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It’s launch day for Cleveland Noir, an anthology offering a twisty, duplicitous, and sometimes murderous view of Cleveland. Anthology editors Michael Ruhlman and Miesha Wilson Headen discuss the noir genre, why Cleveland is an apt city for this work, the process of curating and editing the anthology, the diverse range of voices and geographic locations represented, tips for new writers, and more.
Michael Ruhlman is the award-winning bestselling author of nine nonfiction books, nine cookbooks, and a collection of novellas, as well as a coauthor of many additional cookbooks. Subscribe to his Substack newsletter here.
Miesha Wilson Headen is a journalist, the recipient of Best Minority Issues Reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, has worked as a bookseller, and has organized multiple books fairs in Ohio. She is a former mayor of Richmond Heights.
Cleveland Noir contributing writers: Paula McLain, Susan Petrone, Mary Grimm, Dana McSwain, Abby L. Vandiver, Sam Conrad, Angela Crook, D.M. Pulley, Miesha Wilson Headen, Alex DiFrancesco, J.D. Belcher, Jill Bialosky, Thrity Umrigar, Michael Ruhlman, and Daniel Stashower.
Finally, as mentioned in this episode, Loganberry Books still has a few remaining Author Alley events this summer: August 12 is Fiction Showcase, and September 9 is the Children’s & Illustrated Lit Showcase. Visit the 2023 Author Alley page for details.
Miesha Wilson Headen (00:00): A man loves his deceased wife so much that he's just gonna set the old house on fire. Laura Maylene Walter (00:06): I mean, that's romantic, right? <laugh> Laura Maylene Walter (00:12): Welcome to Page Count, presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, literary advocates and readers in and from the state of Ohio. I'm your host, Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. Laura Maylene Walter (00:35): Today we're speaking with Michael Ruhlman and Miesha Wilson Headen. Michael Ruhlman is the author of nine nonfiction books, a collection of novellas, and nine cookbooks, as well as the co-author of many additional cookbooks and has been described as a chef whisperer to the stars. He is from Cleveland originally. Miesha Wilson Headen is a journalist, the recipient of Best Minority Issues Reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, among other awards, and also has been a bookseller who organized multiple book fairs in Northeast Ohio and a former mayor of Richmond Heights. Together they edited CLEVELAND NOIR, a new anthology out today from the Akashic Books Noir Series. Michael and Miesha, welcome to the podcast, and thank you for being here. Miesha Wilson Headen (01:21): Laura, thank you so much for having us. Laura Maylene Walter (01:22): CLEVELAND NOIR was such a fun read, I really enjoyed it. It is a collection of stories and a poem all set across various neighborhoods in Cleveland. I found it to be a dark and moody and often chilling read that is full of things like arson and kidnapping, embezzlement, ghosts, private eyes, and of course plenty of murder. So I thought we could maybe start by talking a bit about the noir genre. I know everyone already has an idea of what that is, but I would like to hear from both of you how you view noir stories and more specifically why you think Cleveland might be a great place, a fitting place, to tell these kind of stories. Michael Ruhlman (02:05): Sure. Noir is really, as we write in the introduction, really comes down to sex and money. That's what these stories usually revolve around, almost always, but not always. One story is about revenge. Miesha's story is about money, you know, it's about mood and it's about tone and it's subject matter again, focuses on sex and money and usually murder or some form of underhandedness has to go along with that. Miesha Wilson Headen (02:31): One thing that I like about the noir genre, and I think it fits perfectly with Cleveland, is that if you take any of the protagonists in our stories, none of them are like outright villains. They're mostly people who are just kind of like down on their luck and you know, you hate to say that about Cleveland, but you know, it's kind of a down on your luck kind of town. And so what you say is people who make immoral choices in order to like achieve their objectives, like they do things that are so absolutely questionable. And I think that that's kind of at the core of the noir genre. The other thing I kind of like about this book being published like right now is I think there are a lot of really talented writers out there who are doing noir but not really under that heading. Like, so I assume that probably all of us have read Carmen Maria Machado's HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES, right? Laura Maylene Walter (03:24): Yeah, I love that book. Miesha Wilson Headen (03:26): Love it. I think a lot of those short stories could be categorized as noir, you know, the ordinary people making really horrible decisions that end up badly for them. Another one that I loved so much that I, I don't think it got as much press, was FRIDAY