This has been a passion project for me ever since Bill Crider and Paul Bishop introduced me to the Hardman novels five years ago. I immediately decided I had to get them back into print, so I sought out the advice of my good friend Joel Goldman…and as a result of those discussions, a partnership and a publishing company were born. Now, after the publishing nearly 100 titles together, we are finally putting out the novels that we’d hoped would be our first releases.
Ralph Dennis isn’t a household name… but I believe that he should be. He is widely considered among crime writers as a master of the genre, denied the recognition he deserved because his series of twelve Hardman books, which are beloved and highly sought-after collectables now, were poorly packaged in the 1970s by Popular Library as cheap men’s action-adventure paperbacks with numbered titles.
Even so, some top critics saw past the cheesy covers and noticed that he was producing work as good as John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross MacDonald.
The New York Times praised the Hardman novels for “expert writing, plotting, and an unusual degree of sensitivity. Dennis has mastered the genre and supplied top entertainment.” The Philadelphia Daily News proclaimed Hardman “the best series around…”
Unfortunately, Popular Library didn’t take the hint and continued to present the series like hack work, dooming the novels to a short shelf-life and obscurity…except among generations of crime writers, like novelist Joe R. Lansdale (the Hap & Leonard series) and screenwriter Shane Black (the Lethal Weapon movies), who’ve kept Dennis’ legacy alive through word-of-mouth and by acknowledging his influence on their stellar work.
Three years ago this week, Joel Goldman and I launched our publishing company Brash Books with thirty titles, all of them acclaimed, award-winning books that had fallen out of print…and that we brought back in new print and digital editions.
I’ve got lots of exciting news to share…so let’s get to it!
TWO THRILLERS COMING IN 2018
The big news is that I’ve signed a two-book deal with Amazon Publishing/Thomas & Mercer that kicks off with the publication of my new thriller TRUE FICTION in April 2018, followed by the sequel in the fall.
I’ve described the book as a cross between SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. So it was a real thrill when I finally got to meet James Grady, author of CONDOR at the Edgars in April.
TRUE FICTION takes place in Hawaii, Seattle, Los Angeles, Nevada, and Washington D.C…. and I finished writing it in a cafe in Paris on a rainy day in January. It’s about a thriller author who discovers that one of his fictional tales is becoming horrifyingly real. To say more now would spoil the fun. I’ll give you more details about the book, and my research and travels for it, when we get closer to the pub date.
CHASING FOX & O’HARE
Many of you have asked when the next Fox & O’Hare book is coming…especially since THE PURSUIT, which I co-authored with my good friend Janet Evanovich, was such a big success, hitting #1 on the New York Times bestseller list back in June 2016. Unfortunately, we’re still trying to work out a satisfactory agreement with the publisher for future books. As soon as I have news, I’ll be sure to share it with you. I took an extensive research trip to Australia and New Zealand for that as-yet-unwritten sixth book in the series and I’m eager to take Nick & Kate there for their next adventure.
THE WALK … COMING TO A THEATER NEAR YOU?
A movie version of THE WALK is in pre-production based on my own script. A terrific director has been signed and offers will be going out to A-list actors soon. I wish I could say more than that, but I am bound to secrecy for the time being. There have been false starts in the past but I am cautiously optimistic that filming could start in early 2018.
Brash Books, the publishing company that I launched with Joel Goldman, is going strong as we approach our third year in business. We’ve published close 100 titles so far! Our latest title is Patrick McLean’s new novel THE SOAK, a terrific thriller that evokes the best of Donald Westlake’s Parker novels. I think you’ll love it. I also heartily recommend the new audiobook edition of Jack Bunker’s TRUE GRIFT. Harry Dyson does a fantastic job narrating it and I guarantee that you’ll laugh your way through your next traffic jam or gym work-out.
LOS ANGELES TIMES FESTIVAL OF BOOKS
I had a great time, as usual, moderating panels and hanging out at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Here are a couple of photos from the event:
Lee with former Barnes & Noble events exec Lita Weissman and authors Gar Anthony Haywood, Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott
Lee with authors Eric Jerome Dickey, Chris Farnsworth, Gregg Hurwitz, and Daniel Suarez
That’s all the news for now…more soon!
