November 22 looms, and as the watershed nears, a new anthology of short stories sets out with a noble purpose: to make Dallas known for something more than the place where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Called Dallas Noir, it's a collection by 16 Dallas writers new and old, including best-selling authors Kathleen Kent and Ben Fountain, edited by uber-agent David Hale Smith.
From the introduction:
In a country with so many interesting cities, Dallas is often overlooked — except on November 22 every year. The heartbreaking anniversary keeps coming back around in a nightmare loop, for all of us. On that day in 1963, Dallas became American noir. A permanent black scar on its history that will never be erased, no matter how many happy business stories and hit television shows arise from here.
The book is the latest installment in the "noir" series launched in 2004 by Akashic Books. Each chapter is a dark tale set in a distinct neighborhood. Daniel J. Hale hits Fair Park; Harry Hunsicker writes about a thief in South Dallas; Jonathan Woods covers the M Streets; Arts District executive director Catherine Cuellar hovers in Love Field.
Smith was a logical person to curate the collection, because he's deep in the world of crime and mystery. That's also his foggy photo of the Calatrava bridge on the cover, which he snapped with his phone.
"In my real job as a literary agent, I represent a whole bunch of writers who write mystery and suspense," Smith says. "But that said, only three of my clients have stories in the book.
"That's the neat thing about it. It's a mix of usual suspects, people you'd think of as writing crime fiction, and then people like Kathleen Kent and Emma Rathbone, who's an amazing writer that who you wouldn't think of as doing this kind of thing."
One goal of the book is to statistically represent the makeup of the city in terms of gender and race. And then there's the neighborhood aspect, documented visually in a map on the book's end papers, with little outlines of dead bodies where all the stories are located.
The book ended up with 16 chapters, but some submissions did not make the cut, mostly due to not fulfilling the noir manifesto. Cuellar says that it took her a second pass to get her entry to the point of darkness it needed to be.
"I wasn't a big reader of the noir genre. I like film noir but hadn't written noir stories," she says. "It took me a second draft to get the sex and death it needed. There are no happy endings."