BLACK, which is a collection of short stories by Nana Kwame Adjei, I think his name was. And that's another one where it's cool too cause it fits in with the Cleveland Noir too, where you have this minority writer, African-American male writing into the genre of noir and also with a twinge of horror. And again, I think it's just something that fits very well with Cleveland in our mood right now and sort of the literary mood. Laura Maylene Walter (04:06): Yeah, absolutely. And your introduction that you co-wrote mentioned some what I would consider real-life Cleveland H=horror stories of the past. Are there any that you would like to touch on briefly, some cases, some of the darker cases from Cleveland's history? Michael Ruhlman (04:23): Well, we're all aware of the many stories from the Sam Sheppard to the more recent horrors of kidnapping and all that. But they don't really figure into these stories and I think we sort of made a conscious effort to stay away from them. Did anybody even mention any sort of missing persons? Oh yes, there is one. Laura Maylene Walter (04:43): Is it the bus stop story? Michael Ruhlman (04:44): The bus stop story actually talks about actual characters, which I thought was pretty interesting. Yeah. Laura Maylene Walter (04:48): That story, for listeners, by Dana McSwain, it's just called "Bus Stop," was really great. It's about the protagonist who can see girls who had been murdered, so the ghosts of girls and he's able to interact with them during the length of time that it took for them to perish. And so it's, as you can imagine, very spooky and heartbreaking. But yes, that was a really powerful one I thought. Miesha Wilson Headen (05:12): And then the other story that we have that speaks to horror in Cleveland Noir in Cleveland, especially if you think about the Ariel Castro story of three women trapped in a house for a decade, is Angela Crook's "Bitter." I don't want togive away the plot, but it does involve a person imprisoned in a house who is tortured. So yes there is, you know, this sort of dark history of Cleveland that's very much factored into the stories. And then I have to also mention one of my favorite stories, Susan Petrone's "Silent Partner," which also speaks to an accidental murder that happened in the city of Cleveland around a sporting event. Laura Maylene Walter (06:01): That was a great one. I loved the ending of that story, which of course I can't share right now because we can't give anything away <laugh>. That's still a hard thing with a lot of these stories havevery dramatic and often satisfying or frightening twists at the end. So we can't get into too much detail about all of them. So it's not to spoil anything, but I will just say it was a wild ride. I think that probably sums it up. Miesha Wilson Headen (06:23): I think I want to jump in with one more thing cause I hadn't really thought about it until you asked the question, but a lot of the stories do involve missing girls, Paula McLain's "Love Always" you have missing girls and then you know Abby Vandiver's "Sugar Daddy," also another case of missing girls and there is so much of the unsolved crime of missing women that happens in the city of Cleveland. Laura Maylene Walter (06:48): Absolutely, absolutely everywhere really, but definitely here. And it's a bleak cultural commentary. There's a reason why that theme is emerging in this collection for sure. But sometimes fiction is a way to plumb that darkness in a way that maybe we can face it that we can't as much in the news because it's so horrific. Well, I would love to hear how this anthology came to be. So it's part of a larger series at Akashic Books. Can you talk about how Cleveland was added to the long list of cities that was able to have this noir anthology? Michael Ruhlman (07:23): I first became aware of the series because my wife Ann Hood, who's a novelist, edited PROVIDENCE NOIR, which is her hometown, and she said, there should be a Cleveland Noir. And I talked with Johnny Temple years ago about it and he was sort of lukewarm on it. I'm not sure why. I think he wanted bigger names than I could guarantee him. But when I saw that they'd published COLUMBUS NOIR? Please. And so I wrote to Johnny and said, look Johnny, it's time for Cleveland Noir. This is a perfect city to set noir stories in. It's got a wealthy echelon, it's got a very poor echelon and of course a big middle. It's got all kinds of nooks and crannies. It's a sort of a famous, well-known city. It's just a great place for things to happen. And he said, great, let's try and put something together. I needed help editing this. And so I called Loganberry Books and the wonderful writer Sarah Willis connected me with Miesha. And there we began. Miesha Wilson Headen (08:18): Cleveland is so fitting for our publisher too because they're actually incredibly committed to diversity. And Cleveland, despite it being incredibly segregated, is nonetheless an incredibly diverse city. And Michael and I worked super hard in making sure that we had diverse writers. In the book we have, you know, the LGBTQ+ community represented