(DaRK PaRTY is tickled pink – and blue and red – to have cajoled and begged Crime Writer Extraordinaire Dave Zeltserman to become a regular contributor to the DaRTY PaRTY ReVIEW. Dave will be authoring an occasional column about crime writing and publishing called “Thoughts from the Shadows.” This is his first commentary! Enjoy!)
Commentary from Crime Writer Dave Zeltserman
"Jim Thompson is the best suspense writer going, bar none." -- New York Times "A blistering imaginative crime novelist… a classic American writer." -- Kirkus Reviews
Between 1952 and 1964 Jim Thompson wrote what are arguably his most famous crime noir novels, including "Killer Inside Me", "Savage Night", "A Swell-Looking Babe", "A Hell of a Woman", "The Getaway", "The Grifters" and "Pop. 1280". All in all, Thompson wrote 26 novels, a number of which have been made into movies, including "The Getaway" twice, with recent word that a new version of "Killer Inside Me" starring Casey Affleck as Lou Ford is currently being planned. Thompson is considered not only one of the great crime writers of American literature, but one of the great American writers period. You can see his influence in a whole generation of current crime writers, from James Ellroy to the Galway born writer, Ken Bruen. Outside of maybe Hammett, Chandler and James M. Cain, it's hard to think of a writer who has had a greater influence on American crime fiction.
So the question is: Could Jim Thompson be published today?
Well, yes, I have little doubt that some of the Independent houses in the United Kingdom, like Serpent's Tail, No Exit Press and Bitter Lemon Press, where the quality of the book is more important than the perceived "commercial value" would jump at the chance of publishing these books. Perhaps also some of the small U.S. houses.
So let's refine the question. Would any of the large New York houses publish Thompson today?
No. At least I don't think so.
I have little doubt that editors reading his manuscripts would fall in love with them and want to buy them, but then fear would come into play. The fear that someone along the way in the decision process would complain about the books being too dark. Or too edgy. Or that there was an unlikable protagonist—or worse even, a protagonist who's a full-blown crazy. They would be too afraid that somewhere along the line the book would be shot down, that someone would feel their time was wasted. Ultimately they would be afraid that their career would be irreparably damaged because they recommended a book that fell outside the lines, a book that was too different, that wasn't written in a "relentlessly commercial" style.
These editors would probably tell Thompson how much they loved his writing, but they that need something more mainstream from him. Something safer, something more commercial. And maybe after having a half dozen or so of his books rejected for not being safe enough, Thompson might've quit writing. Or worse, give up his brilliant and unique noir vision to write "relentlessly commercial" thrillers.
At least that would be my guess.
(Dave Zeltserman lives and writes in Massachusetts. His crime novel “Small Crimes” was called a “thing of beauty” by the Washington Post and National Public Radio named “Small Crimes” one of its five best mystery novels of 2008. Dave also publishes his own blog, Small Crimes.)