Putting the ME in Media

I have a new short story called “Moral Hazard” in the new Texas anthology titled Lone Star Noir, which was published by Akashic in November this year. It’s a great collection of stories, featuring authors from all over the state, including, in addition to the previously mentioned me,  Joe Lansdale, George Weir, the late James Crumley, Sarah Cortez, Tim Tingle, Claudia Smith, Ito Romo, Luis Alberto Urrea, David Corbett, Dean James, Milton Burton, Lisa Sandlin, Bill Crider, and Bobby Byrd. We did a number of book signings, and I played a few songs at most of them, in lieu of reading my story. I think the story I like best is the one by Bobby Byrd, who edited the anthology, with the help of his son, Johnny Byrd. I got to hear an excerpt from Bobby’s story, “The Dead Man’s Wife,” several times, and each time I liked it better. Bobby is one hell of a writer, a poet and essayist. He and Johnny are the publishers of El Paso-based Cinco Puntos Press.

We had a nice turnout at BookPeople here in Austin, and the signing at the Twig in San Antonio happened to coincide with a research trip I made there to look up the location of a topless go-go bar there from the early 1970s called “The Sidewinder A-Go-Go.” It’s not a real happening location right now, as you can see from the photo. Of all the Texas cities that have blighted sections, San Antonio seems to go the distance.

As you may know, Akashic has published quite a few books in its noir series, with settings ranging from Brooklyn to Haiti, Havana, Chicago, Istanbul, etc. So it’s nice they finally got around to Texas. It was a circuitous route, actually, because the first couple of editors who tackled the job for Akashic fell by the wayside for various reasons. I think we lucked out when the Byrds stepped forward to do it.

The book got some nice reviews, starting with Kirkus. OK, that one’s not exactly a rave, but Kirkus is an industry rag and it’s good to get even a lukewarm nod from them. The subtitle: “Noir and Texas link 14 previously unpublished stories—two first-rate, the rest not bad…”

If you ask me, the reviewer probably read two stories, skimmed a couple more, and turned in the review for the paycheck. How do I know? Let’s just say I know some book reviewers.

The Dallas review was better.

Noir fans love their stories dark and gritty. They relish harsh tales told from troubled viewpoints: crime victims, suspects, witnesses, serial killers.

Lone Star Noir’s 14 hard-boiled short stories take readers into life’s ragged edges, along grim roads that lead “to the tail end of everything,” to places where “a plain bare bulb swings overhead, casting a dizzying light,” and into the company of Texans who understand “guns and dope and greed and hatred and delusion … .”

Edited by Bobby Byrd and Johnny Byrd, co-publishers of El Paso-based Cinco Puntos Press, Lone Star Noir cuts the state into three regions: Gulf Coast Texas, Back Roads Texas and Big City Texas, each with its own sinister settings.

The stories are new, and most of the 15 writers have Texas roots or now live in the state that, in Bobby Byrd’s view, “bleeds noir fiction.”

A cautionary note: The raw language and murderous actions in Lone Star Noir definitely are not for the easily offended nor the faint of heart.

Noir fiction brings you face-to-face with people you likely would never want to be nor meet. It reminds how humanity’s darkest possibilities float just beneath everyday life’s thin surface.

In “Bottomed Out,” Dean James’ gruesome tale set in Dallas, a company’s German troubleshooter not only gets a manager fired but frames him for another employee’s murder.

In Lisa Sandlin’s short story, “Phelan’s First Case,” a rookie Beaumont private detective tries to solve a missing-person mystery in the gloomy Big Thicket. Meanwhile, another mystery that could get somebody killed is unfolding back at his office.

Jessica Powers’ narrative, “Preacher’s Kid,” takes the reader inside the mind of a West Texas preacher who tries and fails to stop his son from drinking and suddenly has to confront a much deeper and more painful truth about his family.

Akashic Books started its original noir anthology series in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Since then, about 40 story collections have been published, ranging from Chicago Noir to Paris Noir and Wall Street Noir. More are forthcoming, including Cape Cod Noir and Pittsburgh Noir.

According to Bobby Byrd, many people who have never been to Texas arrive here expecting to see J.R. Ewing or Larry McMurtry characters lurking behind every oil derrick and cattle herd.

“The real Texas,” he insists, “hides out in towns and cities like you’ll find in Lone Star Noir.”

Other solid reviews came in from Houston Houston, the Austin Statesman and the Austin Chronicle. The most intelligent and informed review by far, however, was by Joe Gross for the Austin Statesman. Joe points out that Jim Thompson spent his formative years here and wrote quote a few of his pulp fiction classics here, including “The Killer inside Me” and “Pop 1280.”

There were also a couple of good notices for my art show, “Colorful Women,” which opened on December 3rd at Yard Dog on South Congress Avenue here in Austin. Famous keyboardist and Austin resident Ian McLagan’s showing, “Painting from Pain,” opened the following week, which was nice, because it gave us both some extra exposure. Again, Joe Gross at the Statesman wrote it up nicely. See his story here.

I like the ending:

‘I have no pretensions of grandeur, but people seem to dig it,’ Sublett says. ‘People do seem to get my stuff, but occasionally I do get, “Why all the boobs?” I just love women. Not in a womanizing way, but I’m womankind’s biggest fan. I love the form. I’m sure I’ll move on at some point.’ (Note: It is impossible to tell if he is kidding.)

Like McLagan, he sees creative connections between music and drawing. ‘When you’re playing music, you don’t have to think. You get into that blank space grooving along,’ Sublett said. ‘I find it the same when I’m working on my pictures. When I just get into the line, it reminds me of just getting into a musical groove. You keep going and you don’t want to stop. You feel like you can’t do any wrong and something else is taking over and you want with that.

‘Then again,’ Sublett adds, “it might all be (expletive).”

You can see all the art from “Colorful Women” and much more at the Gallery/Store at this site. You can even buy some for your own.

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