with Alex DiFrancesco. For African African-American writers, there's me, Abby Vandiver, Angela Crook, and then I'm proud to say that Sam Conrad is indigenous. So like tapping into this community, we were able to fulfill a lot of the important like aspects of diversity that the publisher wanted. Laura Maylene Walter (09:02): You could tell this was put together in a careful way to make sure Cleveland as a whole is represented and also geographically it covers east side, west side, downtown, so various parts of the city. And for Clevelanders out there, it is fun to read an entire collection of stories where you recognize all the places, you know, from Tommy's to Lakeview Cemetery to all sorts of bars and coffee shops in Lakewood. I mean it covers a broad range of Cleveland, which is fun. And on behalf of Cleveland, I hope, Michael, you will tell Ann Hood thank you for the original suggestion. Michael Ruhlman (09:39): <laugh> I will tell her. Laura Maylene Walter (09:40): So there are some, as you mentioned, some bigger names of Cleveland authors in this anthology. We have Thrity Umrigar and Paula McLain among others, but there's also probably some newer voices that readers aren't familiar with yet. Can you talk a bit about that, about how you found this diverse range of voices and is there anyone you would like to mention as kind of a new discovery for you in this anthology? Miesha Wilson Headen (10:06): Thank you actually so much for asking the question. We do have a lot of new writers inside of here and it seems like, you know, this practically becoming the praise Loganberry podcast <laugh>. But one of the things that Loganberry does so well is supporting its local writers, right through the BIPOC Showcase and also for the other summer book festivals there. While I was working there at Loganberry with event planning, I got a chance to meet a number of self-published writers who, you know, weren't able to get representation and I read their novels, right? I brought them to the table for this anthology. One of the biggest ones, and I mentioned her before, but Angela Crook, who wrote a wonderful story called "Bitter" that I believe if memory serves me, it's set in Hough, which is an iconic neighborhood if you think about it for like Hough Burning during the sixties riots. Angela Crook has a series about Black women living in Cleveland that sells incredibly well on a local level. Miesha Wilson Headen (11:04): And so then I was so happy to bring her to the table for this. And then the other ones to obviously mention are Sam Conrad, our indigenous writer who's also the first time published. Dana McSwain, this is kind of the first time with her being published with a major label, although she also has books that sell incredibly well inside of the horror genre. JD Belcher, who wrote about Lakewood. Those are kind of like the key people, like bringing them to the table to represent Cleveland, but also just support our local writing community. Laura Maylene Walter (11:39): Yeah, absolutely. We could just keep singing Loganberry's praises throughout this entire <laugh> interview. But it is so important, right? I mean this is also a lesson for writers listening to this is whether you are trying to be traditionally published or whether you're self-published or working on it, knowing your bookstore going to these events, I will link in the show notes to the Author Alley events coming up. So that is something to check out for sure. So we've already mentioned a few of the stories I'm going to ask you, when you think about this anthology, do you have a story in mind that you would classify as maybe one of the darker stories in the book? Just to give people a few examples of what might be in here? Miesha Wilson Headen (12:19): Well, I actually want todo a shout out for Michael's story, which I absolutely love so many different reasons. "The Ultimate Cure," it takes place in kind of an iconic neighborhood in Cleveland, which is that Shaker Square area, right? The other thing is absolutely, I'll say delicious, about the story, is that Michael is known for his food writing and it's a food story. So in addition to like getting a hundred percent engaged with the plot, like the talk about the food and the freshness and like where it's sourced was absolutely wonderful and then, you know, we have to be so careful about the twist, right? Laura Maylene Walter (13:00): Right. Can't give that away. Miesha Wilson Headen (13:01): Can't give that away. But it is a very delicious twist. And just to see how he lays breadcrumbs, right? Where you're like, huh, that's interesting. So that when the twist comes, you're like, you didn't know it was coming, but it makes sense. Yeah. So that was like actually one of my favorites. I love that story. Michael Ruhlman (13:19): You're really sweet, Miesha. I loved yours as well, especially because of the twist and how you handled it at the end. Thank you. I was not expecting it. And that's a real pleasure when, when an author carries you along, gives you something unexpected but completely logical and you should have figured it out on your own, but