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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You know, the question in part might be new relative to where. As far as I'm concerned, John McFetridge (who has his debut Dirty Sweet coming out in the US from Harcourt July '08) is leading the charge in Canada. And it may be a charge of few, but he's brought a welcome breath of fresh air to crime fiction in this country. We have a longstanding tradition of cozies, of amateur sleuth stories that involve dispensing reality. For readers like me, that prefer stories a little darker and more realistic as well, I've had a hard time finding the stuff in my own back yard that really gets me excited.

In the UK they have a tradition with police procedurals. I would say that in every specific market, there are trends and things that are more common, more popular. And that means that some are bucking the trends within their own country. So maybe some would argue that neither John or I are terribly original on a global scale, and possibly not. But my favourite rejection letters were the ones from Canadian publishers who freaked out at the dark tone to my work. When I can sell the work to a NY publisher and can't sell it to a Canadian one, it does make one shake their head just a bit. This isn't to say we aren't producing anything noteworthy here, but change is slow.

I speak more for Canada only because I know it better, but I'm sure there are those in the UK wanting to see shifts there, and probably looking at authors such as Simon Kernick with some appreciation that the British thriller seems to be drawing more attention these days, and I'm sure there are traditions elsewhere others hope will be bucked. So on a certain level, I've already achieved something that a lot of people here (thank you, my old writing group, for all the discouragement in the world) told me I could never do (with my own bit of bsp for the first in my Canadian police procedural series coming out in May '08).
Sounds like Jimi Hendrix, who had to make it in England before he could do it on his home soil. Maybe no culture likes anyone breaking the mould and being too big for their boots.
I do think that's part of it. Al Guthrie got a US deal before he got a UK deal, and the UK deal followed public endorsement from Ian Rankin. I am thrilled he won the Theakston's prize, though I'll openly admit I saw it as a long shot, because of the British traditions. A sign of change? Who can say?

Not to be confrontational at all on it, but I guess the thing to say to those lamenting our stagnate genre is for them to lead the charge. If they want to see something truly original and unique, write it and get it published. I mean, ultimately, don't we all write the books we'd want to read? Since they know what they want to see, go for it. But you can hardly point fingers at everyone else saying, "You're not doing X" if you're not doing it yourself (not directing this at you Daniel, just speaking generally).
I figured you weren't directing it at me, but I do try to stretch myself and experiment, whether in the novel or short form. The last short story I wrote is through the messed up stream of consciousness of a homeless man, and the novel I'm working on is mixing crime with horror and throwing historical elements into the mix (with third person present and first person past tense included for free!)

But enough wankery about me.

It's far easier to commit to an experiment with the short form because as soon as you start thinking about how many years of work you're going to put into a novel ... you better make sure you really want to.
I know what you mean. My short fiction is primarily experimentation, and it gives me a chance to try things out. I like that. But when asked about it, I pointed to a few stories and said there was no way I'd want to spend 100,000 words in that character's head. To some degree, we write the books we want to read...
So right about experimentation. Any author worth anything wants to experiment with the form. Speaking from my own experince: don't try present tense in a 600 + page novel. You will be told to rewrite at the agent level and spend another year laboring and watching the peculiar transformation that takes place when the present tense is switched to past.
A true story:
Gustav Mahler and Bruno Walter were talking about music one day, and Walter brought up Schoenberg's atonal serial music, said it was very interesting.

"It is easy to be interesting, my dear Walter," said Mahler. "To be beautiful is difficult."

Crime fiction can hardly be considered beautiful in the sense of a symphony, but the analogy holds. It is easy to be experimental. Good is difficult. Given the defined constraints of a genre, crime fiction's progress is much more likely to come through evolution, rather than revolution.
True enough, but you have to deal with your audience. A niche market will not serve.
To add to that, I say that being beautiful and interesting is intensely difficult, but not impossible.
We're sure in the early stages of this internet-thing, but something like Crimespace and the ease with which we're having this conversation over a few continents makes me think that one thing we may see more of is collaborations. There've been some very good themed anthologies lately and the step might be even more integration.

Or maybe that's just me looking for a way to get someone else to write half the damned book.
A game I used to play with a school buddy was to write a story by taking turns, five lines at a time. I know that Penguin recently started an experiment along the lines of a thousand monkeys typing (ie, lots of internet visitors contributing to a novel).

There are strange, new forms of collaboration already happening. Hopefully at some point, something good will come out of it all.


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