Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What to Do?


Sally, Buddy and Rob reading. (If you have to ask, you're too young.






Every once in a while, my stories begin to drift and I can't expect to publish them in any crime zines. I try to punch up the crime element, but basically these are stories about people in trouble and crime may only enter into it peripherally. These stories are always a problem because when the literary outlets see any crime at all they look on it as genre writing and most of the crime zines want fairly crime-heavy tales.

What do I do with these stories? I have a bunch of them waiting for inspiration. I can ratched up the crime a bit or remove it still further. Or go back to writing the novel. Oh, boy remember that novel?

Do you write stories that fall in between? Even more importantly, do you read them? How pure do you expect a story on a crime zine to be? Are you disappointed when there's no body count? Is it enough to read about someone in jeopardy--even if it's more spiritual than physical?

19 comments:

Scott Parker said...

My first, gut reaction is not to force anything. Thus, upping the crime ante seems, on the surface, counter-productive.

Good stories are good stories. Period. I don't necessarily care about body count, shoot-outs, etc. if the story is good. When I pick up an anthology like, say Hell of a Woman, and read one story (Ken Bruen's "Nora B") and my mind starts pre-mapping the rest of the anthology. That is, all stories should be like this. Then I read Cornelia Reed's "Hungry Enough" and it's a whole different thing. I have to un-map my brain and just enjoy. I guess that falls under preconceived notions.

Take Robert B. Parker's interview in the WSJ this week. Here's the money quote: "I don't think of myself as a genre novelist. I think of myself as a person writing novels about people involved with crime." Many crime writers think this of their work. Granted, some others see it differently. Crime fiction, as opposed to mystery fiction, can come in many different flavors.

Patti, your stories have a graceful fluidity that's unique. I'd hate for you to force something into one of your stories just to try to get it published in a particular zine, crime or otherwise. And as to your final question, I think spiritual jeopardy, in this recession, is a great avenue to explore. And who knows: a character's spiritual jeopardy could lead to drastic action and, potentially, higher crime content. You never know.

Since I've been struggling with similar issues, my one piece of advice is what I'm trying to follow: write what feels natural to you. If that means there's nary a gun in one story, so be it. If that means there's a bloody shoot-out in another, so be it.

There may be days/projects that you'll have to write what someone else wants (i.e., an anthology for crime fiction set in Brazil) but, along the way, you get to write whatever you want. We not-yet-or-occasionally-published authors have to love what we're doing. Forcing one aspect into a story or taking something out that belongs will gradually make us not like our own writing. Guess that explains why I've yet to complete my second book.

Having said all of this, we all want others to read our work. To do that, we need to be published. To be published, we may need to compromise. [Shakes head] Sheesh! There are no easy answers.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great advice, Scott. Right now I'm writing a ghost story with several deaths, but it is very light. I'll check out Sandra's blog for those Pine Tree Mysteries perhaps.

Todd Mason said...

If ONTARIO REVIEW is ongoing, ONTARIO REVIEW. If it isn't, there're still BLACK CLOCK, BOULEVARD, WITNESS, MANOA, CONJUNCTIONS, ZOETROPE ALL-STORY and the possibly suspended MCSWEENEY'S, none of which shrink from crime fiction...and that's just the printed and bound magazines that come immediately to mind...

David Cranmer said...

I'm good friends with the editors at Beat to a Pulp. Just let me know:)

To answer your question, when I'm reading a story, if it's exceptionally done then the crime element (body count, police procedure, etc.) can be minimal and I would hardly notice.

Ed Gorman said...

Well, as somebody who's taken two of your stories for year's best anthologies, I say your stories work fine with or without corpses. There's a human center to your stories and that's the vital element to all worthwhile fiction, at least for me. I grew up reading realists such as Scott Fitzgerald, Erskine Caldwell (yes, like Faulkner, I think he was a serious and a major voice), Irwin Shaw, Zola, James T. O'Farrell, Katherine Anne Porter, Moravia, Carson McCullers etc and no matter what they were writing about everything in a given piece was about the humanity of the people involved. I think that's the difference between literature and standard genre. Fiction that concentrates solely on plot can be fun to read but most of it refuses to stay with you. That's what made the great Gold Medal writers great--Rabe, JDM, Charles Williams, Malcolm Braly etc. When they were at their best they were using crime fiction as a means of exploring the same human problems as Shaw and Porter and Caldwell. The same thing you do in your fiction.

Lisa said...

I love all of your stories.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Todd-Is there any subject you don't know about? And I mean that in the best way.
Ed, -you certainly fall into this category. I'd be hard-pressed to say any of the books of yours I've read or stories are anything except great writing and stories about people.
David-BTAP has published a string of great stories. All of them are good on pure literary merits.
Lisa-And I love you.

Paul Brazill said...

Your stories grip of their own accord. I've just read 'stranded on third' and it hooked me very quickly- why shoehorn a story into a genre?the blurring of a genre's borders is usually a good thing.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I hope no one thinks I posted this piece to have people compliment me.
Not that I don't appreciate the encouragement, of course. Thanks, Paul. I tried to insert a crime in that one--have him kill the mother or boyfriend but it didn't work out.

Iren said...

I find that when I am writing any kind of story trying to force it to become something that it is not…. Never leaves me feeling like it’s a satisfactory endeavor. I figure with creative what not, you make it, you shape it, and you put it out there.

Iren said...

rereading your post it occurs to me that maybe someone needs to start a 'just a little crime' or a 'not so much killing' zine?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I looked into doing that-talked to four of the zine editors--but concluded the Friday thing takes up too much time to start another project.

Cormac Brown said...

I just picked up April's Alfred Hitchcok Mystery Magazine and some of the stories therein struck me as rather light-weight in terms of evil that lurks in the heart's of men (and women).

I either write crime or I don't, but that never limited Raymond Carver, did it? I mean, Carver didn't write crime fiction, but some of the people in his stories lived marginal lives and did some shocking things.

If you really feel that you want to write these stories and no editor is open to them, why don't you start your own 'zine?

Cormac Brown said...

BTW, Katherine Tomlinson is looking for change of pace stories for Astonishing Adventures Magazine, the only requirement is that they fall within the pulp genre.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Cormac. I'll look it up.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have quite a few stories that sort of fall in some gray area. SOmetimes I place them with quirky publishers but at other times they just linger around on my harddrive. It's definitely not a money making plan to write such stories, it seems.

sandra seamans said...

I hate trying to force a story into something its not. Right now I have a great start for a story, but then I tried forcing all these crimes into it until I lost the sense of what the story was truly about. Staying true to the emotions in the story is the most important thing and make the best stories like Ed said.

I've gone past the point in my life where I actually believe I'll make it as a published writer, in the sense that people will recognize my name, so I tend to just write the story and then look for a market. And many times, like Charles, it just sits in a computer file.

Christopher Grant over at A Twist of Noir publishes stories that sometimes have very little crime and no body count. They just step into the dark side of human nature.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I just sent him on for that alienation issue-has no crime but the implications of a future one are there. I wonder what he'll think.
I have many stories like that Sandra. I think we come from the same Pennsylvania state of mind. The more I push them the worse they get.

Todd Mason said...

The chasms of my ignorance are vast and constantly expanding...it's learning their dimensions that's half the fun.

But my subtext is...there are a lot more markets to explore, as you know...and I forgot to mention again how CRIMEWAVE (and its horror sidekick BLACK STATIC) like "genre"-blurring fiction...