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For Cryin’ Out Loud

Jim Hanas, writer, goes electronic.

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First, there's this from Jim Hanas, former staff writer for the Memphis Flyer and speaking by phone from New York City: "I like a story in the 2,500 to 5,000 word range. And frankly, that's probably a result of my history as a features writer for the Flyer."

Then there's this from Jim Hanas, when asked to characterize the writing in his latest collection of short stories, Why They Cried: "I don't think I'm a particularly lyrical writer. My prose is direct. It's where my sensibility is. I'm not drawn to flowery language. So, perhaps there's that influence from my reporting days too."

And indeed: The 10 stories in Why They Cried are far from flowery, but they do report on men and women — whether they're in a town much like Memphis or in Southern California or the South of France — on the point of breaking up ("Miss Tennessee"), on the verge of breaking down ("Pangaea"), drinking and arguing their way through life together ("The Audubon Society"), narrowly (and comically) escaping a possible charge of child molestation ("You Can Touch This!"), and acting the part perfectly ("The Cryerer") if the part calls for an actor with a talent for producing tears on cue.

What's going on here? Hanas himself doesn't necessarily know:

"I like stories where people are themselves surprised by their own motivations," he said.

Which makes them a whole lot like the stuff of human nature and especially in times like these: postmodern, post-print. Which is to say, don't go looking for Why They Cried as a bound book. It's an e-book, published by ECW Press, and Hanas has become something of a test case.

"A kind of canary in the coal mine" is how he described this latest venture in e-publishing (he himself has made two collections available on his blog, drawing from his work that appeared in McSweeney's, Fence, One Story, and Joyland), and if the number of copies sold so far (under 100 since the book came out last fall), the greater numbers are impressive.

According to a story in The New York Times (which quoted Hanas) on readers' preferences (books versus e-books), that's more than 10 million people expected to own e-readers by the end of last year and expected to buy an estimated 100 million e-books.

Hanas, who works today as managing editor at NYCgo.com, the city's tourism website, is a confirmed iPhone and iPad reader. (The better to ease his commute from the apartment in Brooklyn that he shares with his wife, Alexandra Ringe.) But he's interested in seeing if you can "break" a book out electronically. Then go with a print run if it makes sense to.

"Here's the fact of the matter: From the publisher's standpoint, this is a way to test out a collection," Hanas said. "They can cast and see if something gains momentum."

And if it does? Let's skip a hardcover edition, according to the author: "I would not want to market a hardcover. Its significance is waning. It'd be hard to deliver the sales you expected."

But here's one good reason for someday seeing Why They Cried on the printed page. Burke's Book Store in Memphis could stock it.

"I used to work there!" Hanas said. "Best job I ever had."

To buy Why They Cried, go to whytheycried.com. For more on the author, go to jimhanas.com. And to hear Hanas read, be at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City on February 13th. He'll be in good company onstage: author Darin Strauss, who was just nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award for his autobiographical Half a Life.

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