The Return Of Crime Fiction

Ink drawing of pen and papersFor 15 years, I wrote crime fiction under the name “Jim Winter.” I had one traditionally published novel called Northcoast Shakedown that was a bestseller for a tiny little press on the fringes of the Baltimore area. The press folded, and I was left to burn off the last of the Nick Kepler detective series, one of which was due out a month after the press imploded. Ugh. I wrote another novel called Road Rules, an Elmore Leonardesque romp that an agent shopped to no avail. Finally, there was an epic (to me, anyway) novel called Holland Bay, that had 4 major drafts between 2007 and 2015. In mid-2015, I was in talks with another agent to sell the book, but they fell flat. This agent was honest. She thought it was a well-written book, but she was the wrong agent for it. At that point, I stopped writing crime. I had written a novella that effectively ended the Nick Kepler saga, put Holland Bay in a drawer, and focused on science fiction. Within 18 months, I completely shut down the Jim Winter brand. He ceased to be, except for some badly formatted print editions still available (for only a few more days).

Then along came Candy. Candy is my fiancee, and she’s been through the publishing grind. So when she said I was basically being a big baby for quitting, I had to sit up and listen. Candy still has a few friends out in the writing world. Some you’ve heard of. No, I’m not naming names. She became an instant fan of Nick Kepler and demanded I write more. I said, “Deep Purple can play ‘Smoke on the Water’ only so many times before something breaks.” Indeed, Ritchie Blackmore quit 24 years ago, and the band is on its farewell tour. Great song. You have to get sick of it night after night. I was sick of Nick. In an earlier draft of Gypsy’s Kiss, I had him describing his own death as it happened. I got talked out of that quickly, but you see where I was going.

But then she read Holland Bay. And sent a few chapters to one of her writer friends, one whose movies you might have seen. (No, he does not live in Maine nor does his name rhyme with “scatter son.” I should be so lucky. So should Candy.) Friend said, “He has to send this in somewhere.”

So off Holland Bay has gone to New York. I can’t say where for obvious reasons. But it’s the best shot I’ve had to sell that book, particularly with the encouragement I’ve had from unexpected corners. My network of crime fic writers has dissipated over the years. Some of my friends have gone self-pub and don’t even have agents now. I’d like to think that last agent and I parted ways on good terms, but if this thing lands where I hope it does, I’ll need her – or someone like her – to bring the contract in for a landing.

Which brings us to Road Rules. This caper got a lot of terrific feedback but couldn’t land. Some of it was its length. Some of it was the wrong agent. Some of it may be issues that have nothing to do with any of that. I recently reconnected with a friend who himself is involved with a new small press specializing in crime fic. If Holland Bay lands, it will take it at least 18 months to see the light of day, so… Just in time for Bouchercon 2019? (Ugh. I hate doing panels. And a new novel almost requires me to do them.) Placing a short novel with a lot of attitude with a more nimble small press will do much to reintroduce me to crime fic audiences, this time without “Jim Winter” living rent free in my skull. Yep. I’m yanking the byline and taking responsibility for this one. Which means I’ll be publicly chastised by a local pastor who likely will ask me to sign his copy. (You have to know this guy. He’s actually pretty cool.)

So where’s that leave science fiction and the Compact Universe?

It’s going nowhere. In fact, all potential publishers and agents are not allowed to broach the subject. It will remain indie. Why? I’m a control freak. It’s kind of a reaction to my earlier frustration with publishing. And I want to control the branding, the marketing, the covers. Everything. It’s mine. My…