My friend author Gerald Duff shares the story behind the writing of his tasty new novel Memphis Ribs, which Entertainment Weekly calls ‘A tangy tale of murder, gang warfare, crack cocaine, and barbecue.’ I’m sucker for a great thriller and for barbecue, so this was a home run for me!
When I wrote my novel Memphis Ribs, I did it for the same reason that all writers take up a task that lasts so long and uses up so much electricity. I was mesmerized by the topic, in this case my trying to understand the essence of the Bluff City where I had come to live for a spell. And it was a spell, because that’s what Memphis casts upon those who come to live with her.
Memphis is an embodiment of the central paradox of the South. It is both tight and loose, and so are Southerners. Memphis has more churches of every denomination, conducting more worship services, attended by more of the faithful, than any comparably sized city in the nation.
Memphis also has more low dives and honky tonks, more high and low bars, more prostitutes and drug houses, more robberies and gang shootings, more muggings and murders, just generally more of the fast life, than any other metropolitan area in the country. If Nashville, Tennessee’s richest city, is about the greed for money and the drive to make it, Memphis is about giving in, abandoning all hope, and having a good time.
Memphis has suffered from calamities over time, including a yellow fever contagion which decimated the city in the nineteenth century and the assassination of Dr.King in the twentieth century which dealt the finishing blow to Memphis’s status as a contender in the big world of growth and commerce. For the commercial hopers and city planners, these disasters were apocalyptic, but for the writer they created a climate and culture conducive to dream, disillusionment, regret, and loss.
The advantages for a novelist are clear and compelling. All is vanity, endeavor is doomed, and success is fleeting, evanescent, and gone. That’s the country where a novelist feels most at home.
How all this influenced me as a chronicler of a fictional pair of police detectives – one black, one white – trying to solve some crimes in the Bluff City is clear enough. Memphis and its contradictions and energies and despair and humor emboldened me to try to capture in fiction some of its toughness, violence, obsession with barbecue and beautiful women, its racism and restiveness, and its hard-edged hilarity. I tried to do so by casting as a Memphis homicide cop a man in North Mississippi I had come to know. He was an independent cotton farmer, a Vietnam veteran who wasn’t outwardly bothered by his year in that war as a combat infantryman, and a man completely at ease with himself. He drank copious amounts of bourbon without seeming to become drunk, he loved his wife, and he had many friends, black and white, who admired and gave him great room and latitude. His fictional partner in the novel knows him to the core.
All I’m trying to do in Memphis Ribs is to show how Danny M. would act if called upon to sort out some crimes in the Bluff City. In my attempt, I hope I’ve captured some of the gut and soul of that city on the big river that flows through the heart of America.
All mystery writers have them—the cherished, often underappreciated, out-of-print books that we loved and that shaped us as writers. They are the books that made an impression on me in my teenage and college years and still feel new and vital to me today. They are the books that I talk about to friends, thrust into the hands of aspiring writers, and that I wish I’d written. They are the yellowed, forgotten paperbacks I keep buying out of pure devotion whenever I see them in used bookstores . . . even though I have more copies than I’ll ever need.
I’ve been at this long enough that many of my own books have fallen out of print, too. But I brought them back in new, self-published Kindle and paperback editions and, to my surprise and delight, they sold extremely well. It occurred to me that if I could do it for my books, why couldn’t I do the same thing for all those forgotten books that I love?
So, a little over a year ago, I started negotiating with the estate of an obscure author whose books I greatly admire but that never achieved the wide readership and acclaim that they deserved. I was in the midst of those talks when, at a Bouchercon in Albany, I told Joel Goldman, a good friend, mystery writer, lawyer, and a successful self-publisher of his own backlist, what I had in mind.
Joel got this funny look on his face and said, “That’s a business model. I really think we’re on to something.”
It turned out that, like me, he’d been getting hit up constantly at the conference by author-friends who were desperate for his advice on how they could replicate his self-publishing success with their own out-of-print books . . . many of which had won wide acclaim and even the biggest awards in our genre. He’d been trying to think of a way he could help them out.
