Noir, One Year Later

On May 1st of last year, the Portland Noir anthology came out from Akashic Books. It took a couple of weeks for people to notice it at local bookstores, but when it did, it really took off. Portland Noir has been one of the top 20 best-selling fiction titles at Powell’s every month for a year now–a fact that kind of shocks me. I knew people liked noir and I knew the locals like to read about themselves and their fair city, but the number of books we’ve sold at Powell’s is far more than anything else I’ve been involved with.

There were a lot of highlights in this book’s life, especially during some of the events we had around town. One of the fun ideas I had around this time was to write fictional noir-style introductions to each person at these events. I’d read them in a pseudo-gumshoe kind of voice while Miles Davis’s Round Midnight played behind me. Just for fun, I thought I’d post all the intros here. I suggest playing the Miles while you read them.

Thanks to all the writers. I’m so glad that this book has had such a great run in Portland.

A promo poster made for the book by Gigi Little.

From the Powell’s Book Release Reading:

Chris A. Bolton. This is the kind of guy that makes you suspicious. Why does he have a middle initial and what does it stand for? Adolf? Anarchy? Abraham? The mind races with possibilities. Like many shady characters in Portland, he works in comics, and if that’s not bad enough, he makes his living as a blogger. Who ever heard of such a thing? For a long time I thought he was just another bald guy with a smirk, trying to pull a fast one on anyone he could. But then he sent me this story, The Red Room. It’s a story that takes place at Powell’s City of Books. It involves blackmail and cops—the dumb kind of cop. But this story ain’t dumb. I read it and I said to him, “Not bad, kid. Not bad at all. You really hit me in the stomach on that one. Now here’s your 200 bucks. Get lost before I get really sappy.”

Luciana Lopez. Now here’s a lady on the run. I’m not exactly sure what she’s done, but it turns out she’s leaving the country in just a few short hours. I thought she had a cushy job at the daily paper, writing about pop stars and local bands. I know this kind of chick, I thought. She writes about hip hop but knows her way around a 12-string guitar too. She uses those mysterious dark eyes to get backstage and finds out the inside scoop before anyone else. She’s the kind of woman who plays the players. But now apparently, she’s gone too far. Her story in this book is called Julia Now and it uncovers the motive behind a St. Johns murder in the 50s. That alone could get her in trouble but then she makes it worse by dissing the Shins. But at least she was considerate enough to spare the Decemberists.

Jonathan Selwood. He’s what you’d call a big box of trouble. Some people say he’s a novelist, but to me he looks like a bouncer at the Boom-Boom Room, the kind of guy who’ll make you scream until his favorite stripper smiles at him just right. His fuse is so short that it looks more like a piece of lint. He’ll blow up in your face like a cheap firecracker. His story, The Wrong House, is about a ruthless crook with a crowbar and an arm with so many holes it looks like a cheese grader. It’s the kind of story with language so off-color that you could only read it out loud to a deaf person. With details so vivid though, I suspect that it’s all gruesomely true, and for that, I have to give the thug some respect.

From the Portland Noir reading and party at the Blue Monk:

Karen Karbo. It’s hard to mention her name without someone getting all bent out of shape. Apparently, she’s quite the grifter. And not the kind that walks around with an empty gas can asking for spare change. This dame brings down people and businesses that were thought to be untouchable. Her chosen method: blackmail. Who knows if she does it with a flip of her hair, a batting of her eyelashes, or a slip of her little black slip. But somehow she gets the job done and she gets the photos to go with it. Close-ups, profiles, still lifes. Secret little photos worthy of framing. Yeah—a good framejob is one thing you’d call it. Apparently, she tries to lead a straight life too, as a writer. She’s darn good at that as well. Her story, The Clown and Bard, is a rope-a-dope full of lies, deception, and mail order brides. She writes from a man’s perspective and it’s a convincing trick, but then again, that’s her bag—she’s convincing.

Justin Hocking. Some see him as a cultural emissary, the head honcho at someplace called the IPRC. They make it look like some kind of commie printing place, where hippies and hipsters go to make their flimsy propaganda, but I know better than that. Go there during the off hours and you’ll run into all sorts of scum. From tweaked out gangsters to old strippers with pupils bigger than their pasties. I got it on good authority that IPRC actually stands for International Pharmaceutical Redistribution Center. Mr. Hocking, the guy behind this shady organization has written a story that takes place partly under the Burnside Bridge. A place where skaters get out their aggressions on the curved concrete and any new kid that slips into their scene. Burnside Forever is a cautionary tale and I caution all of you not to forget it.

Justin Hocking and me at the Blue Monk reading. I wore a tie to every event. Pic by B. Frayn Masters.