didn't, Laura Maylene Walter (13:37): Your pieces are similar in that way, I'd say, and for those who are curious, Miesha's story is about someone who is embezzling from a church. <laugh> Dark in a different way, I guess, Miesha Wilson Headen (13:47): Which of course is funny because like now I'm the CFO of a church and I had to tell the pastor, I'm like, I would just like you to know that I wrote this story three months before meeting you. <Laugh> Michael Ruhlman (13:58): Really? Laura Maylene Walter (13:58): Which might only suggest that you've been thinking about this an awful lot and making your plans. <Laugh> Michael Ruhlman (14:04): Two of my favorite stories in the book are Paula McLain's story "Love Always" and Mary Grimm's "Under the Hill" because they're so reliant on mood, especially Mary Grimm's. I mean, it's almost surreal, you know, I knew where I was going with my story. I knew the beginning, middle, and end of the story, but it was almost as if she was finding her way into this new worldthat takes place in and around the Flats and it's all mood. Nothing really bad happens, but it's menacing. Everything feels menacing about it. And Paul McLain's story of two women who basically drug and then rob men is also terrifically moody and emotional. It's really about the relationship between two girls. It's less about the bad that's happening, the bad that they're doing thantheir relationship. So I love all the stories that we've just mentioned here. I love all the stories in the book. Laura Maylene Walter (14:57): Yeah. All of them. Michael Ruhlman (14:58): Yeah. But those stand out for mood for me. Laura Maylene Walter (15:00): Definitely. I was excited to see that Mary Grimm had a story in here, always a fan of her work. And so I knew she wouldn't disappoint. So shout out to Mary Grimm. And you mentioned the girls drugging men and yes, there's a lot of drugging I think in this anthology, as well. So just, these are heads up for everyone. If this is your thing then you're gonna have to read this. What about maybe one of the weirdest stories in this anthology, either the strangest to you or maybe the most surprising for whatever reason? Miesha Wilson Headen (15:32): For me, one of the most surprising was Susan Petrone's story, "The Silent Partner." So I think I can say this without giving it away, I was unaware that the first person in professional baseball ever killed with a pitch happened right here in Cleveland of the former Cleveland Indians. I found out recently too that this man is in fact buried in Lakeview Cemetery and in Cleveland lore, like very real Cleveland lore, there is a belief that his death was a blood sacrifice to the devil that the Yankees made <laugh> so that they could be the most successful sporting team in the history of the world. Laura Maylene Walter (16:14): Amazing. Love it. <Laugh> Miesha Wilson Headen (16:16): And how Susan Petrone took this strange and creepy legend and made it current and terrifying. And obviously from my work in journalism, I can say this, the main character's a journalist, like he's just kind of following his investigation, he's just trying to write the story as he gets himself deeper and deeper and deeper into trouble. It was just everything I feel that the noir series is about, because it was obviously so Cleveland-based, like our hardship, our heartache, you know, that our Indians are never quite as good as they're supposed to be and maybe it's all the Yankees' fault and this sort of thing. Laura Maylene Walter (16:50): Yeah. And it's also a bit historical, right? So it has that old-time feel as well. Yeah. Susan Petrone is another local author. I always can learn something about baseball from Susan Petrone, and of course she has her novel THROW LIKE A WOMAN. I would love to hear a bit about how this book came together and the editing process. So first of all, I should say it's structured around the neighborhoods in Cleveland. We've got the Downtown/Flats area, we've got the Outliers, you know, the trendy areas. We've got East Side, west Side, and the Heights neighborhoods as well. So was this kind of neighborhood structure how the Noir series is already set up? Or were you making those decisions yourselves? How did you decide to structure the stories? Miesha Wilson Headen (17:33): We did know that we wanted a geographic spread, right? And as we were approaching writers, we were asking them like what neighborhoods were they comfortable with writing? So that was definitely kind of a part of its initial structure. Michael Ruhlman (17:45): Miesha, you were theone, as I recall, and thank you, you were the one responsible for figuring out a meaningful structure for these stories. Miesha Wilson Headen (17:53): Thank you. And obviously upfront we made sure we had our iconic locations. Like I mentioned that, you know, Michael's takes place inside of Shaker Square and Dana McSwain's is Little Italy, right? Daniel Stashower, it's Coventry and it's like, it's a very Coventry-driven 1960s, 1970s story. So, you know, we had our groupings and we had our spread, but we wanted to make sure that we're