Tuesday, May 01, 2012

More McKinty! (U.S. publishers take note)

Why does The Cold Cold Ground, Adrian McKinty's novel of life during low-intensity wartime, struggle to find a U.S. publisher when David Peace's Tokyo Year Zero, Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels, and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis have to fight off the critical accolades, Edgar nominations, and One City, One Book designations with a stick?

Are those books insulated by their exotic or historical settings?  Are post-war Tokyo or ayatollah-era Iran safer for American readers because they're remote? Does Northern Ireland hit too close to home? Are American publishers afraid to offer American readers a tough, scary, funny, very human look at life on the streets during the hunger strikes of 1981?

I don't know, and, happily, international online shopping offers readers a way around U.S. pubishers' timorousness. In the meantime, McKinty has posted four chapters from the follow-up to The Cold Cold Ground on his website. The book is called I Hear the Sirens in the Street, and already it's one of the best things I've read this year.

 Picture Vladimir and Estragon strolling through the landscape of Blade Runner, and you'll get an idea of the first chapter. And if you like your international crime fiction to give you more than a postcard view of the countries where it's set (and I don't mean your gentle Swedish epiphanies about the imperfections of the post-war welfare state, either), you'll like bits like this:
“`Get out of here!' a voice replied. `I’ve had enough of you hoodlums!'”  
“It was a venerable voice, from another Ireland, from the 30's or even earlier, but age gave it no weight or assurance — only a frail, impatient, dangerous doubt.”
 © Peter Rozovsky 2012

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54 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

I am completely baffled as to why American publishers haven't fought to grab up The Cold Cold Ground already, even if they missed the boat when they had a first shot at it.

It is one of the chief reasons, in fact, that I suspect that the major U.S. publishing houses are moribund.

Which, come to think of it, is a word I might need to look a bit more into...

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Also, please check your subject header...

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yikes! What's wrong with my subject header?

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

It reads "KcKinty".

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I figured that if America is not ready for McKinty, KcKinty could pave the way.

Many thanks for the copy editing.

But yes, while I can understand why a guven publisher might not regard The Cold Cold Ground as its thing, that no one has picked is up constitutes a failure of the industry and an affront to readers.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Just to show that copy editing remains important...

Affront or not, it is a loss to readers, who mostly don't even know what they're missing.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, a mistake like that is the sort of thing that happens when one lacks copy editors. Or perhaps someone will point to your having alerted me to the mistake as evidence that "citizen copy editing" can work as well as "citizen journalism" does.

Criminy, you'd think some hip literary publisher would pick up the book even if the crime-fiction publishers shy away. I could see The Cold Cold Ground between Europa Editions covers.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Citizen copyediting would be better than no copyediting.

It's an old standard at the bookstore that when you go and try and find a book and fail, you always ask for a second pair of eyes before you give up. And of course it's always better if it's someone who knows what they're doing.

This is a wonderful book and it hasn't been done before. It is a black mark on the world of American publishing that no one has seen that.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, but I'll take good, old legacy copy editing any day.

It's an old standard that a reporter do everything he or she can to make sure a story is clean and mistake-free before submitting it, that the editor who gets it strive to make it perfect, that the copy desk have every chance to catch anything the previous editor missed, and that another copy editor proofread the pages to catch anything that slips through. It's a very old standard, in fact, old like doctors who make house calls, radios that have tubes, and coins that have silver in them.

But what the hell does a legacy copy editor like me know?

And yes, you're right about the black mark on American publishing.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

This may be breaking news...While TCCG has been rejected by every publishing house on 6th Avenue for the reasons you suggest and its also been rejected by a few well known hip indies who publish mutual friends of ours, there have been a couple of inquiries from indy presses and there is one that sounds very nice. I don't think all the t's have been crossed yet but hopefully I'll be able to make an annoucement in a few weeks? (Yes that question mark is on purpose and sorry for being coy but I dont want to bollocks it all up).

My own theory about Nordic Noir versus Celtic Noir is that Nordic Noir just seems so classy and thus appeals to the NPR and PBS sets and also to people who dont normally read crime fiction. Whereas Celtic Noir and certainly Irish Noir doesn't yet have those connotations.

I also noted in my years working for Barnes and Noble on 82nd and Broadway in NYC that Irish Americans dont buy a lot of fiction and when they do it was generally of the sentimental Maeve Binchy type. It's a shame because the Irish themselves are still big readers but the market in Ireland just isn't large enough to feed a dozen or more crime writers.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Best of luck with the possible breaking news. A more prosaic reason for the flood of Nordic crime may be ecnomic, social, and technological: Publishers ever more focused on the next big thing and able to get more of what they think is the same out there faster than ever before, and that focus making them more and more cautious, and more and more leery of trying something new.