Monica Drake. I’ve got enough dirt on this woman to bury her three times. 1985: As a teenage follower of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, she poisoned a salad bar in The Dalles, causing an outbreak of Salmonella. 1992: After the Portland Trailblazers lose the NBA championship to the Chicago Bulls, Drake wins a huge bet through her Las Vegas bookie and the following week gives half the money to Clyde Drexler. 2003: a Dear John letter is found in the L.A. home of dead rock star Elliott Smith revealingly signed “Monica D.” Calling this lady a murderer, cheat, and heartbreaker is only the first layer of this onion. The more you dig in, the more it burns your eyes.

In her story, Baby, I’m Here, she follows a sad sack bunch of burnouts as they take a little field trip to visit a friend at Good Samaritan Hospital. And the shape that these people are in, they may as well reserve a bed for themselves.

Gigi Little. The story goes that she’s a former clown who just happens to be good with some rope. She was also an author of children’s books. That is, until she became disgruntled and left those days behind her. She also left behind three dead editors and their appreciation for happy endings. The weapon that they never found—six feet of nylon rope. When her face started popping up on federal posters, she went underground and changed her name. She thought Gigi Little sounded pretty harmless. She cut up her credit cards and moved down into a secret corner of the Shanghai Tunnels until it all blew over. In an odd way, her story, Shanghaied, is a homecoming of sorts. But in her story, she makes herself out to be the one you feel sorry for. Of course, we can usually figure out when someone is playing us for a fool. Usually, anyway.

Tahoe Jackson. (Tahoe was our musical guest of the evening and she not only turned the event into a party but she also turned the room into a soul inferno) I thought this lady would be the only touch of class on this stage tonight, but then I got the scoop. It turns out that she was hatching a master plan to throw Beau Breedlove off the Sellwood Bridge before he went off and blabbed all over the KGW news. Why would she do that, you might wonder. Well, I’ll tell you why. This babe is on the record as a full-fledged Sam Adams stalker. That’s right. It doesn’t matter to her that he butters the other side of the bread, she still has chocolate and champagne sent to his home every other week since 2006. In 2008, she went as far as to send him a life-size blow-up doll of her likeness. When Beau started causing a fuss she put a target on his pretty little behind and had him silenced before he said too much. Unfortunately, the damage was done, and poor old Sam still wasn’t falling for Tahoe. That is until she started camping in his front yard and serenading up to his bedroom window. Now I’ve heard that Sam and Tahoe have been spotted together having happy hour nibbles at the Slow Bar. It just goes to show you what a good woman and a good song can do when there’s a lot of passion to throw around.

Tahoe Jackson serenades me at the Blue Monk. Pic by Leann O'Rourke.

From the reading at Looking Glass Bookstore:

Ariel Gore. Even her name has the kind of bizarre twist that’ll make your stomach turn. Ariel: sounds pretty and soft, like a mermaid and it actually means “the angel of healing”…but then her last name is Gore. As in “blood and gore.” Makes me think of a dame with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. And although she’s written several books, I think this is the first time she’s actually written about murder, and in her story, Water Under the Bridge, she writes about it with such pizzazz that it’s like she’s been waiting all her life to get the rage out. If you see her sometime at Dot’s, just make sure you don’t talk to her about your art.

Floyd Skloot. What can you say about the guy? He’s been playing the game for a long time and just when you think he’s knocked out, he’ll throw down a vicious hand stacked with kings and queens and take all your money. Sometimes he plays the sap, breaks out his cane, regales you with stories of his baseball dreams…but I don’t trust the guy as far as I can throw him. And he’s a small guy so I could probably throw him pretty far. His story, Alzheimer’s Noir, could make you cry if you were a big softie but it’s also full of uncertainty, false memory, and double talk. A sticky web of mystery that’ll make you hallucinate like you smoked a funny cigarette while hiking through Oaks Bottom for the first time. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the guy.

Megan Kruse. Now here’s a lady who will do whatever it takes to get what she wants. You might think she’s just a lonely soul with mommy and daddy issues, but she’s a master of the slow seduction. Once she’s gottcha, you’ll be stuck to her like glue, afraid to stray too far because her charms—and her whiskey—will make you feel like you’re addicted. Not just to her smile but also to her tears. That’s right, buddy. You’ll be in deep. Lost in a dark well without a ladder. In her story, Lila, she tries to play her romance games with a stranger at the Tik-Tok. But it turns out she has some competition, and it’s the kind of competition that makes you do things you don’t want to do.