Now he thought he had the solution. What if we combined the two ideas? What if we republished the books that we’d loved for years as well as truly exceptional books that only recently fell out of print?
It sounded great to me. And at that moment, without any prior intent, we became publishers of what we considered to be the best crime novels in existence. It was a brash act . . . and that’s how, as naturally as we became publishers, we found our company name.
One of the first calls I made was to Tom Kakonis, whose books were a big influence on me, to ask if we could republish his out-of-print titles. His thrillers, including Michigan Roll and Criss Cross, achieved that perfect, delicate balance between drama and dark, almost outrageous humor, without going too far in either direction. It’s a skill that Elmore Leonard and Tom mastered, and that I’d hoped to some day be able to pull off myself. (I’m still trying.) I read Tom’s books the first time for pure pleasure but then again . . . and again . . . to see if I could discover how the magic was done.
In the mid 90s, I sold my first hardcover novel under my own name, My Gun Has Bullets, to St. Martin’s Press and went to a Bouchercon with a bunch of bound galleys in my bag. I spotted Tom there and nervously approached him for a blurb . . . and to my astonishment, he not only agreed to read my galley, but a few weeks later, he gave me a great review. Getting that blurb was almost as exciting for me as being published in the first place.
I’d never forgotten that experience. Or him. So naturally he was at the top of my call-list when we started this venture. And this time, he thrilled me again by saying yes to letting us republish his books. He also mentioned that he had a novel that he wrote some years ago, but had stuck in a drawer because he’d been so badly burned by the publishing business. I asked if I could read it . . . and he sent it to me. I was blown away by it and so was Joel. We couldn’t believe that a book this good, that was every bit as great as his most acclaimed work, had gone unpublished. It was a gift for us to be able to publish it. And that’s how, unintentionally, we decided to publish brand new books, too.
Tom’s unpublished novel, Treasure Coast, became our lead title when we launched in September 2014 with thirty books . . . from authors as diverse as Barbara Neely, Dick Lochte, Gar Anthony Haywood, Dallas Murphy, Maxine O’Callaghan, Bill Crider, and Jack Lynch, to name just a few. Now we’re on track to publish eight to ten novels each quarter, one or two of which will be brand new, never-before-published books.
It’s a business that’s very much a labor of love for us both. We get a bigger thrill now out of seeing new copies of our authors’ books than we do our own. The widow of one of our authors got teary-eyed over Brash’s editions of his out-of-print books because we were treating them the way he’d always wanted. We got tears in our eyes, too. We started Brash Books for moments like that and for Tom’s dedication in Treasure Coast:
“For Lee Goldberg, who may have rescued me.”
For me, that was coming full circle. I may have rescued him, but the example he set with his books helped launch my career . . . and now a publishing company, too.
Our goal with Brash Books is to introduce readers, and perhaps future writers, to great books that shouldn’t be forgotten and to incredible new crime novels that we hope will be cherished in the future.
And yet, to our frustration, our list still doesn’t include any books by that obscure, deceased author who brought Joel and I together in this brash publishing adventure. We’re still negotiating with that author’s estate. But we’re not giving up. I love those books too much to let go. I just bought two more of them at a flea market today. . . .
My friend Mark Smith’s The Death of the Detective is widely considered to be one of the best detective novels ever written…and was a National Book Award finalist. It was a honor for me to be able to republish it this last month through my company, Brash Books. I’ve asked Mark to share the story of how his remarkable book was written.
I think it was Heywood Hale Broun who said, “When a professional man is doing the best work of his life, he will be reading only detective novels,” or words similar. I hope, even at my age, I have my best work ahead of me, but when I was writing The Death of the Detective, in my leisure hours I was exhausting the classic English who-dun-its written between the Wars, favoring Dorothy Sayers and Freeman Wills Croft, while also re-reading Raymond Chandler and re-discovering Nero Wolfe. In this regard I shared the addiction with the likes of William Butler Yeats, William Faulkner and FDR, among others.