hitting all like these sort of important parts of Cleveland. We mentioned Mary Grimm's, like it's the story of a journey, like Michael said, like the atmosphere, it is an odyssey. It's almost as if Homer's Odyssey were a short story that took place in Cleveland, however that even makes sense. That would be like <laugh> Mary Grimm story because she kind of starts up high in Brooklyn Heights. And so she travels down into the depths of the Flats and the story gets like weirder and more mystical, you know? So we were hitting like our important spots Michael Ruhlman (18:47): As far as the editing goes, writers would hand in their stories, we had deadlines for them, and then Miesha and I would read them and then we'd discuss them and then one of us would get back to the author with our notes for revision. And for the most part I thought it worked really smoothly and all writers were very open to our suggestions and desires. They were all great to work with. Miesha Wilson Headen (19:08): There was a lot of editing though, Laura. Laura Maylene Walter (19:11): Yeah, tell me about it. Miesha Wilson Headen (19:12): Like with your podcast you have people who are like writing, there's a lot of editing. Some of it, you know, you take Jill Bialosky, right? The editing process was her editing process. Michael, how many times did she turn it into us? Like five times? Like she turned it in, she's like, no, I can make this better. And she like turned in another draft <laugh>, like she was actually driving her own editing process and it's Jill Bialosky writing poetry, what are you gonna do? Right? You've been like, keep keep bringing it! Good stuff. Like it's sort very exciting. Michael Ruhlman (19:40): That was one that I worked really hard on with her. I mean, I'm not a poet, so who the hell am I to edit Jill Bialosky, who's got like five volumes of poetry and two memoirs and a novel or more than that. But basically when I didn't understand what she was trying to get at, I'd say, Jill, I don't really understand this. And she'd see the problem and fix it. So yeah, we went through a lot of revisions and then even she sort of revised on her own and sent one more final draft because she wanted to make it better. So that was a fun one. I'm really proud that we have a noir poem in here. I think it's the first ever done. Laura Maylene Walter (20:12): Yeah, that was such a delight to come to the poem. I wasn't...well, I guess I could say I was expecting it because I read some of the <laugh> material about the anthology, but it was a nice surprise to actually reach it in the text and read a noir poem. So I thought that was a great addition. And I love that, you know, a writer's writer who keeps sending revisions. Like the document is named final-final-final_5 or something <laugh> that seems appropriate. Miesha Wilson Headen (20:38): Like with Mary Grimm, I'll just flat out say it, I don't think we changed a word. Like, you know, she teaches writing when she handed it to us, it was in its final form, right? Like it was, yep. It was that good. But you know what, I'm proud of the work that we did with our newer writers with JD Belcher, with Sam Conrad to a certain extent with Angela Crook, even D.M. Pulley. These were stories where there were substantial revisions over several months. And with a few of the ones that I mentioned, it involved like changing like 50% of the plot because this is noir, this is the series what we're doing, it has to be snappy and engaging, like literally it must be snappy and engaging. And some of the things just weren't getting there with terms of just like action and atmosphere as Michael said. And so then we worked and we developed people and I actually, I am proud of the final product. I think that all of those short stories ended up very well. And also you have to praise the writers who were, for the most part, incredibly open to the editing process and were definitely listening to us as we talked and handed them notes. Michael Ruhlman (21:52): Yeah. Sam Conrad, a special note to him. He had a really complex story and I think that he was writing to figure out what the story was and once he had it, then it was terrific. But it took a number of drafts before we got at the crux of the matter. Miesha Wilson Headen (22:06): Absolutely. That was a good example. Michael Ruhlman (22:08): What was nice is that he was so open to criticism and rewriting, he really wanted to make the story work and he did a great job in finishing it off. Laura Maylene Walter (22:17): I think that's important for writers to hear too, to be open to the feedback from editors. You know, it's not about just automatically taking every note ever, but really putting some thought into it when someone's making certain suggestions, why might they be doing that? How can you find your own solution to what they're saying? I think that is very important, especially for an anthology. Because an anthology, I haven't edited one myself, but I've been part of one as a writer and it is a lot of moving parts and the anthology editor or editors have to be sure to not have too many pieces that