Archive for February, 2010


Free Book Friday: “The Poisoner’s Handbook”

February 26, 2010

Perhaps I’ve been stricken by some strange chemical, but I think I’m seeing double…. Is that two copies of Deborah Blum‘s new book up there on the shelf? No, I haven’t been poisoned myself, but somehow did get a double dose of The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. The book is far too delectable for me to give up both copies, but I’m glad to share the gruesome goodies. The seventh person to email “Pour me a dram” to wins the extra one. No need to send name and address at this point; I’ll get that later if you win (and will handle postage and handling as well).

If you want to know more about the book, check out my review in last Sunday’s Washington Post or the just-released review from this coming Sunday’s New York Times, which wasn’t quite as positive. Longer coverage is also provided by Sarah Weinman in The Barnes & Noble Review, accessible through her own website here.

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NC Events: Mystery Caravan & A Pair Of Poets

February 24, 2010

A couple of big literary gatherings throughout the region this weekend — one of them a moveable feast of award-winning mystery writers!

First up, mystery maven Molly Weston brings a caravan of crime writers to the area for three full days of events. Hank Phillippi Ryan won the Agatha for her novel Prime Time, the first in a series of books drawing from her own experiences as an investigative reporter in Boston (and she’s won an Emmy for that work too); her latest in that series is Drive Time. Karen E. Olson has also drawn on her journalism background for a series of books featuring a New Haven police reporter, but her latest title is from her Tattoo Shop series: Pretty in Ink. And Julie Hyzy also has a series featuring a newswoman, but her latest book, Eggsecutive Orders, is from her White House Chef series. You can catch the caravan at a number of locations:

Friday, February 26

  • 12 noon — Eva Perry Library, Apex
  • 6:30 p.m. — Page-Walker Hotel (cultural arts center) in Cary, sponsored by the Cary Public Library

Saturday, February 27

  • 11 a.m. —  Mcintyre’s Fine Books, Fearrington Village
  • 5 p.m. — Jamestown Public Library, Jamestown, NC

Sunday, February 28

  • 12 noon — Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill

In addition to hosting the mystery writers on Saturday, McIntyre’s Books also continues its NC Poetry Society Series on Sunday afternoon with two very highly respected poets: Al Maginnes, author most recently of the collection Ghost Alphabet (see a great chat with him here), and Dannye Romine Powell, whose most recent book of poetry, A Necklace of Bees, just adds to career additionally distinguished by her work with the Charlotte Observer and her terrific collection Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers. That event begins at 2 p.m.

For more events, check out the MetroBooks Calendar here.

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Deborah Blum’s “The Poisoner’s Handbook”

February 21, 2010

The Washington Post published today my review of Deborah Blum’s terrific new history, The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. This is a real treasure of the book, at once a detailed scientific study, a wonderful evocation of a bygone era, and a gripping murder mystery — or rather a series of murder mysteries, confounding investigators case by case and then solved with methodical precision. (Or mostly solved, I should say; even the best detectives slip up now and again, and the big slip-up here is a costly one.) Here’s the way the review begins:

Police and prosecutors today increasingly bemoan a major courtroom adversary: the so-called CSI effect, named after the immensely popular CBS franchise. The show’s popularity has ratcheted up expectations about DNA testing and other forensic evidence to the point that jurors are reluctant to deliver guilty verdicts without it. “Grissom would’ve tried gas chromatography,” one can imagine a jury foreman concluding grimly. “Without that, we simply can’t convict.”

Such wasn’t the case nearly a century ago, as Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum reveals in her immensely entertaining study of New York City’s first chief medical examiner, Charles Norris, and his toxicologist, Alexander Gettler. After their extensive scientific evidence failed to bring a conviction in a 1922 cyanide case, Norris and Gettler were told that “toxicology was such a new science, it was awfully hard to educate and convince a jury simultaneously.” But by early 1936, defense attorneys were arguing just the opposite: “that the city lab’s reputation was too strong, and that Gettler was so well respected that jurors tended to accept whatever he said.”

So what prompted the shift?

To answer that question, check out the rest of the review — or better yet, pick up the book itself, a true page-turner.

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Truth & Lies… Or Is It “Truths & Lie”?