My first two novels, the companion novels, Toyland and House Across the White (original title, The Middleman), were psychological thrillers and a modern retelling of a fairy tale. Before taking on the ghost story, my fourth novel, The Moon Lamp, I settled on my favorite genre, the detective story. Originally sketched out as something of a short story in which the detective in his quest of a killer discovers only his victims, with each murder leading both men to the next, the book became seriously ambitious when I added the moral and ironic complication of the detective himself being somehow responsible for the deaths by reason of his continued pursuit of the killer. This seemed to me a wonderful metaphor for the America of my time and place. And the detective as my representative American—or hero, if you wish. So much better for an urban environment than a cowboy.
The novel became enlarged when I added an interwoven subplot of young people and a minor plot of gangsters and made the killer’s victims believable round characters who were either sympathetic or interesting, so that, in a departure from the genre and the movies, the reader would be emotionally effected when their deaths occurred. After all, the tradition in Chicago writing, from Dreiser to Bellow, is compassion. Adding to the novel’s length was my recreation of each particular setting where the corpses were found strewn across the landscape of what is now called ‘Chicagoland”, thereby involving as many varied localities as I could in the crimes.
Many readers would say Chicago was the main character in the book, a response that surprised and disappointed me. Only years later did I come to find there was some justification for this observation. In my day, Chicago, for guys like me, was pretty much an open city, and I felt free to venture where I pleased. After high school, I worked as a mucker (sandhog) digging the subway extension beneath the post office, was a tariff clerk for the CBQ Railroad, the timekeeper on the foundation work for the Inland Steel Building and a merchant seaman on the Great Lakes before graduating from Northwestern University and living on the Gold Coast– across from the Ambassador East, no less.
Some readers, including allegedly mafioso and their children, have claimed the gangster plot is the best piece of the book, and that the gangsters are entirely believable, recognizable characters, perhaps something of a first in American fiction. The question asked then, is how did I come by my insights and knowledge? Henry James said writers should “receive straight impressions from life”, a piece of advice I find irrefutable for a naturalistic writer. Lo and behold, at the age of sixteen I worked as a busboy one summer at a nightclub-restaurant on the outskirts of Chicago owned by a former Capone mobster that was frequented by his fellows in the trade, alone (sometimes to play cards in a closed-off dining room), or with their families. These people not only became human to me, they became ordinary, and for a writer, now accessible to the play of his imagination. For example, I witnessed the tipsy top mobster in Chicago at closing time fail miserably in his attempt to pick up a not-so-exciting waitress, while my boss, a rather comic character who reminded me of Lou Costello ( a new restaurant in the area that threatened to be competition for his restaurant was bombed that summer every time it tried to open) would show up at the restaurant furious after losing a bundle at the track and order the help to drain all the nearly empty catsup bottles into new bottles. Without these contacts I suppose I would have had to take my gangsters from the cliches of movies and television (pre-Sopranos) and yes, probably from crime novels, also.
I have a couple of regrets about the novel. I notice a reviewer claimed I had predicted the practice of criminal profiling. If so, I’m not sure where that occurs in the novel. However I did make two predictions that came true that I cut from the book when I reduced its original text by some twenty percent which included not only blubber but the author’s commentary, prophecies and missteps into outright fantasy. One was the prediction that we would suffer from some new and deadly sexually transmitted disease which I changed to suggest old-fashioned syphilis. It seemed to me that given our new libertine sexual proclivities with limitless partners that such was likely to occur. Hence, soon thereafter, Aids. The other was my direct assertion that the mindless violence on film and television not only deadened us to the pain of violence, but encouraged violence, making it a centerpiece of our culture, a notion that was dismissed as hogwash at the time, but seemed an obvious cause and effect to me. Today this observation is pretty much accepted. So much for my career as Nostradamus.
A final admission. Although the Viet Nam war is never mentioned in this novel, and occurred after the time this novel takes place, it occurred during the time I was writing it with the nightly death count on the news. I like to tell myself my rage against that misadventure, along with my nostalgic love-hate relationship with the lost Chicago of my childhood and youth, were the energy sources behind the novel’s composition. It could even be said, with some hyperbole, that I wrote this book alone in my study in place of publically marching with the thousands demonstrating in the street.
