The Short Con
I just bought a copy of the new BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES collection and I’ve been reading through it along with the 2008 collection and LAS VEGAS NOIR collection. I’m enjoying the short form quite a bit, as I’ve been out of reading and writing it for a while. That wasn’t the case for several years though. The book I just finished is the best book I’ve written so far, and one I’ve wanted to write for more than three years. But it wouldn’t have happened without that first copy of BAMS I picked up in 2004 and my subsequent introduction to online crime fiction. I honestly can’t remember if I’ve written about this here or not before, but I suspect most people have the same shitty short term memory as I do and won’t go back through the archives looking to prove me wrong.
So I’d written a few short stories before I attempted my first novel and none of them were good. They were either failed twist ending stories or failed private detective stories. I think I wrote 4 or 5 of them. Then I wrote my first novel. After spending several years on that, I needed a change. I wanted to write something darker, something that was a crime story but really a mystery. Around this time I was going back to grad school for creative writing and trying to have it both ways with literary respect and the wide audience of crime. I banged around for a bit until I came across that first copy of BAMS. I was shocked to find that mixed in among the stories from stalwart crime magazines and anthologies were literary journals like The Gettysburg Review, Zoetrope, Tin House, etc. I was also even more shocked to find a smattering of online fiction. And it was GOOD. I found Scott Wolven, Neil Smith, Tribe, Victor Gischler, Sean Doolittle, and all these guys who were doing great stuff and publishing online.
After immersing myself in all of this for a year or so I felt ready to try my hand. I wrote a story called BREAKFAST ANYTIME and I was off. I spent the next three years focusing almost entirely on short crime stories, publishing almost all of them online. I tried new voices, new tricks, new styles, and gradually moved myself from the light hearted detective stories I’d been writing to something more akin to my own twisted self interest. I used a lot of dark humor, a lot of cartoon violence, and more swearing that Fleet Week and a Biker convention rolled in one. And I loved it. The more I worked at it, the better I got and I started gaining some recognition. People knew my name, liked my stuff, and picked me up for reprint anthologies and started paying me money.
That’s great. But after a while, when I decided to go back to writing novels, I went back to writing the same damn detective novels I was never very good at before. It took two completed, and three abandoned detective novels before I finally pried my head out of my ass enough to see the light and write a novel in the same style I’d been building and promoting online. That book, MURDER BOY, is loosely based on my short story from the Thuglit print anthology HARDCORE HARDBOILED and is probably my most popular story that doesn’t involve donkey sex. I love the book, and writing it made me feel complete as a writer like none of my other books had.
And now that I’ve got that book simmering, I want to return to the short form. While I’ve been gone, a whole new crop of guys like Frank Bill and John Rector and others have been coming up and making some noise. And for God’s sake, Scott Phillips has reemerged on the scene. I’m looking to stretch myself again and hopefully, this time, it won’t take me four more books to spread that knowledge to the long form.