Monday, October 15, 2012

Writing Crime Fiction

Believe me, I am under no illusion that I will ever become a crime fiction writer.  I have, however, been reading steadily enough from the genre since the mid-sixties that I feel a certain kinship to those who do write it.  And, because I also have a weakness for books about writing, especially those written in a memoir-like style, Writing Crime Fiction was a natural choice for me.

Twelve different writers, all of them members of the Top Suspense Group, contribute a chapter to Writing Crime Fiction.  That the chapters are as different in tone and topic as the writers themselves makes for some interesting reading.  Want to learn more about the pros and cons (from a writer’s perspective) of the “indie revolution” that is impacting publishing today?  Joel Goodman has a whole chapter on the topic, including detailed tips on self-publishing and marketing your work.

Stephen Gallagher’s “Craft Notes” chapter gets into some of the specifics of constructing a crime story but is particularly interesting to non-writers in that it also addresses things like “writer’s block” and how to deal with critics.  Gallagher’s number one rule is: “Never reply to a critic.”  He adds:

            “Criticism is not wise advice to the artist; it’s a dialogue between the reviewer and the public.  Your relationship to it is that of an eavesdropper…and eavesdroppers who listen in hope of hearing something good about themselves almost invariably find disappointment.”

Wannabe mystery writers will find in Writing Crime Fiction what they need to accomplish their goal.  Lee Goldberg’s “Double Take” chapter and Libby Hellmann’s chapter entitled “Jack Bauer and Me: Building Suspense” offer detailed insights into the construction of a crime novel.  Goldberg discusses in detail the bones that hold crime novels together, the frame upon which all good crime fiction is carefully built, while Hellmann takes a similar approach to the sub-genre of “suspense” novels. 

There are chapters on “Finishing the First Novel” (a particularly helpful chapter), script writing and dealing with Hollywood, writing sex scenes, writing about amateur detectives, combining crime and historical fiction, writing “zombie fiction,” and one in which Bill Crider discusses the “secret” to getting published.  As it turns out, Crider has ten secrets to offer, the final one being: “There are no secrets.”

What is perhaps my favorite chapter in Writing Crime Fiction is Dave Zeltserman’s “On Writing Noir.”  Noir fiction is a particular love of mine but, try as I might, I can never explain the definition of “noir” to my own satisfaction – much less make anyone else understand the term.  Between the Otto Penzler definition quoted in the chapter and Zelserman’s refinement of Penzler, I think I finally get it – my instincts about the term were good, but I finally understand why.

The real beauty of Writing Crime Fiction, I think, is that it offers something for all of us, writer and reader alike.  If you want to try your hand at writing a crime novel, this is the book for you.  If you want to better understand why you love crime fiction so much – and how it all comes together - here are the answers.  

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. Oh, I must get this! the first stories I ever wrote were mystery, and it's still a genre I hope to find my way in as a writer. As a reader - I love crime and mystery. Thanks for a good review, Sam. I'm adding to my list of books to look for.

    I'm curious about that definition of noir, too.

  2. Susan, I think this one is available only on Kindle, but I don't know what else is planned for it. Maybe the Amazon site has more detail about print editions, etc.


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