::Literate Blather::
Monday, December 01, 2008
Thoughts from the Shadows: The Thompson Question

(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.

on 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.)

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Blogger mybillcrider said...
Not Casey Affleck. Geez.

Blogger GFS3 said...
He weighs about 98-pounds soaking wet. Ouch.

Blogger Fred Blosser said...
Lansdale, Guthrie, and Swierczynski seem to have found receptive editors at the NY houses for edgy stuff. All else being equal, edgy may pitch better nowadays than the traditional PI novel. I suspect that Chandler or (either) MacD(d)onald would have a more difficult time than Thompson.

Blogger Dave Zeltserman said...
Fred, you're actually proving my point. Lansdale, an excellent writer, broke through in horror, not crime. Allan Guthrie, another very fine writer, could not sell his award-winning first book, Two-Way Split, and had to start his own small press with JT Lindroos to get it published (as well as publishing my own first book). I know this because Al and I traded many sad tales of frustration around that time. Later, he did get a book published early on with Hard Case, but they're a bit outside the typical NY house, and then it was only when he was picked up by a Scottish firm and was up for an Edgar were they able to sell the US rights. Swier.. writes what I would consider ultra-violent graphic novels without many graphics, and certainly not the dark edgy near literary works of Jim Thompson.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
This is one of the big reasons the midlist has died a horrible death over the last twenty years: when books become "product," their value as anything but entries on a spreadsheet vanishes. Luckily, with the advent of so many technologies that allow for a more egalitarian publishing environment -- ironically, the same sort of environment that existed before the corporatization of the industry -- we should see more out-of-the-mainstream writers and writing appear.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Hi Sam:
I hope you're right, but right now the technology is nascent and nobody really takes self-published authors very seriously (or, in fact, buys many of their books).

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