Saturday, February 02, 2008

Shock and Awe

I first got to know the crime-fiction-loving Jordan family via the newsgroup RAM (rec.arts.mystery), on which Jon Jordan was a regular poster. While I toiled away at the British e-zine Shots--which editor Mike Stotter had re-created as a Web-only periodical in 1998--Jon worked for the online presence of the Mystery One bookstore as well as Books ’n’ Bytes, posting interviews, articles, and reviews. Jon Jordan went on in 2003 to publish a collection of his interviews, Interrogations.

Then Jon’s younger sister, Jennifer Jordan, started posting to RAM, as well as contributing to Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine and doing reviews for The Rap Sheet, prior to its current incarnation as a blog. Jennifer and I even contributed to a surreal work-in-progress at RAM, and we have been in contact ever since. I finally met the clan Jordan--Jon and Jennifer, and Jon’s wife, Ruth--face-to-face during Bouchercon 2003, held in Las Vegas. I vividly recall over breakfast Jon hinting that he was planning with Ruth to launch a magazine that would feature and support the genre. He asked if I would contribute, and I agreed. I must admit that, due to time constraints, my contributions have varied in frequency ever since Crimespree was launched in the summer of 2004. But you will find my reviews, interviews, and features from time to time.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Jordan’s contributions have increased in number; she now works as the fiction editor of Crimespree. And late last year, she edited a volume of noirish stories that--after being retitled, so as not to offend the delicate--is called Expletive Deleted (Bleak House Books), a term made popular during the 1970s by the release of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon’s private office tapes. The anthology is themed around profanity, but it could just as easily be looked at as being themed around morality. Many of the tales told here--by authors as diverse as Laura Lippman, Jason Starr, Charlie Huston, and Olen Steinhauer--remind me of dark yarns that appeared in the1950s EC Comics series ShockSuspenStories, which I devoured as a youth. Jordan’s collection is prefaced by an introduction by Mark Billingham (Death Message), which rightly points out that Expletive Deleted is not for the faint of heart. As an editor, Jordan manages to fuse the profane with the sentimental, and in so doing pulls off a remarkably thought-provoking collection that will linger longer in the mind than the curse words that pepper the tales therein.

To find out about Expletive Deleted’s genesis, I called Jordan for a quick interview. We also talked about the books that have influenced her and why her surreal blog is so fixated on 1970s haircuts.

Ali Karim: So, tell us about how you got into writing and reading.

Jennifer Jordan: Writing grew out of two things for me: massive amounts of reading and utter social dysfunction. I was a ghost in school, sitting in the back, absorbing knowledge, until I could get home to all of my precious books. Reading led me to write my first novel in a beat-up notebook with loopy, girly handwriting and a painfully sincere state of mind at 10 years old. [It was] some horrible wizard novel that explored my first childish understanding of the hero’s journey and how, in other worlds, geeks and dorks are cool, powerful beings loved by all.

AK: And what books were early influences for you?

JJ: Le Morte de Arthur, The Godfather, Helter Skelter, Prince Ombre, and--over and over again--The Elfstones of Shannara. I swung from pure fantasy into deep, dark crime and back again with heavy doses of non-fiction in between. Still do.

AK: About your work at Crimespree: What does that entail, and how much time does that consume?

JJ: Every other month, as I wade through short stories, search to the ends of the universe for fresh article ideas, and read massive amounts of ARCs [advance reader copies] in hopes of coming across one that will keep me up till dawn, frantically turning pages--[it takes] quite a bit of time. Jon is patiently passing on his layout wisdom so that I, too, can be a wigged-out, no-sleeping mess.

AK: Tell us how Expletive Deleted came about.

JJ: [It came out of a] late-night editing session at Crimespree headquarters, a dark and seductive story from Ruth (“Little Blue Pill”), and a case of food poisoning. Ruth told me the premise of her story, but we both thought it was too strong, too sexual, and too “too” for most of the short-story markets. I adore all of the Noir anthologies from Akashic [Books] and immediately thought, “Oh, Fuck Noir!” Then I giggled. Then I hit my head on something. But the flame was lit and the kindling that is my brain produced a bonfire.

AK: And about that title change …?

JJ: Dictated by commerce. Naughty words are hard to stock on shelves when innocents can happen upon them and possibly be made to blush terribly.

AK: Why did you section off the stories in your book?

JJ: All the others kids were doing it! A group of stories, no matter how good, can seem overwhelming or off-putting when they appear back to back with no given sense of escalation or order. Sections suggest a theme within a theme and are geared towards the moods they induce. In the end, of course, readers read the writers they know first and then go to whatever title strikes their fancy after that. But I come away with a false sense of having accomplished something important.

AK: Which of the stories struck a particular chord with you, and why?

JJ: That is a nasty question. Just plain mean. In the end, I think Charlie Huston’s “Like a Lady” left very strong, very weird images burned into my brain. David Bowker’s “Johnny Seven” moved me deeply. John Rickards’ “Twenty Dollar Future” made me cry. Russel D. McLean’s “Pedro Paul” thoroughly entertained me. And Anthony Neil Smith’s “Find Me” exemplifies the theme of the whole book.

AK: Tell us a little about working with Bleak House.

JJ: Bleak House Books are advocates of, readers of, and publishers of dark literary and crime fiction. They are fearless. No red herrings. No Knights Templar. No Scooby-Doo endings. No going into auto-editor mode when I read. With Bleak House, as it was with Uglytown, every damn book has been satisfying.

AK: Are you going to continue as a fiction editor, or will you work on your own fiction?

JJ: Yes, I will always work with Crimespree. And, yes, there is a book and a half under the proverbial belt, and I am a short-story fountain. They just flow from me like that peculiar, orange stuff from a Cheez-Whiz can.

AK: And what passed over your reading table recently that made you stay up late?

JJ: Salt River, by James Sallis, [and] The Wandering Ghost, by Martin Limón. I would kick a puppy to get a hold of the new Martyn Waites. Well, I would feign kicking one. And hopefully, the puppy would see what I was about and yelp pathetically at the right second. John Galligan’s The Nail Knot was my favorite book of 2005, after lying on the bottom of my review pile for daring to be crime fiction in which the lead [character] fly-fishes. From small towns to Chinatown to the wilds of Africa to Cambodia, their line covers everything from the private internal battles of an ex-cop to the political and social battles of war-torn nations.

AK: Finally, what’s with the fascination you have with the old-fashioned “mullet” haircut on your personal blog?

JJ: It is the hair-ification of my enthrallment with “the ugly American.” The loud, strident, self-interested, stumbling ass that gets his opinions from Jerry Springer, who considers belching an art form and thinks who everyone should “talk American.”


Sandra Ruttan said...

"I think Charlie Huston’s “Like a Lady” left very strong, very weird images burned into my brain."


Michael Carlson said...

Belching's NOT an art form? Homer is wrong?