I’m excited to announce that I’ve acquired the rights to all of Ralph Dennis’s work — his published and unpublished novels. Brash Books will be re-releasing his 12 Hardman novels, starting with the first four in December, and the rest through 2019. The Hardman books include a terrific introduction by Joe R. Lansdale. The first two titles in the series, Atlantla Deathwatch and The Charleston Knife is Back in Townare already available for preorder in paperback and ebook on Amazon, iBook, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.
We’ll also be re-releasing in 2019 a substantially revised version Ralph’s WWII thriller MacTaggart’s War, which we’ve retitled The War Heist. It was his last published title and didn’t do as well as he, or the publisher hoped. I believe i know why… I’ve gone back to his original manuscript, rearranged chapters, deleted chapters, and made other revisions to heighten suspense, sharpen characters, etc… cutting the book by about 35,000 words along the way (it still clocks in at 100K words).
And we’re also going to be releasing many of Ralph’s unpublished novels…which, if they need revision, I will be doing myself. One of the manuscripts is going to be slightly reworked as a sequel to his previous published novel Atlanta (which we are likely to retitle before re-publishing)
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.
I can’t wait to hear what you think of the books as they roll out… and I hope you will spread the word. We want Ralph Dennis to get the recognition and readership he’s long deserved.
It’s taken me three days to recover (and to get my voice back) from my fun-filled weekend at Bouchercon 2014, the world mystery convention, which was held in Long Beach, California. It was four-days of talking about mysteries, thrillers and writing with my fellow authors, crime novel fans, editors, agents, and booksellers. It was a great event. I met so many new readers and learned so much from my colleagues. I also talked up (before my voice went out) Brash Books, the new publishing company I launched on Sept 3rd with my buddy Joel Goldman, and our thirty new releases. And I signed lots of books, including THE JOB, my third Fox & O’Hare novel co-authored with Janet Evanovich. Here are some photos from the conference…
You can find more photos from Bouchercon in the photo gallery on my website.
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.”
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.
Robert B. Parker died in 2010, but his characters Spenser, Jesse Stone and Virgil Cole have lived on in new books by other authors. Ace Atkins pulled off a miracle by writing two Spenser novels that could have been mistaken for the work of Parker himself…and in his prime. Michael Brandman’s three Jesse Stone novels were awful, not just bad attempts at imitating Parker, but horribly-written books by any measure. Robert Knott’s first Virgil Cole book, Ironhorse, was a decent western, but unremarkable and certainly not up to Parker’s level (his second Cole book, Bull River, was a definite step up and, wisely, a few steps away from attempting to imitate Parker). And the less said about Helen Brann’s Silent Night, a misguided attempt to finish the book Parker was writing when he died, the better.
Now along comes Reed Farrel Coleman’s Blind Spot, a new Jesse Stone novel. I should admit a personal bias right off — Reed is a friend of mine and I am a fan of his work. When I heard he was taking over for Brandman, I was thrilled. I had high hopes for what a writer of Reed’s skill would bring to the series and those hopes have not just been met, they have been exceeded. I am sure I am not going to be the first, or the only, person to say that he has saved Jesse Stone. His book is not only better than Brandman’s three Stone books (which isn’t setting a very high bar) but even better than the last few Stones written by Parker himself.
Reed has saved Jesse Stone by embracing the character, not by imitating Parker’s writing style. He’s done it by making Stone his own. He has fleshed out Stone’s world, and his inner life, in so many ways. His first smart move was making the crime story personal, one that goes to the root of Stone’s character, and that allows Reed to reboot the series, to reintroduce the character, his past, and his relationships and tweak them a bit along the way. He leaves the Stone series in much better the shape than Parker left it (and let’s just pretend the Brandman novels were a bad dream, okay?)
The story begins at a reunion of players from Stone’s short-lived time in professional baseball. The reunion occurs at the same time as a murder in Paradise, the small town where Jesse is Chief of Police. I won’t go into a summary of the plot, except to say it gives Reed ample opportunity to explore Jesse’s character in interesting ways.
There are many references in the story to past Stone tales, a gift for long-time fans, but Reed is not pandering to them. He’s anchoring his new Stone in the old, paying his respects but saying “we’re moving on.” Those references to past events and characters are the only nods he makes to Parker. You won’t find any imitations of Parker’s distinctive writing style and banter, something only Ace has dared, and brilliantly succeeded, in copying. Reed wisely writes in his own voice, one tweaked a bit to suit Jesse Stone but close enough to Parker’s sensibilities that it feels comfortable, familiar, and just right.
My favorite part of Blind Spotis how Reed makes everyone human, especially the bad guys, which is not something Parker ever did. The bad guys were often punching bags for either his supremely confident heroes’ fists or their wit, but they were not living, breathing people.
For Jesse Stone fans, Blind Spot is cause for celebration and, based on the final pages, perhaps some apprehension, too…at least until Reed’s next Stone novel.
