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Thursday, October 7, 2010

KILLER YEAR

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It's a neat idea. Thirteen bestselling thriller and crime writers adopted a group of promising new writers, and mentored them.  Then they chose thirteen of the best short stories that emerged from this nurturing, and St Martin's published them as a book.

A fascinating introduction by writer M.J. Rose explains the background, with an outline of the depressing publishing scene of 2007 (she must have had a conniption fit as it evolved over 2008 etc.).  Very pertinently, she says, "With margins low, distribution costs rocketing, limited or no marketing budgets for all but the top 15 percent of titles, and little major media interest in all but the biggest authors, book sales drop a little more every year and fewer and fewer authors can live off their fiction efforts."  Even those biggest authors are feeling the pinch, she elaborates, and nowadays find their job "is as much about selling as it is about writing." 

Because of the pressure, promising debut writers are being left further and further behind. So, in the fall of 2004, a bunch of kindhearted veterans decided to do something about it.  At Bouchercon, the big mystery and suspense book conference, they formed a club called International Thriller Writers (not international enough to be interested in New Zealand, alas), to create a supportive community.  ITW offered to mentor a selection of newbies, and so "the Class of '07" resulted, along with this book.

In most cases, each new writer's story is introduced by an established writer, who lauds it in hyperbolic terms.  Again, a neat idea.  James Rollins recommends the "razor-sharp prose" of Brett Battles's "Perfect Gentleman" and Lee Child writes that J.T. Ellison's "Prodigal Me" is "a classic short, with a great payoff twist in the final paragraphs."

Tess Gerritson calls Patry Francis ("The Only Word I Know in Spanish") "a writer worth my absolute attention."  Jeffery Deaver says that Jason Pinter ("The Point Guard") "is a terrific young talent."  And so forth and so on.

The participating writers worked hard to make this idea a success.  Promotion included a Killer Year blog and a website (now defunct).  A chapbook was created and mass mailed to a slew of independent bookstores, and Killer Year panels were set up at various book conferences.  This book, as well as the concept, got major press coverage.  Many radio interviews were made, and feature articles were published.

Having read all this, I delved into the stories themselves with lively interest, as in the past the genre thrived on new voices, and there is no reason to believe the rule does not still hold.  Though a couple of the stories got the "what the hell was that about?" reaction from me, and a couple more were too predictable, the collection passed an entertaining few hours.  Jeffery Deaver would make a great critic -- Jason Pinter's story is absolutely stunning.  Others that stand out are "Slice of Pie" by Bill Cameron, "One Serving of Bad Luck" by Sean Chercover, "The Only Word I Know in Spanish" by Patry Francis, and "The Crime of My Life" by Gregg Olsen.

But what did it do for the writers?  As I said, the Killer Year website is down.  The exercise was successful enough to be repeated for a couple of years, but there were no follow-up books.  I have to confess that the debut authors' names are unfamiliar to me -- despite the best of intentions, Jeffery Deaver and Lee Child have no competitors here, though I notice that all the participants I googled have their own websites, and are as assiduous as ever in promoting their work. One at least has taken advantage of the kindle service, and has a long extract available free.

Everyone has done his or her best.  That nothing tremendous has come out of it yet is indeed a commentary on the current parlous publishing scene.  But I feel faith that at least one of these writers will become a Name, in the end.

2 comments:

Janet Reid said...

I'm so glad you liked Bill Cameron's short story. I do too!

word verification!: wordies!

Joan Druett said...

It was indeed a good story, with a psychological "hit" at the end. It reminded me of Michael Connelly and Peter Robinson at their best.

And I must remind myself to go to the library BEFORE posting my blog! I had checked the catalogue online and there were plenty of books available by the handful of writers that particularly appealed, but by the time I got there my readers had borrowed the lot. (Sigh)