Friday, June 01, 2007

Call for submissions - Lagos Noir (from Chris Abani)

Dear Lagos Noir Contributor,

Please forgive the rather impersonal address of this letter. It is a general call for submissions and some notes on how to pitch your story and must unavoidably sound impersonal.

Lagos Noir is a collection of noir stories based in Lagos, Nigeria. The maximum length for each story is 7,000 words, and unless we have a previous agreement, the minimum is 3,500 words.

All noir stories have an element of crime. They are usually about how a crime was committed and solved, and make the city they are set in a particular backdrop.

Slang, mood, atmosphere and good city descriptions give the stories some grounding; as does the language which is often very self aware and ironic (without being satirical). The voice is a fine balance and difficult to negotiate. Most noir stories are very plot driven, but once that is in place, a writer can feel free to explore larger social issues, much the same way that Walter Mosley does with his Easy Rawlins books about LA. Noir stories are often about the underbelly of cities and the criminal elements that inhabit them, but as long as they turn around a crime, they can come from and be set around any time period. Remember, they have to be suspenseful and dramatic.

The anthology will be published in the US by Akashic Books ( as part of their Noir series. I have included some samples from previous noir collections published by Akashic. They are copyright protected and exist here courtesy of the publisher and only as examples of the form.

The stories must be in Microsoft Word 97-2003, they must be formatted properly and double-spaced. You can email them to me at

The deadline is tight and non-negotiable, and sadly very soon: June 30th. For this I apologize.

If your story is accepted for publication you will be paid 200 dollars and a copy of the anthology. You retain copyright to your work with modifications that will be stated in your contract.

If I have already been in touch with you, disregard this letter as more personalized ones are on the way to you.

I hope you are willing to help make this a wonderful anthology.

Best wishes

Chris Abani – Editor.

From Chicago Noir: MARTY'S DRINK OR DIE CLUB by Neal Pollack

Clark & Foster
The guy at the end of the bar was dead. Carlos had seen dead guys before, so he knew. They usually didn't get many customers in Ginny's, especially not before 5:30, which was when Carlos had started his shift, slapping the mop around the pool table: A couple of bikers had gotten into it the night before, leaving the usual dried residue of blood, saliva, and Leinenkugel. Tonight, the guy slobbered in and took the stool by the window. He sat hunched, not out of some deformity, but just overall weakness, his hair long and gray and greasy under the Cubs hat, his eyes brown and wide and blank, staring at himself in the mirror, or maybe through the mirror, at something beyond.

"Get you something?" Carlos said.

No answer. Carlos set the mop by the pool table and walked through the hutch. The guy had flakes of dry snot on his mustache, which was as peppered and unkempt as his hair. He gave Carlos a little nod, though even that looked like a struggle, and raised his right hand familiarly. Carlos thought this was strange, since he'd never met the guy before. The hand shimmered turbulently.

"You want a drink, man?" Carlos said.

"Whuhhhhhh," the guy said. "Wiiiiiiiiiii."

Carlos spoke wino. He reached under the bar, pulled out a little tumbler, flipped a few ice cubes into it, and added a double shot of well whiskey. When a guy was this far in the bag, brands didn't matter.

"Run a tab?"

"Ahhhhhhh," said the guy.

"All right," Carlos said. "That's two seventy-five."

The guy folded his arms on the bar and put his head down into them, without taking a sip of his whiskey. His jacket slid halfway off his shoulders. Screw it, Carlos thought, I'm not gonna shake this dude down. He can pay me when he wakes up.

A half hour later, the guy's arms slid off the bar. He hovered there on the stool for a second, arms flopping, before momentum pitched him forward. He bonked the bar; he tipped sideways and then he fell, his head hitting the bottom rail before he stopped, facedown, fully sprawled, on the floor. There wasn't any blood, but Carlos still didn't want to touch him. Carlos called the apartment upstairs.

"Ginny," he said. "You'd better get down here now."

Then he noticed the business card. It had fluttered across the room, settling under the jukebox. Though he knew enough to stay away from the body, this he decided to touch. He walked across the room and picked up the card. It said,
marty's drink or die club
Philosophers, Statesmen, Men of Chicago
Johnny Quinn, Treasurer

Below that was an address, and Johnny Quinn's signature, in a shaky hand, and then underneath that, in red lettering, all caps: membership expired

The red letters smelled strong, like they'd recently been applied with a Sharpie. Carlos was no better detective than he was a bartender, but he guessed that this dead guy was Johnny Quinn. And he definitely knew Marty's.