To write her hot new crime novel The Big Keep, my friend author Melissa Olson had to spend a lot of time in police stations, which meant conquering her fear of cops. Here’s how she did it…
I’ve been a little bit afraid of the police for as long as I can remember.
Maybe it’s because I was a child of the movies, where being a police officer is never just someone’s job; it’s a larger-than-life identity. Onscreen, a person and a badge are much bigger than just the sum of those two parts. Movie and TV cops are usually a representation of authority itself, charged with the power to do anything from ruin your day to kill you and make it look like an accident, Dirty Harry-style.
Or maybe I’m just afraid of cops because an encounter with the police represents getting in trouble, and I was never one for trouble. I never even had a detention; the idea of getting arrested in terrifying to me. I prefer my conflict on literary terms only, thank you very much.
At any rate, after a long path that wound from Wisconsin to Los Angeles and back, I ended up becoming a fiction writer. And despite my fear, I eventually found myself writing about a couple of very large, very famous police departments: first the LAPD (In Dead Spots and its sequels) and then later, the Chicago Police Department (in The Big Keep). While I was writing these books I decided to adopt a “forewarned is forearmed” attitude with some serious research, but that wasn’t always reassuring – for example, the CPD Wikipedia page alone has a long list of scandals and coverups for your perusal. It’s a skewed sample of what these departments actually do, of course, but it’s still intimidating as hell.
Before long I began checking over my shoulder as I wrote, half-convinced that at any moment the cops would knock on my door, angry that I was making them too cartoonish or too intense. I’m not much of a speeder to begin with, but by the time The Big Keep was in edits I was keeping a careful eye on the rearview mirror, especially whenever I found myself in Chicago. It’s only paranoia until you’re pulled over for a brake light that isn’t broken.
All right, I may be exaggerating the danger just a touch. Eventually, I got past these early anxieties and realized that the only way to write cops is to write people who work as cops. Although some television shows (not written by Lee Goldberg, of course) may depict all police in black hats or white hats, the truth is that real police officers come in as many shades of gray as any other group of people. In The Big Keep, there are kind, thoughtful cops, like the protagonist’s friend Sarabeth Warrens, and there are vulgar asshole cops, too, like her partner Flanagan and his cronies. But all of them have their own histories and motivations, because they’re still characters, modeled on people, and brought to life as part of a larger story. I made myself remember that having a badge may give you authority, but it doesn’t make you one-dimensional. And hopefully that comes through in my novel.
I might stay out of Chicago for awhile, though. Just in case.
Melissa Olson was born and raised in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and studied film and literature at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. After graduation, and a brief stint bouncing around the Hollywood studio system, Melissa landed in Madison, WI, where she eventually acquired a master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee, a husband, a mortgage, a teaching gig, two kids, and two comically oversized dogs, not at all in that order. She loves Madison, but still dreams of the food in LA. Literally. There are dreams. Learn more about Melissa, her work, and her dog at www.MelissaFOlson.com.
My friend author Vicki Hendricks is perhaps best known for her classic, contemporary noir novel Miami Purity, an explosive mix of crime and explicit sex. She followed that break-out novel with several more critically-acclaimed edgy, sex-soaked noir tales, including Sky Blues, Cruel Poetry, Iquana Love, and Involuntary Madness. But now she’s trying something very different with her new novel, Fur People, and I invited her here to talk about it.
When I switched from crime-noir writing to general fiction, I didn’t realize the difficulty I would have in dropping my usual methods of keeping readers’ attention—sex and violence. I was inspired with a story about Sunny, a young animal-lover, because I share her needs and pain, if not her behaviors. I love animals much more than I love murder, and the irony involved of love taken to the extreme fascinated me. Somehow I failed to recognize obsession, the basis of noir—old habits do die hard. Around every tree in the Florida setting lurked a noir opportunity begging to be explored—my subconscious at work. I hadn’t set out to write a Marley and Me, but it’s as if I was writing blindfolded.
Sexual desires spring from Sunny’s past, as she dreams of the ex-boyfriend she left ten years earlier and hopes to love again. Drunken men with sick talk stumble through the woods and find her camper-bus. What’s a girl to do? In addition, the local veterinarian can’t stop obsessing about the young hunk who so smoothly led her into trafficking Special K and cost her six months in prison and the loss of her license. And the homeless man, Buck, has nothing on his brain but the inside of Sunny’s shorts, ever since he spots her guzzling Half and Half in the grocery.
As I’m writing this, I remember that just a few days ago, worried about my usual quantity and length of sex scenes, my sister asked if the book would be appropriate to give her mother-in-law for Christmas. I assured her it would be fine– just a smattering of romance in there, I told her. Now I wonder if that’s true. Somehow I think so, considering the amount of adult situations in comparison to everything else that happens in the 300 pages, but as I tease out details for examples here, I wonder if my sensibilities have become warped over the years. Am I too perverse to be the judge?