are similar. When I contributed to an anthology, I had to do some edits because I brought up a few points in my essay that other writers in the anthology had already covered in more depth and I couldn't know that. Right? I couldn't know that. And so hearing from the editors like, oh great, I can easily take this out and rework it. So I just think it's, yeah, it's so important, especially to be a professional writer of any kind, to be able to take that kind of feedback. How long did it take for you to put this anthology together from when you started finding writers to today, its publication day? Miesha Wilson Headen (23:19): Oh, at least a year. Laura Maylene Walter (23:20): Oh yeah, A year actually sounds really short to me. <laugh> So that's great. Miesha Wilson Headen (23:24): <laugh> Laura Maylene Walter (23:26): Do you have any tips for writers who might be interested in submitting their work to anthologies? Maybe you were more soliciting people, which does happen a lot in anthologies, but sometimes there are calls for submission. So for a writer who's interested in submitting something for an anthology like this, what advice could you offer? Miesha Wilson Headen (23:44): Well, I mean, just based upon this process, what do I know? This is the only one I've done. This is the first one I've done. But this did come up, we did do an open call and some people submitted short stories and it was just clear from the short stories that were submitted that they hadn't taken the time to understand Akashic and the noir series and they weren't writing for what the anthology is. So I know it's gonna sound kind of basic, but my piece of advice would be like, oh, what do the kids say these days? "Know the assignment." Like yeah, understand the assignment before submitting. Michael Ruhlman (24:20): Yeah, that's great advice for any writer no matter where you're submitting to, if it's a magazine or an anthology, read those anthologies, see why they work. If you're submitting a food article, read the food magazine that you're submitting to and see if it's in their style, if it's what they do. So yeah, Miesha's advice is spot on. Laura Maylene Walter (24:38): And I think it clearly depends on the type of anthology and the subject matter and if it's maybe also if it's fiction or nonfiction. But I could offer an additional tip for writers. The anthology I was in, I submitted to a call for submissions and I had one idea originally that would just be more of a personal story, but I knew in my gut immediately, I thought, is this really interesting enough, or is it special enough? Like why would they pick my piece out of probably hundreds of submissions? Like you really have to be tough with yourself and ask what makes this stand out. You have to be realistic about whether it's interesting enough, I guess. I think for this anthology, for fiction, maybe that's a little harder to know because they won't know what else is being submitted. But I can definitely say the pieces that are in this anthology are very unique, all of them in different ways. Michael Ruhlman (25:27): I did want to say the only thing that we did do was make sure that each person had chosen the neighborhood. Cause you can't do two little Italies, you can't do two Coventries. So that was the only restriction we put on people is that you had to choose your neighborhood before you wrote the story, ensure that we had a diverse set of neighborhoods. Miesha Wilson Headen (25:46): The other thing I'd recommend too is as we all know writing is a solitary process. Right? That said, you still have to know people. It is important for new writers to get out to your book festivals. It is important to know your booksellers. It is important to get like entrenched in your literary community because Michael and I did do the open call for the writers, right? But then there are some people that did receive special invitations and of course they're the people who knew us best. I know that networking can be hard and I get a little vomit in my mouth when I even say that word cause it's so gross. But you have to get out of your house and know people. Laura Maylene Walter (26:28): I'm also someone who, the word "networking"? No, thank you. I am a classic introvert, you know, I just like to be at home writing, but I agree it's so, so important. And you don't have to think of it as networking. You're not going to an event to try to schmooze someone or get something from them. Just show up is my advice. Just show up. I mean, back when Brews and Prose was a thing, which I really miss that reading series, I would just go as many months as I could. I think I saw you read there, Michael, one of the times. I would just go and just go by myself or go with friends, either way. And the more you go to things like this, you run into people that you recognize and you start talking. That's all it is. Or going and buying your books at a Loganberry or another indie bookstore instead of ordering them all online. I think that makes a huge difference. Miesha Wilson Headen (27:15): Absolutely. Laura Maylene Walter (27:15): Well what about any