Interview: Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime

Charles Ardai

With Hard Case Crime, founders Charles Ardai and Max Phillips had one goal in mind – to recapture the glory of the paperback crime novel, which was once the hottest selling genre on the shelves. While major releases in the crime/thriller category now routinely grace the hardcover bestseller lists, Hard Case Crime has been filling in the spaces on the paperback shelves with reprints of pulp classics from masters like Donald E. Westlake and Erle Stanley Gardner, as well as fresh material from a new generation of noir writers like Jason Starr and Christa Faust, since its debut in 2004.

Six years of stellar work appeared to be in jeopardy last year, however, as Hard Case Crime parted ways with Dorchester Publishing. Caught in the same collapse that sent the publisher’s entire horror stable scrambling for new homes, the HCC line went into limbo with a couple of new books still waiting for release. Fortunately, Ardai was courted by several suitors eager to keep the popular brand in play, and it was announced late last year that UK-based Titan Books was Hard Case Crime’s new home. The move is bringing some changes to the Hard Case Crime line, but the original vision remains the same.

Charles Ardai was gracious enough to answer a few questions for October Country about what’s next for Hard Case Crime.

OC: At what point did you know it was time for Hard Case Crime to part ways with Dorchester Publishing? 

CA: When they stopped paying their bills.

At first glance, Titan seems like an unlikely choice for Hard Case Crime, being known primarily for the big, glossy art and photo books they produce. How did the deal come about, and what led you to know that this was the place for your line?

On the contrary – a publisher with a talent for presenting art is perfect for Hard Case Crime, since our cover art is at least as important an element of our package as the stories between the covers are.  There are a lot of publishers of crime fiction out there, but none whose books look like ours; we get as much fan mail praising what our books look like as we do praise for the writing.  In addition, Titan has recently begun a major push into publishing fiction, starting with their very well received line of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and when I met with them, everyone I spoke to at the company turned out to have a genuine passion for the sort of books we publish.  I couldn’t have asked for a better fit. 

One of the first books of the relaunch is Lawrence Block’s Getting Off. First of all, that’s some cover. Second of all, it’s going to be released in hardcover, whereas HCC has before been a paperback line. Why the decision to go with hardcover? Will it eventually see release in the traditional mass market paperback form?

First of all, thank you.  Second of all, why hardcover?  Well, when Lawrence Block writes a brand new novel for you…you publish it in hardcover.  We’ve published five previous Block novels – he’s one of our most popular authors – but all five were reprints of obscure work he published early in his career.  This is the first time he’s written a book for  us.  The man is a four-time Edgar Award winner, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, recipient of every other major award in the field, a living legend, and my favorite crime writer of all time.  And the book is amazing.  Put all these facts together, and the case for debuting it in hardcover is pretty compelling.  

Will it come out in paperback?  Absolutely.  We plan to put out a trade paperback edition the following year; a mass market edition might follow at some point afterwards, if there’s demand for one.

Is Titan going to re-release the entire Hard Case Crime back catalog? Will they be in mass market paperback, trade paperback, or a mix?

Yes, Titan will be bringing back the entire catalog, with the sole exception of The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, to which we only had the rights for three years.  The books will be back in stores this month (I gather they’ve shown up in some stores already).  At least initially, our old titles will remain in the same format they’ve always been in – mass market – but we might reprint certain titles in trade paperback down the line.

 What about future titles? A mix of trades and mass market paperbacks?

All our new titles will debut either in trader paperback or – in very rare special cases – hardcover.  Mass market editions may follow later, or not, depending on market appetite. 

You’re dropping down to four titles a year instead of the 12 that you published with Dorchester. Any chance of moving that number back up once the line is reestablished under Titan?

That drop was actually something I already had in the works before things went south with Dorhester – it wasn’t due to the switch to Titan.  On the contrary, the reason for it was personal: publishing a book a month, as I have been for the past 6 years, consumes an enormous amount of my time, and cutting back was necessary in order for me to free up the time I need to work on some other projects, such as the TV series “Haven,” on which I serve as a writer and producer.  I could see going up from four to five or six if readers really clamored for more – but I don’t think I could go back to 12 a year without giving up some of the other things I want to do.

