12-01-2008 10:16 PM
It feels like just yesterday that I was racing against a deadline to finish writing Hard Case Crime's 50th book in time to send it to the printer -- and now here we are, six months later, and it's hitting Barnes & Noble stores across the country, just in time for Christmas...
FIFTY-TO-ONE represents a milestone for us at Hard Case Crime -- when we started the line, I honestly didn't know whether we'd ever make it past book #5, much less to #50. Max Phillips and I knew we loved great old-fashioned hardboiled crime fiction with sexy painted covers, but we didn't know whether anyone else would. But we decided to dive in anyway, and together with Dorchester Publishing we set out on an adventure that wound up leading us...here.
The book's a tribute to everything that's come before. It's told in 50 chapters, each one named after one of the books in the series. (Our first book was GRIFTER'S GAME by Lawrence Block, so Chapter 1 is called "Grifter's Game." Our second was Max Phillips's FADE TO BLONDE, so Chapter 2 is "Fade to Blonde." And so on.) It features cameo appearances by some of our authors (Mickey Spillane shows up in Chapter 2, for instance.) And it tells the story of how Hard Case Crime was founded at the height of the pulp era, back in 1958, by a con man out to make a quick buck... Okay, it's not a true story (I founded Hard Case Crime just 5 years ago, not 50) -- but hopefully it's a story people will enjoy.
Fair warning: It's a comedy. So if you only like your crime fiction dark, grim, and bleak, this one's not for you. But if you're in the mood for a laugh and share our love for the good old days of pulp fiction, I think you'll get a kick out of it.
And if you do --
Or if you don't, and want to tell me that --
Or if you have any questions you'd like to ask, either about FIFTY-TO-ONE or the series in general --
...I'm here to answer them.
Don't be shy! (I don't bite.)
12-02-2008 08:14 AM
First and foremost, Charles, a hearty congratulations on reaching such a milestone! It feels like just yesterday when Grifter's Game crossed my desk and my thinking then was -- which hasn't wavered an inch since -- what a terrific and refreshing idea!
My question is what happens to the original cover paintings? I imagine the artist keeps them, but I think you once mentioned you actually have a few. Which ones? Also, how's a guy like me get used as model for a HCC book? Granted, I'm not that flattering to look at bikini-clad, but I can certainly hold a snub nose 38 as well as anyone!
Again, thanks for your outstanding contribution to crime fiction, Charles.
12-02-2008 08:56 AM
Oh, I think you'd make a GREAT model for one of our covers, Paul! (Just need to find you a trenchcoat and a Panama hat...)
The answer to your question is that all of our artists get their original paintings back when we're done photographing them for production purposes, and then they're free to do with them as they will -- some display them in galleries, some sell them, some stuff them in a closet and never look at them again...
In a small number of cases, I've asked the artists if I could buy a cover painting. Two were for my own books: Glen Orbik's paintings for SONGS OF INNOCENCE and FIFTY-TO-ONE. (The latter is sitting in my room as I type, leaning against a wall for lack of a hook strong enough to hang it from. The thing is big.) The third was Michael Koelsch's painting for Donald Westlake's SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY -- I just fell in love with that one and decided to see if Mike would be willing to part with it.
The fact that I only bought those three is not a sign that I didn't love plenty of others just as much -- just that a) buying paintings is expensive, so you can't have 'em all, and b) some of the ones I'd love to own have already been snapped up by other collectors.
And all of this is very different from the way things were done in the old days. Back in the original pulp era, all cover paintings were "works for hire" and the publishers kept them, usually just jamming them in a storage area, never to be seen again. There are true stories of times when a publisher went out of business and hundreds of old paintings were piled up on the curb outside their office to be carted away with the day's garbage. This is why so few of those old paintings survive today. It's one of the great tragedies of the pulp era -- so much incredible artwork, lost forever.
12-02-2008 12:22 PM
Hi Charles------I've always liked mysteries. Then I got attracted to the Crime Club board and the Hard case Crime books. I bought several of them from Barnes & Noble. I even bought The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps. I gave a couple of the Hard Case Crime books away after I read them. But now I think I want to collect them. I have aboiut twelve or thirteen of them. I just finished Grifter's Game. What an ending!!!! I have just started Fifty-To-One. Your scheme for this book with the chapter titles is great. I get the impression too that the title of each chapter fits what's happening in that chapter. In chapter two, is Mickey Spillane the one who barges into the bathroom after Charlie Borden?
12-02-2008 02:04 PM
Awesome Timing I just finished the book two days ago. I was afraid that the concept sounded a bit gimmicky. Thankfully, the book moves along a Radar great pace and it includes everything a crime fan could want Mobsters, Stripers, Kidnapping, Murder, Blackmail, Revenge, Stripers(Charles is a big fan of stripers in his books ((Me Too!)) Horse Racing, Boxing, Ships in the bay, Briefcases Full of money, 2 guys who are surrogates for Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block and much more. That's a lot for 350pgs. Whatever your crime kink is 50 to 1 has the answer.
For those of us who have read most of the HOC books there are an infinite number of inside jokes and I bet there are many only Charles and a select few know of. 50 to 1 is a great time. It is a perfect book to introduce new crime readers and to re-stimulate former crime readers.
