The story behind The Killing Kind

You might know I’m a bit of a fan of Chris Holm’s work — you can find my reviews of his Collector trilogy here, and of his new book The Killing Kind here — and we’ve had some great interactions (including some signed bookmarks for the Collector series, featured in my review of that trilogy!), so I was excited to be contacted and asked if I wanted to feature a post from him about the journey behind writing The Killing Kind.

It’s a bit of a jump from publishing SF/F Chandler/Hammett pastiche with Angry Robot to writing a book set in reality (albeit the dark underside of reality I wouldn’t want to visit, unless guided by an author like Chris in a safely fictional vehicle)… but as you can see from Chris Holm’s post here, maybe it has something in common with the Collector trilogy after all.

It just wouldn’t die, you see.


The Story Behind THE KILLING KIND
Chris Holm

It began, as many criminal enterprises do, with a layoff—with a man, suddenly out of work, nearing the end of his rope.

Writers don’t often talk about their day jobs, but I’m a scientist by training. For a time, I thought I wanted to be one of those bug hunters the CDC dispatches whenever there’s an outbreak of something deadly and exotic. (My wife, as you might imagine, was thrilled.) I was serious enough that I enrolled in a microbiology PhD program at the University of Virginia—but ultimately, it didn’t stick. A field that challenging demands one’s full attention, and I couldn’t bring myself to shelve my dream of becoming a published author. So I dropped out of grad school, took a job as a researcher for a small biotech startup, and got writing.

Nine years, one unpublished novel, and a handful of short stories later, that startup folded—and for the first time since I was sixteen, I was jobless. So when my buddy Steve Weddle told me he was launching a new print magazine and asked if I’d like to contribute a story, I said sure. He couldn’t afford to pay me, but I didn’t care. I needed something to do to keep me from climbing the walls while waiting to hear back on all the resumes I sent out.

I pitched Steve couple story ideas. One was lean and mean at maybe 3,000 words—the sort of story I was known for (inasmuch as I was known at all). The other was a monster, a behemoth—an idea so ambitious that I worried it’d get away from me, and wind up too long to print. When I told Steve so, here’s what he replied:

“The problem with online writing (which I love and have nothing against and love and did I make it clear that I love online?) is that folks have a tough time scrolling through a 10k word blog post of a story. So if you have a piece that’s longer than 5k, being in print would be the way to go, I think. AHMM and EQMM and those folks have limits to size. I mean, they can’t just run 20k of something because it’s cool. Needle can. It’s what we were built for. Yeah, some quick punch is great. But something longer, developed, intricate, high-concept would be great to see in print.”

So, caution thrown, I sat down and wrote “The Hitter”—a hard-bitten tale of violence, loss, and redemption, featuring a hitman who only hits other hitmen. It came out fast. Crazy fast. And at 11,000 words, it wound up more novella than short story.

“The Hitter” appeared in Needle’s second issue. To my surprise and delight, people really responded to it. It was nominated for an Anthony Award, and selected to appear in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. I’m pretty sure that means I owe Steve a beer.

But for some reason, the story still nagged at me. Unlike all the other shorts I’d written, it felt unfinished—which was odd, since it was already longer than the lot of ’em. I told myself to leave it be. That I shouldn’t mess with a good thing. Then, one day, I woke up with an idea that changed everything. I could pull back the camera. Shift the narrative from claustrophobic first-person to sprawling third. Show not just the (hopefully redemptive) journey of the hitman protagonist, but also that of the antagonists who want him dead, and those who hope to bring him to justice. A few months later, I’d finished the first draft of THE KILLING KIND.

Whether the transition from short story to novel was successful isn’t for me to say—but so far, buzz has been good. THE KILLING KIND received the first starred review of my career, from Kirkus. I’ve gotten glowing blurbs from writers I admire. In one of the more surreal turns of my life, the legendary David Baldacci called it “a story of rare, compelling brilliance.”

I’m grateful, if a bit befuddled. All I was trying to do was make this story finally shut up. I’m nearly finished with book two, and it hasn’t yet. It’s almost enough to make me wish I’d been laid off ages ago.

Almost.

***

Chris Holm is an award-winning short-story writer whose work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. His critically acclaimed Collector trilogy made over forty Year’s Best lists. His latest novel, THE KILLING KIND, is about a man who makes his living hitting hitmen, only to wind up a target himself. For links to Chris on Twitter and Facebook, visit www.chrisholmbooks.com.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Hmm, this week’s theme is about recommending stuff you like if you like something popular, and I’m never sure about what’s actually popular and what I just know about because I’m in my own little circle. So I’m just going to suggest some readalikes.

