The Back Alley is a webzine devoted to the hardboiled and noir genres of popular fiction. We welcome submissions of stories which fall within the guidelines of these genres, and historical/critical/analytical nonfiction related to these genres.


The discussion, even among those who are well-read in these literary forms, surrounding just what constitutes hardboiled or noir fiction is ongoing, often confrontational, and seldom results in anything resembling agreement.


Basically, hardboiled crime fiction involves a stronger description of violence, sex, and contains harsher language than you might find in traditional crime fiction. The protagonist more often than not is a private investigator. This investigator may fall under the tradition of Chandler's Marlowe and his successors such as Lew Archer and Spenser, in which the crimes are vicious but the detectives are not. They may more closely resemble the work of Carroll John Daly or Mickey Spillane, where the detective is as likely to engage in violence as the criminals are.


Noir stories often defy description, except that you are aware from the beginning that the protagonist and those around him are probably doomed no matter what they do to prevent it. The source  of their damnation is their own personal weaknesses and frailties. They give in to temptation and, as in the story of Adam and Eve, their own choices condemn them. Greed, avarice, lust, and envy figure heavily in noir stories. Often, the noir protagonist believes him(her)self to be virtuous or to be acting correctly. It is only later that they discover that their decisions - well-meaning or not - have led to their undoing.


There is an ongoing discussion on the Rara Avis list ( regarding the nature of hardboiled versus noir literature. Jim Doherty has stated that "...hard-boiled describes an  attitude that's tough and colloquial, while noir describes an atmosphere that's dark and gloomy".


In response, Jack Bludis, in an attempt to take the two genres down to their bare essentials, has asserted that "hardboiled = tough; noir = screwed".


More often than not, the discussion comes down to an uneasy truce based on a statement something like, "Well, I know it when I see it."


Which, when all is said and done, will also be the reasoning we will employ when deciding whether to accept a story for The Back Alley.


Since I have failed so miserably at describing exactly what hardboiled and noir fiction is, I would like to take a moment to describe exactly what it is not.


We do not want to see any story involving a cat, talking or otherwise, unless the cat is dead by the end of the story. We love cats, have a bunch of them ourselves. They have no place in hardboiled stories, especially if they talk, think, reason, or engage in any other behavior than eating, sleeping, and licking their butts. Don't submit cat mysteries. We will reject them and then post ugly comments about your mama.


If there is an 'Inspector' in your story, there had also better damned well be some rats, roaches or other vermin. We will consider making an exception for building inspectors, but only if they are brutally victimized. If you have ever built a house, you know why.


If Aunt Lucy is solving the crime, she had better also have some prison tats, drink like Foster Brooks, and spray the bad guys with an Uzi. The only tea I want to read about in these stories is Mexican pot.


We are open to foul language, substance abuse, graphic and frequent violence, and sex. If you don't know how to write sex, don't submit any. Most people don't know how to write it. If your early writing career was spent typing with one hand, feel free to toss in a little of the ol' wokka-wokka. If it's embarrassing, we'll ask you to cut it.


We don't want to read international thrillers, gaslight armchair detectives, kung-fu adventures, serial killer stories, forensic procedurals, police procedurals, courtroom procedurals, or medical mysteries. We do not want to read anything that takes place more than ten years in the future. We do not want to read anything that takes place more than one hundred years in the past.


If you are still in doubt, query.


Okay, as to the mechanics:  We are looking for stories up to 10,000 words. We will entertain submissions that are longer, up to novella length, but query first. We are only accepting electronic submissions, because we are tree huggers and we don't like dealing with all that SASE crap.


Here is the procedure for submitting your story.


Format it in the standard method (one inch margins, double spaced, yada yada yada. If you don't know, consult Writers Digest or google it.). Save your story in RTF format. Close it to strip out all the weird but cool formatting like em dashes and smart quotes, and reopen it to assure yourself that you are not going to offend us.  Close it and attach it to an email. In the body of the email, write your query. Impress us. We like that.


Send the email to:   Slug your email Back Alley Submission.


Make some microwave popcorn. Pop open a cold one. Wait a while. Weeks, maybe. Sometimes months. We have day jobs.


Eventually, we will let you know what we think. Seems pretentious, considering that we're only paying twenty-five bucks or so a story, but we do care about the quality of the material we will publish in our webzine. We may ask you to edit your story, and if we do we will tell you what we would like changed. If you don't want to edit it, we're cool with that, but we won't publish it.


If we decide to publish your work, you lucky dog, we will send you two copies of the contract and an SASE. Sign them, and send BOTH back. We will countersign them and send you one for your records. Sounds convoluted, but it works for us.


We will be buying first periodical rights ONLY. Should we decide at some point in the future to publish a print anthology of stories originally published in The Back Alley, and to use your story in that anthology, we will contact you to offer to buy those rights separately. Please be aware that first periodical rights will include the right to include your stories in our archived editions of The Back Alley which will be available in each issue.  However, our contract will state that you are free to sell reprint rights to your story elsewhere six months after initial publication.


Any other questions, query.


We're looking forward to reading the fruits of your genius.