February 19, 2010

J. Kingston Pierce over at The Rap Sheet recently tapped me for a little challenge that’s been making the rounds on the Web. The Bald-Faced Liar (aka “Creative Writer”) Award got its start last month with a posting by Arizona library manager and book critic Lesa Holstine, and with chain-letter persistency, it seems to have been making its way through the blogosphere ever since — leaving in its wake both a swath of creativity and not a little bit of bafflement. I’m still puzzling over whether Jeff has been spending more time with Bucky Fuller or Amy Adams or….

I have to admit I love this kind of game, and I’ve occasionally used some version of it as a first-week exercise in some of the creative writing classes that I’ve taught at Mason. In the classroom, the challenge is to write three paragraphs about yourself — two lies, one true — and see who you can fool. It’s actually a good exercise, both for fiction writing and for creative nonfiction. What writing strategies prove the most convincing? What details give the ring of veracity? Or, alternately, what doesn’t sound true on the page?

Here are the rules for the current challenge:

  • Thank the person who gave this to you. (Hats off to the good Mr. Pierce!)
  • Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
  • Link to the person who nominated you.
  • Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth — or switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie.
  • Nominate seven “Creative Writers” who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies of their own.
  • Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
  • Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know that you have nominated them.

For better or worse, I’ve added a little edge to the list here: a travelogue of misdeeds, delinquency, sin, and scandal. But is it six lies and one truth? Or six truths and one lie? Whatever the breakdown, each item below is either COMPLETELY true or COMPLETELY false.

  1. Trying to impress a girl, I ripped the door off of my mom’s convertible while backing out of the garage. Needless to say, I made an impression.
  2. Several summers after high school graduation, my boarding school roommate and I broke into our old dorm room with a bottle of Smirnoff, a bottle of Bacardi and a pack of Lucky Strikes just to stomp on some of the rules we’d always adhered to as really straight-laced kids. Campus police found us in the wee hours of the morning, but just asked us to lock up when we were done. We drained the bottles but only finished part of the cigarettes — and would’ve checked off “no girls on dorm” too, but both of us were single.
  3. At lunch today, I drank from a mug that I snuck out the window of a pizza joint my freshman year in college. (And I just found out earlier this week that the restaurant has closed — hopefully not because of lack of inventory.)
  4. I sold my first short story to a magazine whose tagline was “Erotic Entertainment By Women For Men.” The editors only know me as Anne Taylor.
  5. The staff at my last job threw me a going-away party that escalated into a state scandal, making front-page headlines in the capital city’s newspaper and being featured on the local nightly news.
  6. I’ve slept with a librarian — but never had sex in a library.
  7. Friends and family have said that I’m the most moral person they know.

So…. I’ve listed the seven rules. I’ve listed the seven truths/lies. All that’s left is passing this along to seven lucky (or unlucky) folks out there. Hmmm…. Whom to choose?

And congrats as well to Mr. Steinbock for his great fiction debut in the recent Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine! “Cleaning Up” is a terrific story from start to finish.

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DC Events: Writing the Future

February 18, 2010

What does the future hold for the publishing industry? That’s a big question on the minds of aspiring writers everywhere. And here’s a potentially bigger one: What does the future hold for writing in general?

On March 20, The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, will host “Writing the Future,” a day-long conference devoted to these and related questions: the business of writing, the impact of technology, the changes to individual forms and genres. The event welcomes a nearly all-star cast of writers, editors and publishers, including Peter Ginna of Bloomsbury Press; Lee Gutkind, editor of Creative NonfictionNew York Times tech writer Nick Bilton; literary agent Jeff Kleinman; poets Sandra Beasley and Carolyn Forche;  journalist Pagan Kennedy; and Dan Sarewitz, co-director of Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, among others.

Panel titles offer a glimpse of what’s to come — both at the event itself and, of course, for that future of the title:


The conference runs from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, March 20; admission is $90. The event is sponsored by The Creative Nonfiction Foundation and Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, and The Writer’s Center. More information can be found here.

And if you can’t make the conference itself, be sure not to miss the Creative Nonfiction launch party from 5 to 7 p.m. — a new design, a new era for the nation’s most prestigious creative nonfiction journal. That event is free.

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