Criminal Leanings

I’ve got some things brewing I wanted to share with all you fine folks, if you’ll indulge me. I hope it sounds intriguing to you…

I am—and have been for a very long time—a huge fan of crime fiction. Novels, movies, doesn’t matter. I adore it. And I’m not talking about the Scorsese greats (though I love them too), but really gritty, not-Italian-Mafia-crime fiction. Think Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown by Tarantino. Think Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Rock-N-Rolla by Guy Richie. Sexy Beast with Ben Kingsley. Narc by Joe Carnahan, and his visceral classic, Smoking Aces. How about some absolute favorites of mine like Fargo (both the movie and the series), Blood Simple, Suburbicon, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, Miller’s Crossing, and The Ladykillers by the Coen Brothers (and there are even more from that pair of utter geniuses). A History of Violence by David Cronenberg.

And many, many more.

I think you can see the kind of stories I’m talking about. It’s crime, some of it is gangsters, but it’s not like The Godfather or Goodfellas or Casino. A different element, something grittier. The Mafia movies usually are plenty gritty and grim, but these are guys in the life, usually competent in so much as one can be competent in such a role. But my favorite crime stories are the ones where there are strange and bizarre characters, people getting involved with criminal elements and getting in way over their heads as they watch what they set in motion careen off the rails, completely out of control. The crazier the set up, the characters, and the resolution are, the better. I like to call it “batshit crime”, my own genre invention.

And that brings me to the point. If you follow me, you know I’m an author. While I often tout myself as a suspense writer, most of what I’ve written falls clearly into the horror genre, and there’s a reason for that: I love horror. A suspense writer can have a great deal of fun with horror, and while most horror has some suspense, I usually want to see it cranked well past an 11 and settle somewhere around a 93 (on a scale of 10, mind you). Crime fiction, on the other hand, ONLY works when you can ratchet up the suspense and really get into who the characters are, likable or not.

One of my books, The Hard Goodbye, is just such an exercise. One of my most well-received but also least read efforts, it’s the one novel of mine that cannot be categorized as a horror story. It’s sprinkled with horror elements, but I think most people feel the suspense is horrifying, and so they will say it’s “kinda horror”, even though it really isn’t. There isn’t a single “likable” character, all of them are scumbags to varying degrees, and they’re all caught up in a sordid web of lies, betrayal, theft, and murder.

I love that kind of story. Absolutely love it. Crime, like horror, has the benefit of freedom in that you can show the worst side of humanity in bold, blatant realism. You don’t have to have a protagonist who is a good person, don’t have to have redeeming qualities in the characters, and you can cut loose with absolute chaos on the screen or page and it will entertain. I love the no holds barred approach to this kind of fiction, and I think that most horror lovers would/will as well if they dive into it and give it a chance.

I’ve published five novels now, and one novella. Of those five novels, only The Hard Goodbye is not a horror story, though plenty of horrifying things occur on the pages, starting on the very first. And lately, I’ve been watching and reading plenty of this type of crime fiction and, well…

You guessed it! It’s got me itching to get back to another crime story. Gritty, dark (The Hard Goodbye was called the darkest book ever read by more than one reviewer), but above all fun, I’ve wanted to come back to this type of story for a while, but with the weak sales of The Hard Goodbye, in spite of the extremely high praise it has received (Ray Garton and Jonathan Janz both enjoyed the hell out of it), it’s kept me focusing more on horror stories. And I haven’t run out of those, but I’ve had a list of several ideas building over the past couple years for more “batshit crime” fiction, and thus, this post.

I’m about halfway through a new story which will likely be a short novel (like The Hard Goodbye was) called WAKING UP THE DEVIL. There is nothing supernatural here, nothing horror, no monsters lurking beyond the veil, no ancient gods trying to reign havoc over the earth in the late 1870s, nothing like that. It’s small town, big crime.

And it’s mean.

I’m loving it, I’m loving how it’s coming together, I love the suspense, I love writing big action sequences, and I can’t wait to get it finished and into everyone’s hands. But I’m worried about it’s reception being like The Hard Goodbye was. I may approach crime-specific publishers with it as it is certainly a step outside of the horror community, even though that community would eat it up if they tried it. But more than just this new novel, I’ve got two more well developed ideas for other “batshit” crime novels, and a western that is the same type of crime story, plus two collaborations that both involve crime. That’s five new novels/novellas I’ve got brewing, and none of them are horror. Problem is, I’m an established horror author!

So, I’d love to hear from all of you. Seriously, here on the blog, on Facebook or Twitter, wherever. I want to hear from you. I want to hear your thoughts on this type of crime fiction and how you feel about it next to horror. Do you want to follow an established horror author who is “expanding” into crime fiction as well? Make no mistake, I’m not giving up horror at all. I’ve got some ideas for more horror stories, short and long alike, but they’re further out on the horizon. Jeff Strand, who is a genius prolific author of everything from YA to horror to comedy to crime (and sometimes a mixture of all), mentioned to me once that as someone much more established than I am (he writes for a living, which is the dream), when he writes something that’s not horror, his sales plummet. That’s not why we write what we write, but it is certainly a factor.

What I’m driving at is this: do you—horror fans—also like crime fiction of the sort I described at the outset of this post? Or do you specifically stick to horror? If so, why? Is it because you like the darkness, the terror of it all? What if I told you that crime fiction of the kind I’m speaking can be equally horrifying and intense? Would you be willing to follow your pal Chris into some of these stories?

I’m not a pen name guy. Chris Miller is my real name. And I’m not going to use a pen name for different genres. Part of that is vanity—I want credit for whatever I write—and part of it is simply I’m not going to start over from scratch building separate audiences. I see no reason why the two audiences can’t be one, or at least merged.

What are your thoughts? Again, I’d really love to hear from you. You can email me here, comment on this post, or comment on the links on social media. Give me your thoughts and your reasoning, for or against. Love you guys.

And keep reading!

Chris Miller—9-26-2020

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