Author Lisa Sandlin was recently interviewed, discussing her publication in USA Noir: Best of the Akashic Noir Series, her work as a creative writing instructor, and her involvement with both the El Museo Latino reading series and the 700 Words reading series. Lisa is currently teaching creative writing in the Writer’s Workshop program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Her story, “Phelan’s First Case” (2011) was selected to be featured in the USA Noir series, a volume combining noir works from across the country. For those who do not know, a noir is crime based fiction with bleak settings and cynical characters. To preview or purchase USA Noir: Best of the Akashic Noir Series, click here. To browse the various volumes of Akashic Noir Series, click here. More information about Lisa’s other publications and achievements are available on the faculty page for the UNO Writer’s Workshop program.
Q. What was the selection process like for USA Noir: Best of the Akashic Noir Series?
A. Akashic Press has a Noir Series based on place. They began the more than 60 volumes with “Brooklyn Noir” as they are based in Brooklyn. My story was solicited by the Texas editor of “Lone Star Noir” because I’m from Texas and I wrote about my hometown. “Phelan’s First Case” was then chosen to be in the Best of Noir anthology. I don’t know how they made those decisions—Johnny Temple, the editor, was in charge.
Q. For those who haven’t read “Phelan’s First Case,” how would you, the author, summarize the story?
A. It’s a send-up of the ’30s-’40s noir story with the stereotypes of the hard-boiled detective and the filing-her-nails secretary—only it’s sort of flipped around. Phelan is not hard-boiled; he’s just starting out and making it up as he goes: this is his first job. His secretary, on the other hand, is fresh out of prison after serving 14 years. She has a great deal of experience with less inspirational human motives and behaviors.
Q. Do you have any particular exercises to help you with your writing process?
A. Reading good stories and books.
Q. At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be an author?
A. When I was 30. I wrote a paragraph about a little white girl and a little black girl, accompanied by their mothers, gazing at each other across a fence. The two sets of gazes were very different.
Q. How long have you been teaching at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and what do you enjoy most about the Writer’s Workshop program?
A. I’ve worked here 5 years and I enjoy the students most. Very especially, the ones who read, who are open, who have to write.
Q. What is your involvement with the El Museo Latino reading series?
A. I’ve worked with its wonderful director, Magdalena Garcia, to bring writers to read in that exciting space. Our next reading—everyone is invited!—is on Saturday, April 12 at 1:00 pm. Opener: UNO’s Chelsey Borchardt. Readers: UNO Black Studies Chair, scholar and poet, Dr. Nikitah Okembe-RA Imani and Lucy Adkins, whose new book is: Writing in Community: Say Goodbye to Writer’s Block and Transform Your Life. Go tour El Museo Latino’s current exhibit on Guerreo. Check out the beautiful fabrics, dresses, hats, sculptures, color, whimsy, and amazing artistic skill.
Q. Last semester, you were involved with the 700 Words Prose Slam, in which many students from the Writer’s Workshop program participated. Is this even going to happen again for the spring semester?
A. We’re working on it right now. Possibility: April 23, 7:30, Pizza Shoppe Collective in Benson. Come at 7:15 to sign up. Bring two pieces, fiction or nonfiction, 700 words or fewer. These are short, sharp pieces that should engage an audience. We’ll take up to 15 readers—anyone can enter, $5, audience members can come for free!
Q. As an involved faculty member and the first sponsor of 13th Floor Magazine, what would you like people to know about our online, student-run literary magazine?
A. It’s professional, elegant, inclusive, and going places!
Q. What advice would you give to those who are in the process of submitting their work?
A. No errors. Zero tolerance for grammar mistakes or typos. Send your best work.