What are some upcoming trends for 2014

We’re not very good at following trends at Hard Case Crime. Remember, we think it’s cool to make books that look and feel like they could have been published in 1945 or 1953. But other publishers do seem to like jumping on bandwagons, so you see lots of crypto-religious thrillers after The Da Vinci Code hits it big and lots of Scandinavian tales after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. What’s the next trend? Just look at the last huge best-seller and project from that.

What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?

We’re looking for classic hard-boiled or noir crime fiction—not thrillers (yes, there’s a difference), not paranormal, not serial killers, not any of the many other things authors seem to love to write and other publishers seem to love to publish. Crime fiction. Meaning stories about people in dire enough circumstances that they find themselves committing crimes. To survive, to get by, to make a buck; to satisfy a yen for revenge; out of lust or hunger; from madness or desperation or nihilism. Ordinary people, not princes or billionaires or rocket scientists. Not policemen, by and large. Ordinary Joes and Janes with too few dollars in the bank and pressing needs and not too many scruples. Make me feel how thin the soles of their shoes are, how cold their apartment is, how frightened they are of the bill collector; make me share their frustration with their boss or their spouse or their stillborn dreams. Show me why this killing, this theft, this kidnapping is the way out. Or put me in the shoes of a detective who’s discovering all this, one painful, satisfying revelation at a time.

What topic don’t you ever want to see again?

Hard-boiled crime fiction doesn’t mean a tenth-rate Chandler knockoff any more than spy fiction means a James Bond clone or fantasy fiction means dinner-theater Tolkien. If we open in a down-and-out PI’s office with a whiskey bottle in the bottom drawer and a leggy dame knocking on the pebbled glass of the door, the manuscript goes in the shredder. I’m tired of reading bad versions of Elmore Leonard, with gabby crooks being quirky and amusing interminably. I’m tired of the Russian mob. God almighty, I don’t want any more cleverly nicknamed serial killers engaging in cat-and-mouse games with troubled police inspectors. No more gonzo for the sake of gonzo: “So there’s this quadruple amputee in an incestuous relationship with a preacher who also owns a strip club, and did I mention he whistles Rachmaninoff while beating people to death with a cricket bat?” 

What is unique about your corner of the industry?

It’s exciting to see the revival of interest in serious crime fiction, in dark crime fiction, even from publishers who might shy away from labels like “hard-boiled” or “noir.” We like to think Hard Case Crime offers a unique presentation of this sort of material, but other publishers have spiritually similar books on their lists, and I think the very best work being done in the mystery genre is in this vein—authors like Dennis Lehane or Megan Abbott or Thomas H. Cook. In this corner of the mystery genre, we put the tools of crime fiction to work in the service of difficult, painful, philosophical questions. Don’t let the racy cover paintings fool you: There are some genuinely moving and engrossing meditations on mortality and morality and justice and indifference hiding between the pages of these novels.

Anything else you’d like to add? 

We look for simple stories about simple people, with a can’t-look-away quality to the storytelling. If I can look away, I will. A thousand times every month, I do. But then that manuscript comes in that leaves me at 3 a.m., saying, “Just one more page, just one more….” It’s still possible to tell these oldest of stories—thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife—in a way that makes them feel like you’re reading them for the first time and like what happens to these particular characters actually matters. Don’t follow trends. Just break my heart.

Charles Ardai is the founder and editor of Hard Case Crime, the award-winning imprint whose authors have included Stephen King, Michael Crichton, James M. Cain, Mickey Spillane, Pete Hamill, Madison Smartt Bell, Donald E. Westlake, Lawrence Block and Ed McBain. Himself a recipient of the Edgar Allan Poe and Shamus awards for his fiction, Ardai is also a writer/producer for the TV series Haven on SyFy and created the Internet service Juno.