or don't live near Chicago, please consider purchasing The New Black, it is a great genre cross-over anthology that is sure to find a wide audience.
Putting Together The New Black
By Richard Thomas
As the Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press, as well as the editor for The New Black, this project has been a real pleasure to put together. It was something that I thought about for a very long time, probably five or ten years, and I’m grateful that I was able to not only find a home for it, but to end up running the press as well. Here are some random thoughts on how I put it together, the process, and the reasoning behind the selections.
First, there is the idea of neo-noir, which simply means, “new black.” It’s the kind of writing that I love reading, and the stories I tend to write myself. I can remember going to my first AWP conference in NYC back in 2009 I think and seeing a panel with Stephen Graham Jones and Brian Evenson, and thinking, “Yes, this is what I’m talking about.” They spoke about genre fiction and literary fiction, and how those two types of writing don’t have to be distant cousins, but can in fact be brother and sister. I would see many other panels over the years at AWP in Denver, and Chicago, that touched on these subjects, how stories can be both literary and entertaining, both popular and smart. To me, neo-noir is tragic, it’s the mood and atmosphere, and it’s the evolution of what contemporary fiction has done with the classic models and formulas of crime, horror, fantasy, Southern gothic, and even transgressive—the grotesque, magical realism, too. It’s a wide range of voices, but I know it when I see it, and that’s what makes up this anthology.
LAIRD BARRON, FOREWORD
I was lucky to get the extremely talented Laird Barron to write the foreword. He says it much better than I can, what neo-noir is, and how this genre (or sub-genre) has evolved:
“There’s a subtle distinction between neo-noir and the tradition it has inexorably transformed. Or, perhaps, we’re witnessing an iceberg calving from the great central mass that has accreted over the decades. If you’ve followed the genre, the trend is unmistakable. Otherwise, what’s awaiting you in this anthology might come as a bracing splash of ice water. In either case, you’re in for a treat. Crime is not necessarily the molten core of this contemporary machine. Nor are the characters necessarily of the hardboiled variety. Indeed, the contemporary narratives are far from hidebound. When you get down to brass tacks, neo-noir simply means dark fiction, and even within that niche, there’s a hell of a lot of territory to cover. Here in this new century, ideas and plots of neo-noir have picked the locks and run amok. It’s a fascinating time to be a fan.”
Be sure to read the entire forward, it’s well worth the time, brilliant, really. Laird also just won a Bram Stoker award for best horror collection, so—keep that in mind.
When this idea first came to me, I knew immediately that there were a few pieces that I had to have. Top of this list was the Stephen Graham Jones story, “Father, Son, Holy Rabbit,” which is such a touching story, and yet, so dark and unnerving. It epitomizes, to me, what neo-noir is all about—unexpected heart in the middle of tragedy, a familiar story that is not what it seems, and a setting that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. In fact we’ll be publishing a collection of his at Dark House Press later this year, After the People Lights Have Gone Off—so good. And right behind it in the TOC is Paul Tremblay’s, “It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks.” I might be getting soft in my old age, but once I had kids, I stopped watching Law and Order: SVU, because I couldn’t take the stories about abused and murdered children. With Stephen and Paul’s stories both focusing on family, it wasn't hard to get me to tear up. Paul takes the traditional post-apocalyptic narrative and really bends it into some else, a quiet horror that is so very powerful. Lindsay Hunter continues the family trend with “That Baby.” I knew I wanted her in here, even if she might not consider herself neo-noir, for the dark, emotional and uncommon voices she brings to light. A mother and her child, the stress and horror of him not being a sweet little angel, and the last line, which will say with me forever: “…I took a turn and he was gone, my heart like a fist to a door and my breasts empty, my nipples like lit matchheads.” And then there is Kyle Minor’s, “The Truth and All Its Ugly,” which has been my favorite of his for years, which kind of ends our early family section. It’s such a unique story, one that floored me the first time I read it, a father and his son, what lengths he’ll go to in order to keep that love alive. It echoes Stephen’s story earlier. I also knew that I wanted something from Brian Evenson, and while reading his collection, Windeye, I knew that the title story was what I wanted, “Windeye.” It’s about a brother and sister, and the games we play as children—teasing, daring, and how that might go horribly wrong. Brian’s a brilliant author, and sometimes his work goes over my head, but this story hits that perfect sweet spot, and then twists, and then twists again. “Rust and Bone” by Craig Davidson is another title story I knew I wanted, from his collection of the same name, a story about a fighter, and the brutality and heart of what happens in the ring. And the last story that had been with me for a long time was “Instituto” by Roy Kesey. He was one of the first authors I heard read at AWP NYC and the surreal setting, the poetic voice—it has haunted me forever. These were my immediate choices, the stories I knew I had to have.
Second, I wanted to go after authors that I loved, but wasn’t sure which story I wanted. Matt Bell was one of those voices, but most of his early work was part of his book, Cataclysm Baby, and were really part of a larger narrative I couldn’t tear apart. When I ran across his story, “Dredge” in the Best American Mystery Stories anthology, I knew I’d found the story for this anthology. A man, a freezer and a dead woman—sold. When I think of neo-noir, another voice I’ve loved for a long time is Craig Clevenger, with his novels Dermaphoria and The Contortionist’s Handbook helping to define my idea of what neo-noir could be. I settled on “Act of Contrition” which was in the Warmed and Bound anthology (where I also have a story) because it taps into his voice in such a powerful way. Roxane Gay is another author I’ve been reading for years, but her stories are all over the spectrum, and not all of them felt right for this anthology. What I love about her voice is she isn’t afraid to take chances, to write about taboo subjects. Maybe I was just overwhelmed by her body of work, unable to narrow it down. I read so many journals, all of her work amazing, but settled on “How” because of the way it ended, the way it made me feel. I also wanted to get something from Vanessa Veselka, especially since I couldn’t get a story for The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) also out later this year. Her stories were in progress, or just coming out in Tin House and a few other places. It was too soon. I snagged “Christopher Hitchens” for the imagery, the power of the story, and emotion. I also knew that I wanted something from Antonia Crane, her body of work so varied, but always captivating. When I ran across her “Sunshine for Adrienne” in The Heroin Chronicles, I was sold.