From the reading at Murder By the Book:

Bill Cameron. Here’s a character if I ever saw one, and believe me, I’ve seen plenty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bill without his trademark fishing jacket. It’s almost like he sleeps with it on, going through all the pockets in his sleep like a nervous twitch. I think I have a good idea what’s in those pockets. He’s not foolish enough to carry bullets in there, but he’s got cyanide capsules disguised as aspirin in one pocket; A dart-blower that looks like a Sharpee in another. Hair spray that’s really pepper spray, one of those Kung Fu throwing stars, a mini cheese grater, some brass knuckles, and perhaps his secret weapon, razor-sharp fish hooks. But you know what—he rarely has to use any of this stuff. Cuz this guy’s sly. In his story, Coffee, Black, he writes himself as a retired cop, staking out a new Starbucks store that’s been the target of regular vandalism. His caffeinated investigation takes him on a wild goose chase that turns as chilling as a hazelnut frappuccino. I don’t know what’s more frightening in this story—the anarchists or the insurance agencies.

Kimberly Warner-Cohen. She may look small but she’s someone you don’t want to mess with. I saw her take down a sumo wrestler once with a good flying chop to the throat. Before she moved to Portland, she lived in New York where her street name was K-rock Man-Slayer. She published a novel a couple of years ago called Sex, Blood, and Rock and Roll. When I read it I thought it was non-fiction. I was scared for my life. In her story, People Are Strange, takes your emotions and tosses them around like a rag doll. One moment you’re experiencing phantom twin syndrome, longing for the sibling you never knew you had; the next minute you’re surrounded by naked ladies and beer stench in the darkness of a strip club-shaped like a jug of moonshine. But in that darkness, you make a discovery, one that fills you with joy for a moment, until it’s snatched away with brutal coldness and disregard. It’s the kind of moment where decisions are made and sometimes you have to live…or die…with the results.

From the Wordstock Portland Noir P:ear benefit reading:

Jess Walter. To tell you the truth, I’ve always been a little suspicious of the guy. Who else do you know spends most of their time in Spokane, Washington, cranking out award-winning novels while pretending to be a normal family guy? What’s he’s hiding from out there? Once I was on a greyhound bus and I heard some tweekers telling stories about the potent crystal meth that comes out of that town. They kept talking about some meth-chef called “J-Dub” and I deciphered their ghetto pig-Latin to mean Jess Walter. Especially when one of them pulled a beat-up copy of Citizen Vince out of their backpack. For his story in Portland Noir, good ol’ J-Dub slips into the persona of an Oregonian editor, slyly manipulating the daily horoscopes to harass an ex-girlfriend. It’s a tale that asks us the timeless question: What love isn’t crazy?

Zoe Trope. Here’s a case of the hunted becoming the hunter. When Miss Trope published her high school memoir, Please Don’t Kill the Freshman, a lot of her teachers were none too happy with the skewering they got in her book. They tried to blackball her and they gave her mountains of extra homework. They toilet-papered her house and crank called her cell phone. They hung chicken feet from her locker.

And then a funny thing happened. These teachers mysteriously started showing up to school with black eyes and broken bones. Some of them disappeared for days on end. One of them was found tied up in the back of a swinger’s club with a vibrator throbbing on the floor nearby—the poor trigonometry teacher was in tears. People started pointing fingers at the teenage Trope but she was long gone by then. Moved to Ohio to get a “higher” education. And no teachers messed with her there.

Back in Portland now, Trope’s been playing nice, innocently studying to be a librarian and writing stories like the one in this book. It’s about girlfriends, orgasms, creepy guys on the Max train, and of course, revenge.

Dan DeWeese. Back in the 90s, he was known as “Danny Boy the Weasel”—the most unassuming but dangerous bookie in the Portland gambling scene. He’d take your over/under, your knockout predictions, your trifectas, your college basketball brackets, baseball bets, what-have-you, and he’d turn them either into big happy cash for you or a night sleeping on the couch with a take-out pizza box for a pillow and an angry wife.

There were others that tried to move in on his turf, tried to pass out their calling cards at the Rialto or buy you a drink at the Portland Meadows, but they quickly disappeared. “The Weasel got ‘em,” you’d hear people say with a shake of their head. “Bit his nose clean off his face,” they’d laugh. And those stories aren’t just myth. 1994 was the busiest year for nose surgeons in Portland history.

But now Danny Boy is flying straight. Ten years clean from Gamblers Anonymous, he’s now focused on writing and recently even sold his first novel to HarperCollins. His story in Portland Noir, The Sleeper, is a haunting tale about a newspaper delivery guy trying to come to terms with the shambles that his life has become. Set in the early morning quiet and gloom of Highway 30, the narrator’s thoughts are sure to take over your head and in the end, you won’t know whether you’re winning or losing.

Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones contributed a comic for the anthology so they never read at any of the events. But if I did, I would have pointed out that Jamie is a convicted dog stealer and arsonist (he once burned down a whole Safeway) and that Joelle is a world-class pool shark with a Swiss bank account and a collection of severed fingers in the glove box of her car. It doesn’t get more noir than that.

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