DT: Your first crime magazine was Murdaland was a collection of first-rate literary stories and is a legend among crime fans. How did you end up getting stories from such a disparate group, some of whom aren’t considered crime writers?
CM: That kind of came naturally. I was writing literary short stories at the time for the Iowa Reviews of the world and I, yet, for fun I was reading Jim Thompson and David Goodis. I had always loved Woodrell’s TOMATO RED which came out in 1998 as well as Tom Franklin’s POACHERS. So the original idea was to get these literary writers who wrote good, gritty tales that weren’t in a conventional crime style. And I wrote to them and sure enough they sent the story and Tom’s novel excerpt from SMONK that appear in that first issue. Then when I told people I had Woodrell and Franklin, the race was on and we had a ton of submissions from some very good people both published and unpublished. But, funnily enough, for Murdaland despite the crime title the main vision wasn’t always crime fiction: I really wanted it to be like SPIKE TV with badass westerns and zombie stories and war memoirs, so when Murdaland went under, it was too bad because it never got to fulfill this crazy vision I had for it.
DT: Is that vision dead? Or does NOIR NATION resurrect it?
CM: NOIR NATION is its own thing and the creator, Eddie Vega, (I’m just an editor), really has his own distinct worldview and style. As fort eh vision of Murdaland that will be alive and well in my e-book press I’m launching in late November called BARE KNUCKLES PRESS, but it will be novels and memoirs only. And that’s another interview entirely.
DT: How did you get involved with Noir Nation? What’s the international connection, and what can readers expect to see?
CM: Eddie Vega was an old friend of mine. He’s a Cubano poet, who was a marine and an ex-tugboat captain. We met while climbing Ben Bulben in Sligo, Ireland near the grave of W.B. Yeats. Anyways, a year ago Eddie came to me with the idea of starting an ebook publication about “noir” which he is a huge fan of. He had a ton of knowledge about digital media and had an amazing aesthetic for creating a cool web site. First, he wanted it to be “international” in scope, because the advantage of ebooks is they are easy to download and frankly it seems like that is where the world is heading. So, he signed me on as the editor for North America, he covered Latin America, Africa and Asia and his buddy Alan Thomas, who lives in Prague, acquired a bunch of stories from Western and Eastern Europe. So the issue is quite remarkable in its scope of stories from around the world, spanning multiple continents: which is Eddie’s vision, that “noir” just does not occur in France and America, “noir” to paraphrase Celine “happens in the shadows,” which as we know exist everywhere. So Eddie’s vision really is to create a worldwide community and have NOIR NATION be a vehicle where the dark tales from many geographies are expressed in one place. If you’re curious, just go to www.noirnation.com.
CM: Well, actually, Schoenfelder introduced me to Traven so I’m really indebted to him for that but Simenon has been a favorite of mine for a long time and really an inspiration. His “roman durs” or hard novels are to me these incredible, existential character studies that are the very heart of not just noir but literature, in the vein of Dostoyevsky and Gogol. His Maigret series made him rich, but I think it is the hard novels that will make him immortal. Although Camus was inspired by Simenon’s roman durs, Simenon was never recognized by his countrymen for his literary merit and Simenon was pissed off about that. Well, if I preach enough, I hope to change that. John Banville, who writes both literary masterpieces and noir fiction (under the name Benjamin Black) has already done a ton to restore the glory of Simenon’s roman dur.
DT: Besides the “international scope” what sets NOIR NATION apart from other crime journals?
M: Well, I think the quality of writing by our authors is extremely good. Scott Wolven has to be regarded as one of the best, if not the best, short story writers working in the genre and probably in fiction in general. We have stories by him in the first two issues. Tristan Davies, a literary writer out of Baltimore has just an off the hook story called “Surgeons.” Les Edgerton, an ex-con and veteran crime author who reminds me of Charles Bukowski and Edward Bunker is fast becoming a cult figure in his own right, has a story with us of his spent time as armed robber. Then the European desk came through with some amazing, offbeat tales by Paul D Brazill and J.J. Toner and others. I think also what sets NOIR NATION apart is we like to take risks. I published a crazy ass story with very graphic, unsettling violence and I did it because the author, R. F. Warner was doing this insane Post Modern take on Flannery O’Connor’s classic tale of The Misfit in a “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” It was too unique to pass up though we got a lot of hate mail for that one. That story refuses to play nice. Definetly not a story you’d find in Ellery Queen or The New Yorker. Also, I can’t forget to mention that NOIR NATION also contains a graphic novel in it, that has garnered some attention as well. So with well written stories that possess a hard, noir edge, as well as a poem by Bonnie Barrow (of Bonnie and Clyde fame), and a graphic novel and a wide array of different cultures around the world being represented, we are doing are best to bring something new and exciting to the table and extend the dialogue of what “Noir” is.
DT: How does it feel to go from publisher (boss) of Murdaland to an editor working for someone else?
CM: If every boss was like Eddie Vega you wouldn’t have Labor Unions. But seriously, I respect him because he knows his stuff and is always faithful to “the word.” For Eddie, the story is important but prose style comes first. That’s his training as a poet. So I find he’s not afraid to take risks as long as the writing is good. And he’s not stingy with the Johnny Walker Black!
DT: When will your new publishing venture, Bare Knuckles Press, be on line? What makes it seem like a good idea now?
CM: Bare Knuckles Press comes out in late November. We have an incredible range of titles: a hard novel (crime), an adventure novel, a novel about the underbelly of the world of women rugby players and a crazy zombie novel that will change the genre for sure.
DT: You studied writing with one of my literary heroes, Madison Smartt Bell. What was his teaching style? Was there anything that really stood out from his class that stayed with you?
CM: Madison was the writer who made me want to be a writer. I went to Hopkins purposefully to study under him because I read his story collection ZERO db, which still holds up incredibly well. His teaching style was like his books: strange and cool. He is religious about literature and it rubbed off on me. As a wood-head rugby player who only wanted to drink beer, I think his class made me more serious about academics in general. He is a thoughtful guy who taught me how to self-edit and not under value the price of a good sentence. I consider myself lucky to have had him as a teacher.
DT: Are you writing another novel?
CM: Yes, I hope to be done soon. It’s about the world of mixed martial arts.
DT: Who are you reading now? Is there anyone out there you think is overlooked that we should be checking out?
CM: I’m ready an amazing history about gamblers in the old west called THE KNIGHTS OF THE GREEN CLOTH. One tale was of a 12 year old boy whose family died of influenza north of San Fran in the Gold Rush. He came down from the hills on a mule and sold his parents shit. With his grubstake he started hanging out in the bars and learned to play faro, the poker game of that time. He smoked huge cigars, drank whiskey and was a millionaire by the time he was 14. He died of syphilis at 15. Need I say more?
Cortright McMeel’s novel, SHORT was published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martins Press in 2012. He was also the publisher of the literary magazine, Murdaland. He has published short stories in Mississippi Review, Gettysburg Review, and Chicago Quarterly Review.
Dennis Tafoya was born in Philadelphia and now lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His work as an EMT inspired DOPE THIEF, his first novel.