It’s guest post time! Aaron (AJ) Sikes has a new book coming out and I offered him space on the blog to write about it. Haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but you all know how I feel about monsters and noir. Gods of Chicago looks like it’s right up my alley.
Take it away, Aaron!
Many thanks for hosting me today! You’d asked about my choice to combine monsters and noir in my urban fantasy, Gods of Chicago. Such a great topic!
The idea to mix monsters and noir goes back to the initial moment of inspiration for the story. I was walking to work and came across a sight that was both disturbing and fascinating at once. At the edge of the sidewalk, a great horned owl was lying on its side, stiff and cold. Beside the owl was the headless corpse of a Norway rat – also quite stiff, but I don’t know about the temperature. Didn’t touch the thing.
What was the cause of this bizarre tableau? Turns out the owl had caught the rat and took it to a power line to feast. At first bite, the owl clamped down too tight and its talon pierced the sheathing on the cables, zapping it and sending owl and (now headless) rat to the ground. (Apparently this isn’t uncommon, I later learned). But my writer’s brain flashed on the idea of shapeshifters battling in the trees above, and the story grew from there.
I started writing what I intended to be a YA adventure, but I stalled out when I realized my story lacked a sense of place, a recognizable location that readers would be able to see without me writing a 1200 page epic. So I did some digging into memory and history and landed in my favorite city on the planet: Chicago, Illinois.
Chicago’s rich history of organized crime, corrupt politics, and World’s Fairs got me aiming down the noir path. I couldn’t ignore the potential for intrigue and suspense in that environment. I also discovered that my YA protagonist was better left as supporting cast to the main character’s arc, which allowed me to explore the monstrous elements and cast the story in a far darker light. The kind that swings over the speak’s back alley door and lets shadows grow in every corner.
Along the way through revisions and rewrites, I happened across some outstanding examples of noir storytelling with monsters included, all of which further cemented my story ideas and inspired a few new ones.
My adventure through monstrous noir started with Weird Noir, an original collection of fantastic tales that embody the punchy, full-tilt writing of the classic pulps. I followed that up with Broken Time Blues. The setting is Prohibition-era America, and the incredible stories are of deadbeats and drifters, Great War veterans, molls, mobsters, and monsters.
Next came a contemporary collection called Crime Net, which is more cyberpunk than classic noir, but still contains elements I find appealing in storytelling: tense pacing, compelling characters, clever plots, and no shortage of the fantastic. My last monster-noir discovery came in a moment of serendipity. I spotted a tweet by Candlemark & Gleam, asking for beta readers on a “noir comedy mystery with monsters.” I picked up City of Devils and fell into it face-first. I know I left at least one funny bone in there, and I’m afraid of what will happen if I go back for it. My stories have a bit of humor in them, but only enough to take the edge off.
Gods of Chicago is a rough tale of a hardboiled newshawk, Mitchell Brand, who knows the real story is out there. One part Edward R Murrow, one part Philip Marlowe, and one part Fox Mulder, Brand follows the trail from the scene of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre on a winding course through an alternate history Chicago City. The story has been released in serial format for all e-readers, with an omnibus and POD release slated for Friday, February 14th.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Aaron Sikes (writing as AJ Sikes) is a writer of weird noir fiction and a freelance editor serving the community of independent authors. His stories have been published by Xchyler Publishing, KnightWatch Press, and Fox Spirit Books. Follow him @SikesAaron and sign up for the Gods of Chicago newsletter to get the latest updates on Mitchell Brand’s adventures and story world extras. If you need editing assistance with your manuscript, please stop by ajsikes.com