I mean I’ve done this before, but still. A woman like Anonymous-9 intimidates a man. We’re in her office, which is lit only by the hues of pink and orange from a setting sun pouring in through her massive window. It’s cool in here; the kind of cool that needs someone else’s touch to become warm. Her back is to me, fixing a drink. “Make yourself at home, dear. I’m just going to unwind real quick before we get down to it,” Anonymous-9 says, taking a beret out from her hair and letting it spill down her back.
“Yeah. At home. Sure.” I say, reach for my belt buckle.
She laughs at a thought she’s having and I feel at ease. “So, earlier you said it took you some time to build up the guts to ask me for this?”
I blush, but that’s not an answer she can hear with her back to me. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Why? This is my job?”
“I just--well, it’s hard to explain…”
“Now, I’ve had clients tell me they’ve worked a little overtime to build up the money, but c’mon, now.”
“I've never used a service like yours.”
“Sure you have. You’ve been published.” Anonymous-9 turns around, sees me. “And why are you naked?”
I’m standing there, the breeze from her AC vent hitting me square in the ass. This time when I blush she can see it. “Well, I thought I was here-”
She stalks forward, pulls out her desk drawer. Gets her gun. “You were here so we could go over your manuscript. Do you edit nude, honey?”
“I think I’ve made a huge mistake.”
“Ryan, you probably say that everyday of your life but this right here, this is beyond a huge mistake.”
“Earlier I joked I was a bit of a prostitute when it came to- oh my God,” Anonymous-9 stops, realizes why I think I’m here. “You think I’m a whore?”
Instead of answering I look at her office walls. Oh, there’s her 2009 Spinetingler Best Short Story on the Web award. And there’s her 2010 award. And others. And more others. And more others again.
“Well, ma’am, you see…” And I start seeing framed thank you letters from other authors. Without your edits I never would have landed the big deal and My quality of life has improved so much under your tutelage. Et cetera, et cetera et cetera.
“Oh, I’ve made a huge mistake,” is all I can say.
“You’re still nude, assface.” Anonymous-9 says as she slams her drink. She drops the glass on her desk and closes the gap between us. “You also have an awkward build.”
“If you’re talking about my…hibbidy-dibbity he’s just cold. They shrink, you know.”
“You wanna know what I know, Ryan?”
“I know now that what Chris F. Holm and Brian Lindenmuth and Sandra Ruttan and Tom Pitts and David Cranmer and Matt Louis and Ron Earl Philips and Brian Panowich and Isaac Kirkman and Chris Leek and Chuck Regan and Joe Clifford all said was true.”
“Not Joe, not him too…”
“You are a ridiculous moron with no hope of getting into Heaven when you die, let alone something as comparatively easy as getting to a professional author level.”
“Lindenmuth told you that? But he published my book…”
“Honey, you wanna talk about someone making a huge mistake.”
“Did Court say that too?”
Finally something to let a little light shine down through the rain clouds. “Ahhh, thank you Court for sticking with me-”
“Oh!” She says, beaming smile. “Court Merrigan? Of course he did! I’ll even show you the email.”
I just shake my head. I couldn’t read it right now anyways. The tears would blur it out too much. “I’ll get dressed and leave.”
“Don’t worry about getting dressed. Just get out or get shot.”
“You sound like my mother.” I say, and head for the door.
“I don’t even want to know what that means.” She follows me close, close enough to where I can smell her perfume and feel the freezing cold circle of her muzzle pressed against my lower back. At the door she says, “Ryan, I am an author, career coach and book editor. I thought you were here because you wanted to go to the big time. What a disappointment.”
“Sorry I thought you were a high-priced hooker. If I could take it back I would.”
“You’re a smelly douche,” Anonymous-9 says, pushing me out the door with her gun. I stumble out, and face the lonely dark night.
“Hey kid,” she says through what’s left of the door’s opening. I turn, a broken man, nude, awkwardly built with a shriveled penis and no book help.
“You got nice sideburns, though. I can’t deny that.”
“No one does.”
“Now scram before I ask the drug dealer down the hall to let out his pit bulls so they can eat you in the street like you were a chicken with a broken leg.”
“I’m gone.” She shuts the door on me. I fart on the stoop and walk out into the night.
Ladies and gentlemen, Anonymous-9 lives her daily life as Elaine Ash, blondie extraordinaire and book professional. Many thanks to Mike Monson for demanding to see her appear in the hallowed halls of The Noir Affliction.
Define noir for the masses, please.
Er, is noir for the masses? That's what mysteries and thrillers are for, with their wider appeal to a larger audience, aren't they? Noir is an acquired taste, a view from an odd angle--it's like comparing a sushi to a McDonald's filet-of-fish burger. In a pinch, the sushi eaters might eat the fish filet, but the numbers are a lot less the other way around.
McSushi is a huge idea. It’s something I’ve been mulling over for a long time. You know I used to cook at McDonald’s, right? I got into some trouble when I told a customer to “go f**k” himself on the drive-thru intercom. But this interview isn’t about me. Where does your grit come from?
Oh, it's all just a lot of big talk and hot air. Until I pull out the .38. I'm a card-carrying member of the NRA. As a law-abiding resident of Los Angeles living in a gang-riddled end of town, I take wise counsel from the old saying, "When seconds count, the police are only minutes away." What you call grit I call sensible preparation for a probable reality.
If folks could read just one Anonymous-9 story, what would it be? Why?
