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March 6, 2011 / Melissa Yuan-Innes

Sarah Cortez Interview II: Creativity and Finances in Noir Publishing

Here Denise Callister Nielsen and I conclude our interview with the wonderful Sarah Cortez.  Again, my apologies for the substandard video quality, including the camera cutting out every ten minutes.

In this video, Sarah talks about editing Indian Country Noir in a tough economy.  They had to cut four stories in order to cut costs, which I found totally depressing.  On the upside, she points out that  Johnny Temple at Akashic Books has almost single-handedly resurrected the original mystery short story in book form, so we give him lots of props.

Sarah Cortez ICN & Akashic

Sarah defines Noir in two ways.  My fave is, “the main character starts out messed-up, goes into a downward spiral, and ends up even more messed up.”  There are also more X-rated versions.

We talk about Leonard Shonberg’s story, “Lame Elk.”

I ask, “Do you think that, with a recession and a war going on, people seek lighter fare?”

Denise talks about an underlying sense of unease in Noir.

Noir talk

Sarah talks about editing as a creative act and how she and Liz Martinez pitched Indian Country Noir to Akashic Books.

She also answers the $10,000 question, which boils down to, “Do you think it’s acceptable for a non-native writer to write from a native perspective?  Or is that appropriating voice?”

Creative editing & ? appropriating voice

I asked about the native spirituality inherent in the stories, starting right with the Helper in Joseph Bruchac’s story, carrying on with Grandpa and the heartbeat woman in Gerard Houarner’s story, and in fact, most of the contributors mentioned the spirit world.

We then touched on creativity in teaching, such as Denise incorporating this anthology into her classroom.

More on the voice controversy, plus spirituality & teaching

Why are so many Noir stories written by and about men instead of women?  In Indian Country Noir, only Jean Rae Baxter chose to wrote from a female point of view.  I think perhaps the gender of A.A. HedgeCoke’s narrator is deliberately ambiguous, in the vein of Jeannette Winterson’s Written on the Body.  The other women in the anthology (Mistina Bates, Liz Martìnez, Kimberly Roppolo and myself) chose to write from a male POV.

Sarah speaks on this and describes how she aims to read and write more female Noir this year.

Also, what makes an anthology a success?  Sarah talks about the pleasure of introducing “stunning writing” to a new audience, but also about the business of publishing.  A bare minimum budget for one of these publications is $10,000.

Women in Noir; the business of publishing

I slide in one of my #1 questions:  what did your parents think of you quitting your day job and becoming an artist?

Sarah and Denise were blessed with supportive parents, although she says, “You always have to be able to pay the freight to follow your dreams.”

Sarah really made me think about how writing has become such a discussion about dollars and cents, marketing, and strategy.  I’m glad she spoke at length about art and creativity as well.

Not to sound like a sycophant or anything, but this generous, thoughtful, talented woman inspires me.  I hope I’ll be like her when I grow up.

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