Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Hard Case Crime Returns to the Racks

In observance of Hard Case Crime’s long-awaited return to the publishing scene in September, my column this week for Kirkus Reviews is given over to an interview with HCC editor Charles Ardai. This is not the first time I have talked about crime fiction with Ardai (see previous exchanges here and here)--nor, I hope, will it be the last, since he’s both a knowledgeable and witty source of information about this genre we all love. Click here to find my Kirkus piece.

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Although I think that Kirkus interview is quite satisfying in its own right, there were parts of my discussion with Ardai that simply didn’t fit within the word count. So I’m posting the extras below for Hard Case Crime fans--of which there are now many.

J. Kingston Pierce: Amid last year’s brouhaha over Dorchester Publishing dropping HCC as a client, you announced that you’d take a step off your previous schedule of publishing a novel per month, in order to write more books yourself. Are you sticking with that decision? If so, is there a new regularity for the release of HCC titles?

Charles Ardai: Well, I’m sticking with the decision to reduce Hard Case’s output, currently from a book a month to a book every other month. We have a total full-time staff of zero, which means the entire editorial operation rests on my shoulders, and publishing a new book every month does make it hard to do anything else. I have not, however, stuck to my pledge to write more books myself, in part because I’ve had the privilege of working as a writer and producer on the TV series Haven (based on the book Stephen King wrote for us), and I’ve been working on some other film and TV projects as well. But I do plan to start on my next book soon. I’ve been itching to get to it for a while now.

JKP: We’re used to Hard Case Crime titles coming out in old-fashioned mass-market size. Yet I see that your new paperbacks are all in larger, trade size. What gives?

CA: I always intended to stick with mass-market, but the reality of the publishing business right now is that the mass-market business is imploding--it’s almost impossible not to lose money at it, except maybe if you’re publishing the sort of brand-name million-copy sellers that do good business in supermarkets and at Wal-Mart, which our books just aren’t. John Grisham, Nora Roberts, Dan Brown ... fine. But anything below that level (and we’re several notches below), it just doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, trade paperbacks are handsome, give a little more room to showcase our cover art, allow us to make the type size a bit larger (which I know some of our readers will greatly appreciate), and so far it looks like we’ll be able to keep the price point fairly modest--just $9.95, rather than the $12.95 or $14.95 or $17.95 you generally see trade paperbacks going for.

So, while the change might have been forced on us by a changing market, it’s actually one I’ve come to feel quite positive about. Feels a little weird, like the first time you switch from glasses to contacts (or vice versa), but the result’s nothing to complain about.

JKP: Whatever happened to the deal with Subterranean Press, whereby HCC was going to publish a hardcover edition of two early Lawrence Block books, 69 Barrow Street and Strange Embrace? I don’t see that that volume has ever been released.

CA: When we acquired Getting Off to be Hard Case Crime’s big re-launch title (and our first-ever hardcover), we agreed with Subterranean to push back publication of the 69 Barrow Street/Strange Embrace double until 2012, just so the two books wouldn’t bump up against each other in the marketplace. Two new Block hardcovers coming out within a month or two of each other might have been a bit much. But it’s still coming, probably next May.

JKP: Are there still authors of vintage American crime fiction whose work you’d like to add to HCC’s catalogue, but that you haven’t yet been able to acquire?

CA: Sure--Chandler, Hammett, Cain. Ross Macdonald. A boy can dream, can’t he? I wanted to publish a Hard Case Crime edition of The Great Gatsby, but Scribner shot that one down right quick. But keep an eye on us. These things seem impossible, but then sometimes they happen.

JKP: Prior to Hard Case’s hiatus, you’d begun a new line of Gabriel Hunt adventure novels, aimed at people who used to enjoy the works of H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the tales of Doc Savage. But you recently suggested that Hunt’s escapades might soon come to an end. What’s the deal there?

CA: The Hunt books were an experiment for us, both because they were a leap into a different genre--high adventure--and because each book featured the same main character. We signed a deal to do six of them with Dorchester, and we did six, and there are no plans yet to do more. We might at some point; it depends on readers’ appetite for more. I think it’s easier to read a new Hard Case Crime book every month, or every other month, because each Hard Case Crime book features different characters, a different style of writing, different sorts of stories--from bleak noir tales to hard-boiled comedies to heist yarns to man-on-the-run stories and everything in between. Whereas the Hunt books all feature the same main character, the same type of story. We wrote six of the things in 18 months--that’s a lot for readers to digest! But if they do want more, I’m sure they’ll get more eventually.

JKP: Finally, you read so many old crime novels for work purposes. But what do you read in your leisure time?

CA: What have I read recently? Henry Roth’s final novel, An American Type. Isaac Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy. A collection by Ursula K. LeGuin. Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything and Bury Me Deep. Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. A pretty varied batch of books, which is how I like it. Always trying something different.

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