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Kelli Stanley, Thrillerfest Publicity Committee Chair

Thrillerfest Publicity Committee:
Jeannie Holmes
CJ Lyons
Carla Buckley
Grant McKenzie

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sample the Thrill - Orange County Noir

One of many great articles that you can find each month in The Big Thrill!

Orange County, California, brings to mind the endless summer of sand and surf, McMansion housing tracts, a conservative stronghold, tony shopping centers where pilates classes are run like boot camp and real-estate values are discussed at your weekly colonic, and ice-cream parlors on Main Street, U.S.A., exist side-by-side with pho shops and taquerias. Orange County Noir takes you for a hardboiled tour behind the Orange Curtain where a reclusive rock star has lived way too long in his own head, a crooked judge uses the court for illicit means, a cab driver prowls the streets with more than the ticking meter on his mind, where cultures clash, housewives want more than the perfect grout cleaner, and nobody is who they seem to be.'

Back in 2004 Akashic published an anthology with stories set in a distinct neighbourhood or location within the city of the book. This first anthology was called Brooklyn Noir. As you can see from their website, the anthology garnered loads of awards and a series of anthologies were born; each one unique to the titular city and loaded with dark stories steeped in local knowledge. Since then there have been 36 other anthologies set as far afield as Paris, Dublin and more American cities than I can shake a stick at. And there are more planned with locations as diverse as India and Moscow to whet our appetites.

The latest in the series, and the reason for this article, is Orange County Noir edited by Gary Phillips. Gary is already well known to readers of this series as his stories appear in many of the Akashic anthologies. He has also co-edited other Noir anthologies but this is his first stint as editor of this particular series. Contributors to the anthology include Susan Straight, Robert S. Levinson, Rob Roberge, Nathan Walpow, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, Dan Duling, Mary Castillo, Lawrence Maddox, Dick Lochte, Robert Ward, Gordon McAlpine, Martin J. Smith, and Patricia McFall.

Gary also contributes a story himself as an added bonus.

Gary keeps himself busy writing his Martha Chainey and Ivan Monk series as well as other stand alone novels. Monk is an African American Private Eye working in the Tinder Box that is LA. and Martha Chainey is a former showgirl who is now a courier for the corporate mob that runs modern Vegas.

His latest novel is Freedom's Fight set in WW2. This book is a riveting mystery set around three characters who find their lives in danger as they fight for a country that has not been kind to them. Gary also writes Angel Town for Vertigo where he brings his gritty expertise to the Graphic Novel format. All in all Gary is a busy man and, despite that, he set some time aside to talk to me about his latest anthology.

What can we expect from 'Orange County Noir'? Will it reflect your previous hopeful outlook among the ruins of the city or will it be darker?

Derek, that's a loaded question if ever there was one...especially from a horror writer. Ha. Okay, while I do explore the dark side of human frailties in my novels like The Jook and an upcoming novella, The Underbelly (about a semi-homeless Vietnam vet's search for a disabled buddy who's disappeared from Los Angeles' Skid Row), even my short story "The Performer" in Orange County Noir takes you on a walk on the wild side, I like to think I'm actually an upbeat guy. Though it must mean I have a gallows sense of humor.

I believe readers of Orange County Noir will enjoy the range of stories in the book from crooked judges to a lonely cab driver prowling the night to an older teacher who's run away with her now grown former students. Hmm, that does sound awfully bent doesn't it? Rest assured while the tales in the collection are gripping and gritty, they are laced with wry observations and sardonic asides to keep matters from being dour. As a writer who occasionally does editing of others' stories, I'm very pleased with the results in the anthology.

This is part of the Akashic Noir series that you have contributed to many times before, including one set in my own Dublin. The independent publishers have really shown the way to publishers highlighting niches that would otherwise be ignored. Do you feel there is still more they can do?

As the readers of The Big Thrill know, traditional publishing is undergoing many changes what with e-publishing, Kindle, podcasting and so on. It was also the case that there used to be a ratio of money a big house would spend on promoting a given writer commiserate with their advance. More and more, this is not the case these days, and this was before the Big Meltdown. Now I can't speak for other writers, but it's been my feeling for awhile that in-store book signings are going the way of the mastodon - sucked down in the mud of extinction. Fact I was talking with a writer friend the other day and she's paid a online promotion entity to "book" her on various blogs - a blog tour. She also works book club lists and what have you to promote her books.

Having said that, let me add Akashic works their asses off to promote their titles. They sent out ARCs of OC Noir to various online, print and electronic venues and have done follow-up with these outlets. In addition to some in-store signings, me and various mixes of the contributors are doping panels at book events, radio and looking to line up local TV too. But as we've discussed, online presence is so dominant and demanding now, it does seem a small hardworking press like Akashic as well as the larger publishers will be doing even more in terms of social media be it twittering, facebooking and so forth.

I want to add that even though I think in-store book signings are fading away, it is in the writer's interest to get to know your independent bookseller. Nothing beats the hand selling they can do. Plus, they're just good folks.

'Noir' has become such a generic term in recent times, do you feel we have lost the original feel or are we updating an old concept?

