Sunday, October 26, 2003

The Irish are good at storytelling 

John Connolly, author of the Charlie Parker novels and most recently, the bestselling BAD MEN, sent out his latest newsletter yesterday with a lot of interesting nuggets. First, the man who never met a country he couldn't tour in will be in Bulgaria next week. Though I don't believe I have any Bulgarian readers (but I'm too lazy to get referral logs, so who knows?) if by some chance there are any out there, don't miss the opportunity to catch John at an appearance. Since, as one author once put it, he could probably charm the leg off a barstool.

Anyway, his next projects include a contribution to Karin Slaughter's upcoming anthology LIKE A CHARM (February in the UK from Century, May in the US from Morrow) and a collection of ghost story tales called NOCTURNES which should see publication in the fall. There'll be several short stories and two novellas, one starring Parker called "The Reflecting Eye" and one entitled "The Cancer Cowboy Rides."

I must admit I am quite excited about this. Although I've long been a fan of the novels, the shorts that he's made available are some excellent stuff--very gothic with a real neo-romantic feel. And yet these stories, including the most recently posted, "The Inn at Shillingford", won't be in the book because he "wasn't entirely happy with them."

Yet the reason I'm looking forward to the collection is also what may pose a real problem. If the stories are anything like the ones on his site, they will be far harder to categorize within a crime fiction milieu, since they really get into the supernatural and at least in my own view, have a much more literary feel to them, at least on the "magical realism" area of the spectrum. But that combination has served Connolly well with the Parker novels, and those books have sold well to a crowd that likes the hardboiled PI aspects, but also seeks something more unorthodox. The other, more important point is that in the crime fiction world, short story collections simply don't sell so well. It's something I personally don't understand, since I love the short form, both to read and write. Yet many people have said to me face to face and on message boards and mailing lists that they just don't like short stories; don't like that it's a morsel when they could have a meal, don't want to invest in a story when there's a whole novel that can grab their attention. I saw it firsthand when I worked at my old haunt and tried, oh how I tried, to push TART NOIR (best collection of short stories last year, bar none) in people's hands, and was rebuffed near every time. Some other stores did better but still, the same complaints came back: it's a short story collection, so why bother.

If the people at Hodder & Stoughton and Simon & Schuster are smart, they'll recognize this "problem" as a blessing in disguise. Short story collections may not be the crime fiction reader's cuppa, but boy are they devoured by the literary crowd. Not just read, but discussed, dissected, and the object of many petty jealousies (Nell Freudenberger, anyone?) Since Connolly's writing has been heading out of genre boundaries almost since the time his first book was published, why not just make the leap entirely? From a marketing standpoint, it's still important to keep one hand in the mystery section and visit the independent shops and all, but the point of a new book isn't only to maintain the audience one has, but to attract new readers. And not necessarily readers in the same crowd, either. If there's to be a tour, then perhaps some of the usual suspects ought to be bypassed in favor of some new places. Make some new friends, broker some new connections. The world of fiction is a vast one beyond the confines of crime fiction, and if Connolly is to make some inroads, NOCTURNES might just be the book to do it.

Besides, the next Parker book will be out in the spring of 2005, a mere half a year later. And for those readers impatient because it seems like a long wait between books, it isn't really. Time goes awfully fast, and the damn things have to be written and vetted first before they are made available to us greedy readers....

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