Vancouver Noir takes literary look at dark side of our city
Vancouver’s reputation is that of outdoor fun, athleisure wear clothing and craft beer. But fooled by all the S’well water bottles there’s a much darker side to the city, a side that is chronicled in the new short-story anthology Vancouver Noir. The latest addition to the Akashic Books stable of Noir Series titles Vancouver Noir was edited by Sam Wiebe. We caught up with Wiebe, who also contributes a story to the book, and asked him a few questions.
Q You are a crime writer by trade, so I was wondering looking back are there books that terrified you?
A Red Dragon by Thomas Harris and Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. Both make you identify with very unpleasant people.
Q What must a story be to be classified noir? What are the key elements?
A: Dennis Lehane called noir “working class tragedy,” and I think there’s some truth to that. It’s about bad things happening to people a lot like us.
Q: What are the clichés that should be avoided when writing these types of stories?
A: It’s only a cliché if you do it poorly. A femme fatale in 2018 with a predilection for shoulder pads and venetian blinds would be silly. But a character wellversed in sexual psychology? Endlessly fascinating.
Q Vancouver is not typically considered a noir type place, but that assumption is very wrong, right?
A Dead wrong. Noir is about the dark lurking beneath the tourist-friendly image — and Vancouver excels at both.
Q What was it that got you thinking about the city’s dark side?
A It’s something I’ve always been fascinated by. My dad took me to the Police Museum when I was very young, and it definitely left an impression.
Q: Have you ever felt uneasy walking around a part of Vancouver at night?
A: Sure. I’ve seen fights, overdoses, police raids. There are definitely places where desperation and rage are more easily felt.
Q: How did you decide on the authors for the book?
A: I wanted a balance of genre and literary writers, with different backgrounds and perspectives. Vancouver is a complex city, and any anthology that doesn’t attempt to represent that would be remiss. The common point is that they can all write really well.
Q: Did these stories exist before the book? Or did you commission writers. If you commissioned stories what was the direction you gave the writers?
A I commissioned all the stories in the book. I wanted the authors to interpret noir for themselves. Writers as good as Nathan Ripley, Sheena Kamal, Carleigh Baker and Timothy Taylor don’t need a whole lot of direction.
Q The fans for crime writing are a ravenous bunch. What is it about this genre that draws so many dedicated fans in?
A No genre is more devoted to telling stories about Real Life and Right Now than crime fiction. The stories are entertaining in themselves, but they’re also about things that matter — housing, addiction, mental illness, poverty, and gendered violence, to name a few.
Q You have a story in the book called Wonderful Life. It’s set near Commercial Drive. What is it about that area that inspired you to write the story?
A The Drive was traditionally the city’s immigrant, workingclass, roughneck neighbourhood. Wonderful Life is about the ways that older, rougher version of the Drive imposes itself on the present day. I have to credit Aaron Chapman’s fantastic Last Gang in Town for inspiring Wonderful Life.
Editor and author Sam Wiebe commissioned all the stories in Vancouver Noir.