One of my great pleasures of publishing this book, along with receiving a nomination for the National Book Award and seeing the novel on the New York Times paperback bestseller list, were the invitations to join the Mystery Writers of America and the British Crime Writers Association.
The Death of the Detective is available from Brash Books, Toyland and The House Across the White, from Foreverland Press.
Brash Books is launching tomorrow with thirty books by twelve amazing authors…and I am SO excited. I’m pleased to say that the buzz has already been very positive. For example, last week Kirkus Reviews did a great interview with me and my Brash cofounder Joel Goldman . Here’s an excerpt:
The Brash editions I’ve seen so far are handsome, trade-size paperbacks, with bold cover imagery and elegant interior design. “Joel and I decided right off that we were either going to do this ‘first-class’ or not at all,” says Goldberg, “with high-quality covers that vividly and definitively establish a franchise for each author or series that we are publishing. We also decided that our covers would be contemporary, regardless of when the stories take place, and that they would pop in thumbnail but be rich in details and textures when seen full-size. We believed that strategy, that look, would instantly set us apart from our competitors, many of whom are either marketing their books with ‘vintage paperback’ or ‘pulpy’ covers that immediately date the product, or are churning out hundreds of generic covers based on a few rigid templates to control their costs. It was a pricey decision for us to make, but we believe it’s the right one.”
Will the gumption and gusto shown by Brash Books help it triumph in an increasingly decentralized publishing environment, one that’s already spawned other paperback reprint houses (such as Hard Case Crime and Stark House Press)? It’s hard to tell. The two partners behind it, though, are certainly optimistic. “We wouldn’t be investing this much of our money into Brash if we didn’t love each and every book we are publishing,” Goldberg states. “We are also having a lot of fun together doing this. Yes, it’s a business. But it’s also been really exciting and fulfilling…especially when an author, or an heir, tells us how much they love the books and how much it means to them, emotionally, to see them brought back in such beautiful new editions. You can’t beat that feeling.”
We had so much to say that J. Kingston Pierce, the writer of the interview, took the quotes that he couldn’t fit into his Kirkus piece and ran it as a long, detailed post on his excellent blog The Rap Sheet. Here’s an excerpt:
JKP: Do you worry that with such a huge single-month rollout, some of the individual works you’re publishing might get lost?
JG: We’d be crazy if we didn’t worry about that, because we don’t want to publish more books than we can support.
LG: But we also wanted to make a big splash, to launch with a list of books that truly announces who we are, that represents the range of work that we’re publishing, and that demonstrates the high quality that sets us apart from our competitors.
JG: Our marketing plan is a solid mix of old-school and new-school promotion, including magazine and convention ads, online ads, social media, and our killer Web site. We’ve hired an ad agency and a PR firm to help us, and we’re going to as many conventions as we can to get the word out.
LG: The best advertisements we have are our books and our authors. People are blown away by how gorgeous our books are and are very enthusiastic about the authors we’re publishing. Those readers are spreading the word for us better than any tweet or Google ad can.
And if that wasn’t enough, Publishers Weekly gave our premiere novel, Tom Kakonis’ Treasure Coast, a great review:
After more than a decade’s absence, Kakonis (Michigan Roll) returns with a darkly humorous caper novel that throws together an odd mix of characters whose conflicting aims and shifting alliances result in mayhem on Florida’s Treasure Coast. Failed gambler Jim Merriman makes an ill-considered promise to his dying sister to “watch out” for her hapless 21-year-old son, Leon. Con man B. Noble Bott and his assistant, Waneta Pease, are concocting a new scheme with Waneta serving as a medium to put the living in contact with the departed. Mismatched debt collectors, racist thug Morris Biggs and Latino Hector Pasadena, are about their nasty business, which includes Leon. Billie Swett, naïve trophy wife of Big Lonnie Swett, is the piece that will inadvertently connect them all. A hastily concocted kidnapping scheme, an ape-like PI named Don McReedy, and an incipient hurricane stir the plot. Kakonis overwrites at times, but he still offers strong entertainment.
We’re expecting more articles and reviews about Brash in the coming days. But what I really can’t wait to hear is what you think of our books… and whether you believe that we are living up to our motto: we publish the best crime novels in existence.