Novellas, even mystery novellas, are not new. Crime fiction critics make the case that Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) was not only a mystery novella but noir as well. And there are many writers, many still doing this short crime fiction, though they weren’t often branded with the somewhat precious term, “novella.” Too French, I suspect, for the tough guys. Also, if you look at the length of much of the now revered pulp fiction, most were pretty short —novella length.
Somewhere along the continuum, the expectation for successful crime fiction went from a pocket book you could pluck from a swiveling metal rack to a doorstop. So, while novellas have never died, there is a revival of interest in a book that won’t keep you up all night or one you could start during a flight from San Francisco and finish before your touchdown in Chicago. I am convinced that the birth of the e-book is largely responsible for the renewed interest. The idea that a reader need not make a commitment to a 500-page novel and that one can buy a few hours of escape for less than $3.99 for the digital version rather than $16.95 for a slim trade paperback reinvigorates reading in a culture increasingly addicted to a hand-held world.
The publishing business, no doubt still dazed by the speed of the digital revolution that permeates all aspects of our lives, has taken notice. Amazon, the elephant in everyone’s room, created Kindle Singles, which is dedicated to shorter works, including crime fiction. Dutton, a subsidiary of Penguin, revived an old imprint, Guilt Edged Mysteries, to address this market. William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins, is introducing Witness, a kind of sub-imprint for e-book mysteries. Though they will publish, or in some cases, republish full-length books, they will be releasing shorter works as well — what they also call singles. Sounds like a an appropriately appropriated music industry term.
For me, this is a good thing. I have never been able to write the 120,000-word blockbuster — “the big book” my former agent pleaded for. Nor do I have what it takes to write short-story crime fiction, only increasing my admiration for those who do. The novella is the perfect length for me, a Goldilocks syndrome sufferer.
With that said, I am finishing the first Indianapolis novella featuring my best-known character Deets Shanahan and his lovely girlfriend, Maureen. And I’m in the last throes of production of the third novella in the San Francisco mystery series. Private eye Noah Lang dominated the first two novellas. His partner, Carly Paladino, takes the lead in this murder case, working with Inspector Gratelli. More on these soon.
Meanwhile, let me push both Death in the Haight, published by Dutton (Penguin) $2.99 and Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin, published by Life Death & Fog Books $3.99 — two novellas that will engage you on your flight to Philadelphia or on the train from Union Station in D.C. to Grand Central in Manhattan.
A REMINDER: E-books have become available at many libraries and through Kobo at independent bookstores.