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Short Fiction Stories Explore Santa Cruz's Seedier Side

Santa Cruz is a place of natural beauty, ocean breezes and family-friendly tourist attractions. But a new collection of short FICTION stories explores a seedier side of this beach town filled with murder and mystery.  Susie Bright edited the collection called Santa Cruz Noir.

Bright is perhaps best-known as the first "sexpert" to appear in American pop culture of the 80s and 90s. These days she has shifted her focus to crime fiction.

I started by asking her to read the introduction she wrote for Santa Cruz Noir.

Susie Bright (SB): Every town has its noir-ville. It's easy to find in Santa Cruz. We live in what's called "paradise"... where you can wake up in a pool of blood with the first pink rays of the Sunrise peeking out over our mountain range. The dewy mist lifts from the bay. Don't hate us because we're beautiful--we were made that way, like Venus rising off the foam with a brick in her hand. We can't help it if you fall for it every time.

Dylan Music (DM): Thank you. I love that because I think it really ties into the beauty of Santa Cruz and the ugly underbelly.

SB:  With all the authors, we would have these conversations about how you can get trapped in a beautiful place.  When you step outside and the sky and those redwoods and the waves just keep breaking and no matter what disgusting, awful, corrupt thing you've just witnessed you're like, "But there's an otter!" You know, you capture these natural moments that are truly dazzling and you allow it to excuse some very dark places.

DM: So there are 20 stories in the book by as many different authors.  They all follow a pattern of weaving true crime that actually happened in Santa Cruz with fiction.  One revolves around serial killer Edward Kemper serving life in prison, who has become a case study for law enforcement over the years.   

SB: And people keep returning to him because understanding his case was the way that patterns and serial killers were first analyzed.   That was how the FBI began to say, “You know what. It's not completely random. There is a profile for people like this and we need to talk to Kemper because he won't shut up.”

DM: There are recordings of his confessions.  And those tapes become the obsession of one character in that story.

SB:  Yes. The story you're talking about is also set in the 70s.  It opens at the Catalyst nightclub, of course. It's called Whatever Happened to Skinny Jane? (By Ariel Gore) The protagonist is a quite delusional young woman who is really high, who wants to see if she can trick a serial killer into picking her up on a lonely highway and then turn the tables.

DM:  So were there any story, I mean, true crime things that occurred in these stories that maybe that you weren't familiar with or that you were surprised by, or anything new to you?

SB: Lou Matthews wrote Crab Dinners, and the real part of that story is that Santa Cruz was ground zero for Szechuan Chinese food.  And it was developed in a tiny restaurant by this crazy guy who was on work furlough. He had to be in prison during the day and he was let out at night to cook this amazing Chinese food that people would be lined up around the block to taste it. It was so different from anything we'd had before. That's for real.

DM: And Susie Bright, one last thing before you go.  I was hoping you could read the final paragraph from Santa Cruz Noir.

SB: In Santa Cruz, there's no beauty like a merciless beauty--and like every crepuscular predator, she thrives at dawn and dusk. You're just the innocent we've been waiting for, with your big paper cone of sugar-shark cotton, whipped out of pure nothing. We have just the ride for you, the longest tunnel ever. Santa Cruz is everything you ever dreamed, and everything you ever screamed, in one long drop you'll not forget.

Susie Bright is the editor of Santa Cruz Noir.  It’s a collection of short fiction stories that comes out Tuesday, June 5th.

There will be a reading and booksigning for the collection, featuring Bright and contributing authors on Tuesday, June 19th at 7pm at Bookshop Santa Cruz. 

Dylan joined KAZU in 2015 as Morning Edition host and Operations Assistant. He started volunteering at KZSC while attending UC Santa Cruz. After finishing his Master’s thesis “Beat me Rabbi Eight to the Bar” (about Yiddish swing Jazz life in the U.S. in the early 20th century) and graduating in 2011, Dylan hosted music shows at KZSC and worked as a fill-in Morning Edition host at KUSP. Dylan is an avid bicyclist and runner, and a lover of all things music.