Sunday, March 28, 2010

Maxim Exposure

My wife and I were in London a couple of weeks ago for the paperback launch of our latest novel, A Visible Darkness, the fourth of our historical mysteries featuring Prussia magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis. While there, we took the opportunity to have lunch with British editor and former bookstore proprietor Maxim Jakubowski (shown at right) and his wife, Dolores. The Jakubowskis had been our guests in Italy for the Trevi Noir festival in November 2008, and it was very good to have an excuse to visit with them once more.

Maxim Jakubowski doesn’t really need an introduction. His name must be one of the most internationally renowned in the field of crime-fiction publishing. Born in England but reared in Paris, and now 65 years of age, he has edited fiction in a variety of genres, including mystery, science fiction, and erotica. He pens book reviews as well as novels of his own, serves as the literary director of London’s Crime Scene Film Festival, and is regularly seen answering questions about crime fiction on British TV screens. We introduced him in Trevi as “Mister Noir.” The fact that amazes everyone who meets Jakubowski is his capacity for work!

While in London, we talked with Jakubowski about his current publishing projects, the expectations for his new literary imprint, one of his humorous book-selling memories, and some of his recommendations of near-future films and crime novels.

Michael Gregorio: Maxim, you are a prolific “producer” of books in many different genres. You’ve written, compiled, edited, and anthologized in a number of fields, including crime, thriller, mystery, erotica, science fiction ... the list goes on and on!

Maxim Jakubowski: I’m not really a “producer,” just a writer and an editor. Because of Murder One, a lot of people forget that I spent two decades in publishing as an editor before I began selling books. Doing so many anthologies and projects is my way of keeping in touch. I enjoy discovering and promoting new and other writers in whatever category they fall.

MG: What are your publishing projects for this year?

MJ: Somewhat indecently, I have nine books out in 2010 (and five more under contract and at various stages for publication in 2011). I’ll do two annuals, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, which has now reached 15 volumes, and The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime/Mystery Stories, now in its eighth year. In addition, there are four Sex in the City collections of city-based erotica stories, strongly inspired by the Akashic Noir series, covering London, Paris, New York, and Dublin. Crime writers in these anthologies include Ken Bruen, Stella Duffy, Colin Bateman, Gerard Brennan, and many others. My third Mammoth Book of Erotic Photography has just been delivered. So has Following the Detectives, a literary travel book of sorts, with a chapter by Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce.

Last but not least, there’s my first novel in four years.

Too many books, I know. Next year will appear quieter as two of those already signed for will be pseudonymous! I reckon I’m somewhere over 125 books so far, but I’ve never bothered to count. (There have been some pen names, which I’m not eager to reveal, mostly in non-fiction areas, and long ago in science-fiction books; crime and erotica are always under my name ...)

MG: And yet you found the time to write a novel?

MJ: It’s called I Was Waiting for You, an erotic thriller that Accent Press will publish in November. It features the return of Cornelia, the beautiful, amoral hit woman who appeared in Because She Thought She Loved Me [1997], On Tenderness Express [2000], and Confessions of a Romantic Pornographer [2004].

MG: So, what can readers expect from this new novel of yours?

MJ: Well, it’s my usual blend of crime tropes: lust, sadness, a writer down on his luck who is asked to find the missing daughter of an Italian surgeon, and embarks on an adventure partly inspired by Antonioni’s film, L’Avventura, and Louis Malle’s Le Feu Follet. Everyone seeks the missing girl, but in doing so their paths cross, relationships begin and flounder, and bad things happen to good people, to the extent that midway through the book the search for Giulia is almost abandoned! The body count continues, though, thanks to Cornelia. Not your typical crime book, I fear.

MG: Murder One is now a “closed case,” so to speak. We’re sorry to have lost a regular port of call in London. We could open old wounds and talk about the decision to end the adventure of a specialty crime bookshop, the uncertain future of independent bookstores, the impact of Amazon, possible regrets, and so on. Instead, we’d like to hear about something odd or amusing that you particularly remember in connection with that Charing Cross Road bookshop.

MJ: Lots of great memories and good times. Including the years when we used to supply a convent in West London. Two small nuns would come in every six weeks or so with a list of books to be bought for other sisters and also for “father.” Needless to say, they were all very cozy choices, Golden Age of Detection stuff. The shop and the staff would invariably be blessed on the way out. Sadly, the nuns were terribly elderly and eventually stopped coming to us for their book supplies of Dorothy L. Sayers, Michael Innes, [Freeman Wills] Crofts, R. Austin Freeman, and others. I reckon we lost our blessings and were damned from that moment on!

MG: The nuns stopped coming, the shop had to close, but you moved off in an exciting new direction. Congratulations on your publishing imprint, MaxCrime, from John Blake Ltd. How did it come about? What sort of fiction should we expect from Max Crime? And how do you see the imprint developing?

MJ: Well, in a way, it was full circle back to what I used to do before. It wasn’t something I had planned, and the initial approach was from John Blake, who had been very successful in non-fiction areas, including true crime. Naturally, there was no way I could turn down such a generous offer, even though I had planned to partly retire and just devote my time to writing again. Because of the nature of Blake’s publishing, we agreed at an early stage on the list’s profile--i.e., it would be a mass-market, commercially orientated imprint, which is what the book trade would expect of his company, with books that could be sold in chains and supermarkets where he has strong ties. My intention was (and is) to develop a strong and varied list, so from the onset we have female P.I.s, historical thrillers, caper comedies, noir, hard-­boiled, gangster novels, Everyman-in-peril tales, and so on. As we progress we may narrow it down, but for now I want to publish in all crime areas. John wanted my name to be openly associated with the list so we came up with the name “Maximum Crime,” but once the book covers began to be designed, we realized that the logo was too large/long for the book’s spines, so we renamed it “MaxCrime” instead!

