By Russel D McLean
As we speak, I’m working on a collection of short stories. Yes, if you haven’t been following me on twitter or keeping your eye out for me on Facebook, I’ve been collecting old stories for an e-volume to be titled, THE DEATH OF RONNIE SWEETS (and other stories). The collection will include every Sam Bryson story I wrote for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Thrilling Detective. It won’t include the standalones (they might get an airing sometime) or the two Sam Bryson stories that appeared a long time ago in Crime Scotland Vol 1 (because they present a wildly different character to the one who would eventually appear in the pages of AHMM). But they include a lot of stories that I’m proud of.
And I can say that with conviction because, in order to put the collection together, I had to read each one of them carefully. My plan – and this was something that the editor of Thrilling Detective, Kevin Burton Smith, urged me to do when he heard about the project – was to leave each story warts and all. And for the most part I have.
Why only “for the most part”?
Because sometimes you see things that should never have sneaked through, particularly in early works. A silly typo or a horrific repetition that you can’t get out of your head. And you can’t let it go. Because you have the chance to correct it. In all, I made maybe six changes to all the stories. They were justified, and mostly confined to one story in particular.
It’s strange to look back at old work with new eyes. Particularly the first published works you wrote. These stories are still ones that I am immensely proud of and, while some may say that their early work is “juvenilia” and that they feel they have moved on, you have to think about such things from a reader’s point of view. Clearly these early stories meant enough to readers and editors who wanted to read and publish them. So why are they suddenly not good enough? Are you saying those readers and editors were in some way “juvenile” too? And if your style has changed, that’s fine. But what you have to remember is that you have lived with your work for years, but there are always going to be new readers who will see your through the same eyes that your first readers did. And why would they not have the same reactions?
Reading the stories was fascinating for me. I could track where I was at certain points in my life I could see what I had learned about storytelling. I could trace my obsessions and ideas. I could track an evolution.
But by far one of the most interesting aspects to the collection has been writing a new story about Sam Bryson. The story will be published not only in this collection, but also in a multi-author collection that will be forthcoming soon (I don’t know if I can say anything about it yet). It takes place in 2006, the year where last left Bryson. After all, if we are to believe the opening of THE GOOD SON, in 2008, Bryson has left the PI game and sold his offices on to some bloke called J McNee. Going back to Bryson’s voice after so long – the last Bryson short was written in 2007 – was a strange experience. I worried about the voice changing drastically, about my being unable to write the same character; that perhaps I had changed too much and would no longer know who he was.
But I found myself returning with ease to his fictional world. The old touchstones remained the
same. Perhaps there was something a little easier about his voice; a more confident and mature version of the same character. But it was like seeing an old friend and realising how much you still have in common. My memory hadn’t been lying to me; Sam was still as interesting to me as he had been so many years ago.
Not that I’ve allowed him to stagnate or remain in some state of suspended animation. Every short I wrote was written with the intent to advance Sam in some fashion. And this new one is no different. But if you want to know how… well, I guess you’re just going to have to wait and see.