Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Richmond Gets to Tell its own Dark Story

Listen to audio here.

The editors of the new fictional anthology Richmond Noir have hit Virginia like gangbusters with their crew of intriguing authors reading their stories at bookstores in Charlottesville, Midlothian, Fredricksberg and all over Richmond. Richmond Independent Radio News recently caught a reading at independent bookstore Fountain Books in Shockoe Bottom.

The 15 story compilation is part a series put out by Akashic Books. The series began in 2004 with the release of Brooklyn Noir which included stories that were finalists for a handful of awards. Akashic Books decided to expand the idea, getting authors to write about other cities in the noir style and publishing compilations from Detroit, Dublin, Istanbul, Miami, San Francisco and even Trinidad.

Richmond got its chance to be examined through the dark, shadowy lens when Brian Castleberry and Andrew Blossom attended a conference in Atlanta about three years ago. They met people from Akashic Books and Castleberry said:

"We started talking with them and one of us made a that they should do a Richmond Noir. And then when we got home to Richmond we suddenly decided that we were going to take ourselves seriously. I don't know how much alcohol was involved in taking ourselves seriously at that point but we did. And we decided to go ahead with it. So we drafted an author that we were both fans of and lucky enough to be students of, Tom DeHaven."

And then the hard work began. Castleberry said:

"That summer of 2007 we started gathering authors to convince Akashic we could really pull this off. And we were lucky enough that we knew a great deal of literary authors to get involved in this project. After we were given approval to go along with the project, it became a long process of editing, sending stories back, bothering these authors to just give us one more draft of things."

But Castleberry said it has all paid off.

"Due to the hard work of our contributors, and the city that is the inspiration for the book, I think I can speak for all the editors and say this is the best book in the series."

Inside Fountain Books the five authors, three editors, and about twenty listeners smooshed into the small space, sitting knee to knee in uncomfortable wooden chairs. Blossom said they asked authors to read excerpts for a good reason.

"One of the things we wanted to do with these readings was emphasize the collaborative nature of the process and of the book. We're sorry to leave you hanging if we're doing so but if you just need to know more rest assured that there are copies of the book for sale."

The first author to read was Dean King. He is non-fiction writer and said Richmond Noir’s editors had to drag his story out of him. King is one of the founders of James River Writers and his latest book Unbound: A True Story of War, Love and Survival was released this month. He read his story that takes place in Shockoe Slip in 1807.

"It was a tobacco stain of an August night in Shockoe Slip. So humid a body seemed to drizzle when it moved. Stench from the outhouses on the canal bank behind the hotels and the shop fronts and the sweet bug of fruit cured wheat. Inside the evil tavern, bourbon whiskey and rouged cheeks shimmering in smokey lantern light raised the man's threshold for swelter. The general was down to his last few dollars. He held only a pair of deuces and a single bullet in his hand now. However, his eclipse had been a long time in the making."

Dennis Danvers read from his story “Texas Beach” where he explores that area along
The James River and the unseemly story he uncovers there. Danvers is the author of 7 novels and recently was published in Tales of Wonder and Imagination, a collection of stories about cats.

"He lied sprawled face first in the water just short of the beach as if he tried to swim across the James and came up short. I turn him over, pull his upper body out of the water and discovered his lower torso hasn't quite turned with the rest of him. He couldn't be swimming anywhere like this. His pelvis is crushed. He's dark, maybe Mexican or Guatemalan. He has on one battered leather garden glove on his right hand. His left hand is bent at an odd angle and bone protrudes from his left forearm. I throw up in the river and call 911."

If you want to hear more of Richmond Noir, the next reading is at VCU’S Barnes and Noble at 5501 West Broad St. this Friday at noon. For more reading dates, check out akashicbooks.com/richmondnoir.htm.

-Caroline Jackson

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