MG: Which crime writers will you be publishing this year?

MJ: We’ve just launched the imprint with two books in March. The first is Hit, by Tara Moss. Tara is a best-selling crime writer in Australia, but somehow she’d never been published in the UK (a few titles appeared in the USA some years back; Leisure gave her the worst possible covers). It is slick, fast-moving female P.I. action with a great heroine [Sydney-based Makedde Vanderwall]. We have bought all five books in the series so far, and will be publishing them six months apart. Tara is an incredible personality and highly promotable, which the Blake marketing machine will be exploiting to the full, needless to say. Also part of the launch is the first novel by friend and film director Mike Hodges, who was responsible for Croupier, Get Carter, and many other classics. Mike had written his first novel at the age of 73, Watching the Wheels Come Off, a dark comedy about a failed con man. I swooped on the book before anyone else could get to it. The novel has already appeared in France to great acclaim, thanks to his film connections.

MG: Sounds exciting. What else can we look forward to?

MJ: In April, we have Donna Moore’s Old Dogs, a caper novel with a witty difference. I believe that Donna has the potential to become a Scottish Janet Evanovich. I’d been a great fan of her work in small presses, so I was very glad to sign her up. Accompanying her is Mark Timlin’s Guns of Brixton, a heavily revised version of his powerful south London gangster novel, Answers from the Grave [2005], which had only been confidentially published by the Do Not Press some years back, before they went under, and was never promoted or issued in paperback.

Then, from May, we move to our cruising speed of a book a month. We also have the first novel by Kate Kray, the widow of one of the notorious ’60s gangsters. She had written a fair bit of non-fiction already and her novel is about the London mob scene, of course, but with a strong ring of truth. Also, there is our first translation, The Girl with the Crystal Eyes, by Barbara Baraldi, translated from the Italian by Barry Forshaw’s wife, Judith. It is a gothic “giallo” [yellow is the Italian term for thriller; Mondadori thriller covers were all bright yellow] with echoes of Hitchcock and Dario Argento and strong female characters on both sides of the good and evil divide. It could the first in a series. The sequel has just been published in Italy this month, so there’ll be more if we do well enough with the first one. Other upcoming titles include Kris Rusch’s Hitler’s Angel. [After being] highlighted on publication by The New York Times with a full-page review, her U.S. publisher, St. Martin’s Press, just dumped [the book] and never released it in paperback. It’s a thriller focusing on the notorious “suicide” of Hitler’s niece [Geli Raubal] ...

MG: We both read Ronald Hayman’s Hitler & Geli (1997). A particularly odd story.

MJ: In [Hitler’s Angel], a young American journalist sets out to get to the bottom of the case. Kris Rusch is also known as “Kris Nelscott,” and she has won lots of awards for science fiction as Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Later on, in the autumn, we have Blonde on a Stick, a terrific hard-boiled tale about a Liverpool serial killer moving to London, by noted horror writer Conrad Williams. He moves into the crime arena with impeccable style. The Women’s Club, by Canadian authors Michael Crawley and Laurie Clayton, is a thriller in the James Patterson mold. Michael and Laurie are major authors in the erotica field, where they write as “Felix Baron and Madeline Moore.” I strongly believe in encouraging writers from other genres to move into crime.

In both cases, the results are splendid. Lots of other things are planned for next year, but time will tell.

MG: How do you select foreign authors for the imprint, and what sort of an impact do you think they will have on the UK market? We are thinking particularly of Barbara Baraldi, a young Italian writer whom we’ve met, and whose books we have enjoyed in Italian.

MJ: Because of translation costs, I can’t develop too much of a foreign-language list, so the initial one is a bit of a gamble. Barbara’s book is very exciting, but also short. She is very attractive and distinctive, too, so hopefully those factors will help in publicizing the book. Naturally, if it does well enough, I’d be encouraged to try some further books in translation. Having been brought up in Europe, and still being involved in the scene in France and Italy, I read in both languages and feel there is a wealth of great talents which deserves to be translated: Romain Slocombe, Dominique Sylvain, Marc Villard, Simone Sarasso, Tommaso Pincio, Andrea Pinketts. So, again fingers are crossed. ... It would be nice to prove that non-Scandinavian [European] crime authors can establish themselves.

MG: As many Rap Sheet readers may know, you are highly respected in the film world. By way of a conclusion, would you care to recommend some upcoming crime films and crime novels that we ought to take the time to see or read in 2010?

MJ: Many of this year’s big guns won’t be unveiled until the Cannes Film Festival in May, but right now my best hopes for the coming months are Michael Winterbottom’s new version of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me (which created a stir at the Sundance Festival) and Luc Besson’s live version of Adèle Blanc-Sec, a wonderful French comic strip series by Jacques Tardi; the trailer looks very appetizing. I’d also highlight a small British indie crime film which was shown at the London Film Festival, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, by J. Blakeson, featuring Eddie Marsan and Gemma Arterton; really small budget and harrowing, but it should make a splash when it comes out early in the summer.

On the book front, I have just read Toby Litt’s new novel, King Death. It is very different from his earlier Corpsing, a sort of modern Agatha Christie “Tommy and Tuppence” tale involving a witty duo of involuntary sleuths set loose on a curious case, which acts out around London’s Borough Market and Guy’s Hospital. Toby skips continuously between genres, often stepping inside the crime and mystery perimeter with great success. Also coming out in May is Scott Turow’s 20 years-in-the-coming sequel to Presumed Innocent. It is called just Innocent, and it will blow your socks off.


Paul D Brazill said...

Splendid interview.

Ali Karim said...

Very good feature and great to see Maxim J as busy as ever, thanks Michael / Jeff