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Monday, June 04, 2018

Nashville Noir

For some reason I've become obsessed with Nashville lately, and I've never been there. Well, I was there one night with my family when we stayed at a Holiday Inn on a cross-country drive, but I didn't see any of the sites. Apparently it's like Las Vegas for country music fans, but it's not just country that's played there--Jack White lives there, and so does Daniel Auerbach of the Black Keys.

Anyway, I wanted to read a book set in Nashville and found few to choose from. I decided on Nashville Noir, which is one of those books put together by a writer's group. These are not renowned authors, in fact I don't how many of them have actually been professionally published (and by that I mean paid).

As such, the stories have an amateurish feel to them. Two are parodies of noir. Parodies are easy to write, it's the real thing that's hard. The story they selected as best, "The Case of the Pinned Up Knickers," by Kathleen Kitty Cosgrove, is the worst, with tired metaphors and a ridiculous story. I didn't laugh once. A sample: "She grinned like the cat that swallowed a little yellow bird. I was tempted to grab her and kiss her, but she looked like more trouble than a big sack of trouble." Huh?

The other parody is by the editor, A.J. Lee. It's a clever title: "Phantom of the Opry," but I think he had more fun writing it than I did reading it. It's about the ghost of a country star hiring a private detective, and is admittedly in the style of Garrison Keillor's radio character, Guy Noir.

Another story, "Where Did the Girl Go?," by Angela Trumbo, mostly consists of her telling us how to smoke a cigarette: "An unlit cigarette dangles from the homicide detective’s lips while his right hand rummages through the pocket of his gray trench coat. As he reaches the bridge railing, he pulls out a square metal lighter. With a flick of his wrist, the lighter flips open and he touches the end of the cigarette to the open flame. The lid closes with a quick snap and he drops the lighter back into his pocket. He draws deeply from the cigarette several times as he stares down at the river flowing beneath the bridge." You'd think we never saw a man light a cigarette before.

By far the best story is "Red Lily and the Oriental Flower," by D. Alan Lewis. It's about a prostitute who is also a vampire--not exactly new--but he writes very well: "Darkness surrounds me but I feel as if the brightest flames of hell have wrapped around this tired and aching  body. Even with the clock showing three a.m., sweat pours out of me and fills my sheets. Sleep will not come this August night. Outside of my apartment window, three leaf-covered sticks sway with the wind, smacking against the wall." Now that's how you start a scary story.

I don't want to come down too hard on these folks; they have a dream and most of them have day jobs (if not all). I wish the stories were longer--they are limited to 2,500 words, and there are only eight of them, so none of them could really get to the heart of the story. And I must say I have no better picture of what Nashville is like. Except for those who write about country music, these writers could be describing any city.

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