Q&A with Denver Noir Editor Cynthia Swanson

Dive into the fictional short stories of Denver Noir, which depicts the dark side of our sunny state with Mile High mischief packed into every page.

Denver Noir | Books | May 2022 | Denver Life Magazine
Photo courtesy of Cynthia Swanson.

Akashic Books has over 100 titles in its Noir series set in cities all over the U.S. and the world, and this May, they will add Denver to their collection. This anthology of short fictional crime and suspense stories written by 14 local authors and edited by Cynthia Swanson tells hair-raising, spine-tingling tales set in Denver’s unique neighborhoods. Follow felons down Colfax, solve a murder mystery and root for runaways as you flip through the pages, but be warned—the book’s final words may haunt you even after you turn out the lights.

What did editing this book entail?
“Akashic reached out to me about a Denver volume, feeling our city was truly needed in their Noir series, especially given what a strong literary scene we have in Denver. Akashic wanted a mixture of burgeoning writers and more established pros as well as a mix of literary and mystery writers. We also wanted a range of people with different backgrounds to provide representation of the city. It was definitely a tall order but after a couple of weeks, I had pulled together a great group. Then, the authors chose the neighborhood around town they wanted to write about and with staggered deadlines, the book gradually came together.”

What are the book’s major themes?
“Each author has their own story with their own message. Once all the stories were complete, I divided the volume into three sections, by theme. First, I noticed several stories happen along Colfax so one section became themed around ‘the longest, wickedest street.’ The next section, ‘5,280’ is mostly a metaphor, but literal for some authors, then the last section, ‘Things to do in Denver When You’re Young,’ includes stories with a young protagonist and showcases why millennials are constantly attracted to Denver’s frontier nature.”

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Tell me about the inspiration behind your short story.
“My story Pieces of Everyone Everywhere is based on a completely true story. The article in the Denver Republican titled “The Work of Ghouls” that my protagonist brought to the editor-in-chief as a “scoop” was a real article, published in March of 1893. My character’s back story and plot are fiction, but the grave digging at Cheeseman Park was unfortunately real. I have always been fascinated with Denver’s history and love basing fictional stories in the past.”

A major theme of the book is Denver’s changing neighborhoods and demographics. As a crime book, the authors focus on the negative change. Do you see positive change as well?
“I really do. Obviously, we went looking for crime stories for this anthology, but you could just as easily have written the opposite book. The city is getting more accepting. My kids are growing up in a very different Denver and I’m appreciative of this. They have friends from many backgrounds and a burgeoning art scene to appreciate.”

What events will you hold for the book release?
“We will hold several, each with different contributing authors. Our first event is at Tattered Cover on Colfax Avenue on May 3, 2022 with R. Alan Brooks, Mark Stevens and David Heska Wanbli Weiden. May 12, I will be joined by Mario Acevedo, Peter Heller and Erika T. Wurth at Arapahoe Public Libraries where they have rented out a ballroom. May 25 will have Francelia Belton, D.L Cordero, Manuel Ramos and Twanna LaTrice Hill at BookBar. On June 15, I’ll join Amy Drayer, R. Alan Brooks, Twanna LaTrice Hill, Mathangi Subramanian and David Heska Wanbli Weiden at Lighthouse Writers’ Lit Fest. June 24, we’ll have Barbara Nickless, Manuel Ramos and Mathangi Subramanian at the Douglas County Library. All events will have book sales, and Denver Noir will be available online, at local indies, at Barnes and Noble and elsewhere.”

Cynthia Swanson | Denver Noir | Books | May 2022 | Denver Life Magazine
Photo courtesy of Cynthia Swanson.