I’m going to go out on a limb and say something that many people are going to take as an insult or else think it’s snobbish or just plain weird. I’ll say it anyway. I don’t expect terrific quality from self-published books.
Bear with me, because I’m not insulting self-pubbers at all. In fact, I love them. Self-pubbing as a viable method for getting one’s books before readers is in its infancy. Those writers who are coming into it without having been published by a traditional publisher tend to be… rough writers. What most self-pubbed novels remind me of is pulp fiction. For those of you too young to remember when us old folks rode dinosaurs to work, pulp fiction consisted of cheap paperback novels, mostly mystery, romance, Westerns, soft-core porn and science fiction, written fast, produced fast and released in mass quantities. They weren’t meant to be great literature. Many of the writers described themselves as “hacks.” Despite that factory-inspired method of writing, pulp fiction produced genuine stars. Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Lawrence Block, Barbara Cartland, Robert Heinlein, Donald Westlake and many others. Those were good writers. Some have produced classics. I see today’s crop of self-pubbers as cousins to yesterday’s pulp fiction writers. I don’t expect great literature. Usually I’m satisfied with readable. I’ve found a few self-pubbers worth watching. Their work is raw, they need experience and some editorial help (or maybe a lot of editorial help), but if they hang in there, they’ll produce some good fiction someday.
Then I read Junkie, by Robert P. French. I found something I wasn’t expecting. A writer with the “It” factor. The “It” factor is like art, impossible to explain, but I know it when I see it.
French has created Cal Rogan, ex-cop and heroin addict. Cal kept me on an emotional roller coaster throughout the entire novel. A sad, frustrating, heartbreaking game of will-he-won’t-he. He wants to be clean, he’s got so much at stake, but the pull of addiction is so powerful he’s helpless before it. Cal lies and promises and betrays. At times I hated him. Yet I found myself rooting for him, begging him from my reader’s chair to beat the heroin. The hardest part of it is how far and how hard Cal fell. He’s smart, tenacious, he was a really good cop. Then he blew it. In spite of that, at heart he’s still a good cop and he wants to do the right thing. Junkie has a strong mystery and some well-drawn villains, but the true conflict at the heart of the story is between Cal and the monkey on his back.
The story: Cal’s best friend commits suicide, but Cal knows it’s murder. That’s when Cal starts making promises. He promises the victim’s mother to leave it alone, then promises the father he’ll not only prove it was murder, he’ll bring the killer to justice. Meanwhile Cal’s ex-wife is engaged to be married and threatening to take Cal’s daughter 2000 miles away. He promises he’ll get clean for his daughter, and promises himself he’ll be reinstated on the police force. He promises the cops he didn’t murder his friend. It’s a twisty, tricky, action-filled story– just the way I like them.
This novel isn’t perfect. There’s some roughness around the edges, a few places that need an editorial kick in the pants, and it needs another go-round with a proofreader (which says a lot for the quality of the story telling that my inner editor never tried to grab my Kindle out of my hands). French definitely has the “It” factor. If he keeps writing, keeps honing his skills and developing as a writer, he’ll be up there with authors like John Sandford, Michael Connelly, and Robert Crais.
What about anyone else? Have you discovered any self-published fiction writers rising from today’s version of pulp fiction?