A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of being interviewed
by Claire Kirch, the Midwest correspondent for Publishers Weekly. What was supposed to be a fifteen minute
conversation ended up stretching over an hour.
The article is in this week’s Publishers Weekly (July 21, 2013) and can be read here.
One of the things Claire and I discussed was the evolution
of Tyrus Books’ publishing strategy,
as it becomes less singularly focused on crime fiction. In some ways, that
change has actually been around for a long time. Scott O’Connor’s award-winning
novel, Untouchable (Tyrus, 2011),
does not center around a murder. It was—and I am embarrassed on some level to
admit this—late in the process with Untouchable
when I realized it was not a crime
novel. It was a heavy book that matched some of the noir sensibilities of our
crime fiction offerings, but, ultimately, was without crime.
From the Publishers
“LeRoy said he decided to expand beyond crime fiction
primarily because of the recent spate of shootings occurring inside schools and
workplaces, from Newtown, Conn., to Minneapolis. “I look at what we’re doing,
what we’re saying. What are we putting out there in the public consciousness?”
he told PW during a telephone interview. “I’ve always been fascinated with how
fiction is a reflection of the times we live in. It’s something I’ve wrestled
with: if what we’re publishing, if what we’re putting out there, contributes to
this gratuitous violence.” That conflict is also reflected in LeRoy’s personal
life: he has begun giving books, art supplies, even a plane ticket, to people
who respond to his Twitter and blog posts. LeRoy started the practice to be “a
positive force in the world” and to provide a “counterbalance to all the
darkness in the books I publish.”
I have always been obsessively fascinated by human nature. I
have a desperate desire to understand why people do the things they do. How
much of a role has the past had in shaping them? How do the unquantifiable
brushes with pop culture and the 24 hour news cycle mold their views and
expectations of the world we live in? For some people, it’s hard not to sit in
front of all day news coverage and feel like the end is right around the next corner, the bottom of a glass, the
backpack of a stranger.
But before the 24 hour news cycle, there were books.
Books have always been critical to my understanding of
people. This goes back to reading the Hardy Boys novels on my father’s lap as a
kid and has continued right through today in my capacity as the publisher of a
small press. For me, books offer insight into the human condition and an
opportunity to explore worlds outside of my own. They allow me to be
everywhere, all at once.
For the past decade I have published crime fiction. If a
book bears a Bleak House or a Tyrus logo, more than likely somebody on the page
is going to be murdered at some point during the book and others are going to
have to deal with it.
I don’t care about new CSI technology. I don’t have a thing
for wise cracking cops. I don’t need the high stakes of international
consequence to care. I’m not fascinated by literary violence no matter how ripped from the headlines it purports to
There is violence in the air. To be clear, there has always been violence in the air.
Not in a pearl clutching, the Youth are terrible!, we’re all gonna die way. I worry that for
no real good reason, we’ve allowed violence and the cynicism that follows to be
the de facto expectation of contemporary life. We’ve come to expect that bad
things to happen to innocent people because...well, just because.
And because of that, we expect a hook in every shiny thing.
It’s hard to be optimistic or to appreciate the beauty in anything when we
expect it to blow up in our faces.
I’ve spent ten years alternately embracing and feeling
squeezed by my title as publisher of
crime fiction. I’m proud of the literary legacy left behind—we’ve published
many great books that have done what I’ve hoped they would, namely, explored
the human condition. I don’t regret what’s been done, but I’d be a hypocrite
and limited if I just kept doing it ad infinitum.
We must ask questions of ourselves. Always. And, when
necessary, adjust our course.
Claire and I talked about that in the Publishers Weekly article. The scope of what Tyrus Books publishes
might expand, but the heart will always be about capturing the honesty of the
human experience. But I don’t want to be limited by expectations, especially
the ones I may have put on myself ten years ago when I was trying to establish
There is a time for us to shed the cynicism of our youth,
even in the face of so much constant ammunition. Now is that time, I guess, in
daily steps, for me to keep the plot moving forward.
I give away books, music, art supplies, random things like
airplane tickets, etc. on Twitter not because I am trying to buy redemption. I
don’t believe you can offset your footprint that way.
I give away things because I want people to experience
no-strings attached, too good to be true things that are true. I want the
disenfranchised, the skeptics, the cynics who say, that could never happen to have to admit that happened. And I want it to be for something good, not a grim statistic like the
number of bodies in a school shooting.
If our overexposure to violence, both from an entertainment
platform, but also in the very real manifestation of spree killings, government
sanctioned actions, individual self-destructions, and everything else that
takes up space in the newspapers and police blotters gives birth to a certain
type of cynicism that convinces us we’re all doomed to our own tragedies, and
it, therefore, becomes a self-actualizing prophecy, I think it’s important we
throw a wrench in the machine.
Because our lives are many things, but they are not single
If we can go from a neutral position to a more cynical and
hardened position because of the things we see around us (and I know this to be
true from personal experience and the experiences of some around me), then it
stands to reason we can push the needle in the other direction. And in this
case, I believe, we should push the
needle in the other direction.
For more about me, publishing, and life in America, please visit www.benjaminleroy.com