Last year, a cadre of Denver's finest noir fiction writers skulked their way over to Juanita's for Denver's inaugural Noir @ the Bar fiction event. The success of that first edition was measured in viscera: "The uninitiated left Juanita's bleeding from the ears, and unsuspecting diners were found vomiting in the gutters of Broadway for hours afterwards," they reported.
In the year and change that followed, the noir genre has continued its literary renaissance, and anticipation grew for a a second set of live authorial readings of red-meat crime stories. Sadly, the past year also witnessed the death of organizer Cortright McMeel, a promising writer whose career was cut tragically short.
This year's event, scheduled for Thursday, May 23, is dedicated to McMeel's memory. Featuring readings by authors Christa Faust, J.L. Abramo, Norb Vonnegut and Michael Lion, the evening will have a fitting soundtrack with live acoustic performances from Kristina Murray.
We recently spoke with event organizer Jon Bassoff, founder of New Pulp Press, who described this year's edition, the current state of noir fiction, and how Cort McMeel will be remembered.
Westword: How did the Noir @ the Bar event come together?
Jon Bassoff: Back in 2008, I started a crime-fiction publishing company called New Pulp Press. One of the prominent crime-fiction bloggers, Jed Ayres, was a big fan of our books. He had started Noir @ the Bar back in St. Louis and encouraged me to get it going in Denver. He introduced me to Ben Whitmer and Cort McMeel, and soon Mario Acevedo joined the party. We just liked the idea of giving voice to some of these unique voices in crime fiction. There are a lot of great writers in the Denver area. And we figured, hell, better a bar than a bookstore.
What was the selection process for the featured authors?
Since there were four organizers, we decided to each pick one author who we thought would represent well. We wanted to have a combination of "big names," established authors, as well as some up-and-coming voices. We flew out Christa Faust and Norb Vonnegut to give the proceedings some star power, and added a pair of really talented local writers in Michael Lion and J.L. Abramo.
What do you think of the current state of noir fiction?
I think it's booming. In a lot of ways, the changing tide of publishing has helped noir writers, I think. Since the big publishers are having a difficult time adjusting to the new reality in publishing, several small publishers like New Pulp Press have filled that vacuum. And without the big money pressure, these presses have been willing to take chances on more edgy and challenging material. Noir doesn't fit in all that well with mainstream publishing. It's better suited skulking around dark alleys.
The event is dedicated to the memory of Cort McMeel. Can you describe your relationship with McMeel and/or the influence he's had on the selected authors of the noir genre as a whole?
Cort was a tremendously powerful author, and I think he influenced a large number of contemporary noir writers. His novel Short was a real seminal work. On a personal level, I think we're all devastated by the loss of Cort. He was larger than life. I didn't know him for long, but he made an incredible impact on me. He was an incredibly giving and soulful person.
Kristina Murray is scheduled to perform her songs as well. Is she performing throughout the night? How do her songs complement these stories?
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I'm a huge fan of Kristina Murray. She'll be performing solo acoustic. While her music might be a slight departure from what we think of as noir, she's a storyteller, and her outlaw music brings the right touch to this cowtown event. Look out for a murder ballad or two. She'll be singing after the first couple of readers, and then she'll continue after the readings are done. Noir @ the Bar will start at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 23. For more information, visit Noir @ the Bar's Facebook Page.