In those days when the city gave real estate breaks to connected developers like stocking stuffers, there were two types of neighborhood bars: those that understood and cared about the changing landscape, and those that didn't. Ginny's fell in the latter category, one of the few leftovers from the 1960s hillbilly takeover of Uptown that had sent everyone else fleeing except for the most committed members of Students for a Democratic Society. Ginny had basically given up around 1987, when her sister died, and now she was one code violation from the end, which would happen soon enough. By this time next year, a mid-scale seafood restaurant would be serving up nineteen-dollar swordfish steaks in this spot, and Ginny would be sleeping on her son's foldaway sofa in Schaumburg.

Marty's was the other kind of bar.

When he'd been alive, Marty Halversen operated his place with a sense of whimsy. If any other working Chicago bar had once been a speakeasy, the newspaper reporters and Wild Chicago producers hadn't discovered it yet. Marty had liked to boast that his liquor license was the third issued by the city after the end of Prohibition. He'd put the license over the bar, in the same frame with a picture he'd taken of Capone drinking in his basement. By the time Marty left, those days of potluck Sundays, sponsored basketball teams, and neighborhood golf outings were fading, but the new owner, a neighborhood kid named Scott Silverstein, spoke just the right mix of regular-guy sympathy and monied schmooze to keep it going. He loved giving tours, showing cameramen and tourists Capone's secret cashier's booth, the trap door to the basement, and the old still that he'd preserved so well.

At night, the place filled with actors and bankers and lawyers, anyone willing to dress down a little and appreciate original fixtures and tin ceilings but also willing to spend five bucks on a weiss beer. The regular crowd still gathered to drink with Scott and raise a glass to Marty's memory and the glories of what once had been. The old patrons still had their corner of the bar. Scott could put in all the kitschy lighting he wanted. They owned the bar's soul.

To read the rest of this story, and others in Chicago Noir, buy the book available September 2005 from and at your local book store.

From LA Noir:
Midnight in Silicon Alley
by Denise Hamilton
San Marino
They caught up with Russell Chen as he drove home from work, running his Lexus off the frontage road by the gravel pits of Irwindale. There were four of them, wearing reflective sunglasses and trucker caps pulled low, and for one terrified moment Chen though they meant to jack the car, kill him, and throw his body on the gray mountains of slag.

When they shoved him into a black Lincoln with tinted windows, his sphincter almost let go with relief. Then fear throbbed anew as he considered the endgame. The bleakness of his situation mirrored the landscape: industrial parks rising like toadstools from the desecrated earth. Looking up to the rearview mirror, Chen watched his computer chip factory shrink to a snowball panorama, then disappear.

"The captured pigeon trembles with fright," the man in the front passenger seat said in Chinese. He craned his head and laughed uproariously to see Chen squashed between two thugs wearing cheap ties and wool-blend jackets. One of the thugs held a gun to his ribs.

The laughing man was the boss. For weeks his people had shadowed Chen, watching him kiss his wife and children goodbye each morning, clocking his drive to work, what time he arrived. Children were good, they liked that and took note. In the evening they watched it all in reverse as Chen's car left the parking slot that read, Reserved for CEO. The gang had their mole inside too, a low-level employee who kept to himself, ate Hunan takeout each day from the same strip-mall restaurant on Garvey Avenue, and gave his fortune cookie away because he already knew the score. The mole had sketched out the factory layout, marking the doors and the alarm system and explaining how many seconds they'd have to disable it. They had the map with them now, singed brown where ash from the mole's cigarette had fallen as he drew.

Yes, the boss had been patient. And thorough. He knew all about the garden apartment in Arcadia where Chen stashed his mistress and their newborn son. But he'd been surprised to discover the brothel that Chen visited each Friday noon, tucked inside a tract home in South San Gabriel where the scorched lawn fought a losing battle against the sun and polyester lace curtains stayed permanently drawn. He knew because he'd dispatched a man to pay the fee and climb the stairs to the rooms where a sad-eyed Mainland teen sat behind every door, brushing her hair at a table and gargling with an industrial bottle of mouthwash she kept next to her Hong Kong magazines, baby wipes, K-Y jelly, and condoms.

An hour later, Mr. Chen would emerge, looking pensive and smoking a cigarette.

Greedy, greedy, the boss said, shaking his head.

On Friday afternoon, he handed out ties, jackets, and machine guns, and the gang, now camouflaged in business attire, set off with military precision. There were fourteen men and four cars in all--one to retrieve Chen, two for the factory, and one for the special errand.

Pulling up to Chen's building, whose discreet sign said RIC Corporation, the men swarmed the entrances, overpowering the $9-per-hour guards and disabling the alarms, which were right where the mole had said. After taking everybody's cell phones, they herded the workers into a room and set two men to guard them.