  1. If you like N.K. Jemisin, especially The Fifth Season, try Kameron Hurley. Reading the start of The Fifth Season, I was so struck that it ‘felt like’ The Mirror Empire.
  2. If you like J.R.R. Tolkien, particularly in The Lord of the Rings mode, try Poul Anderson. He was also one of the founding writers of SF/F, and dug into a lot of the same material that influenced Tolkien.
  3. If you like Raymond Chandler, try Chris F. Holm. Mostly if you like SF/F as well, because the Collector series is a lot of fun, and riffs on Chandler and Hammett’s style and plots. But The Killing Kind is also great.
  4. If you like Jacqueline Carey, particularly the Kushiel books, try Freda Warrington, starting with A Taste of Blood Wine. There’s a similar lushness there in the language and style.
  5. If you like Ilona Andrews, try Jacqueline Carey! She has written some urban fantasy type stuff with the Agent of Hel trilogy, which is now complete.
  6. If you like Catherynne M. Valente, try Patricia McKillip — or the other way round, both being differently famous depending on your circles. The lyrical writing and some of the themes seem akin.
  7. If you like any books at all, try Jo Walton. She’s written in a whole range of genres, but mostly I’m thinking of the fantasy/coming of age story, Among Others. If you’re in love with books, you’ll have something in common with Mori.
  8. If you like Ellen Kushner’s Swordspointtry Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone. Also has LGBT themes, in a more fantastical world. Never seems to get the love I’d like to see for it!
  9. If you like epic fantasy, of whatever stripe, try Tad Williams. I really enjoyed the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books, and though they stick quite close to a traditional fantasy mould, they had a lot there that I appreciated, especially by way of characters.
  10. If you like Gail Carriger, try Genevieve Cogman. The tone is less silly, but some of the same enthusiasm and tone is there.

I’ll be interested to see what other people are recommending here! I found this one difficult, because I’m never sure how to judge other people’s taste.

Review – The Killing Kind

Cover of The Killing Kind by Chris F HolmThe Killing Kind, Chris F. Holm
Received to review via Netgalley

I was excited to get this ARC. I loved Holm’s Collector series, and though this goes more into the detective line and away from the fantastical aspects that got me into it, I still love Holm’s writing, and I love the concept. I don’t know if this is meant to become a series or something — there’s room for it, given the ending, but it would be awkward to put the emotional punch into it. The main character is already a ghost, cut off from family and friends: there’s basically only two people he cares for, and by the end of this book, one of them is dead and the other is going into witness protection where she should, in theory, be safe.

Still, if Holm decides to write more, I trust him to do it well. There’s a redemption plot here, after all: Hendricks is killing hitmen with the eventual goal of redemption. When exactly he might reach that, I don’t think the character knows.

Anyway, this has slick writing, with just the right levels of detail. I love that it has some queer characters, too, just casually in with the rest because that’s how it works. I felt like I knew what was coming a little too often at the end, but maybe that’s just in comparison to mysteries where the end is deliberately from out of nowhere.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday Thoughts: Audiobooks

Aaaaand this week’s theme from Ok, Let’s Read:

Do you listen to audiobooks/Have you listened to an audiobook in the past? What books? Do you enjoy audiobooks? Why or why not? Are there certain genres that you feel might lend themselves better to being read in audiobook form?

Audiobooks! I love listening to audiobooks, particularly while I’m crocheting or doing something else that similarly occupies my hands but not (too much of) my mind. For a long time I was just listening to the BBC adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers’ work, and the mammoth set that is The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: I’m now supplementing that with a bit of Ngaio Marsh read by Benedict Cumberbatch, and I have some other books on the queue: some Iain (M.) Banks, one of Chris Holm’s, Trudi Canavan… I love the BBC audioplays of most things best: they do great casting, and they have a great range of stuff. My favourite was probably the adaptation of The Dark is Rising. It’s different, but I can accept that, because that’s what adaptations have to do. (Same reason as I reluctantly accept Faramir being less noble in The Lord of the Rings movie, because the reasoning makes sense. Also why I accept that some people will enjoy The Hobbit film, but I don’t: it’s an adaptation, and I can accept why they’ve done it that way, it just doesn’t work for me.)

