Sunday, May 21, 2006

Half Price Books, Mystery Scene & Stark House Press

Here’s a subject I’m seeing discussed on more and more blogs – the significance of used bookstores in today’s marketplace.  Between the net and such slick operations as Half Price Books, used stores are gaining in market share.

As a consumer, I spend a fair share of time in used book stores.  As a writer, I know that used sales cost me money.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why people go to used stores.  New book prices, especially paperbacks, continue to climb.  The days when many of us bought two or three paperbacks a week are long gone probably never to return.

True, Americans don’t read as much as they once did.  True, video games, event movies, cable TV and especially the net have cost us a good share of our audience.  But paperback prices have to take their toll on middle-class readers faced with static or even declining incomes.   A $3 rental video can entertain an entire family for an evening.

The local Half Price Books has asked several area writers, include Max Allan Collins and myself, to do a signing in the near future.  They’ll have used books by all six us of to sign, which won’t make us a dime.  But after a couple of discussions, the store manager got permission from the home office to let us bring copies of our new books to sell as well.  I’m bringing copies of three different titles.

I’m not sure how this’ll go.  We may not sell any new books.  Maybe only a handful of people will show up – I suggested that the manager get a science fiction writer, a mainstream writer and a romance writer in addition to Al and I – and maybe we’ll sell a fair share of new and used both.

The argument for readers buying used books is that if they like what they read, they’ll start buying new ones by the writer.  Maybe.

The argument against readers buying used books is that this will eventually hurt the independent stores already battling the chains and in the internet.

As you might have surmised, I don’t have strong feelings either way.  But I’d appreciate feedback at ejgorman99@aol.com I’ll be expanding on this subject next time around.


With a few exceptions I wish I could forget, I never published any kind of savage review during my tenure as editor of Mystery Scene (neither has Kate Stine).  But there was one that, blinded by my esteem for the author, I let slip through.

I mention this because the other day, trying to find an article on TV shows I remembered fondly, I began searching through at least twenty issues of the old Mystery Scene.

And it was then I discovered that I’d published (republished, actually) an article that pretty much dumped on everybody the writer chose to mention.

He dissed so many people that it got funny.

The writer’s name was Nicholas Freeling, no less, and his subject was Raymond Chandler.  Being a long time admirer of Mr. Freeling’s, I supposed I bought reprint rights because of his stature and because he had a highly idiosyncratic take on mystery fiction.  It was much harsher than I recalled.

It turned out that he liked four of the novels by Chandler but that was about it except for a number of the short stories.  After noting that the best of the Chandler novels was The Big Sleep, he then proceeded to dismiss, at some length, The Long Goodbye, a novel many consider Chandler’s masterpiece.

Fair enough.  Freeling makes his cases sturdily enough but in the process he dings just about everybody connected with Chandler.

Dashiell Hammett:  “A bad writer, lifeless and stilted in the fashionably monosyllabic Hemingway monotone ...”

George Orwell and Somerset Maugham: “not (good models) ... pedestrian influence(s).”

The detective story of the time: “(An) anemic, anaesthetized world ...”

The Long Goodbye: “...the wreckage of his talent.”

Blanche Knopf: “...sniffy.”

Erle Stanley Gardner: “But who now reads a Perry Mason book now?  They are long sunk beneath the wave ... no grit at all in them.”

Ross Macdonald: “A fine, a thoughtful, an elegant writer.  Is it unfair to say that  (he was) overderivative, that Chandler’s long shadow covers his work?”

There are other jibes but that’s enough for now.


As some of you know, I’m now an associate editor for Stark House publishing.  So far my projects have been the Benjamin Appel and the Malcolm Braly.

Greg Shepard is the publisher, a good man and a PhD in paperback originals.  He seems to know (and have in his library) just about every book I bring up.

We’ve decided to try an experiment.  Everybody talks about the old Gold Medals (and Lions and Signets etc.) but nobody is bringing them back on any regular basis.

As James Reasoner once remarked, the trouble with the old books is that simply by reading them you destroy them.  They’re too fragile for reading.  All you can do is look.

Well, thanks to the help of Barry Malzberg, Stark House is going to try an experiment.  We’re going to offer three excellent Gold Medal novels in a single volume for $19.98.  These will likely appear in early 2007.

The titles included are Dan J. Marlowe’s The Vengeance Man; Fletcher Flora’s Park Avenue Tramp; Charles Runyon’s The Prettiest Girl I’ve Ever Killed.

If the first book is successful, we’ll do more.

Here’s the website http://starkhousepress.com/.

                  YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.      

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