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Friday, September 4, 2015

THE HARD CASE CRIME/LAWRENCE BLOCK CONNECTION

 
HARD CASE CRIME EDITOR
CHARLES ARDAI
Interviewed by
Paul Bishop
On September 22nd, Hard Case Crime, in conjunction with Titan Books, will publish the latest novel by the mystery
genre’s most honored writer, Lawrence Block. THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES is a tightly wound, nasty, noir thriller just waiting to put a bullet in your brain. The sordid tale centers on an ex-New York cop private-eyeing it in Florida, who is bewitched by a local femme fatale with a plan to quickly become a widow. The book has been characterized as James M. Cain on Viagra. If you are unsure what that means, your noir education is sadly incomplete.

 
This is far from the first time Hard Case Crime and Lawrence Block have conspired together.  In fact, their relationship is as tightly intertwined as THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES and her hooked ex-cop.

 
Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai has professed both his admiration for Block as a writer and as a friend. With the publication of THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES, the eleventh collaboration between Block and Hard Case Crime, Ardai has agreed to face the bright lights and rubber hoses of the interrogation room…

Can we start by getting a little background on the guy who turned Hard Case Crime into the imprint of choice for hardboiled/noir fans?

Yes, of course. What would you like to know?

What was your initial vision for Hard Case Crime and how has it expanded as the imprint gained traction and impact?

When Max and I cooked up this crazy scheme, it was like a pair of heisters in a Donald Westlake novel – or a Lawrence Block novel, for that matter. We met in a bar and talked over drinks in a dark corner, dreaming up plans and thinking about the impossibility of pulling them off. And then we went and did it. 

Our original vision was that we wanted to publish new books and republish undeservedly forgotten old ones of the sort we loved to read when we were younger: slim, tight, high-velocity crime stories without an ounce of fat or a wasted page, with lots of sex appeal both in the prose and on the painted covers, and with a low enough cover price that they could be impulse buys, cheap entertainment like a movie ticket. That mission hasn’t changed, though the cover price has gone up (much like the price of a movie ticket has). But some things have changed.

When we started, Max and I thought maybe we’d publish half a dozen or a dozen titles and be done, since no one but us would want the things. We’re now well over one hundred, with more on tap. When we started, no one had heard of us and writers weren’t sending us new manuscripts, so most of our titles were reprints of old material. Now, we’ve used up most of the reprints we set out to do, but we’ve got submissions of new books flowing in at a rate of more than one thousand per year – so most of our books these days are new ones, or at least ones that have never appeared in print before, like our discoveries by James M. Cain and Samuel Fuller and Westlake. And we’ve broadened our mandate a tiny little bit. We never did a novel with a supernatural element until Stephen King brought us JOYLAND. Before Michael Crichton’s EASY GO, we hadn’t done a novel that was more adventure than crime fiction, with archaeologists searching for a lost tomb in the sands of Egypt. I’m not saying we’ll do a lot of those – but when you’ve got Stephen King and Michael Crichton excited about working with you, you take some chances.

What was the first Lawrence Block book you read…What was it about the story or the writing that hooked you?

It’s the writing – always the writing. Larry’s plots are ingenious and marvelous and I love them, but it’s his voice that hooks you. He could write about fly fishing (and has) or stamp collecting (and has) or literally anything else on earth and make it engaging and irresistible. When he writes about crime and sex, that’s the perfect storm of voice and subject matter. But a Lawrence Block shopping list would be more entertaining than half the novels out there.

I’m pretty sure my first Block novel was a Bernie Rhodenbarr, possibly THE BURGLAR WHO PAINTED LIKE MONDRIAN, which is still one of my favorites. But long before I knew him as a novelist (or as a friend), I knew him from his brilliant short stories in ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE.

When did you first meet Lawrence Block…Did you stalk him or was it a casual encounter?

He likes to tell the story of how the first time he met me I was dressed in a skin-tight bodysuit with my face painted silver, pretending to be a robot at a book fair on Fifth Avenue. This is true. I was an intern at ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE, and we got pressed into service manning their booth. The taller intern got to be Darth Vader. I was left with robot. And no one told me you’re supposed to wear something under a skin-tight bodysuit, so it’s a miracle I didn’t get arrested, or worse. But I didn’t. And Larry was there, at the same fair, signing his latest novel. I’d contacted him to see if he would write an introduction to one of the first anthologies I’d ever edited, a crime/horror collection called GREAT TALES OF MADNESS AND THE MACABRE. He’d agreed, so I had to get him a copy of the manuscript. And it didn’t occur to me that delivering it to him silver-faced and wearing a frankly obscene bodysuit was perhaps not the best way to begin a professional relationship.