advice for writers who might be interested in editing an anthology? I know there are different ways of going about this. No, you already had the publisher of course with an established series, which makes a big difference. But if writers say they have an idea for an anthology, either on their own or maybe they want to approach a publisher with a pitch for an anthology, do you have any advice for them? Michael Ruhlman (27:41): I'm sorry my wife Ann Hood isn't here because she's done two anthologies. Two of them on knitting, she's working on proposals for two more anthologies and you pitch it just like you pitch any other book, you write a proposal and you say who's gonna be in this anthology and what's it gonna be about and who the audience is and what the final product is gonna look like. And then you shop it around to the various publishers. Laura Maylene Walter (28:03): Yeah. And you had mentioned earlier in terms of getting big names for the anthology, I know that can sometimes be a challenge where you might want some name recognition, but do you need to get them on board before you can pitch the book? Do you have any tips in that regard? Michael Ruhlman (28:18): We had no strictures from Akashic and Johnny Temple, its publisher, how many big names we had to have. But there were certainly some people that I did reach out to, like Mary Grimm, whose stories are award-winning and she's published in the New Yorker and things like that. And there were a couple of Cleveland writers who are well-known who declined, who just said, I am on deadline, I cannot do it. I wish I could. One said, I just don't write fiction. I'm a nonfiction writer. Susan Orlean, we talked and she said, you know, I don't write fiction, I just don't, I'm a nonfiction writer. So we didn't have everybody that I wanted in the edition, but we got a great diversity of writers. And especially like Miesha's calling attention to the less published writers who are included in the Noir. They're every bit as good as the more experienced writers. Laura Maylene Walter (29:02): One more question about the anthology before I ask each of you one individual question to wrap up. In your introduction you wrote that these stories are really about love. And earlier, at the beginning of this episode, we talked about them being about sex and money. But I love this concept of a noir story being about love. Can you maybe elaborate on that a bit? Michael Ruhlman (29:25): It's interesting. I believe Miesha was the one who pointed that out. These are love stories and she's right about that. My story is in part a love story. Paula McLain's is a love story between two young women. So I was surprised to see how much love there was in these stories and I'm glad you called that out. Miesha Wilson Headen (29:42): You know how it is, Laura, love makes you do crazy things. <laugh> Laura Maylene Walter (29:46): Steal money, kidnap, drug people and murder them <laugh> all in the name of love. Yeah. Miesha Wilson Headen (29:52): I won't point out exactly which story is, but exactly. So one of the crimes happens because a woman loves her brother so much that she wants to avenge him, right? Because she loves him. I mean, and if you think of Alex DiFrancesco's story about a man who loves his deceased wife so much that he's just gonna set the old house on fire. Laura Maylene Walter (30:15): I mean that's romantic, right? Miesha Wilson Headen (30:20): It's this intensity of emotion that comes around love. And like I said previously, one thing that I really like about the story is I don't think that any of the protagonists are 100% villains. Like we don't have any Iagos in the story, right? They are ordinary people who are driven by love and loss and they make absolutely the worst decisions around the intensity of their emotions. Michael Ruhlman (30:45): Yeah, it's remarkable. The majority of stories in this book hinge on Love. I hadn't thought of that until Miesha called my attention to it. And you called attention to how many people are drugged in these stories. It's fascinating Laura Maylene Walter (30:59): That it is. Okay, well, so Michael, as we start to wrap up, I am curious, you're a really well-known food writer. You've authored or co-authored over two dozen books. Would you like to call out one of your recent books for our listeners? Maybe make a recommendation and also part two, tell them maybe a bit about your Substack as well. Michael Ruhlman (31:22): Oh, thank you. Well, I've got a book out now called The Book of Cocktail Ratios. I've gotten into cocktails, started during the pandemic when, you know, I was in a pod of five people and each evening part of the routine was we'd, we'd have a new cocktail at the end of the day and it was fun. And I recognized how interrelated all our cocktails are and I wanted to explore that in the book as I'd explored it in my book [about] cookbook ratios. So I'm really happy with this cocktail cookbook and I am loving writing my Substack newsletter. It's sort of food-based, but we also get into cultural stuff and movies and book recommendations and blogs kind of went away. They