This weekend's guest blog is from Ed Lynskey, the author of the P.I. Frank Johnson mystery series (including The Zinc Zoo out in 2011) as well as a small town cozy mystery, Quiet Anchorage, also out now.
My Writing Career Kicked Off in the Small Presses
by Ed Lynskey
First, I’d like to extend a warm thank you to the good folks at Poe’s Deadly Daughters for the opportunity to hang out with them today. Sandra asked me about Wildside Press, the publisher of Lake Charles, my new Appalachian noir. So, I thought I’d discuss how I got my start in writing through the small presses and then speak of Wildside Press.
While I attended a community college in my early 20s, I was introduced to the small press and little magazines community, and it opened up a new world to me. Scores if not hundreds, of little magazines edited by literary-minded folks published their own journals. They were often crudely produced although the so-called “mimeos” (from their copies reproduced on a mimeograph machine) came out before my time.
Long story short, I published poetry, reviews, and the occasional short story in the small press magazines over the years. I’ll also lump in the literary magazines produced by many of the graduate school writing programs (the MFA degrees). Some of the leading editors, such as David Wagoner and Stephen Berg, liked my work enough to publish it. After a time, I landed big credits at The Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, and Washington Post. That was heady stuff.
It was never about the money. The small presses and little magazines operated on shoestring budgets and done as labors of love. Many of them folded before my work even appeared in the slated issue. The only pay was often in one or two contributors’ copies. Their distribution was counted in the dozens or hundreds, if even that. But it was during this long period that I honed my craft, as they say. Or at least I had lots of practice at writing, and I like to think it enabled me to get my writing chops.
The big drawback with the small presses, and literary writing in general, is the limited audience, where few people have the access to read your work. Moreover, literary writing has a niche reader appeal. For instance, my mother and two sisters are voracious readers, but they never enjoyed my “literary writing.” That troubled me. After all, we write in order to be read by as many as possible and, hopefully, to thrill or intrigue them.
So, you have to write the stories the majority of readers like for their entertainment. The late Tony Hillerman told the anecdote about how early in his writing career, his goal was to reach a wide readership, so the popular mystery, not literary (he was a journalism college professor), was the fiction genre he chose to work in. Lucky for us fans he did. Anyway, that notion got me to thinking on how I might increase my audience.
I’d been a devotee of mysteries since an early age. Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, and Hugh Pentecost were the first trio of crime fiction authors I was turned on to as a kid. I checked out their books from our small town library and devoured them over the summer breaks. Some ten years ago that old affection launched me into creating my own mystery novels. The PI Frank Johnson series marked my first titles to see print.
Wildside Press brought out Frank in The Blue Cheer in 2007. It sold reasonably well, distributed through Diamond Comics, before the economy took a nosedive (oops, I almost wrote “swan dive” there). But things in 2011 are looking up again, and Lake Charles will hit the streets. It’s a coming-of-age yarn set in the 1970s and based in the Great Smoky Mountains. I’m relieved and appreciative the initial reviews have been favorable ones.
This year I also went soft-boiled by writing a small town cozy mystery titled Quiet Anchorage, featuring two elderly but spry sisters who’re amateur sleuths; this book is currently on sale, and its reviews have also been positive ones.
Finally, Frank will also be back this year in all his raging glory in The Zinc Zoo. Despite his move to the Virginia suburbs outside of Washington, D.C., he still manages to get into more trouble than he can handle.
Perhaps best of all, my mom and sisters are now reading and liking my books. A few other readers have read them, as well, and attracting a real audience for once feels gratifying to me.
Read the first chapter of Lake Charles to learn more about the book and author here:
Lake Charles is up for pre-order sales at Amazon Books.