The Next Chapter

From writers to dancers to video artists, they're inventing surprising new ways to tell their tales

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Charles Ardai was born too late. He's a dotcom success story--founder and CEO of Juno--but his first love was pulp fiction: those seamy, seedy, hard-boiled paperbacks from the 1940s and '50s, the kind with a hot broad and a cold, stiff drink on the cover. Ardai, 36, missed the great age of pulp, so after Juno merged with a competitor in 2001 and he had time and money to burn, he founded his own press, Hard Case Crime. Now he makes 'em like they used to.

It's not as simple as it sounds. Ardai needed writers who could hammer out tales in the style of that less lyrical era, crude but effective books that dispensed with stylistic foofaraw and hooked the reader from the get-go with pure plot. (Sample first line, from David Dodge's The Last Match: "The guy who was waiting for me in my room merely wanted to blow my head off, that's all.") "Pulp fiction was written at high velocity by people who had a bill collector waiting at the door," Ardai says. So far, he has signed up some A-list talent, including Madison Smartt Bell and Stephen King. He has also done some sleuthing of his own and rediscovered long-lost novels by past masters like Dodge (who also wrote To Catch a Thief), Donald Westlake and Ed McBain. To complete the picture, Ardai recruited the legendary Robert McGinniss, who painted more than 1,000 book covers back in pulp's heyday.

It's a labor of love for Ardai, who pores over each page of every book in excruciating detail, down to the spacing between letters. "I've had e-mail from people saying they found our books prominently displayed in truck stops," he says excitedly. "Nothing makes me happier. I love bookstores--but being in a truck stop? It's part of the tradition."



In the mid-1990s Nicolas Kent, 61, artistic director of London's Tricycle Theatre, began to take government investigations--in his words, "dry" and "not inherently dramatic" inquiries--and stage them as plays. Typically, his collaborator, Guardian journalist Richard Norton-Taylor, starts with thousands of pages of testimony and edits them down to a 21/2-hour show, which Kent then directs. The words delivered onstage are words that were spoken by real people, in real life.

Kent calls these works tribunal plays, and in them he has probed German and Bosnian-Serb war crimes, the sale of arms to Iraq, the suicide of British weapons expert David Kelly and the massacre of Irish civil rights marchers by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday. The plays are riveting in their attention to detail and at times heartbreaking, as when a visibly haunted former soldier in Srebrenica recounts his forced participation in the slaughter of Muslims. "We've become the BBC of the theater," Kent says. "We've become a trusted voice."

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