It seems both things are happening. Frankly speaking, noir to me means the characters are doomed in some way in their pursuit of, usually, some illicit goal. 'Noir' as a term has become something of a catch-all for a tough-minded story; hardboiled is not necessarily noir. But it's also the case I've noticed more "civilians" using the term and are curious to read books with the noir hook so on that level, that's a good thing. I suppose the lesson is for writers not to lose sight of what the term means, at least to themselves, and what kind of story that is to write.

I realise you have editing credits to your name but is this the first time you are both editor and contributor? How was the experience?

The reason to edit these anthologies is so you can include your own work. Heh. I've co-edited the Cocaine Chronicles for Akashic with Jervey Tervalon, the Darker Mask, an assortment of edgy prose super-hero stories with Chris Chambers, solo edited Politics Noir, and now this book. In each of those I contributed a story. Being the editor can seem to be advantageous because you can see what others have written but honestly, editor and writer are two different parts of my brain. I try as editor to offer suggestions to make a writer's story stronger but want to be careful about not imposing my style. As the writer, I bore down on what I want to tell in my story, not worrying about how othe4rs have done theirs. I either get feedback from my co-editor or from the in-house editors if they think something doesn't work in what I've written.

And then like every other writer I ignore the suggestions...just kidding.

Themed anthologies can be difficult to maintain both the theme and quality. What tricks have you learned and will you do it again?

Fortunately writers are a creative bunch so what trick is to hopefully coming up with a theme that a group of them find interesting and get excited enough to come up with an idea and crank out a story. But as editor sometimes it happens certain writers you court turn in a story that's not their best effort or off the mark. Sometimes you're able to communicate what's off or missing and an understanding is reached so the story gets improved and sometimes, well, you have to agree to disagree and they withdraw their short story.

What's next? Can we expect to see more novels like Freedom's Flight or a return to 'noir'?

Freedom's Fight was my historical novel about black soldiers in World War II. Really, it was about being inspired by my dad, Dikes, who saw action at Guadalcanal; his brother Norman who was part of the mop up action at D-Day; and my mom's brother, Oscar, who died in air combat over Memmingen, Germany as a Tuskegee airman. I'm a fan of Band of Brothers, hell the old Combat! TV show, and will no doubt watch the upcoming Pacific mini-series, but where are the filmic efforts about the all-black units that fought at the Battle of the Bulge? The 781st, all-black tankers, the Black Panthers. Or a mini-series about Sgt. Eddie Carter who spoke Chinese, fought in Chiang Kai-shek's army and with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade against the fascists in Spain and this was before being in WWII (chronicled in the non-fiction book, Honoring Sergeant Carter: A Family's Journey to Uncover the Truth About an American Hero by Allene G. Carter and Robert L. Allen)?

Tell us a little about your other novels and your graphic novel 'Cowboys'.

Okay, enough of the soap box rant. I've got a crime graphic novel upcoming from DC/Vertigo Comics I'm quite pleased with called Cowboys. The plot centers on an undercover cop starting at one end of an investigation unknowingly on a collision course with an undercover FBI agent on the other end of the case. The artist on the book was Brian Hurtt who is underrated, but a wonderful draftsman and storyteller. I'd like folks to also check out Bicycle Cop Dave, my ongoing webcomic that's subtitled, patrolling the dark side of gentrification. (http://fourstory.org/fiction/installment/all-right-sylvia/). Lastly, there's a novel about a gang lord's revenge called Kings of Vice I co-wrote with actor-rapper Ice-T due out this fall from Forge.

Where do you find the time to produce so much?

I'm just happy that, knock wood, at least for now I can find outlets for the stories I want to tell. Of course that means I get a lot of 'nos' to the occasional 'yes.' Sill, here's to the well not drying up for any of us.

As you will see from the above, Gary has a lot of material coming our way in the next few months. Cowboys will be out next year from DC's Vertigo line and, from what I've seen; it looks like it's going to be fantastic. For those of you interested in checking out Gary's other works you can find out everything you need to know at his website here, http://www.gdphillips.com/  or run out to your local bookstore and pick up his novels.

Orange County Noir is available through Akashic's web site or the usual retailers. It's also available in Kindle Format which makes it ideal for dipping into. Do yourself a favor and try it out and then be ready to pick up the back catalogue.

Derek Gunn lives in Dublin, Ireland with his wife and three children and is the author of four novels. His post-apocalyptic thriller series, Vampire Apocalypse, has been widely praised on both sides of the Atlantic in the genre media and it is published by Black Death Books. The three books in the series are; "A World Torn Asunder" (2006), "Descent into Chaos" (2008) and "Fallout" (2009). Derek also released "The Estuary", published by Permuted Press in 2009 which is available in Borders and Waldenbooks stores throughout the USA as well as from online booksellers.

Derek's first book is under option for film and an adaptation is currently in active development as a major movie. Also, the Graphic novel rights to Derek's VAMPIRE APOCALYPSE series have been picked up by a US indie publisher - the first graphic novel is due out in 2011. Visit his website at www.derekgunn.com

Find out more about great authors at ThrillerFest 2010!

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