But look, we’re still working together a quarter of a century later, so who’s to say I was wrong?

How did the Hard Case Crime/Lawrence Block connection begin and then intertwine?

When I started reading Larry’s novels, I just couldn’t devour them fast enough. I hunted down copies of every single one – or at least every one I could find, back in those pre-Internet days – and loved them all. So when the time came to start Hard Case Crime, and I went to my shelves to pick out candidates to reissue, what do you think I found? Alongside all the Chandler and Graham Greene and so forth – books we couldn’t reissue because they were very much still in print – there was my collection of Block novels, some of them well and truly obscure, some out of print for years. So I picked out one of my favorites – my copy was called SWEET SLOW DEATH, but it had originally been published as MONA – and I approached Larry with the idea of making it the very first Hard Case Crime novel.  (The second would be our first original novel, and my partner Max was writing that one. I’d write our second original. But we wanted something bigger than the two of us to kick the line off.)  And happily Larry said yes, taking a chance on two knights errant on this most quixotic of quests. His only condition was that we allow him to give the book back the title it was original meant to bear: GRIFTER’S GAME. 

The rest, as they say, is history. GRIFTER’S GAME was a hit, the line continued, and each year I went back to Larry to plunder his backlist further. We did THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART, which may be my favorite con man novel of all time. Then he brought us an obscurity called LUCKY AT CARDS that had never been published under his real name (and was nearly as good a con novel as LONG GREEN HEART). Then there was A DIET OF TREACLE, about drug users in Greenwich Village, and KILLING CASTRO, about what you’d think a book called KILLING CASTRO would be about. 

And then a strange thing happened. Larry wrote a new book, a very sexual, very violent book about a female serial killer out to rid the world of every man she’s ever slept with, and he decided that Hard Case Crime would be the right publisher to bring it out. We were thrilled to do so, and GETTING OFF became our first ever Hard Case Crime hardcover original.  There have been others since. When the Liam Neeson movie version of A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES came out, we published a paperback tie-in edition of the novel. Together with the collectible house Subterranean Press, we did a collection of Larry’s short stories, CATCH AND RELEASE, and a top-to-toe Ace Doubles-style pairing of two rare novels with lesbian themes, STRANGE EMBRACE and 69 BARROW STREET. And now we are beyond excited to get to publish a second brand-new Block novel, THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES. As a Block fan from way, way back, I can’t tell you what a thrill it is for me to bring a new Block novel into the world.

Now partnered with Titan Books, what does the future hold for Hard Case Crime…and can fans look forward to more offerings from the Hard Case Crime/Lawrence Block connection?

As long as Larry and I are still around and working, I imagine there will be more Block/Hard Case Crime books to look forward to.  Our next, in 2016, will be a truly rare find, the very first crime novel Larry ever wrote, which only ever got published under a fake name and of which he didn’t own a copy – he didn’t even know what title the book was published under! But after a search that lasted years and spanned the globe, one of his eagle eyed readers found a copy – and we’re honored to bring it out. We’re working on the cover painting right now. In fact, as soon as I finish typing this sentence, my next job is to audition models to play the part of the book’s femme fatale, posing in a white cashmere sweater and nothing else.

It’s a hard job, but I grit my teeth and do it. For the fans, you understand.

Thanks to Charles Ardai for making time for this interview and for continuing to keep Hard Case Crime on the cutting edge of the mystery genre.

TO READ THE FIRST CHAPTER OF THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES CLICK HERE

THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES

In the depths of her blue eyes, He glimpsed – murder…

Cashed out from the NYPD after 24 years, Doak Miller operates as a private eye in steamy small-town Florida, doing jobs for the local police. Like posing as a hit man and wearing a wire to incriminate a local wife who’s looking to get rid of her husband. But when he sees the wife, when he looks into her deep blue eyes...

He falls – and falls hard. Soon he’s working with her, against his employer, plotting a devious plan that could get her free from her husband and put millions in her bank account. But can they do it without landing in jail? And once he’s kindled his taste for killing...will he be able to stop at one?

 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year.  He continues to work privately as an interrogation and deception expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.
 
 

2 comments:

  1. Well, clearly the least Charles can do while auditioning is slipping back into the robot suit...

    Thanks! I hadn't realized he'd done some early intern work at ASIMOV'S...one wonders what the costumes for ANALOG, EQMM and AHMM looked like...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Block has always been a favorite and Charles has always had kind words for my work, so it's nice to see two guys who deserve good things getting them.

    ReplyDelete

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