Thursday, May 3, 2012


“Swing for the fences…Gut-shoot me and/or break my heart, because, tonight, I just want to feel something.”

Many years back, pre-HEAD GAMES time, I was invited by Dave Zeltserman to guest-edit an edition of the now long-gone Hardluck Stories e-zine.

The year was 2006. I immediately pitched this theme concept tied to Cinco de Mayo I dubbed BORDERLAND NOIR. Dave Z. was dubious, but ever the gentleman, gave me a shot. I wrote this pitch for the sucker that drew some pretty potent submissions:

"La frontera … what El Paso-based songwriter Tom Russell describes as 'that delicious, dark-eyed myth of the border.'

"We’re headed way out west, out past where you’ve dared to go before. Out to Touch of Evil country (that’s the film, not the book, hombres).

"Our troubadours are Russell, Dave Alvin … Marty Robbins and Ry Cooder. Mariachi bands dominate the shortwave radios down this way, where tortured widower Orson Welles hands out justice with his ham-sized fists, all the while muttering under his boxy Stetson.

"We’re not looking to be slavish about the coordinates: The Border is a state of mind every bit as much as it is a geographic boundary. But fiction or nonfiction, I will be seeking that Malcolm Lowry/Day of the Dead/Cinco de Mayo vibe.

"Focus on that uneasy friction between Old Meh-hi-co and El Norte … because, way down deep, we all know that you can leave Brownsville, but you can never get Matamoros out of your soul.

"Give me stories about young lives snuffed out chasing the dream of more money and better futures up north.

"Show me guilt-stricken 'coyotes' who can no longer stand to roast peasants in locked freight cars, or to abandon babies and their too-young mothers in the scrub-oak purgatory of the Sonoran desert.

"Tell me tales of Narcotrafficante madmen with too much cash and bent imaginations who build crazy tunnels under miles of wasteland to smuggle drugs. I’m craving stories about bad bastards who kidnap tourists and mail them back one-finger-at-a-time, seeking impossible-to-pay ransoms from gringo wage-slaves whose one foreign vacation has gone so terribly south on them.

"To this day, cherry boys with butterflies in their bellies steal across the border to get laid … to drink rum at TJ’s infamous 'longest bar in the world' and to find out exactly what the hell a 'Donkey Show' is. But sometimes things take a turn. Rum and tequila and first sex are a treacherous mix. Show me how treacherous.

"Emiliano Zapata said, 'It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.' So, in that spirit, swing for the fences, amigos. Give me strong and original voices. Gut-shoot me and/or break my heart, because, tonight, I just want to feel something."

Well, we put that issue out on May 5, 2006. Ken Bruen kicked in a Johnny Cash-inflected story. Manuel Ramos had a wonderful story, too. Then we had these great pieces by Mike MacLean, Garnett Elliott (whom I had the pleasure of meeting in person in Arizona this past February), Theresa Kennedy, Bradley Mason Hamilton and Rick Deckard.

Dave Z. kicked in a terrific essay on Touch of Evil. We fronted the whole package with a painting (the original hangs on my living room wall) by singer-songwriter Tom Russell whose album, Borderland, inspired the theme for that special edition of Hardluck Stories.

Sucker took on a life of its own. The next year, Head Games came out with its own Borderland Noir vibe and Touch of Evil aspects. Ken and Manuel's stories were promptly anthologized. Rick Deckard has a book contract and will be putting out a borderland noir-length novel from Serpent's Tail.

Hardluck Stores, however, folded, and I thought all that material was lost.

Turns out, it's archived...

So here, for your Cinco de Mayo inspection, is BORDERLAND NOIR, now aged to a sublime and palate-teasing six years. As I said in the introduction back then:

"The Tecate is cold and a storm is coming across the desert.

"The jukebox is grinding on in the corner: Freddy Fender singing “Across the Borderline”….

“A thousand footprints in the sand … reveal the secret no one can define.”

But watch these writers try."

Check it out HERE.

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