Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Rock and a Hard Place Anthology

Scott's note: Roger Nokes is the guest today.  Roger is co-editor (along with Jay Butkowski) of Rock and a Hard Place magazine, which, since its inception in 2019, has put out several issues of crime fiction.  Their focus: stories of desperate people forced to make difficult choices. Rock and a Hard Place is not a place to go for happiness and uplift, but it is a place to go if you're looking for good fiction unafraid to explore the barbed nooks and crannies of the world we inhabit.

As the editors continue to work to produce more regular issues, they are also putting out a call for a special themed anthology, their first.  It's called "Under the Thumb: Stories of Police Oppression", and the anthology will be edited by Blacktop Wasteland author Shawn A. Cosby.  

In the post today, Roger talks about why he and Jay have decided to do an anthology and why on the subject they chose.  And Shawn Cosby also weighs in, as well he should, explaining what he is looking for from the submissions.

Here they are:

Why An Anthology About Police Oppression?

by Roger Nokes

Rock and Hard Place is taking its first step into the world of themed anthologies. We have a number of issues under our belt and think it’s time to give this a shot. And our theme is of considerable importance – it’s one that I think challenges the world of fiction and the world of crime fiction in particular.

Fiction, I think, isn’t reality, but it is a reflection of it. It’s kind of a funhouse mirror showing what is there but in different shapes.

That funhouse mirror can highlight reality. It can show things you’d never see or bother to look at if you were looking at a regular flat mirror. This is like the difference between watching the news and reading a novel. Both can discuss the same subject but can give you different feelings and insights. Often, in my experience, a novel or work of fiction can reach you in ways the news cannot or even nonfiction cannot.

The problem with funhouse mirrors is that if we stare at the same one for too long, we forget that it isn’t a flat mirror. The same is true with fiction. It can lead to a distorted and inaccurate view of reality. If we are fed the same fiction time after time, even if we know it’s fiction, we start to think it’s real.

This is how I think cop fiction has shaped our understanding of reality. Stories told from police perspectives tell us the world is full of people hiding behind every corner and in every alley ready to grab us, take what we’ve worked for, and harm us. And, that the police, albeit jaded and cynical, are there to protect us.

This particular funhouse mirror has adapted recently to admit that yes, police make mistakes and are human. They fail. They are capable of doing the wrong thing, of being criminals themselves. Don Winslow’s, The Force, an excellent book, by the way, is an example of this. The protagonist displays the worst an officer of the law can be, but still, throughout the book, we are asked to feel bad for this character. I found myself thinking, why am I asked so often to empathize with police officers who have abused their power when I seem to rarely be asked to empathize with the people abused by that power.

Another example is the Bosch series adapted for television. In the first episode, we see Bosch shoot and kill a man who turns out to be innocent. Bosch is remorseful. He’s human, but we hardly see the humanity of the man he killed.

At Rock and a Hard Place, we publish stories in the vein of noir as we understand it: stories about people without power, people somehow cut out of society. We released a statement (why-we-are-not-publishing-cop-stories) in line with that thinking last year, declaring that we would not be publishing stories with police officers as protagonists. 

But still, not publishing those stories seems to me like a half measure. We still don’t know the story of the man killed by Bosch in that first episode. This anthology will attempt to make that measure whole. We are inviting authors to tell us the stories that we so rarely read in books and short stories but so often hear about on the news. We are asking writers to help us show a different mirror of reality – one that highlights the parts of our world those with privilege are likely to never see. 

Though Rock and a Hard Place is a publisher of stories and is a creative outlet, I see this as more than creativity. I see this as a way of challenging that funhouse mirror that has been dominant for so long and as one way to contribute to the dismantling of systemic racism and white supremacy of which police violence is only the tip of the iceberg.

And because we want to treat this issue with the seriousness we feel it deserves, we decided to bring in the writing A-team. S.A. Cosby is stepping in as Guest Editor for this anthology and here’s what he has to say about what he’d like to see in submissions:

“I think the main objective of this anthology is to demystify the cop story in crime fiction. We are trying to invert the usual perspective when it comes to a crime story. A deconstruction of the police procedural that examines the world through the eyes of characters who are usually voiceless. We’ve all read a police procedural that uses the suspects as simply props for the story of an officer who “bends the rules” to get things done. Too often we don’t consider the cost of this kind of indoctrination. Stories are our myths and our myths become our reality. But it's a reality shaped by a worldview that disavows the truth of people from marginalized communities and under represented cultures. I like to say writers are liars who seek the truth. That’s what we are doing with this anthology. Seeking the truth. No matter how much it hurts.” 

So now that you’ve read our motivation behind this anthology and you’ve heard what our guest editor hopes to see, get to writing. And remember, all of the proceeds from this anthology will be donated to a charity to be determined.

Details about the "Under the Thumb" call for submissions can be found right here.

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