So yeah, right now I’m listening to Artists in Crime (Ngaio Marsh) and Dead Harvest (Chris F. Holm). I’m struggling a little bit with Dead Harvest, even though I love the novel itself: it’s not abridged, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the narrator at first, though by now I’ve decided he sounds perfect. Just a pity he doesn’t change his voice a little when Sam changes bodies…

The downsides to audiobooks for me, really, are when I disagree with the adaptation, the choice of narrator, the abridgement, etc. Also the pace: I’m a fast reader, and in the time it took the narrator to get to chapter three in Dead Harvest, I could’ve been on chapter ten by myself. Still, it’s a different medium and I try to enjoy it for what it is.

In terms of genres, no, I don’t think there’s a particular genre that lends itself to the form. I do think there’re styles that do, though: something with a lot of dialogue, and less by way of visual description, or with a good first person narrator, for example. So much depends on how the adaptation is done.

What are you reading Wednesday

What have you recently finished reading?
The Hidden Landscape (Richard Fortey), which is gorgeous even though it’s about geology, a subject I care very little about. I think he could actually make me interested in gardening, a subject which I often point out to Grandma I know less than nothing about except I guess I know plant biology.

What are you currently reading?
I’m in a bit of a slump, actually, which makes all my ARCs and review copies a little awkward. Still, I’ve got Dead Harvest (Chris F. Holm) on the go as an audiobook, and Manon Lescaut (Abbé Prévost) has been loaded onto my ereader ready for a class. I think I’m 10% of the way through that? So yeah, not too bad, though I know the plot basically because of the reference in Clouds of Witness (Dorothy L. Sayers).

Oh, there is also We Are Here (Michael Marshall), which I’m enjoying in a slowly-unravelling sort of way. I like Michael Marshall (Smith)’s writing in general, so. There’s also Black Unicorn and Book of Skulls, still, which I probably mentioned last week, and The Toll-Gate (Georgette Heyer). As you can see, I’m not taking the reading slump lying down…

What will you read next?
For one of my Coursera classes, I need to reread Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), so that’s most likely what I’ll do. I also have a biography of the Brontes out of the library, so maybe I’ll read that too.

Thursday Thoughts: Social Media

Today’s Thursday Thoughts from Ok, Let’s Read is about social media:

Have you ever connected with an author through social media? Do you think it’s important to have things like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as a blogger, reviewer or author? Why or why not? How do you think social media has progressed and changed the bookish world in recent years? And, now for a fun question: Are there any authors who’s Twitter feed you just can’t get enough of?

I have connected with authors through social media, quite a lot. I tend to follow authors I like or who say interesting things on Twitter, so I do actually discover new books through Twitter sometimes. I met Jo Walton through LiveJournal, and after a couple of years chatting on there, I met her in person a couple of weeks ago and spent the day with her and a lot of other people. So that was pretty cool. I’ve also got some authors on Facebook and stuff like that — Chris F. Holm is on my FB list after he linked to a post here and kindly added me so I can read the discussion, and I follow him on Twitter, etc. It can be a really good tool for just getting brief but meaningful and non-stressful interactions with authors: I’ve had back and forths with Saladin Ahmed, Kameron Hurley, Joanne Harris, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin… It’s great. Some interactions have been more positive than others (Nnedi Okorafor and I didn’t completely get on), but it’s always interesting.

I think it helps to have at least one social media account, to boost your profile a bit and give you another medium to talk, maybe less formally than in a blog post. Instagram seems less important to me, and I’m not a big fan of Facebook, but Twitter and the ability for people to RT my reviews is great, plus there’s plenty of competitions for ARCs and so on that go on via social media. Goodreads and LibraryThing are also good ways to connect with other book reviewers, and a lot of the reviewers I follow are still on those platforms — I transitioned to my own blog because I disagree with some GR policies, and didn’t want them to have my content exclusively, plus it wasn’t a good place for posts like this. It’s also better to have your own blog for getting ARCs, and you can’t really do blog tours on GR or LT, so there’s that as well.

It does change the way the book world works in some ways, for those who do interact with authors on social media, and for authors who interact on social media. Sometimes I think authors do themselves a disservice by airing their opinions hastily (or sometimes at all) on Twitter. Sometimes authors really promote their work that way, though.

As for authors whose Twitter feeds I can’t get enough of, there’s obviously John Scalzi, who is usually smart and pretty much always hilarious, and Kameron Hurley, because I enjoy her blog posts and her thoughts on pretty much everything. N.K. Jemisin often has smart things to say and interesting links, too.