There’s crime, too, I realize, and even firearms, in Fur People. Buck’s unregistered Police Special appears as a complete shock to my conscious self, but there it is, sure as heck, buried under blankets and towels in a Rubbermaid bin. Chekhov’s advice couldn’t be ignored: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” I had to deal with that concept.
I now recognize that noir crept into the story immediately through the main character, no matter how I tried to lighten and disguise it. The struggle of a young woman who lives in a school bus with a load dogs and cats is intrinsically dark and obsessive, no matter how many baubles, or in this case Coors Light cans, you hang on her Christmas tree. The tree metaphor comes from another favorite instructor, to emphasize the importance of the main plot, as driven by the need of the character. The plot is the tree itself and the rest is merely decoration. I knew this, but on some level I didn’t care.
Other misgivings arise. Buck battles deadly rays from the sky. Sunny develops telepathy with animals. Sunny’s drunken father recreates the hell she escaped. And more. I built in seven points of view and subplots attached to each, including a German shepherd and Chihuahua conflict, to make up for the seeming lack of sex and murder. Now these multiple strands haunt me. Are they patterned in a jeweled web or tangled like seaweed? Am I in soap opera territory or the vicinity of Charles Dickens/Jane Austen? One hopes for the best.
During the writing, I asked my favorite professor from twenty years ago if there were “rules” for subplots, and she said that each subplot has to affect the main plot and the main plot has to affect the subplots. How logical. Or was it the other way around? Does it matter? I think it does, but I can’t remember how I did it anyway, and trying to analyze the finished structure gives me a headache.
I promised myself that his time I was going to write about a sane person in a crazy world, the opposite of noir, and for a long time, I thought that’s what I’d done. I feel exactly as Sunny does about animals, and most people will tell you I’m normal. But I see now that Sunny’s dedication is mountainous compared to mine. Her guts outweigh mine by a ton. As the writer, I lost control, or gave it up. Maybe that’s as it should be. I can only hope.
There are scores of professional writers out there who are incredibly prolific, sell huge numbers of crime novels and westerns, and yet are virtually unknown. One of those writers is Robert Vaughan, who has sold 40 million books, mostly westerns. He was interviewed about his under-the-radar career recently and he’s pretty frank about his lack of celebrity.
I have written well over 400 books. If I had written every one of those books under my own name, Robert Vaughan would be a name that is immediately recognized. I would have established something of value that my survivors could capitalize on after I die…(such as I am doing for others now….continuing the name of a deceased author for the benefit of his survivors). Don’t get me wrong. I am also benefiting from this name….but with this author….and with two others, I have had seven books make it onto the NYT best seller list. Two novels, LOVE’S BOLD JOURNEY, and LOVE’S SWEET AGONY, which I wrote as Patricia Matthews, made number one on the list. In 1981, I sold 6 million books. In my life time, I have probably sold 40 million books, but nobody knows who I am.
But I bet he didn’t really have a choice. Like many writers, me included, he probably took the jobs that came along to pay the bills (do you think I wanted to write for The New Adventures of Flipper or Baywatch?) and didn’t necessarily take a long-range view of what the cumulative effect might be on his career.
I have enormous respect for authors like Vaughan. They are true craftsman, and don’t get nearly the attention, or financial compensation, that they deserve for their crimes novels and westerns. I’m talking about pros like James Reasoner, Mel Odom, Bill Crider, Robert Randisi, Ed Gorman, Raymond Obstfeld, Mike Newton, Chet Cunningham, Donald Bain, to name a few… guys who can write just about anything in any genre…thrillers novels, crime novels, western novels, romance novels and do it well. And who have ghost-written scores of books, or toiled under house names (a pseudonym created by a publisher or book packager for a novel or series of books), while others repeated the lion’s share of profits from their efforts. A few such writers have emerged from the shadows into wide popularity… guys like Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, John Harvey, and John Jakes… but most toil in obscurity, writing sometimes hundreds of books in virtual anonymity as “work-for-hire” authors.
But I believe that is finally changing, thanks to Amazon and the e-book revolution. There has been a massive shift in the economics of publishing, and it’s increasingly becoming financially impractical for a prolific, self-starting professional author to toil in the “work-for-hire” field, where you don’t own the copyright, advances can be as low as $3000, and royalties as pitiful as 1 or 2%…if you get any at all.
More and more writers who used to live on work-for-hire gigs are now turning to self-publishing…which offers them the opportunity to own their books, make more money, and become known for their work. For example, Crider, Odom and Reasoner are writing and publishing the Rancho Diablo westerns… just the kind of “house name” series they used to toil on as anonymously “work-for-hire” writers with no ownership stake.
Vaughan, meanwhile, has a new western out under his own name (When Hell Came to Texas) and is also writing romances for Pocket Books with his wife Ruth under the pen-name “Sara Luck.”
And though the Sara Luck books don’t have my name, Ruth and I at least own the name.