The Big Idea: Kirby Crow

Life doesn’t always give us a happy ending. Should fiction? Kirby Crow ponders this question in relation to her new collection of stories, Hammer and Bone. Let’s see what she has to say on the matter.


I think of stories like wagons or carts, one of those cute, rustic ones you see being pulled by a shaggy pony in Lord of the Rings. I load the cart up with things that appeal to me or that I need, beautiful things and grotesque, things I want to say or things that just need saying, and then I choose a street to wheel it down. Anything at all can be inside the cart, but the street is crucial.

Okay, it’s weird. Bear with me… The street is everything, because it doesn’t just represent the genre; it’s the unity that binds the story together, the reason for its existence, why I’m telling the story, how I’m telling it.

Hammer and Bone has a long history, and the original idea was to bring together a collection of diverse tales featuring non-white heroes. I knew that was going to be a hard sell to a publisher, but I got lucky and found a great one. Despite the triple-threat gamble of being a collection rather than a single story (difficult to market in any genre), non-white characters inhabiting most of the pages (ditto), and overall a wicked and occasionally disturbing read, Riptide believed in Hammer and Bone, and here we are.

I didn’t set out to write such a sinister book, but occasionally stories have a will of their own and depart on journeys you never considered, or expected to have to write your way out of. At one point, the process stalled completely. I was stuck and growing very frustrated with the path one of my characters was taking to resolve his troubles in the Southern gothic story, Sundog. Where some people might burn bridges, Michel would walk into the fire. It was the same with Bellew in the speculative world of Crank, who was inclined to hack through the middle of an obstacle, and Angelo in Hangfire, who took a road that only the most wronged would even consider.

My heroes were strolling willingly down the most painful streets, when taking a detour or even walking away would have been so much easier. I wondered what kind of courage that was, if there was a name for the kind of bravery that smiles at the devil just until his back is turned.

I began complaining to my husband about them. I drank too much coffee and slept poorly and I wondered loudly and dramatically if I should rewrite their existence. Life had given them options that were too narrow. Their worlds were too frightening. Things probably weren’t going to turn out well for them.

He shrugged. “It sounds like life to me.”

There is that, yeah. Every life is backbreaking in its own way, even fictional ones. The main quality I’d struggled to reflect in the stories was honesty, and although steering your readers to a fair sunset is usually the point of storytelling, it isn’t always what happens in real life.

Sometimes it’s not what should happen, either. Not every character deserves a pretty sunset.

That was when I stopped trying to push it all down the road to Happily Ever After, or any destination that didn’t feel true. I wanted readers to turn the page thinking Yes. That’s exactly how that would have gone down.

Don’t worry, it’s not all constant anguish and despair. Sometimes there’s a happy ending and sometimes not, but the somber, seductive travelers of Hammer and Bone hereby promise to charm and entertain you in their own grim ways, as they invite you to question what perilous roads you might choose if you were snared into their worlds.


Hammer and Bone: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s Web site. Follow her on Twitter.

24 Comments on “The Big Idea: Kirby Crow”

  1. “Life doesn’t always give us a happy ending. Should fiction? ”
    I am firmly in the ‘YES’ camp on this question.
    If I want unhappy endings, I can buy a newspaper, read a non-fiction book or watch documentaries.
    For me, fiction is an escape – not so much from the deep questions and dilemmas of life – but from our seeming inability to make the answers come out well for too many.
    I WANT happy endings! I want Fuzzies (why wasn’t that nasty lawyer squashed at the end?)!
    Newspaper = $1.50. Book = likely +$10.00. If that price difference can’t buy me a smile I’m not going there too often.

  2. I can’t help but wonder, when one of the main features of the collection is its majority of non-white characters, why there is a sexy white dude on the cover. Was that a concession to try to boost sales?

  3. The start of the premise sounds interesting. I am glad you found a publisher willing to take it on.

    I had the same question about the cover, actually.

  4. Seconding Neil: bummer about the white guy on the cover. Or maybe it’s not a white guy and my prejudices are showing?

    That said, he is a hella cool looking white dude. It’s great art!

  5. I was loving the clockworky, young-Johnny-Depp guy on the cover until I read that the characters are “non-white.” Now I’m confused.