They ignored the offers of purses and wallets and laughed as the hostages' confusion turned to panic. This gang was after different quarry--tiny silicon chips, an exquisitely negotiable tender on the magnitude of diamonds, gold bullion, heroin, C4, and enriched uranium. Lacking serial numbers, chips were untraceable and no law prohibited their flow across borders. Best of all, twenty million dollars' worth fit neatly into a slim briefcase, with room left over for a passport, airline tickets, and a paperback novel. You could stroll right through security and onto a plane winging its way over the Pacific. Within sixteen hours, the chips would be swallowed up by the gray market that thrived in the alleys off Hong Kong's hi-tech district. Silicon Alley, they called it. Eighteen more hours and the chips would circle the globe, coming to rest in Zurich and Johannesburg and even boomeranging back to California and the insatiable maw of Silicon Valley.

Except in this case, the chips weren't in the locked metal cage where the mole had sworn they'd be. They relayed the news to the boss, who cursed but didn't despair. This, too, was a contingency he'd planned for. In the black town car inching through rush-hour traffic along Interstate 10, the boss applied the screws to Chen.

"In your office, there is a safe built into the wall," he said, watching Chen the way a butcher assesses a slab of meat. "We need the combination."

For emphasis, cold metal nudged further into his ribs.

Chen shrunk away, but succeeded only in pressing against the meaty shoulder of the man to his left, who shifted and released a gust of garlicky body odor. How was it that garlic could savor food so divinely, yet be such an abomination when released through human pores, Chen wondered. This question hovered at the edge of his consciousness as he considered their demands. Chen was amazed he could hold both thoughts at the same time. What a supple organ the brain was. He hoped he would not lose control of his bowels.

An eternity passed as Chen considered his predicament. The prodding grew more insistent. Oxygen ebbed out of the car, making his chest tighten. Was this what a heart attack felt like? If he died, they'd never get the combination. It would be a fitting trick from a god he'd stopped believing in five minutes ago. No. He wouldn't tell them. He'd be ruined, his family turned out. This was his biggest order yet, twenty million dollars' worth of chips with a bonus for early delivery, and he was days away from completion. He'd gambled everything, even borrowed money from loan sharks to hire more workers. He'd clear $500,000 after paying everyone back, and the next order would bring his big payday. How could success be snatched from him now? Chen would rather die. If he sacrificed himself, his wife could take over. At least his children's future would be assured--all of them. He had amended his will last month to reflect the birth of a male heir. His mistress Yashi hadn't believed it until he'd shown her the papers. Chen had even left a generous gift for Mieux Mieux at the brothel. But in a secret chamber of his heart, he knew this fatalism about death was mere posturing, more worthy of a Peking Opera coloratura than a San Gabriel Valley businessman. Of course he wanted to live. How could it be otherwise?

The butt of a gun came down against his temple so hard he felt his brains slosh inside his skull. His head throbbed and something splashed off his brow and trickled down his upper lip. He stuck out his tongue and tasted warm salty liquid. Red tears, he thought. I am crying red tears. He raised a hand to probe the wound, but someone grabbed his arm and pinned to his side. Other hands tugged at his tie and he felt a ripple as it slid loose. Now his hands were shoved together and the tie, still warm from the heat of his body, was looped around his wrists and tightened.

His wife had given him that tie. It was silk. Some Italian designer whose name he couldn't pronounce. Now it bound their love together, he thought. What he would do to save his family.

"The combination," the boss repeated.

Again Chen shook his head, bracing for further blows. He hoped he'd pass out if they hit him again. In the meantime, he formulated a plan. He'd convince them to drive back to the factory and let him unlock the safe. In the moment when they relaxed their guard, he'd escape. Or call for help. Chen closed his eyes and tried to concentrate, knowing that his life hung by a filament not much thicker than the fiber optics that wrapped his beloved and lucrative circuits.

"Open your eyes," a voice ordered.

Chen did and beheld a blurry photo, taken from a distance, of himself, his wife, and the two girls, at a park near their home in San Marino. Chic and perfectly coiffed even on the weekend, Leila wore a quilted pink warm-up suit and clapped her hands as the children rocked on a seesaw. Chen stood off to the side in blue jeans, a white polo shirt, and tasseled loafers, talking into a cell phone and frowning as he checked his watch. He remembered that day. An unseasonably warm Sunday in February. They'd eaten dim sum at a new place on Valley Boulevard and then, bellies full and relaxed, had given in to the girls' pleas and taken them to the park.

"We have people inside your house," the boss said, his voice the sibilant hiss of a snake that Chen had been told lurked in the arroyo, with diamonds on its back and rattles that sang as it struck.

To continue reading "Midnight in Silicon Alley" please purchase Los Angeles Noir available online from Akashic Books and at your local bookstore (May 2007)


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