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Brian Thornton, Editor of WEST COAST CRIME WAVE

Brian Thornton most recently edited West Coast Crime Wave (BSTSLLR 2011), an anthology of crime fiction, all set on the American West Coast. His fiction has appeared in such venues as Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, the late, lamented Bullet UK and the Akashic Books anthology Seattle Noir. He is the author of several works of non-fiction, including a piece on Ross Macdonald that appeared in the anthology A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir, books such as Honest Abe: 101 Little-Known Truths about Abraham Lincoln (Adams Media 2010), The Book of Bastards: 101 Scoundrels and Scandals from the World of Politics and Power (Adams Media 2010) and his most recent nonfiction work, The Book of Ancient Bastards: 101 of the Worst Miscreants and Misdeeds from Ancient Sumer to the Enlightenment (Adams Media, 2011). A native Washingtonian, he lives in Seattle with his wife, the writer Robyn Thornton.

Gerald So: How did you come to be involved with West Coast Crime Wave? As editor, how much control did you have over the content?

Brian Thornton: I've known Mike Wolf (BSTSLLR's publisher) for nearly a decade. We'd batted around the notion of an anthology of crime stories set on the west coast for about a year before he invited me to serve as collector and editor on his initial foray into publishing. Mike had his favorites among the submissions, and I respect his taste in crime fiction, so of course his opinion carried some weight. But the final call on content was entirely mine. To his credit Mike never once pulled rank on me.

Gerald: West Coast Crime Wave strikes me as one of the larger short story anthologies (18 stories). Describe the selection process.

Brian: Mike and I agreed coming out of the gate that we wanted a mix of both established and new voices, so we had an open submission process. We invited several established authors to contribute something, but no one was guaranteed a slot. So I guess you could say it was a mix. The deciding factors were strength of story and the prominence of a west coast setting. Mike and I both believe that setting is an important and often neglected aspect of good story telling. We wanted stories where the setting was almost another character, not just a back-drop. Think of Hemingway's Paris, Dickensian London, or Monument Valley in those John Ford-directed John Wayne cavalry horse operas from the early '50s.

I don't have an actual number on submissions, but it was over a hundred. And just to be clear we had a number of great stories that just didn't fit the theme, and so we couldn't use them. The final cuts were not easy to make. We were lucky. We got an embarrassment of riches. It made the selection process pretty tough. On the other hand I love what we ended up with.

Gerald: Each story seems to evoke its particular setting, as if it could only happen there. In your view, does the collection have any common threads besides the West Coast setting and crime theme?

A whole slew of people who don't live on the west coast tend to think of it as "Los Angeles," and stop there. And even then they get it wrong: the LA of the movies and TV frequently bears little resemblance to the actual city itself. With this collection we were attempting to show how the west coast is both familiar and different. Not just LA, but eveyrwhere. Not everyone in Seattle listens to grunge music and drinks coffee from Starbucks. There are a whole lot of people who live in Portland that own no plaid flannel and have never played hide-and-seek in a library (Sorry- blatant "Portlandia" reference there. I lived in Portland for a year back in the 80s, and I'm a big fan of the show.). And not everyone who lives in Washington is like Seattleites, and not everyone who lives in Oregon would be mistaken for a Portlander, and so on, and so forth.

So local culture played a big part in these stories. And yes, we have a Starbucks as the setting of one of the stories, but trust me when I say this ain't your ordinary Starbucks.

Gerald: In your opinion, is it easier to pitch and ultimately publish an ebook anthology than a print anthology? Any insights or opinions as to the longterm viability of ebooks versus print?

Brian: I can't speak to it first-hand, because as I said above, I was recruited to collect and edit West Coast Crime Wave, so I've never actually pitched an ebook anthology. But I've pitched other books and found the process pretty cumbersome, so I can't see how it would be any more complicated to pitch/publish an ebook antho.

(Anyone who has ever dealt with the requested tweaks passed along back to the author by a traditional publisher's "Publication Board" will know exactly what I'm talking about here)

Plus, your out-of-pocket costs on publishing an ebook as opposed to those encountered when doing a physical print-run of the same length of manuscript are definitely lower. That said there are points in the epublishing process that bear a distinct resemblance to the "traditional" one. You still need a cover. You need to pay a collection editor. Copy editors rarely work for free. And someone (and it's best that it be a fresh set of eyes) needs to do the formatting/layout. Then there's the standard PR, Library of Congress ISBN, etc., costs.

So I think it's got to be easier to pitch/publish something along these lines. After all, the process is less cumbersome, there are less people checking off on it along the way, and the the logistics involved tend to be vastly less complicated than those of a traditional publisher.

Gerald: Thank you very much, Brian.


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