Perhaps Nordic crime writing has a sort of innocence that appeals to American readers. You know, all that shock at social ills in Sweden that the rest of the world has long since assimilated in its crime fiction.

Declan Burke had some interesting thoughts recently on the phenomenon of Irish crime novelists setting their books in the U.S. He mentioned John Connolly and Arlene Hunt, among others.

And fear nor: Edgar Awards eligibility is determined by year of American rather than original publication. So you may have to brush the lint out a suit come awards night one of these years.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Reticence is good until the contract is signed. But I think a publisher who is discerning enough to go with this book is probably a very smart one.

Hope it works out. From a bookseller's perspective, it doesn't matter how small or large, what matters is whether we can get it in at standard discount.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Well if it all falls through I wont be surprised...

There's definitely an element of bandwagon jumping and the fact that publishing houses are extremely conservative. The Big 6 (or is the Big 5) are risk averse.

Maybe its because I know all these guys (and gals) and am therefore prejudiced but I think Ireland's crime writing scene is pretty amazing. Such diversity and quality from such a tiny place. And for my money definitely on a par with anything from Norway or Sweden or Denmark. In fact I think it's as diverse and deep as English crime writing and it skews a little younger too.

Will publishers discover this and promote Celtic Noir the way they promote Nordic Noir? No, I don't think they will. It's a shame but there it is.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Seana

We'll see.

I do know that Serpents Tail is finally going to distribute Falling Glass this autumn but whether it will be discounted or not I have no idea.

I will reiterate though, that I'm not entirely letting readers off the hook. I think Irish American readers in particular need to be more adventurous.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, one possible benefit of the bandwagon jumping is that it sometimes turns up some good writers. I'm not sure I'd have read Harri Nykanen or Anne Holt or Karin Fossum or Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl if not for Stieg Larsson. Well, if not for Henning Mankell, really. But yes, I'd have to say that concentration of more and more power in fewer and fewer hands will always lead to caution.

Yeah, I think Ireland can probably kick the Nordic countries' keisters in crime fiction, if not in cross-country skiing.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, how does one foster more adventurous reading? In other words, how do we get them to read our blogs?

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Serpent's Tail should get standard distribution.

You may be prejudiced towards the Irish, but I am not. And there has really just been a lot of exceptional stuff coming out of Ireland in terms of crime writing, which has so far flown under the radar with one or two exceptions.

It's funny, but the further west you come, the less Irish the Irish American readers tend to think themselves. But it shouldn't be down to Irish Americans to see the value of these books.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I know a lot of those guys and gals, too, and I sometimes wonder if I'm prejudiced. Then I remind myself them that I know them because I like their books, not the other way round.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Yes you're right, I shouldnt generalize about book buying preferences from my New York book selling days. My heart sinks however when I see those ads in the New Yorker for literary Ireland and its all people who have been dead for 70 years.

Peter,

How do you break through? Clearly I am not the man to ask. I've been trying for nearly 10 years without any success. And although I'm not a fan of John Banville's crime writing at least he's succeeded in getting institutions like the New York Times and the New Yorker to take his work seriously. Again, I think, because he seems classy or smart or something.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I remember reading about Banville years ago in The New Republic, well before he started writing crime novels. So he presumably had a following with the ins well before Benjamin Black was born.

How does one break through? Damned if I know. I know very little about the publishing world. I'd like to get to know a bit more about it, though, as an adjunct to my reading and to this writing I do here.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Yup Banville had a literary reputation when he decided to pen his first crime novel. Holt pulled out all the stops for him because they knew they could successfully market his books as respectable high brow crime fiction. The fact that they are pretty bad novels is neither here nor there. Its all about the marketing.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Dana King said...

I find Irish crime fiction superior to Scandanavian, and thought so before I came to know a few of the key Irish perpetrators. Maybe it's the translations, but to me the Swedes use blander language, whereas the Irish not only have their own vernacular, they set the scenes better for me. Their less reserved, which makes the tales more real, as the subject matter does not lend itself to overly restrained telling.

