I've known Blake Crouch for a number of years - we both wrote novels for St. Martins/Minotaur, and we've met at Bouchercons. I've been a fan since reading his first book Desert Places
and if I want to be seriously creeped out, I turn to Blake's writing. He's also been collaborating with Joe Konrath with titles like Serial Uncut
. Recently, I read his novella The Pain of Others
in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Frankly, I think the story is pretty much pitch-perfect, the pacing, the vocabulary, the descriptions, everything works in this story. At first, I thought it was going to be a great thrill-ride without the characteristic chills I've come to expect from Blake. Let me tell you, the chills are there. Wait for them.
1 - Just finished your story "The Pain of Others." You certainly know how to build up the tension, but I kept waiting for the turn into Bizarro-land that I've come to expect from a Blake Crouch story. Obviously, I can't say what happens, but the wait definitely paid off. Is the delay part of the suspense technique or just the way the story rolled out this time?
It’s just the way the story came this time. Without ruining anything, I really wanted to drive home the whole “no good deed” concept.
2 - Letty is quite the character. You gave her a pretty full backstory. I'm wondering if there are other stories in print or in a desk drawer that features her. Also, how'd you come up with her?
Thanks, Steven! This is my first story with Letty. I love her. She is so much fun to write. I have no doubt that I will write about her again, either as the anti-heroine of a novel, or in future stories. Letty actually came to me out of trying to solve a plot problem (see below).
3 - What was the process for getting this story together? Did it all come to you in a flash? Did it take a year? Dreams? Snippets of overheard conversations? Did you have to wait for any missing pieces to fall into place?
I’d tried half a dozen times to execute what I thought was a cool idea...what if in the course of your daily life, you accidentally intercepted a hit, a contract killing—maybe you discovered that a hitman was going to knock someone off, or you were mistakenly tasked with carrying out the hit. I kept trying to attack this idea and kept striking out. I couldn’t get any traction, and I was starting to become really frustrated. This was the problem (I realized in hindsight): in all my failed attempts to write this story, my everyman, the person who accidentally gets themselves involved, was a good person. Which meant that logic dictated they would simply go straight to the police, identify the bad guy, save the good guy, story over. And that’s no fun.
The breakthrough for me on this story was when I realized that my hero couldn’t go to the police. That I would have to make that impossible. So I decided to make them a thief, on probation, and to have them in the midst of committing a crime when they discover the hitman and his intentions. Sometimes you get lucky and characters come fully-formed and ready to talk to you. Letty Dobesh, the anti-hero of “The Pain of Others” did not disappoint. She truly wrote herself.
4 - Plenty of novelists wouldn't touch short story writing with a ten-foot pole - it just doesn't pay: You'd have to write a hundred short stories to equal the money you could make with one novel. Do you expect that the ebook trade in short stories will make that format financially competitive with novels?
Well, I can tell you that what’s happening with ebooks has made short story writing profitable for me. I have nine stories up on Kindle, grouped together in three different collections. They’re more than paying my mortgage every month. What I fear is the future of magazines like EQMM and AHMM. They do pay well, they're amazing, and I hope they find a way to live forever. But it takes so long for stories to get to market (almost a year and a half from submitting this story to it showing up in the magazine). The question is, is it worth it to wait that long?
5 - You seem to have three different hats on as a writer - novels, short stories, and collaborations. Do you see your career this way? And what role do you have for your short stories - are they written when you get a specific story for them or do you try to put together short stories regularly?
That’s a good point, and definitely the track I’ve adopted. In terms of short fiction, I’ve gotten to the point where I will only write a story if the idea is so strong, so compact, and I’m dying to do it. I can’t force them. I look at them as gateways to my novels. And let’s be honest, they’re just a blast to write when the idea is there.
6 - I've noticed that you've got a lot of material up on Kindle and other ebook formats. I've cried for years over the fact that there are only two mystery magazines that pay professional rates - EQMM and AHMM, both very fine outlets. I'm wondering if you see a time pretty soon when writers will send stories out to those markets and if rejected head straight to Kindle and cut out fine ezines like PLOTS WITH GUNS which don't pay? Thoughts? Will ebooks be changing the way short stories get consumed or do you expect that high-quality, free material will always be out there?
As I alluded to above, I will not submit a short story to any magazine in the future unless I maintain my right to epublish right away. It doesn’t make financial sense to sit on great work for over a year and lose thousands of dollars. I love working with these magazine and the brilliant editors there, so I hope some common ground can be reached. In terms of non-paying magazine, it's even bleaker. However, I think it's important for writers to publish there, because it's great cred.
So there you have it. Help this man pay his mortgage and get creeped out:
Perfect Little Town
Break You: A Novella of Terror