Lawrence Block is the author of countless mystery and suspense novels. He has written award-winning fiction for half a century, including A Drop Of The Hard Stuff. He has a new book out, The Crime Of Our Lives, a collection of his writing about crime fiction. Lawrence met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about his new release and crime fiction.
Tell us about The Crime Of Our Lives.
Over the years, besides writing a lot of crime fiction, I’ve written a lot about crime fiction—starting with a piece for American Heritage a quarter of a century ago. Many of the pieces were introductions to a writer’s short story collection, or appreciations for a magazine’s tribute issue. A few years ago I did an occasional column for Mystery Scene magazine, which I called The Murders in Memory Lane; it consisted of my recollections of friends and colleagues who’d died along the way, and also included a three-part reminiscence of my apprenticeship in the late 1950s at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.
A few years ago it struck me that I ought to sort out these pieces and make a book out of them. It took me longer than I’d expected to get around to it. But I got to it eventually, and never even considered looking for a publisher for it. I’ve come to enjoy publishing my own work, it’s terribly easy nowadays in the age of ebook and Print-on-Demand publishing, and THE CRIME OF OUR LIVES seemed an ideal candidate for self-publication, for a couple of reasons: (1) Its audience consisted primarily of readers who were fans of the genre in general and of me in particular, thus easily reached by my newsletter and social media, and (2) Except for an ever-shrinking handful of mystery bookstores, it would not be a remotely hot item in bricka-and-mortar stores.
And self-publication is so much faster! Instead of waiting a minimum of a year for a commercial publisher to get the job done, it took us no more than a couple of weeks once the manuscript was in final shape. That’s about as close as you can expect to get to instant gratification in my line of work.
How much do you think crime fiction has changed?
Well, I’ve been doing this for 50+ years, and everything else has changed radically, so it would be surprising were the same thing not true of crime fiction. Like everything else, it’s a product of and a mirror for the world of which it is made. It’s evolved accordingly.
As for changes specific to crime fiction, I suppose the most obvious is the extent to which it has moved out of the comfortable if faintly disreputable backwater in which it so long existed, and has grown into increasing critical and commercial prominence. When Raymond Chandler’s works were published in the prestigious Library of America, to be followed by those of Dashiell Hammett and a stream of other early crime writers, it became increasingly clear that crime fiction could qualify as important literature.
Similarly, books that were unequivocally crime fiction began appearing regularly on bestseller lists. For decades, whenever a mystery was commercially successful, all connected with it denied that it was a mystery. This denial collapsed when Agatha Christie’s posthumously published novels hit the lists. If Christie wasn’t a mystery writer, what the hell was she?
Along the way, crime fiction improved—because writers now had the opportunity to write their best books. They enjoyed increasing freedom in respect to the topics they chose and the language they employed. Their books could be longer, and explore themes in greater depth. I would not argue that everything published today is better than anything published half a century ago. But I would contend that much of today’s crime fiction is better than much of the crime fiction of the past—because it’s allowed to be what its authors would make of it.
Do you think the publishing industry is in a state of crisis?
I think everything is evolving at warp speed, and nobody knows what the future holds. Bookselling is increasingly becoming an online enterprise, and ebooks are increasingly a reader’s choice; in this climate, self-publishing becomes not merely an option for writers but one that grows more feasible and more attractive.
In my own case, it’s an option I’ve exercised frequently—most recently with The Crime of Our Lives, but several years ago with The Night and the Music, my collection of Matthew Scudder short stories. I chose self-publication over commercial publication for that book, and have never for a moment regretted the decision.
Tell us what else is on the cards for you this year.
I’ve a new novel, THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES, coming from Hard Case Crime in September. I got the idea last May, and in July I holed up in an apartment in Philadelphia and got it written. Charles Ardai at Hard Case read it and loved it, and I knew he’d be the ideal person to publish it. It’s noir to the bone, and darkly erotic. My film agent calls it “James M. Cain on Viagra,” and that strikes me as just about right.
My Keller series has just been optioned for TV development. I don’t know whether anything will come of this, most options never come to fruition, but the deal inspired me to put together A KELLER SAMPLER, an 85,000-word book (ebook and paperback) that might serve to introduce new readers to Keller through excerpts from all five of the books.
I’d like to write something new this summer, but I haven’t a clue what it might be. All my series feel complete to me, and while I like spending time with those characters, I don’t want to stretch out any of the series with an inferior book. THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES was a pleasure to write because it allowed me to meet new characters in a new setting—specifically, central Florida. So it was a complete departure from my recent work, yet very much in my wheelhouse, and similar in certain ways to the books I wrote very early on.
I’d welcome an idea that’s a similar departure. When the pupil is ready, they say, the teacher will appear; well, similarly, when the writer is ready the idea will materialize. If it shows up within the next couple of months, I’ll go away somewhere in July or August and see what I can make of it.
Time will tell. It generally does…
Thanks you Lawrence for a great interview.
The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes is coming September 2015. Click here to find out more, read an excerpt, and see all pre-order links.