went the way of the CEO and so I kind of lost my community there. I went through a very large life change and when my life settled down again, it was all gone. That whole landscape was gone. And I'm really happy to have it back in the form of these Substack newsletters. So the Substack is Ruhlman.substack.com and it comes out every other week and it's free or paid, depending on how much information you want. And I love doing it. Laura Maylene Walter (32:28): Yeah, it is funny how blogs, there was such a high point back when Google Reader was a thing as well, right? Where that was just part of my routine of reading through a bunch of blogs. And in a lot of ways I miss that. But at least Substack and newsletters have filled that hole, I guess. So I think that's great. And Miesha, so you have a very rich and varied career history, I think. Journalism and politics, which I imagine are perfect inspiration for noir writing and editing <laugh>, but also working as a bookseller at Loganberry previously. Is there anything you'd like to share as you look back on your time working as a bookseller? You were also organizing Author Alley, organizing author fairs, you know, what takeaways did you receive from that that can affect your own writing and editing going forward? Miesha Wilson Headen (33:16): I do want to talk about that time at Loganberry because in many ways, actually this is something I used to say to my colleagues there constantly, that I understood that my time at Loganberry was magical and I was happy to be of a certain age to understand its magic like and to not take it for granted. To be a bookseller is to work, especially with an independent bookstore, it is to work with an entire staff of people who are hella smart. Like my colleagues there, a person could walk into the store and give three plot points. And I'm telling you, if four of us were standing there, one person would know exactly what the book was and whether or not that it was in stock. It was just fantastic. And then obviously there's the thing, not only just literature itself, there was the craft of bookmaking because you know, obviously we have the archival books and the rare books there. Miesha Wilson Headen (34:22): It was just amazing experience. And I think that also part of the reason why I took to it was, it's gonna sound like a little bit of reach, but it very much tied into my journalism and my political work because I understood what I was doing at Loganberry was its own kind of advocacy. It's like it was its own kind of activism because I could take a book that I fell in love with by a minority or unheard of writer and I could hand sell that book like within the environment of Loganberry. I could make it a bestseller through promoting it. Particularly like with Angela Crook and with Dana McSwain. You know, they walked in the doors and they were like, this is my novel. And I would take the time and read it and really appreciate what they were doing with the work and you know, give them the best spot at Author Alley and like walk people over their table, like explain why the book is so good and really kind of like to give birth to art, right? Miesha Wilson Headen (35:28): To bring the craft of writing into the world, into wider audience. And I loved what I did there. I'm sure you can tell cause I'm getting passionate about it. I kind of very much felt with CLEVELAND NOIR, it was extension of what I was doing with Author Alley. I loved it. I did, I loved it. There are a number of famous independent bookstores on the coasts, on the east coast and on the west coast that are unionizing. I hope that that works out because I think the only reason anybody ever leaves book selling is to make more money. And I think what we really need to do is to find a way for that retail profession to have a living wage so that these intelligent, well-educated people can continue to support the literary arts in a way that the writers need and the publishers need and the agents need. Like we're this incredibly important distribution channel and I just hope that, you know, we can figure out the economics so people can stay in the field. Laura Maylene Walter (36:32): I think that might be a perfect, hopeful note to end on. I want to thank you both so much for being here and for our listeners, today's the day CLEVELAND NOIR is out. So please go get yourself a copy and scare yourself, and you can get a copy ideally from your local independent bookstore. So thank you both so much for being here. Miesha Wilson Headen (36:54): Thank you, Laura. Michael Ruhlman (36:55): Thank you, Laura. Laura Maylene Walter (37:00): Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the book at Cleveland Public Library. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and leave a review for Page Count wherever you get your podcast. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at Ohiocenterforthebook.org. Follow us on Twitter @cplocfb or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put "podcast" in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.
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