It would probably be Hard Bite, the short story. I'm strongest in the present tense and Dean's voice seems to be distinctive and people respond to it. I seem to have written a rare character--a disabled man who isn't a victim and doesn't feel sorry for himself. There are plenty of these people in real life, but they're not portrayed as active, dynamic action characters in fiction. If you analyze Hard Bite, you'll see that Dean is in control of each and every scene, no matter who is trying to dominate him. From doctors to the Mexican Mafia, the guy in the wheelchair calls the shots and he never relies on guilt or sympathy. He always has something else to offer. In it's own noirish way HARD BITE is a refutation of powerlessness, and an ode to human spirit, regardless of physical limitation. What parts of you wind up in your stuff? My imagination. Who wouldn't like to be a vigilante now and then? Who wouldn't like to have the money and resources of a Mafia cartel queen? None of it translates to real life, though.
With a short story collection and Hard Bite, your novel which has received lavish praise, what's next?
I just adapted Hard Bite into a screenplay and I'm waiting for beta readers to weigh in. Then we go to Hollywood like a fine, fat pig to market. A movie deal will be the third in a trio of deals I had my heart set on: digital, print and movie. I have the first two signed and sealed, movie is the last. For a while there, it looked like nothing was going to happen. HARD BITE was rejected by agents everywhere. I was all ready to self-publish, but I knew something as experimental as Hard Bite could use the seal of approval from a respected publisher. Then Allan Guthrie made an offer from Blasted Heath and signed me. Then T. Jefferson Parker blessed me with the blurb to end all blurbs, for which I will be forever grateful, and I became a best-selling Amazon author in Mysteries and Thrillers, Hardboiled. HB stayed on the list for two weeks. Then New Pulp Press signed me to a print deal and the paperback comes out May/June. I'm looking forward to a launch party in Los Angeles, Bouchercon, and doing some Noir at the Bar appearances. You're all invited! (I still don't have an agent, by the way. Isn't that funny?)
Tell me about Beat to a Pulp, if you don’t mind. Were you there from the beginning, and what it like being a part of such a huge thing in our community?
I was Editor at Large for Beat to a Pulp just as it got started. I continued to edit and develop short stories for the site for about a year and a half until I moved on to editing the Round One anthology, which is now a collector's item. David Cranmer selected and acquired stories and passed them along to me and if they needed help or a little spit and polish here and there, and I proofed everything, I would contact the writers and work with them. That's how BTAP got a reputation for quality very quickly. We never just put up whatever came in the inbox; we actually worked with writers to make them the best they could be. After three action-packed years, I had to move on to devote attention to my own stuff, but BTAP was a terrific experience and a great way to develop not just as an editor but as a writer. "They" say, "Give away what you want to have for yourself." Well, I wanted somebody to read my stuff and really care about it and help me develop it. So that's what I gave away and it all came back. I still think BTAP is the best-designed site on the web thanks to Denise Mix. Her work is superlative.
Words like “superlative,” “devote” and “Cranmer” are too big for me. Please refrain from using them. You’ve been a driving force aiding several authors today—Chris F. Holm and Patti Abbott just to name two.
There have been so many good, solid writers that got started in that e-zine scene. I cherish each and every story I had the pleasure to work on and every writer I worked with. Some, like Chris F. Holm, send in letter-perfect work. I can't say I edited Chris, because all I did was double-check his already perfect proofing. I worked with Patti on her novel about a mortuary photographer that's still looking for a publishing home. A most promising premise. Jake Hinkson was another I adored. Steve Weddle, Andy Henion--crazy-wild writer, I used to walk the floor over his stuff, Glenn Gray who has a collection of short stories being edited right now by Stona Fitch over at Concord Free Press. Charles Gramlich. Chad Eagleton reworked Six Bullets for John Carter for me and I still think the story has amazing emotional resonance. Frank Bill. Hilary Davidson. Charles Ardai. I have to leave a lot of names out, but what heady, magnificent times working with such talent, and making lasting friendships.
Hard Bite began as an award-winning short story. You expanded it into a novel. I’ve written several shorts, and while maybe I could expand them another thousand words or so, I doubt I could flush them out into a novel. Well, that’s not true. I’m incredible, and any one of my short works would be the next Great American Novel should I choose to bless it with a longer plot line. But, did you always have the expansion in the back of your mind, some critter whispering “we’ve got more, you know…”?
No, I never had it in my mind that any short story could be a novel. But I actually have two more that will be novels and here's why: I'm so deep into the character(s) that they literally shape a world around themselves. At first, people started telling me to write Hard Bite into a novel. And then Brian Lindenmuth did a review of Issue Winter 2009 in Plots with Guns called M-N-S and said that if it was a novel he'd go out and buy it right at that moment. So I was getting feedback that my shorts could be novels, and it's all because I there's so much backstory in them that they keep perpetuating after the short is written. They outgrow the short format and spill over into a novel. I put a lot of thought into just about every short. That's why it takes me so long to write one.
I realize you don’t know me, but given my massive Internet presence and your womanly intuition, if I were to get into a brawl with Sid, your Hard Bite deadly assistant monkey, how would I fare?
I think the prognosis might not be in your favor, Ryan. Sid has a practiced tooth with humans at this point, and you have no experience fighting killer monkeys. (At least, it's not on your resume.) You could always bring a .38 to the festivities but Orella Malalinda, the drug cartel queen did that and look what happened to her. I think it would be Sid 1 Ryan 0. Sorry.
What the eff ever. I’d beat that monkey like it was the drunk dating my mother. What theme song would play every time you walk into a room?
Till You Come to Me by Spencer Day.
And there she is, folks. Elaine is a delight to speak with, and I look forward to everything she has to offer. Visit her as Anonymous-9 here, and as Elaine Ash, book pro here.
Next time on The Noir Affliction – Speaking of Mike Monson, he’s up next. The dude is making a splash in the crime fiction scene by being everywhere, all the time. Seriously. The guy gets published everywhere. Check him out here and get familiar with him. he’s going to be around for awhile.