RARA-AVIS: Re: soft boiled Sunday morning

From: hardcasecrime ( editor@hardcasecrime.com)
Date: 10 Oct 2005

Jeff Vorzmimer wrote:

> I'd be interested in Charles' take on it.

I thought the piece was very good, not least of all in that it put books we care about in front of an audience of some five million people who might not otherwise have known they exist. And while some of those people might conclude that these books are campy or only worthy of parody, some of them might be intrigued enough to pick one up and read it, and might discover what everyone on this list already knows, namely that at their best these books are memorable, moving, honest, painful, frightening, insightful, shattering works of fiction.

When we set out to create Hard Case Crime, we specifically decided to avoid anything kitschy, or campy, or parodic -- these books mean a lot to us, and we wanted to do them straight. A number of the publishers we met with expressed an interest in the line but only if we turned it into a sort of Austin Powers spoof of crime fiction, something like what Dean Martin did to Matt Helm. And we had no interest in doing that.

That said, when you analyze the piece CBS ran, you have to keep in mind what the "Sunday Morning" program is: It's not a place for searing, socially conscious documentary or intense literary analysis; it's a news and entertainment program whose goal is to wake people up on Sunday morning with a combination of stories that (other than the hard news at the top of the hour) are generally gentle and charming and amusing and often nostalgic. When they report on a man who has spent the past thirty years traveling to every part of the United States, they focus on the charming, quirky, quixotic aspect of his project; they don't talk so much about the many lonely nights on the road or the poverty of many of the spots he must pass through or what dark personal history might underlie the man's compulsive wanderlust. When they do a story on the 100th anniversary of pizza, it's a charming, funny look at a favorite snack; they don't focus on why workingmen with just a few nickels in their pocket and a 15- minute break in which to eat gravitated toward this cheap and portable meal in the years after WWII when it became popular. And when they report on hardboiled crime fiction, if they poke some mild, wry fun at the genre's excesses, or add some gunshots and a honkytonky piano to the soundtrack to add a bit of life to what would otherwise just be a series of static shots of book covers? That's fine with me. You know as well as I do that some of the taglines that ran on our favorite books were lurid and excessive, and themselves didn't represent accurately the seriousness of the work between the covers; why not permit a gentle smile over the fact? To insist on high seriousness and not be able to laugh at ourselves is, I think, to reveal a chip on our shoulder.

Anthony Mason (the interviewer) and Doug Smith (the producer) are both serious mystery readers and mystery fans -- they really know their stuff and have done more than almost anyone else I know to put authors of quality crime fiction in front of a large audience. They received a Raven Award some years back for their work, and they very much deserved it. I think we should feel fortunate that they found a way to put our books on television -- and by this I don't just mean that we at Hard Case Crime should feel fortunate (though lord knows that's true, and we do), I mean that fans of this sort of crime fiction in general should feel fortunate to have the subject of our passion brought to the attention of a wide audience. I don't feel there was any mockery or condescension; in fact, I think they caught just the right elegiac tone when they read the short excerpt from THE COLORADO KID, and in that brief section of the piece conveyed quite a lot about what makes this sort of sad and somber fiction so resonant.

Anyway, that's my take. I loved it, and I believe I would have loved it even if it hadn't been our books up on the screen and my scraggly, bearded, snaggle-toothed face stopping clocks and shattering mirrors all across this fine nation of ours.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 10 Oct 2005 EDT