Meet Harry St. John, crime writer

In my last post, I hinted about a new pen name and an upcoming release of mine. I guess I should let you know what the hell I’m talking about.

Towards the end of last year I finished the draft of a little novel that came to be titled Leave Her Hanging. This one’s a bit different from my other work. There are no superheroes or reality-twisting magic powers here, but what it does have in common with my other books is the influence of classic hard-boiled and noir fiction.

Leave Her HangingLeave Her Hanging is the story of an obsessive seventeen-year-old boy investigating the apparent suicide of his ex-girlfriend and his descent into darkness. Set in Auckland’s dark underbelly, the novel follows our protagonist as he traverses a web of violence, love, and illicit sex in his search for justice.

While I’m here, I’m going to think out loud about some of the challenges I think I’m going to face with this book. For better or worse, I think this is the book that has the most of “me” in it. But the nature of the book has left me conflicted about the best way to get it out there. Categorizing this book has been a challenge. Make no mistake, this book is dark. It leans more toward noir than hard-boiled. Noir fiction has traditionally been part of the wider adult crime fiction genre. But the protagonist and several of the main characters are teens. I feel like the voice of the main character belongs in a young adult novel. So that begs the question: is there a market for noir young adult fiction?

Modern YA books can be dark, but how dark? Bad things happen to the characters in this story, but the mark of noir fiction is not just that bad things happen, it’s that the protagonists end up doing bad things themselves. In noir fiction, even if the protagonist wins, it usually comes at such a cost that the reader may question whether anyone really won at all. Even dark YA books tend to have a spark of hope in them. But noir fiction ties cement blocks to hope’s ankles and tosses it in the river.

I love this book, but I know it won’t be for everyone. People may find it nihilistic or just plain nasty. Some may think it’s inappropriate for teens. Then again, what the hell do I care? The thing is, I do care. This is the sort of book that I would have loved when I was sixteen and developing my cynical, curmudgeonly personality. I think there are people out there who this book would speak to. But how do I reach them? This is always a challenge for any book, but I think the nature of this book makes it even more difficult this time around. The market for dark crime fiction for teens seems to be relatively small. On the other hand, adults who enjoy noir fiction may be put off by the YA voice. The question of how to get this book to the right audience is something I’m still struggling with as we get closer to its release.

I’ve also been debating with myself about what name to publish this novel under. Most of you are probably aware that Chris Strange is a pen name. But I don’t think that the sort of readers who enjoy, say, Don’t Be a Hero, are necessarily the same readers who would enjoy Leave Her Hanging. Then again, I didn’t want to hide the fact that I’ve written this book and deny those of you who would be interested in it from finding it. So in the end I’ve decided to publish Leave Her Hanging under another open pen name, Harry St. John. In time, Harry will  publish other dark crime novels and short stories as well. That way, people who buy a Harry St. John book will know they’re getting a dark, perhaps even grim, crime novel, while those who buy a Chris Strange book will know they’re getting some sort of fantastical urban story, perhaps with some geek flavoring. Harry will have his own website and Facebook, but they will both funnel back here, so this blog will soon expand to include books from both Strange and St. John. I think that’s an appropriate compromise that will keep my split personalities under control while also helping readers decide whether or not one of my books is right for them.

So that’s a new book and a new name, both coming soon. I’ll have more information on Leave Her Hanging, including a release date, as we get closer to the time. Until then, you guys stay awesome.

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