Right now, the internet is aflame with discussions regarding the current state of crime fiction. There are side topics of whether crime fiction actually explores current social issues, the genre vs. literary debate, and the publishing industry's gutless encouragement of cookie cutter thrillers.

The part of this discussion that I want to hone in on is this: is anything new being done in crime fiction?

To bring up a music analogy, I’d like to compare crime fiction to electronic music. In the world of literature, crime fiction as a concentrated genre is relatively new (I could easily be wrong here, as I’m not as literate as I’d like to be), just like electronic music is in the world of music.

Forgive me if this doesn't mean much to you, but I think that crime fiction’s done techno, house, maybe even drum and bass, but where is the glitch or the IDM? Where are the Aphex Twins and Squarepushers of crime fiction? Their stuff is still electronic, but far more experimental and boundary pushing, so much so as to almost create new genres of music, if not new sub-genres.

Is it then a case of aesthetics not being pushed, rather than moral issues or messages? Where are the Danielewskis or Steven Halls of crime fiction? Who is pushing the boundaries of presentation and language of story in this genre?

Seriously, I’d like to know. Is there anyone out there writing crime fiction that is truly new? I’m not as well read as I’d like to be and so I’m wondering if this is already happening but we don’t have the hindsight to see it.

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To the question, who is out there today, doing something different, I would offer this answer: Ken Bruen. Now we can't all write like Ken, but he at least shows that you *can* be different and still find an audience. (In fact, I think "Ken Bruen" is actually the answer to life, the universe, and everything. 42 - what bollocks!

Now here's a question for everyone: if you, personally, were going to write a story that pushes the boundaries of the genre, what would it look like? I would suggest that it would have to have a low financial risk, so something short and probably web-based would be likely. After all, no one wants to spend a year writing something they can't sell.

What are your thoughts? If we were going to CHANGE THE WORLD!!!!, instead of just talking about it, what would we do?
Quite right about Bruen -- the Jack Taylor series is entirely successful, I think, and an excellent example of what the crime novel can and should be.
One thing I should have said in my earlier comment - we can't all write like Ken Bruen. In fact, none of us can (except Ken himself, of course). But we can all unleash our inner Ken Bruen.

Actually I don't think everyone needs to be pushing the bounds of the genre. For me personally, I just want to push the bounds of quality. I'm really very conservative in style and content.
I put up a reply to this with some details on a project came up with, but I took it down. Why? I have to see if it works, and if it doesn't, how I can change it to make it work.

Cryptic, yes, but I just want to say that I am going to try something. I'll get back to you on that in a year or so. :)
At one time I was toying with writing a novel parallel to the way a symphony is constructed, but the whole Peter and the Wolf thing got in the way. My perspective was woodwinds v strings v percussion v horns, but metaphorically. I just couldn't wrap my head around the elements it would take to spin it together.

Hey, it was 20 years ago, and I was training for triathlons and that involved a lot of long bike rides alone on country roads.

As for Flash Fiction, I think of it as story-haiku. In one page, you need to establish a connection with the reader, a point of wonder or conflict and an "Aha!" moment. If you miss any of that, you lose the reader and there are no second page for redemption.
See, I love ideas like that. Nothing like having a little madness to your method. :_)
I seem to be quoting Chandler (Raymond, not Tyson) all over the place lately. I can't help it. He speaks, variously, about all this stuff.

Once again, from "The Simple Art of Murder":

"The detective story for a variety of reasons can seldom be promoted. It is usually about murder and hence lacks the element of uplift. Murder, which is a frustration of the individual and hence a frustration of the race, may have, and in fact has, a good deal of sociological implication. But it has been going on for too long for it to be news. If the mystery novel is at all realistic (which it very seldom is) it is written in a certain spirit of detachment; otherwise nobody but a psychopath would want to write it or read it. The murder novel has also a depressing way of minding its own business, solving its own problems and answering its own questions. There is nothing left to discuss, except whether it was well enough written to be good fiction, and the people who make up the half-million sales wouldn’t know that anyway....

"Yet the detective story, even in its most conventional form, is difficult to write well. Good specimens of the art are much rarer than good serious novels. Second-rate items outlast most of the high-velocity fiction, and a great many that should never have been born simply refuse to die at all."
Absolutely disagree with Chandler. That's the old type of mystery.
I love Chandler, and I love that essay, but any time someone says that everything's already been done, completely new things spring up to prove them wrong. They are few and far between, but they do happen.
If I may naively wade in here. IMHO, if you're a new or even newish writer, breaking out and experimenting will get you dropped. It would take top writers to push these boundaries since they are the only ones who can just about do anything and their publishers will still publish and promote them. One example is my dearest friend and mentor, Sue Grafton. In "S is for Silence" she departed quite markedly from her other books and as she says, she wrote her version of time travel. It was a gutsy and brilliantly executed novel. It sounds like in her "T is for Trespass" out in December, she is again pushing the boundaries. People like her will make it easier for the rest of us to stretch and innovate, I believe. It would seem to be that lately I have picked up several, for example, Janet-Evanovich-wannabes and they get published, poor as they may be and almost direct rewites in some instances. I do believe we are at the mercy of publishers, and I understand that here in Australia, it's even more dire. That said - go forth and write!

I have seen a lot more experimentation in short stories and they are often what win rich competitions. The fact that they may be boring or almost unreadable, seems to not matter. Some of The Age short story winner are... well... I'll leave it at that.
I attended a very interesting discussion by author Gayle Lynds at this month's meeting of MWA Los Angeles. I'm not going to do justice to what she said, but basically, she was saying that her husband,the late Dennis Lynds, helped redefine the genre a couple of times. During one of those periods, she mentioned that he encountered fierce resistance (perhaps from the publisher) to the newness of one of his works. (If I mininterpreted any of what she said, someone please correct me here.)

Here's a snippet from his web site ""But the only realistic way to look at this is to identify those writers who have clearly redefined the genre as Hammett, Chandler and Macdonald did. To the qualities of naturalism, romanticism and psychology with which, respectively, they moved the genre forward . . . can be added at least two other major contributions; Michael Collins (Dennis Lynds) made his books vehicles for sociological observation, while James Crumley introduced empathy and poetry."

It just made me think that's it's not easy to be a groundbreaker. You have to be supremely gifted and experienced in the craft in order to know how to push its boundaries. Then, you have to have the support--and probably some luck--to break through whatever resistance you encounter as you put your new works "out there." My sense is that the publishing industry is a bit like the movie-making industry. They know what the last blockbuster was, but perhaps they don't always pick up on what has the potential to carve a new route through the forest.
As someone else said, this is much easier to do for an established writer.


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