I found the information on the book to be fascinating one thing I would like to ask Charles is: "How about doing the short story anthology I even have a great title "Brief Case Crime." It would be wonderful to have a collection of HCC stories that you can read when you need to kill a bit of time.
I look forward to Killing Castro and the next 50
12-02-2008 11:07 PM
Librarian: Yes, the guy who busts into the bathroom in Chapter Two is Mickey Spillane. He's mad because Hard Case Crime ripped off his classic Mike Hammer novel "I, THE JURY" by publishing a book called "EYE THE JURY" by "Nicky Malone." Later on, we see a copy of a Hard Case Crime book called "THE CRIMSON CRAVAT by Bill Grewer" -- long-time fans of pulp fiction might figure out that this is a knock-off of a best-seller called "THE RED SCARF" by Gil Brewer.
RRebelo: I'm glad you enjoyed it so much! As for the idea of doing a short story collection, I'm afraid this isn't very likely, mainly because when we floated the idea with our authors, not too many of them really felt like participating; and even though I'm sure there are plenty of other writers who would be up for it, editing an anthology is an enormous amount of work (20 separate contracts to negotiate instead of just one, 20 separate royalty checks to cut, 20 separate jobs of editing, etc., etc.), and most readers don't seem to like short stories as much as novels. I happen to love short stories myself -- I started out in the field reading Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine as a kid, and I still love it today -- but the audience for short stories seems to be a small and dwindling one...so we probably couldn't sell enough copies of a book like this to make up for the extra costs and labor involved.
Fortunately, though, there's no shortage of other short story collections out there for those of us who are hungry for the form -- everything from Otto Penzler's BIG BOOK OF PULPS to Akashic's "Noir" series (BROOKLYN NOIR, MANHATTAN NOIR, L.A. NOIR, etc.), to the various "Best of the Year" anthologies, to magazines like Ellery Queen. Or the collected stories of individual writers, such as the great Lawrence Block. No shortage of shorts, in other words -- hunt around a bit and you'll find them...
12-03-2008 04:42 AM
12-06-2008 08:46 AM
I finished Fifty-to-One on Thanksgiving, and I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It was a treat because, like so many followers of the Hard Case Crime series, I'm in love with the idea and concept of the series as much as anything. Fifty-to-One was very "meta," and I like that.
For example, the painted covers are one of my favorite parts of the line. And on the cover of Fifty-to-One, Charles has many books (with their real covers) spread out before him on the desk. I like to do the same thing!
I guess my favorite aspect is that the book is about writing itself. I'm fascinated by writing, by the mechanics of building a story. So this book was tailor made for me.
12-06-2008 06:37 PM
Thanks, Jay. We had a lot of fun doing the cover of FIFTY-TO-ONE. The model for the male figure is actually not me, it's the painter himself, Glen Orbik. (Who is much more handsome than me!) And it was fun to see Glen paint a minature McGinnis, a miniature Manchess, and so on. The amazing thing is how he was able to make the miniature versions of those covers completely recognizable in just a few brushstrokes. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself.
Originally, before Glen suggested this image for the cover, we were going to have him paint an old-fashioned cigarette girl with a tray in front of her, hanging from straps over her shoulders, only instead of cigarette packs her tray would have been full of Hard Case Crime books. And then I was going to write that into the story -- Tricia's sister worked as a cigarette girl at the Sun, and I was going to have her talk her gangster boss into letting her sell copies of the books to patrons at the club... But as soon as Glen came up with this idea we all liked it better. And he did a beautiful job with it.
Glen is working on a new cover for us now, for a very special extra book (I guess you could call it an "extra special" book) we'll be publishing next December. We haven't announced what this book is yet, but I think people will get a real kick out of it when they see it.
12-07-2008 08:23 AM
When I said "Charles," I meant Charley Borden. I should have said Charley. And to potential readers -- Fifty-to-One eve has a scene where some professional cover painters are working! I'm even fascinated by that!
And you're feeding my solipsistic side -- although I was aware of Hard Case Crime (I picked up Colorado Kid from the King hype, and liked it), I only recentlyl re-immersed in it. (Believe it or not, and interview with Ed Brubaker, who writes the Criminal comic book, among other things, informed me about the monthly book club, which just enhances the whole "connectedness" of the experience for me).
Anyway, I've begun to fill in my sparse collection of the "back issues." I tend to use older Hard Case Crime books to augment other orders to get to the free shipping threshold. Just when I'm doing that (and lovingly gazing upon the covers), you put a complete checklist in Fifty-To-One and a story which really heightens awareness and enjoyment of the whole experience.
Unrelated -- you should check out Books, by Larry McMurtry. It's sort autobiographical look at McMurtry's lifelong business as a used book dealer. As detailed near the beginning of the book, McMurtry's fascination (and business success) began in the early 50's when he became the foremost expert and fan of the hard-boiled and "trashy" novels which fell immediately on the heels of the pulp era. Hard Case Crime is about more than that legacy (drawing upon a strong literary tradition, in my view), but that undefinable appeal that McMurtry saw is part of it as well.
12-07-2008 06:52 PM
Thanks for the tip about McMurtry's book! That sounds great. I wonder whether he might enjoy writing a book for us some day...