When you live in a city with a “black scar on its history that will never be erased,” as literary agent turned editor David Hale Smith writes in his introduction to Dallas Noir, what can you do but write stories that match the city’s dangerous paradoxes?
At least, so Smith thought after rock musician turned publisher Johnny Temple told him he wanted to add a volume of Dallas noir to the city by city series of dark tales his “reverse gentrification” independent press, Akashic Books, has published over the past decade.
Beginning with stories set in Akashic’s home neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, the line has expanded to mud flinging romps across all five New York City boroughs, the United States and abroad. (Addis Ababa noir, anyone? Helsinki or Trinidad or Zagreb, Croatia? No place on Earth, it seems, is without its dark and deadly underside.)
And what, exactly, is noir? Not exactly crime fiction, not exactly mysteries, noir consists basically of “existential, pessimistic tales of deeply flawed characters on a downward spiral,” Smith told the overflow audience at last week’s launch of Dallas Noir, in Dallas, of course, at HalfPrice Books on Northwest Highway. “A happy ending is the antithesis of noir, because these characters are inherently corrupt.”
Despite the ban on happy endings, seventeen Dallas writers gleefully exhibited the dark sides of Dallas neighborhoods and suburbs for the book. Matt Bondurant (The Wettest County in the World) drew on his experience with the city’s latest plague--West Nile virus. A cop in a story by historical writer Kathleen Kent (The Outcasts) finds her drug investigation complicated by the only hours-dead body of a Civil War general--or at least of his reenacting counterpart. Harry Hunsicker (The Contractors, coming 2014) traces the descent of a family business--armed robbery--from Depression-era outlaw and ancestress Bonnie Parker. And if you’re tempted to impersonate a stripper, don’t--unless you have a skillet handy and you’re being written by J. Suzanne Frank (Laws of Migration).
Even home buying, estate planning and dog walking prove become unnerving activities in the hands of Dallas writers with murder and mayhem on their minds.
And although the characters in this collection don’t get do-overs, readers can. Those who missed Dallas Noir’s launch can meet the cast of writers at Barnes & Noble bookstores in Lincoln Park (November 5) and SMU ( November 9), where students can interrogate their favorite teachers, Frank and David Haynes (A Star in the Face of the Sky.) Next week, Dallas Noir and company hit the road, with signings in Fort Worth, metroplex suburbs, and Austin and Houston. For more details, see
And for the rest of you out there with trigger fingers itching to hit the keyboard, check out Akashic’s list of short story interests. But don’t look back, Jack. This is no place to linger over long goodbyes. The limit’s 750 words.