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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NC Events: Motheread Storytime & More

February 17, 2010

This Sunday, February 21, Angela Davis-Gardner, Michael Malone, Richard Krawiec, and Celia Rivenbark will headline a fundraiser for Motheread, Inc., a local non-profit that has expanded into a multi-state organization. Founded in Raleigh in 1987, Motheread “combines the teaching of literacy skills with child development and family empowerment issues” — relying on the art of storytelling to increase a sense of self-worth among both adults and children and to enhance not just reading but also other skills. The event — “an afternoon of stories, desserts, and coffee” — takes place Sunday from 3-5 p.m.  at Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, and while advance reservations are required, tickets may still be available. Information can be found here.

In the meantime, there’s plenty more on the literary calendar to enjoy, including:

  • Journalist and historian Jim Wise tonight (Wednesday, February 17) at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop, discussing  Murder in the Courthouse: Reconstruction and Redemption in the North Carolina Piedmont, about the murder of a Republican politician by four Klansmen in 1870s North Carolina — an event with both immediate and long-lasting repercussions throughout the state
  • Linda F. Nathan, founding headmaster of the Boston Arts Academy, discussing The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test: Lessons from an Innovative Urban School at two locations: tonight at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh and again on Thursday, February 18, at the Regulator.
  • Duke professor Joe Ashby Porter discussing his new story collection, All Aboard, on Thursday, February 18, at Quail Ridge Books. (Check out Bookslut‘s review here, which calls the collection “challenging but rewarding.”)
  • And Jenifer Bubenik sharing Thoughts from the Chicken Bus — an account of her get-away-from-it-all adventure through Central America — on Thursday at Pomegranate Books in Wilmington.

For a complete calendar of events in the Triangle and throughout Eastern North Carolina, check out the MetroBooks calendar here.

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Snow Daze: A Reading List

February 14, 2010

Another stretch of little posting — and this time I can blame it on the weather. Classes were cancelled time and again over the past week; more snow led to endless digging; Tara and I tried to ward off cabin fever — and while this might have provided more time to sit down and catch up on blogging, I have to admit that curling up with a nice laptop just didn’t provide the same sense of warmth as curling up with a good book.

I did get some writing done — forging ahead on that new project, making good on the new year’s resolution — but also spent some time in the world of classic mysteries, finishing up Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (stupendous!), delving again into The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Irene Adler isn’t quite the same person in “A Scandal in Bohemia” as she is in the movie, of course), and pushing through the rest of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks (a review supposedly due soon at AARP).

I also recently found a couple of old checklists on the best crime novels of all time, one compiled two decades ago by the Crime Writers’ Association (British) and a second by the Mystery Writers of America from the mid-1990s. Scanning over the U.S. list, I was embarrassed to see that I’d only read a little over a third of the titles there! Finishing The Woman in White helped edge me up another notch, but the good news is that there’s plenty of treasures out there still to discover. The MWA list — with 101 titles because of a tie — is below in case you want to check it out for yourself.

1. Arthur Conan Doyle: The Complete Sherlock Holmes (1887-1927)

2. Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon (1930)

3. Edgar Allan Poe: Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1852)

4. Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time (1951)

5. Scott Turow: Presumed Innocent (1987)

6. John le Carré: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963)

7. Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone (1868)

8. Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep (1939)

9. Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca (1938)

10. Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (1939)

Read the rest of this entry ?

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