It took me a year to figure out BREAKING GLASS wasn't coming out here in print or in Kindle. I ordered up a copy from across the sheugh a couple of months ago and loved it. Let's hope someone at least makes TCCG available for Kindle here.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, that sounds about right. I read and reviewed A Death in Summer and found it a mediocre book punctuated by a few beautiful passages and a few incompetently executed crime-fiction tropes. I expect you are exacly right, that a lightbulb went on over a Holt executive's head when he or she thought: "Aha, here's someone who can sell crime ficition to classier readers."

I'd have picked, say, Ronan Bennett for the job, but no one asked.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I wonder if the blander language is an inevitable fact of translation -- not that all translations need be bland, but it must be difficuly for a translator to capture the nuances and flavors of expressions, dialect, humorous locutions, and so on.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I don't think we need to set the Scandinavians against the Irish. I've enjoyed a lot of the "Nordic noir" I've read, though I'm pretty sure the actual writers are a bit bemused by being lumped together into one basket. Laughing all the way to the bank, though.

What's baffling to me is that when you've got Irish writers like Banville and Stuart Neville and Tana French and Alan Glynn who to various degrees have broken in, there isn't some marketing genius who isn't pulling in Irish crime writers to make a bigger basket as fast as they can.

As far as the reading public goes, well, Fifty Shades of Grey, the S&M trilogy, currently occupies the first three slots of the indie trade fiction paperback list, so it's safe to assume that good writing isn't the primary lure for readers right now.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Fifey Shades of Gray." That hovers just short of being evocative.

Yes, Nordic writers do tend to be bemused by being lumped into one big group, and now that the public has been saturated with all this talk of “Scandinavian” crime fiction, some of the people who do the talking realize it’s time to remind people that the term takes in a number of countries. See this interview with Barry Forshaw, who has just written a big book on the subject.

And don't forget Ken Bruen among Irish crime writers who have broken in.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Right. And John Connelly, who has broken in by not writing about Ireland.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

That should be Connolly.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, did you read Declan Burke's recent discussion that included the question of Irish writers setting books outside Ireland?

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I did. For others, it is HERE.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I wonder where that Philadelphia came from.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Seana

That 50 Shades of Grey is amazingly terrible. I know I'm not the target audience but even so.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I haven't read it, but some of the younger staff members have, and they would agree with you. But for some reason, they still seem to have to read all three volumes...

Having rung up more than a few, I know that all three volumes will set you back $51 with California state tax. That seems like a lot of money for stuff you could probably find the equivalent of on the internet for free.

Peter, I wondered about the Philadelphia too. Is that where the Bouchercon was that Declan came out to?

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Happily I don't know the 50 Shades of Grey. In re other popular publishing phenomena of our time, I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo dutifully, read one Stephen King novella and was impressed, found that one page of one of the Harry Potter novels did not hold my interest sufficiently to make me want to read more, and read part of one sentence on the first page of The DaVinci Code, enough to convince me it may be the worst-written book ever written.

Someone said Stephenie (I hate that spelling) Meyer writes terribly. I read a sentence or two of one of her books at a friend's house. It didn't do much for me wither way.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

It can't be Meyer's fault that her name is spelled that way, though.

The Hunger Games is the other big phenomenon right now.

Though Game of Thrones, etc. and even those Girl With books are still holding their own.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But for some reason, they still seem to have to read all three volumes...

Seana, not even secure enough to admit what they like, are they?

Declan and John McFetridge did stop in Philadelphia in the way to Bouchercon in Baltimore, and John did write some metafiction about it.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, I see people reading those Hunger Games books.

Maybe "Stephenie" is her fault. Maybe she adopted the name as an attention-getting device, like the artist formerly known as "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince" or the New York Times reporter Jennifer 8 Lee.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I listened to The Lost Symbol as an audiobook and I have to to admit that it was laugh out loud funny. I dont think it was meant to be, but regardless I laughed heartily every few minutes.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

As someone with a semi-madeup name, though, not by me, I have to insit on not blaming the victim here.

No, I think they're pretty secure. One of them said she had to skim it, and our floor manager said, just reading the juicy bits,eh, and she said, no, that was what I was skimming.

The author has said that at it's heart it is a story about unconditional love. I think she may have the concept slightly wrong.

May 01, 2012  
Anonymous aaron said...

Peter,
Once again I want to say that I love reading your blog and the assorted comments that accompany your posts. As a very, very adventurous reader I like forward to reading Adrian Mckinty in the future because I don't especially care what the locale or the story is, so long ad it is great writing. I am willing to buy into any author's world if I can buy into the quality of the writing.