Tell us a little about the 2011 releases. In addition to Block you’ve got Mickey Spillane, Max Allan Collins and Christa Faust – an amazing lineup.

Thanks. We’re very excited about the lineup ourselves.

The Block book, Getting Off, is subtitled “A Novel of Sex and Violence,” so you know going in what you’re going to get.  It’s a very sexy, very violent book, about a beautiful young woman who sets out to kill every man she’s ever slept with.  Why?  Read the book and you’ll find out. 

The Consummata is a book that Mickey Spillane started writing in the late 1960s but then he stopped halfway through – it was going to be a follow-up to his bestseller The Delta Factor, but when a Delta Factor movie project stalled he set the book aside.  About 20 years later, he handed the unfinished manuscript to his friend Max Allan Collins, who’s now most famous as the author of Road to Perdition, and suggested that maybe Max might want to finish it.  It took another 20 years for that to happen, but now here we are, with a Spillane/Collins collaboration that reads like a house afire.  It’s the story of one wanted criminal tracking down another among the Cuban exiles living in Miami’s Little Havana district, and it features (among other things) what is probably the single best cover painting the great Robert McGinnis has ever painted for us.

Quarry’s Ex, also by Max Allan Collins, is the latest adventure of his popular hit man character, Quarry (who was played by Tom Sizemore in the movie “The Last Lullaby”).  This time, Quarry goes to a movie set to protect the director, who’s been marked for murder, only to discover that the man is married to Quarry’s own ex-wife, the woman whose infidelity drove Quarry to a life of crime in the first place.

Christa Faust's 'Choke Hold' is one of a quartet of books signalling the return of Hard Case Crime this Fall.

And Christa Faust’s Choke Hold is her follow-up to her Edgar Award-nominated and much talked about Hard Case Crime debut, Money Shot.  Ex-porn-star-turned-vigilante Angel Dare is back, and this time she has to shepherd a hotheaded 18-year-old Mixed Martial Arts fighter to Las Vegas after his father – one of Angel’s old co-stars – gets gunned down in front of her.

All four are major titles, and will give our fans many hours of great reading.

Can you give us a hint of what’s in the future once Hard Case Crime is relaunched?

Just one hint: When we published Donald E. Westlake’s novel Memory last year, we thought it was his last unpublished work, but since then we’ve found one more, an amazing tale of a kidnapping gone wrong that he wrote in the early 1980s but withdrew from showing to publishers for a very peculiar reason.  The book is outstanding, a really important find, and it will be our debut title for 2012.

Will future HCC releases come out towards the end of each year, or will they be spread out more after 2011?

They’ll be spread out more.  We just bunched the four titles together this year because we wanted to relaunch the line with a bit of a splash.  (Sort of like the way we launched the line originally, with six books published over the course of three months.)

I know this line really was borne out of your vision and love for this type of fiction, and it must be exciting to see it coming back. How close were we to losing Hard Case Crime completely when you parted ways with Dorchester?

That’s hard to say.  In a pinch, I could always simply publish the books myself and work with a distributor to get them into stores, and I probably would have done that if I hadn’t found a publisher willing to take the line on.  And as it happens I found several – out of seven publishers I spoke to, five made me offers.  Which was very gratifying.  So in that respect I guess it wasn’t all that close – Hard Case Crime was never in danger of not finding a new home.

But it’s easy to say that in hindsight – at the time, it looked like less of a sure thing, and I admit I had some temptation to just put it on the shelf for now and maybe come back to it in a few years.  But I’m glad it didn’t end up working out that way.  I love these books – I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love them — and I know lots of readers love them too.  So it would have been a shame to close up shop, especially with so many exciting books lined up at the gate.  I’m very grateful to Titan for their vote of confidence and the great work they’re doing, and I hope readers will enjoy what we’re cooking up.

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2 thoughts on “Interview: Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime

  1. Pingback: This Week in Crime … Fiction | Ron Earl Phillips

  2. Pingback: Hard Case Crime to release unpublished Westlake mystery « October Country

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