—Arshia Simkin, The Underline
As the days grows shorter and night falls earlier, you may find yourself wanting to curl up with a good book—perhaps a pulpy mystery or a heart-racing thriller.
Enter Eryk Pruitt, a local bar owner and proprietor of Yonder: Southern Cocktails and Brew in Hillsborough; a four-time author of noir books (with a fifth book coming out this spring); and the co-founder of a new dark fiction literary journal, called Dark Yonder. With Dark Yonder, Pruitt is hoping to marry his love of dark fiction with his penchant for bringing people together.
The story of Dark Yonder begins at the bar: since 2019, when Pruitt and his wife first acquired Yonder Southern Cocktails, they have been hosting a quarterly event called “Noir at the Bar.” According to Pruitt, the event usually features about “eight crime fiction authors from the area and beyond” who come read to a standing room-only crowd. The last “Noir at the Bar” was in October and it was horror themed; the next one will take place on December 15, 2022 and it will be holiday themed. The December 15 reading will feature, among others, New York Times reviewed crime author S. A. Cosby and local author Diane Kelly. “They are some of my favorite nights of the year,” Pruitt said. “To see that we found an audience like this in Orange County, in Hillsborough, that just really loves the written word and seeing it performed, and supporting authors and all that is just a thrill beyond any other for me.”
Pruitt was also inspired to create Dark Yonder to continue the tradition of a now-defunct crime fiction magazine called THUGLIT, which was founded by author Todd Robinson. Pruitt said, “there’s never been anything like it, so, with Todd’s blessing, I told him I wanted to resurrect the spirit of the old THUGLIT magazine.” The final impetus for founding Dark Yonder was the shrinking market for short stories: “There are fewer venues to submit your work. So now that I have the opportunity and the means to support it, I want give a spot for writers to put their work and connect with readers who are into that kind of work.”
Dark Yonder recently opened its inaugural submission period and has received over 200 entries. Pruitt and former Piedmont Laureate Katy Munger of Thalia Press, who herself is an author of numerous novels (many in a sub-genre “tart noir”) will narrow the submission to a winning eight, which they will print in Dark Yonder. The published writers will also receive fifty dollars and a free copy of the journal. Pruitt emphasized that Munger’s energy and expertise is integral to the journal: “I would not have done this without her. She’s the one that’s doing most of the hard work,” Pruitt said.
According to Pruitt, Dark Yonder is looking for a genre of stories called “neo-noir.” Pruitt explained: “When you talk about noir stories and hardboiled stories, I think a certain image comes to a lot of people’s minds and I think that image is very outdated, very 50s and 60s—you know like a drunk, alcoholic man, going around doing manly things. We’re not looking for that. We’re looking for something that is going to help shepherd us into the new age, where it’s not all just broken-man centered.”
Pruitt explained his own fascination with noir: it “subverts the old definition of tragedy, where they say that it’s a great man that falls from a high distance. Well in noir, it’s not a great man, it’s an everyman or everyperson and that distance he falls from is usually the curb or gutter, and he keeps falling. Think of the old Ethan and Joel Coen movies, where somebody makes a bad decision and then continues to make more and more bad decisions, trying to get themselves out. Those are the great stories of noir.” Pruitt added: “I don’t think anyone really wakes up thinking of themselves as the villain…I like to put the readers in the shoes of those people so they can practice some kind of empathy.”
Pruitt’s own journey to writing began with the script for a short film called Foodie, which was inspired, in part, by Pruitt’s long experience in the food service industry. Buoyed by the reception to the film—it was submitted to sixteen film festivals and won eight top awards—Pruitt continued writing. “I’ve been writing since forever. I just haven’t always had a place to put it,” Pruitt said. He soon turned to writing and publishing short stories before debuting his first novel, Dirtbags. Subtitled “A Southern Noir,” Dirtbags is, according the jacket description, about a man who “dreams of becoming a famous serial killer.”
Pruitt’s next book, Something Bad Wrong, will be a departure from the noir genre in that it will be more of a classic mystery tale. The book will be published in the spring and it is about a “fifty-year-old mystery that went unsolved because the detective came down with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis,” Pruitt said. Years later, his granddaughter becomes a true crime podcaster and tries to solve the crime for him. “Lot’s of family secrets, lots of fun,” Pruitt said.
The debut issue of Dark Yonder is scheduled for January 2023. You can find out more about Dark Yonder at the website https://www.thaliapress.org/darkyonder. Learn more about Pruitt at http://erykpruitt.com/. Learn more about Yonder Southern Cocktails and Brews at https://yonderbarnc.com/. You can follow Yonder Southern Brews and Cocktails on Instagram and Facebook.