Some crime stories are epics, filling narratives that span hundreds or pages or across multiple volumes. Some crime stories require a little less space, but pack all of the visceral charm of their counterparts. That’s what you can expect from the new anthology Tiny Crimes: Very Short Tales of Mystery and Murder, edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto. Along the way, the anthology also showcases the range of the stories that can be told within the boundaries of crime fiction, from straightforward to surreal. I talked with Michel and Nieto about the creation of the anthology, their own experience with crime fiction, and the role works in translation play in the anthology.
Is there something about crime fiction that makes it ideally suited for an anthology of relatively short fiction?
Lincoln Michel: A few years ago, Nadxi and I decided to create an anthology of short science fiction stories that would blur the artificial boundaries of “literary” and “genre” as well as just be a really beautiful book. When we decided to do a second anthology, we settled on crime fiction. Like SF, crime is just a very flexible genre that can encompass so many styles and forms. Plus, crime fiction is just something we both love.
Nadxieli Nieto: There is so much of crime storytelling that is about a gesture or a feeling, a small clue. The sixth sense that tells you not to drink the poisoned drink or that a shadow hides a shiv. Similar to horror stories, there’s a sense that what is left unsaid is as important as what is said. Those tendencies make crime perfect for the short form, and are put to good use in stories like Carmen Maria Machado’s “Mary When You Follow Her” and Laura van den Berg’s “Friends.”
Some of the stories in Tiny Crimes are fairly traditional crime narratives, while others head into the speculative or the metaphysical. Did you have any established rules as to what you did or did not consider crime fiction for purposes of the book?
Nieto: We don’t have any rules, and often disagree on what we mean by “short” or even “story.” This is one of the best (though often frustrating) parts of having a co-editor whose tastes are not identical to your own. We argue about stories all the time, and then go back to our corners and re-read. We think about the sweep of the anthology and how to show all the different ways the genre is being broken apart and put back together.
Michel: Our intention was to display the depth of crime fiction narratives, so we purposefully looked for stories of different styles, different tones, and different genres. (And for that matter, different crimes. We love a murder mystery as much as anyone, but we also wanted stories of petty theft, tax fraud, recreational drug use, crimes that shouldn’t be crimes.)
What are some of the works of crime fiction that first drew you into the genre?
Michel: I remember loving Agatha Christie in middle school, and in high school Raymond Chandler was a favorite. (Anyone who thinks “genre” fiction never has style like literary fiction obviously hasn’t read Chandler.) Patricia Highsmith of course. And I’ve always loved crime fiction that mingled with other genres: Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Auster’s New York Trilogy, Lethem’s Gun, With Occasional Music. Does Kafka’s The Trial count as crime fiction? Although if I’m being honest, my first encounter with crime fiction tropes was probably Tracer Bullet from Calvin and Hobbes.
Nieto: My mother was a huge, and I mean HUGE, crime and mystery fan when I was growing up, and both my sister and I have a sweet tooth for a certain kind of true crime story featuring bad rich families who get their comeuppance. I grew up on Christie and Highsmith, and also read all the hardboiled crime, falling for the rhythm and environs of Walter Mosley, which spoke to me in a different way. But I think a lot of the books that were formative for me, be they poetry, literary fiction, crime, horror, magical realism, or what have you, dealt with crime of one sort or another. They were filled with bad parents, shady politicians, violent men, and greedy nation-states. And Mexico has a great love of the criminal story too. Y’all should check out our corridos.
The anthology contains several stories in translation; you chose to run the original version and the English translation on opposite pages. What led you to make this decision?
Nieto: English is my mother’s fifth language, though she was born in a small rural town in the deep south of Mexico. And it is one of my great regrets that I speak so few, 1.5 really, and where I can I like to give readers the opportunity to experience texts in different languages. We have an immense amount of respect for the work of translators, who also function as our cultural diplomats and curators, and who bring us beautiful works of art that we can not, perhaps, understand on our own. We’re very lucky to have Lisa Dillman, Misha Hoekstra, Allison Markin-Powell, and Jeffrey Zuckerman bringing us this work. And if you haven’t read Dorthe Nors, Yuri Herrera, Fabien Clouette & Quentin Leclerc, and Fuminori Nakamura, you really should. We’re really happy Black Balloon was into the dual-language printing.
What was the process of selecting stories for the anthology like?
Michel: We wanted to include new writers and writers we weren’t familiar with, so we had open submissions in addition to to soliciting writers. We were aiming for a variety of styles and plots, so that did lead to some funny debates about whether or not we had too many knife stabbings or if we needed a few more robberies.
Nieto: That’s the nuts and bolts of it, but really it’s a lot of emailing and begging for stories and then reading and rereading. Misha Rai’s “What We Know” and Richie Narvaez’s “Withhold the Dawn” were both selected through the open call, and we’re so glad they submitted their excellent stories. That’s why we’ve always included an open call. It’s part of the thrill — reading work outside of your bubble of influences, and then expanding those influences.
Has editing Tiny Crimes caused you to view crime fiction differently, as either a reader or as a writer?
Michel: Focusing on crime fiction, and rereading great crime authors both to inform the anthology and on submission, has reminded me how lovely a good plot is. How plot is just as much of a tool for a great writer to master as voice or character or setting.
Nieto: While I loved revisiting the classics, what struck me is how hungry I still am for a different way of looking at the crime story. I think the definition of crime needs to be redefined by a different set of voices. I want quieter crime fiction, funnier crime fiction, less masculine crime fiction, less het crime fiction, all sorts of different kinds of crime fiction. And what is especially fun about these anthologies is that they allow writers who wouldn’t normally do so to play in a different genre and form. It’s great that we’re starting to see so much of this play between genres in general, and I think that will only strengthen crime fiction.