Wednesday, March 20, 2024

COVER REVEAL - Burning Down the House, Edited by Michel Lee Garrett and T. Fox Dunham

Michel Lee Garrett is one of the best editors of noir working today. 

We first came across each other my last year at Shotgun Honey, and in that time I watched as Michel dove in headfirst, not only more than earning her place as a standout in a long line of extraordinary editors, but doing so with an incredible sense of compassion and indefatigable empathy she applied to every story she read. Every story Michel read had smart, incisive, comments on our decision making sheet, written to be shared with the writer in an encouraging and thoughtful voice. I know for a fact her comments helped turn good stories in to great stories, and that's just one reason I'm incredibly excited for Michel's latest project, BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE - Crime Fiction Incited by the Songs of The Talking Heads, to be published soon by Shotgun Honey.

Edited by Michel and T. Fox Dunham, BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE is absolutely stuffed with talent, and today, we're bringing you the cover reveal for the book (with art by Mary Siniscalchi, with additional design and layout from Ron Earl Phillips) and an interview with Michel. 

But first, let's get a look at this beauty: 

That looks incredible, doesn't it? Now, let's hear from Michel

Thanks so much for allowing us to reveal the cover of BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE here at Do Some Damage. The TOC looks incredible, and I love that you were able to graft one of The Talking Heads most famous songs and tie it to a cause you're passionate about. Can you tell us a little about how the project came together, and how you settled on The Talking Heads as inspiration?

Over the last couple years, I've had the good fortune to find myself in the table of contents of several anthologies that reference music, including ones that reference the Allman Brothers, Hank Williams, and Willie Nelson. I've worked as an editor in my day job for years, so I just had a lightbulb moment one day where I realized, "Hey, I could edit one of these!" Punk rock, DIY spirit, all that. I knew from the beginning that I wanted the anthology to benefit a good cause, and as much as I love country music (which I do), I listen to a lot of punk, ska, 80's alternative, new wave, that sort of thing. I've always had a particular love for the Talking Heads: their nervous energy, their playfulness, their experimentalism, their surrealist bent. So when "Burning Down The House" came to mind, and I began thinking about how we as a species are somewhat literally burning down the house through the effects of climate change, the puzzle pieces all began to click into place. And I'm so grateful that so many talented authors lent their time and talents to help bring the idea to life!

You mentioned The Talking Heads and their energy, surrealism, playfulness, and experimentalism, and 80s alternative, new wave, and punk. When I think of new wave, punk, and 80s alternative, and, to be honest, almost every Talking Heads song I've ever heard, I think of a break in formalism, and, often, a kind of songwriting that is much more expressive and impressionistic in its explorations of joyous wonder or rage or sadness. In other words, the lyrics are much less likely to tell purely coherent or straightforward stories than a lot of other artists who have had similar anthologies. What made you think the Talking Heads were a great fit for crime fiction, specifically, and did you worry, while the project was still in its nascent stages, if you'd be able to pull it off?

Well, I'm a highly anxious person by nature, with a generous dash of imposter syndrome thrown in for good measure, so I tend to worry about everything, including that. But that said, I felt fairly confident that this kind of expressive and impressionistic style would lend itself well to an anthology, in part because I wasn't interested in stories that served as a transliteration of the narrative of a song. I was interested in original, visionary stories for which the song served as an inciting point: a spark to light the fire. The authors really delivered on that front. Each piece is a unique and visionary statement, with several stories blending crime with elements of other genres like speculative fiction, horror, and magical realism. I also think the less formal, more impressionistic style of the music we're talking about — this more transgressive style — lends itself particularly well to crime fiction, which is inherently transgressive as a literary genre. I think both punk, new wave, and related genres share this in common with great crime writing: a willingness to break boundaries, to upend convention, and to explore parts of the human experience that don't fit neatly into polite, predetermined boxes.