I was at a reading for Curbside Splendor (our parent company) and had the chance to meet Joe Meno for the first time. I’d been a fan of his for years, even publishing a story in a little rag called Colored Chalk. We got to talking about the anthology, as I was just about done setting the TOC. The more we talked, the more I realized that I wanted something from him. I remembered the first time I’d heard him read at an AWP conference, and how powerful it had been. We kicked a few stories back and forth, and I settled on “Children Are the Only Ones that Blush” because of the way it ends, the pet, the balloons, the boy and the girl, the truth that is still a lie.
COMING UP TOGETHER, OLD FRIENDS
There were a handful of authors that wrote neo-noir, good friends of mine, and as much as I kept telling myself to not publish my good friends, that it might feel too incestuous, I knew in my heart that it didn’t matter how we knew each other, that we’d been close for years, coming up together, what mattered was that they were fantastic authors, I love their writing, and they fit this anthology—would help to define this anthology. Nik Korpon is the first author, and his story, “His Footsteps Are Made of Soot,” is probably my favorite of his to date. So atmospheric and strange and original—love it. Craig Wallwork wrote one of the creepiest stories in this collection, “Dollhouse” and I’ve been publishing his work for years, championing his voice. So surreal, and the impact, BAM, the ending just knocks you for a loop. And then there is Rebecca Jones-Howe, who I saw evolve at various workshops, including her epic win at the LitReactor.com WAR competition, beating out a field of 64 entrants (including myself) to take the crown. I knew then that she was going to be special (we’ll in fact be publishing a collection of her stories in 2015, called Vile Men). “Blue Hawaii” was my favorite story of hers from that contest. She isn’t afraid to write dark, sexy, and vulnerable stories. I love her voice.
What a lot of people never see, behind the scenes, are all of the failures. They don’t know about the e-mails to “big” authors and their agents, the silence that follows, the lack of interest from household names, and award-winning voices. Those are crushing, but they’re also to be expected. Nobody knows about the authors who are excited to be a part of the project, but then the presses get involved, agents and publishers, and fees of $500 or $1,200 or $2,000 are kicked around, ultimately forcing me to pass, being the small press that I am. We’d go bankrupt before we even published. I went after a really well known story of Benjamin Percy, entitled, “Release, Release” which was the title story in his second collection. I’d fallen into Ben’s world with this book, and then The Wilding, and later, Red Moon. He was another voice that I knew fit this genre perfectly. But unfortunately I couldn’t get to that story, any of the stories in that collection, in fact. I was devastated. But then Ben, the brilliant man that he is, suggested “Dial Tone,” saying it might be more “noir” anyway, and it had only been in The Missouri Review, not in a collection. It was perfect. And in the end, I think this was probably the better choice anyway, it fit the anthology like a glove, and luckily enough for me, it hadn’t already been read a million times by fans of his work. I might still be able to show this to some readers for the first time.
NEW TO ME
Along the way, as I tried to fill out the last few slots for this anthology, as I poured over anthologies and short story collections and websites, I was lucky enough to discover a few voices. Like a needle in a haystack, these stories, and authors—they were exactly what I was looking for. The first was Richard Lange. As I was signing authors and stories, Angel Baby landed on my doorstep. It’s an amazing book. It prompted me to go pick up his collection as well, Dead Boys. In the end, we went with “Fuzzyland,” and its creeping fire, jaunt across the border to Mexico, its voice a gut punch, an emotional journey and ending. I got lucky with Micaela Morrissette, too. I ran across her story, “The Familiars” in the epic tome, The Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories, edited by the Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, who do such amazing work. I’d never heard of Micaela before, but her story was perfect—dark, strange, emotional, touching, sad—it hit all of the right notes, and built on the classic monster story of the imaginary friend, the thing under the bed, and took it in entirely new directions, with a lyrical voice, to boot.
Unfortunately I had to pull one story at the last minute, and scrambled to find the last author. I looked at crime and horror, fantasy and Southern gothic, and while reading the Barrelhouse crime issue, I saw the name Tara Laskowski, which rang a bell. I’d probably read five of her stories over the time I’d been researching this book. I looked at “The Etiquette of Homicide” and felt it was a voice that needed to be in here, the format very original, a recipe for disaster (literally), a guidebook on how to kill. I thought it was smart, funny, and dangerous. I was lucky that she said yes.
What makes this anthology so special TO ME is that these are all home runs, these are all stories that have made me laugh and cry, flinch and moan, sweat and twitch—the horror, the tension, the emotion, the tragedy, the sympathy and empathy—they are neo-noir at its best. I am lucky that I was able to get these authors to sign up for a new press with a new editor, to take this chance with me, to trust me with their words. It’s not often that we can pull together a book of our favorite stories, our favorite authors, and put it out into the world with such passion, and confidence, and gratitude. This is that book. I hope you’ll pick it up and take the ride with me. Buckle up and steady your nerves, but don’t look away—who knows what you might see, what enlightenment might be waiting for you between the lines.