Tyrus Books, best known for publishing award-winning hard-boiled crime fiction, is expanding beyond its niche, looking to balance its crime titles with other fiction. The four-year-old Madison, Wis., press, which since 2011 has been a division of F+W Media, has just released a debut novel, Graphic the Valley, by wilderness guide Peter Hoffmeister, environmental fiction about the coming-of-age of a young man who has spent his entire life communing with nature in California’s Yosemite Valley. This November, Tyrus is publishing Naked, a magical realism fable inspired by the life and death of French sculptor Camille Claudel. Tyrus is promoting Naked, the first adult novel by children’s book author Betsy Franco, as a cross between The Time Traveler’s Wife and Midnight in Paris.
The press will continue to emphasize crime among its 10 annual frontlist offerings, publisher Benjamin LeRoy said, including Country Hardball, a debut novel by Steve Weddle, also set for release in November. But, LeRoy added, he is also “looking at other angles.” For instance, he said, while Country Hardball fits into the crime fiction genre, it’s also “a larger treatise” on what life is like for those who live on the margins in a “poor and desperate” part of the country.
LeRoy said he decided to expand beyond crime fiction primarily because of the recent spate of shootings occurring inside schools and workplaces, from Newtown, Conn., to Minneapolis. “I look at what we’re doing, what we’re saying. What are we putting out there in the public consciousness?” he told PW during a telephone interview. “I’ve always been fascinated with how fiction is a reflection of the times we live in. It’s something I’ve wrestled with: if what we’re publishing, if what we’re putting out there, contributes to this gratuitous violence.” That conflict is also reflected in LeRoy’s personal life: he has begun giving books, art supplies, even a plane ticket, to people who respond to his Twitter and blog posts. LeRoy started the practice to be “a positive force in the world” and to provide a “counterbalance to all the darkness in the books I publish.”
Although Tyrus is diversifying, LeRoy said that in doing so, the press continues to fulfill its mission. “It’s never been about CSI or clever detectives; it’s more about what makes us all human. I don’t need there to be a crime,” LeRoy explained. At the moment, he has at least one noncrime novel planned for 2014. There are, to date, approximately 60 Tyrus titles in print; a number of Tyrus backlist titles were originally published by LeRoy’s previous publishing venture, Bleak House.
There is precedent for Tyrus’s expansion beyond crime fiction, LeRoy noted. Untouchable by Scott O’Connor, the winner of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Voices Award for books published in 2011, was neither a mystery nor a crime novel, he said, though he does describes it as “very dark” literary noir. Untouchable explores the impact of a woman’s death—amplified by the impending arrival of Y2K—on her husband and her 11-year-old son. Untouchable is Tyrus’s top-selling title, with more than 20,000 copies sold.
“When I read Graphic the Valley, I thought to myself, this is the next Untouchable,” LeRoy said, describing the novel as a book that has changed his life, because it’s gotten him to spend more time in the outdoors exploring nature. Naked, he added, is a “bigger departure” from previous releases, but it, too, “goes back to [Tyrus’s] guidelines,” the press’s mission to publish novels about “people who are outcasts, struggling to understand who they are, where they’re going, and what they’re going to do.”