Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hard Bite & Other Stories by Anonymous-9

Everyone knows we're living through seismic changes in the world of book publishing. As someone who is coming into the business at this uncertain time, I'm fascinated to watch as the business itself keeps morphing in front of my eyes. The internet and the subsequent rise of Amazon have fundamentally altered an industry that a generation ago seemed rock solid.

Now look at us. In the last twenty years, book buying has become more and more of an electronic process. This is even more the case for short stories. In the old days, stories were a bread and butter operation. "Serious" writers like Faulkner and Hemingway wrote stories for magazines because that work paid more (and paid at a steadier clip) than writing dense modernist novels. Pulp writers also pounded out stories for magazines at an astounding clip to help pay the bills.

Those days are all but gone. The number of print venues for short fiction, overtly literary or straight pulp, shrinks every year. Fewer short story collections are published every year.

But what about online? In some ways, getting published has never been easier. Amazon makes self-publishing e-books a simple matter. The Kindle and other e-readers make the purchase of cheap, short fiction more accessible than it has ever been before.

Where is all this change taking us? That's the billion dollar question that writers, readers and publishers are eager to see answered. For now, it is interesting to stop and notice how the internet is altering the way some voices are coming through the ether.

Take Anonymous-9. Here's a writer I've been conscious of for a while now. She's one of those people who keeps popping up as you travel through the world of online crime fiction. Her writing is always lean and hard and a little weird. Or a lot weird. This is a writer whose most well known story (and winner of Spinetingler's Best Short Story on the web 2008 award) is an oddly touching story about a killer monkey.

Anonymous-9's first collection of stories is a e-book called Hard Bite & Other Stories. This collection of noir, horror, and dark humor stories is exactly the kind of thing that might take a while (or forever) to make its way through the usual print publishing channels. A9 is heroically unwilling to tell the same story twice. (Hell, she even seems a little resistant to the idea of working in the same genre twice.) Yet a distinctive voice comes out of this oddball assemblage of crackpots, broken souls, zombies, cannibals, and monkeys.

At the heart of almost all her work is A9's empathy for her characters. When you read her, you know you're in the hands of someone who has done the hard dramatic work of imagining her way into another life. My favorite story in the collection is a moving piece of neo-noir called "Tequila Spike" about a lonely convenience store clerk named Bebbie who becomes obsessed with a couple of regular customers, a druggie mother with a cute kid. The key here--as it is in many of these stories--is A9's control of the voice of her narrators. Listen as Bebbie evaluates herself: "I'm glad men don't notice me. Mousey brown hair, tied back...My store apron doesn't help my figure much. It bunches up and cuts me in two, like a bed pillow tied in the middle. But...they didn't hire me for looks. I make the cash work out, end of every day."

Or listen to Bebbie explain why she prays for the kid: "I pray at night, even though I don’t really believe in it. Please help me come up with something. Please, please don’t let the kid get hurt. You have to understand; I never had a kid in my life before. I hear prayers get answered sometimes, and I figure it’s probably like playing the lottery. If you don’t buy a ticket you can’t win. So I pray anyway, for Chloe."

You hear a lot in that voice, the voice of a woman who has subsumed her feminine identity and replaced it with wage-slave exhaustion until she meets a kid who sparks her maternal instincts. Once Bebbie decides the kid's worthless mother needs to go, you know you're in Noirville.

A9's imaginative empathy goes beyond a bone-tired heroine like Bebbie. In "Claw Marks" she tackles one of the most hackneyed devices in short fiction--the story told by an animal--and makes it seem fresh. Most stories of this kind save the narrator's identity for the final paragraph (Surprise, I'm a Yorkie!) but 9 tells a story of a bar cat witnessing an act of violence, and damn if the thing doesn't read like it was transcribing the cat's perceptions.

Anonymous-9 is the nom de plume of Elaine Ashe, the former editor of Beat To A Pulp. She's currently selling Hard Bite & Other Stories at Amazon for the looooow price of 99 cents. That's one buck for the book I just described. That's a great deal. It's also, perhaps, a vision of where smart, interesting pulp is headed in the digital age.


Brian Drake said...

I helped edit this book and it's great to see A9 getting the attention she deserves. Every story is like a snowball with a rock in it and I cannot recommend it enough. And for more insight into A9's writing style, you can see her interview on my blog.

Al Tucher said...

Exactly right, Jake. A-9 puts characters into extreme situations that end up making them real people.

Anonymous-9 said...

Hey Jake, this review blew me away. Thanks for noting "Tequila Spike." It was my first short story that debuted on ThugLit. I like Bebbie too. You're a great writer, Jake, and a reviewer of refined sensibilities and knowledge of genre. This thoughtful review means a great deal.