It seems to me sadly( complete industry outsider, but apparently willing to keep publishers in business by maintaing a TBR wall rather than pile) that, like the film industry, publishing is only willing to take on authors and books that will make money. No risks, no period of development...just make us millions of dollars from the word go. It is just so disheartening.

Finally,seana, is at least part of the reason for book store employees reading/skimming horrifically bad prose to try and give reasonable reviews and possible options to readers who want more of the same (yikes!). I'm not being sarcastic, I was honestly just wondering how big a role that plays in bookselling. I would imagine that many, many people ask for that drivel every day and it doesn't hurt to have at least an idea of its general tone and purpose. Sadly, I don't think anybody could upsell, say, an excellent crime novel to somebody hellbent on trashy romance, but you never know!

Anyway, keep up the excellent work and keep namedropping excellent authors for me to search out for my reading adventures!

May 01, 2012  
Anonymous aaron said...

Blurg...sorry all...so many errors...I'm typing on my phone which is not the most efficient way to create a post of any kind, let alone one so prolix. I'll try harder next time...

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Aaron, I doubt anyone minds either the length or the errors--pretty impressive from a phone.

Yes, a lot of people in the store and the biz do try and keep up with what's hot, but in this case it was really that there was just a sense that someone should know what this book was because it was a digital sensation before it was even a printed book and there was a certain amount of curiosity about it.

In general, though, people in our store only read things they are interested in, and while this might entail reading a bunch of crap, it's just the nature of reading, isn't it? I find that bad popular books sell themselves. I don't worry too much about keeping on top of even the crime fiction books, partly because I am not a fast enough reader, but mainly because life is too short to read things you don't want to read.

The store, not to brag, currently has a lot of great readers and it's pretty lively literature wise. Of course, I often seem to be off on my own tangent, so it can be frustrating in a certain way.

May 01, 2012  
Anonymous aaron said...

Seana,

It's just a shame that people aren't more adventurous though. I am always happy to take down new authors and books, whether online or in a bookstore. But another tangent, I suppose, is that bookstores (not all, but here in Canada, many big-name bookstores) tend to also shelve and display the more popular books in the Windows and instore in order to promote traffic. Understandable, but sad, since those are the books about vampires and sexy monsters and magical possums and so forth, and, less likely these days, feature a giant "o" emblazoned on the cover. Even the bestseller lists, in the media or in store, reinforce and reify those books and new authors find it difficult to get a toehold. Although, I suppose it could also be argued that the literary canon is also a kind of bestseller list, making people less adventurous in their reading. Crap, I sound like the most geriatric 30 yr old in the world!! And, I absolutely concur with you that life is too short to read what you don't want to read...case in point: I have always felt as though I should read Ulysses and I only ever get a few pages in and then get bored or something. Long story short, Ulysses may just remain on my TBR wall for a long long time. And that's okay, even if it is an official member of the canon.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I listened to The Lost Symbol as an audiobook and I have to to admit that it was laugh out loud funny. I dont think it was meant to be, but regardless I laughed heartily every few minutes.

Adrian, you're a hard man. I'd cringe with embarrassment for my fellow human beings.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, you know your colleagues and I don't, but why would someone read a book if he or she really thought it was terrible? I hope those staffers at least made their admissions with an embarrassed giggle.

Unconditional love, my eye,

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aaron, thanks for the kind words. I know people who live in a TBR house. And no need to apologize for errors unless they appear in a book.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aaron, I should say also that a number of McKinty's Irish crime-writer compatriots are also well worth reading.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Peter, I think Adrian just gave the reason you might read a book if you thought it was terrible. Although maybe he was just looking for material.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I remember that, and it's well worth reading. And Dan Brown probably is of sociological, technical interest. Such a study could ask why such wretched prose is so massively popular and, perhaps, break down Brown's books to figure out what techniques he uses to keep readers reading.

I won't do it, but someone could.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And, per one of your earlier comments, there are reasons to read crap if one wants to keep track of what's going on the book busines.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I think it is possible to be a good storyteller and a crap writer, and both Brown and James may be examples of this. I haven't read either of them, so I don't know for sure.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, that's what I mean. In my case, Brown was such an abominable writer that I never got to the story, but he probably does something right.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I do think some people are more tone deaf to bad writing than others, especially if the story moves along apace.

May 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I know that, and it's depressing. Bad writing stops me, although I am preparing a post on clunky translation in two books that I have very much enjoyed. Unusually for me, the bad writing did not stop me.

May 02, 2012  

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