  6. Yeah, the cover caught my attention, too — red/reddish hair, looks quite white from features, a very Johnny Depp sort. But authors often have no say so on covers, I know. I’m glad there is a write up because otherwise I might not have looked at this for my non-white characters read goal (seriously, I’m trying to read more books with non-white main characters this year).

  7. In the past Crow have showen that she can tell great stories, so this is making me wonder what she have done now. But even if there is not always a happy ending, this does not make me hesitate to read this. Crow have a way of making her characters interesting and more important engaging.
    But this time, for safety, I will probably keep a handkerchief close at hand.

  8. Authors usually have no control regarding the cover of their book, that’s typically the publishers decision. I have faith Kirby tried time and again for a cover that more faithfully reflected and represented her characters. I personally won’t let this distract me from her new collection of short stories, and I encourage everyone to do the same!

  9. Kirby Crow is a great author, with a widespread variety of book and genres, and I recommend her work knowing that not all books will appeal to everyone. Check them out and go with the books that sounds like your thing :)

    I haven’t read Hammer and Bone yet, but it’s somewhere on my reading list. As for the cover. It’s very interesting, but of course another that hadn’t shown a white person might have been better from the publisher’s side. I won’t let that ruin my future read though.

  10. Happy endings are wonderful. Sad endings are equally as wonderful.
    Authors can take their readers on whatever heart-lifting, soul-searching, hope-inspiring tale they want; or, alternatively, authors can put their readers on heart-retching, soul-crushing, hope-destroying roller coasters. Anyone can write a happy ending and give their reader a little smile to carry with them that day, but it takes a truly great writer to give their readers an atypical ending that makes them feel something as powerful as sadness. I’m thrilled to see Kirby Crow’s take on a collection of short stories as well as her take on ‘sinister’; I happily await the sad endings.

  11. What Dann said. I checked the size of my TBR list last night and gulped. And it pretty much goes up by one every time a Big Idea is posted (not to mention by 4-5 when OGH posts New Books). Curse you Scalzi!!! *shakes fist*

  12. “Life doesn’t always give us a happy ending. Should fiction?” I think the question is an interesting one. Fantasy shouldn’t be limited to what the ending should make you feel. As the saying goes, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Kirby is a compelling story-teller and has a way of making fiction feel… alive. Life is filled with good things, bad things, and uncertainties. This, to me, is how Kirby writes, and is perfect for a book like this. I expect Kirby Crow to really shine in this one.

  13. Yeah, shame about the ginger Johnny Depp on the cover. But such is the way of publishing; I hardly ever find an author who’s happy with the cover if it features characters. Still, he’s a handsome chap! Minorities are used to reading about white folks, white people won’t be scared by the cover, and it won’t be shelved in the “ethnic” section. shrug

    I do like happy endings myself. Or at least mostly happy ones. Like cybercrone said way up there, I get plenty of unhappy in my life for free. I’m not opposed to slightly melancholy. The “good cry” sort of thing, like the last episode of “Babylon 5”. I don’t need everything to end up absolutely perfect for all the good people, but I like to know their struggles made the universe better, and they have some semblance of peace at the end after all the adventures.

  14. Stories should end as they should end. There’s a natural flow to all good stories – and it makes you wince if the ending goes against it.

  15. Oh, I was not the only one wondering on the color of the dude. But apparently I’m the only one super amused at the double phallic images right over his crotch, as well as the word “BONE.”

    I generally prefer happy endings myself for reasons of “real life sucks,” but sometimes it’s fine to end otherwise, depends on the book.

  16. It arrived! And I have devoured it, bones and all.

    I love the way these stories are often set in dystopic landscapes that imply stories, but they don’t tell those stories–they tell the stories of the people struggling through the aftermath of those stories. And I love that some of the most fantastically set stories turn out to share a map with some of the most prosaic.

    On the subject of happy endings and unhappy endings–generally, I think a story needs the ending the story was building toward; it needs a satisfying ending, one that, to paraphrase Connie Willis, balances out the story’s equations. That said, I can get a little weary of thinking “Oh, these people are far too happy/hopeful/in love. One of them is about to get killed, aren’t they?” too many times in the same compilation.

    I’m very grateful that “Sundogs” came last in the collection. That was the right note to end on.

    There’s so much I probably missed during my whirlwind first read; I look forward to rereading it.

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