Let's talk about the stories - and the hell of a line up you've gathered here. When putting together the collection, did you have specific criteria you were looking for, a sense that reflected the Talking Heads, or was it more of a feeling? And another thing I'm always curious about with these artist inspired anthologies: did you get any stories that really changed how you thought about a specific song?

I really wanted to give the authors free reign to determine how they wanted to approach their story. My criteria was only that they had to reserve the title of their story, and that each story had to be "recognizably crime fiction," but that experimentations with other settings and elements of other genres was welcome. I also encouraged each author to incorporate elements of political, class, and social consciousness into their work. The result was this pronounced theme of punching up against systems of injustice. Just to name a few — James D.F. Hannah's story examines economic disenfranchisement in a dying coal town. Libby Cudmore's story is an incredibly powerful story about abortion access and women's bodily autonomy. Bobby Mathews takes aim at sexual harassment and stalking. T. Fox Dunham (who also served as my co-editor) wrote an aching, beautiful story about homelessness and transgender dignity. We also ended up with this unique mix of styles and genres. You get some very classic, grimy noir with duplicitous characters and hidden motivations, like from Rob Pierce and J.B. Stevens.  One story that really surprised me was P.D. Cacek's take on "Life During Wartime." It would've been easy to write that story set during a literal armed conflict in history. Instead, she wrote a near-future speculative story about the resurgence of facism, reframing history itself as a kind of "war" between the forces of justice and egalitarianism and the forces of violence and authoritarianism. I thought that was brilliant. Lucas Franki's "Electric Guitar" is one of the most wild stories in the collection — a magical-realism, urban-fantasy, buddy-comedy, road-trip hero's journey about a man and his magic talking guitar on a noble quest to stop a deranged musician from an act of cruelty. The story is so many things all at once that it shouldn't even be possible, and yet it's hilarious, heartfelt, and impactful. Jessica Laine wrote this very surprising period piece set at the tail end of the 1800s about a snake-oil conman, which slowly reveals itself to be more than it initially appears. Kimberly Godwin did an incredible job with her surrealist mindfuck of a police procedural in "Crosseyed and Painless," writing what seems to be a straight-forward investigation that descends into utter madness. And Gregory Galloway, a personal literary idol of mine since I read his first novel at 16 years old, wrote a beautiful piece of literary noir in "Once in a Lifetime," where he does such an incredible job capturing the absurdity of everyday life and elevating it to the highest levels of human experience. I think it's safe to say every author in the collection brought a unique lens that will challenge readers and Talking Heads fans in powerful, unexpected ways.

Michel, this sounds incredible and I can’t wait to read it. Okay, two more quick questions:

1. Someone hears about this book, comes up to you and says, “I’ve never heard Talking Heads before.” Which album do you recommend they start with? 


2. If you get the chance to do another anthology like this again, who else, do you think, would make an incredible artist to pay tribute to? 

Thanks so much, Paul! Appreciate your time and this opportunity to talk with Do Some Damage!

1) This one's easy. Watch their live concert album, "Stop Making Sense." Possibly the greatest concert ever, and my personal favorite version of every song they perform. Just be prepared to have your mind blown.

2) One of my other favorite bands is Streetlight Manifesto, so maybe a genre-wide tribute to ska and punk. I've also considered Leonard Cohen as having some incredible potent material to incite a collection. There's some real darkness in his work, but also, importantly, some deep beauty and humanity, which I think would lend itself well to crime fiction. And, this isn't specific to any artists, but I keep hearing the meme phrase "Be Gay, Do Crime" bouncing around in my head as a starting point for a charity crime anthology to benefit LGBTQ+ advocacy... We'll see what happens in the future. Follow me on Twitter @MichelMGarrett or online at to keep up with whatever I do next!

A huge thanks to Michel for taking the time to talk, and to Shotgun Honey for letting us run this cover reveal. Make sure you're following Shotgun Honey and Michel both on the appropriate social channels, and preorder BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE as soon as that button becomes available! 

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