Archive for July, 2010

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NC News: Prime Number Debuts

July 20, 2010

Prime Number Magazine — a new online literary journal from Press 53, the indie publishing house based in Winston-Salem, NC — made its debut this week with Issue #2 (and if you don’t understand why they’re starting with #2, go revisit your grade school math textbooks). The premiere issue looks fine, and some fine talent (by invitation only for the first issue) is gracing these webpages. I’ve already checked out “Another Little Piece” by Kevin Wilson and “The Pawn” by Scott Loring Sanders (a regular contributor to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which I also frequently call home) and am looking forward to the rest of the issue. So just a quick urge here for folks to check it out themselves. (And for more on Press 53, also check out my interview with founder Kevin Watson here.)

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NC News: North Carolina Literary Review Releases 2010 Issue

July 19, 2010

I was extremely pleased to find in my mailbox this afternoon a couple of advance copies of the North Carolina Literary Review‘s latest issue, focused primarily on the literature — and the art — of the state’s Appalachian region. I emphasize that last word because the first, fine impression of the new issue is the cover art: 1943’s Cabin Scene in North Carolina by Southern modernist master Will Henry Stevens. What’s inside the covers is, of course, equally impressive, beginning with an extensive section on N.C. novelist John Ehle, including selections from his novels The Land Breakers and Lion on the Hearth and an essay and review of Ehle’s work. Also included in the special section is poetry by Robert Morgan, Michael McFee and Kathryn Stripling Byer (as well as a short story by Byer); interviews with Pamela Duncan and Wayne Caldwell; and a variety of reviews of works from the region. While the emphasis here is on one end of the state, the North Carolina Miscellany in the latter half of the issue turns its eyes easterly, beginning with five poems by James Applewhite and ending with an interview with Wilmington-based mystery novelist Wanda Canada (conducted by yours truly, I should add). Click here for the full contents of the new issue.

Sounds like plenty to read? Yep. And I should get started now.

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Interview: Tana French, author of Faithful Place

July 12, 2010

I’m happy today to host a chat with bestselling novelist Tana French, conducted by guest interviewer Tara Laskowski — a fan and friend of French’s as well as a fine writer in her own right. French’s third novel, Faithful Place, will be published Tuesday, July 13, and has already been receiving rave notices, including a laudatory review in this past week’s New York Times. But as French reveals to Laskowski, the Times’ guess about her next book is just slightly off the mark.

Tana French

Tana French‘s linked mystery series has quickly made her one of the most interesting mystery authors of the decade. Her first novel, In the Woods (reviewed here), was a New York Times bestseller and won the 2007 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. The novel follows Rob Ryan, a detective trying to solve a murder of a young girl while simultaneously dealing with the memories it dredges up of a painful childhood trauma of his own. French followed that novel with The Likeness, another New York Times bestseller, which tells the story of Cassie Maddox, one of the beloved characters in In the Woods. Now French’s third novel, Faithful Place, focuses on undercover detective Frank Mackey, a character who first appeared in The Likeness. In this book, an old suitcase found in an abandoned building suddenly pulls Frank back to a childhood and a home that he desperately wants to leave behind. As Frank tries to solve the long-ago murder of his first love, he also discovers things about his past and his family that might change his life forever.

Here French offers up some insight into her linked novels and why she chooses to write this way, and also talks a little about the new novel and what’s in store for readers of the series.

Tara Laskowski: I really love how you take a different character to focus on in each of your books, rather than writing multiple novels about the same hero or heroine. Can you talk a little about why you choose to write this way, and how it works for you?

Tana French: I’m interested in writing about the huge turning points – those moments when you know that, whatever you choose, all the rest of your life will be shaped by that choice. The thing is, though, that most people’s lives don’t hold more than, say, two or three of those moments. So when I started to think about a second book, I realized I had three options. I could go with the usual series pattern, which follows one protagonist through the ups and downs of his or her life – but, while I love reading those series, the idea of writing one somehow felt anticlimactic. I could keep dumping my poor narrator into enormous, high-stakes, life-changing situations, which felt pretty strained and artificial. Or I could switch narrators. Switching narrators seemed to make the most sense.
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SIBA Book Award Winners

July 8, 2010

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance has announced the 2010 SIBA Book Award winners. Congratulations to all!

  • Best Fiction: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • Best Nonfiction: The Most They Ever Had by Rick Bragg
  • Best Children’s: The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass
  • Best Cookbook: The Lee Brothers: Simple Fresh Southern by Ted and Matt Lee

Over the Fourth of July weekend, we actually enjoyed a recipe from the Lee Brothers’ latest cookbook: Pimento-Cheese Potato Gratin. (Yum!) And Kathryn Stockett is appearing at this year’s Fall for the Book festival in Northern Virginia, with which I’m also associated.

All in all, couldn’t agree more with the winners here!

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Review: Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads

July 2, 2010

There’s little better in the way of beach reading than a fast-paced thriller, but with the seemingly endless titles out there — muscling competitors out of the way not just on bookstore shelves but at newstands, supermarket checkout aisle, airport kiosks and more — how do you know what’s really good? Never fear: This summer brings a guide from the experts. Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner (and to be released on July 5 by Oceanview Publishing), features some of the finest names in the genre, members of International Thriller Writers, writing about their own favorites over a period of 35 centuries. (And yes, you read that right: 3,500 years. More on the time frame in a moment.)

As expected, some of the best-known and best-loved classics of the genre are included. After all, what would such a collection be without John Buchan’s seminal The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) or James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) or Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) or Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1939) or Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Dimitrios (also 1939) or Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male (also 1939) or…. well, just from 1939’s output, you can see that as we move through the 20th century, the genre becomes dense with notable books.

From the 1940s: Cornell Woolrich’s “Rear Window,” Vera Caspary’s Laura, Kenneth Fearing’s The Big Clock.

From the 1950s: Graham Greene’s The Third Man, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love, Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate

From the 1960s: Len Deighton’s The IPCRESS File, John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain

In the 1970s, you’ll find works by Frederick Forsyth, Peter Benchley, Wiliam Goldman, James Grady, Jack Higgins, Joseph Wambaugh, Clive Cussler, Ira Levin, Robin Cook, Ken Follett, Ross Thomas, and John D. McDonald. In the ’80s, Robert Ludlum, Thomas Harris, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Peter Straub. In the ’90s, Grisham, Patterson, Baldacci, Deaver — writers so well-known already that even the last name is enough. And then comes that most influential of 21st-century thrillers: Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Importantly, the list of contributors is an equally impressive who’s who of writers: Baldacci and Deaver again and James Grady and Katherine Neville (among the several writers on both sides of the discussion here), as well as Joe R. Lansdale, Lincoln Child, Max Allan Collins, P.J. Parrish, Tess Gerritsen, Hank Phillipi Ryan, and many more.

Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, Edward Burne-Jones

What’s surprising about a simple listing, however, are the choices that aren’t so obvious. Take the first of the essays here: Lee Child writing about the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, dating back to 1500 B.C. — again, 35 centuries ago. Taking a cue from critics of detective fiction (who are often apt to locate the roots of the modern mystery in Oedipus Rex), Child finds in a series of mythic paradigms the contours of the contemporary thriller: “Two superpowers in an uneasy standoff; a young man of rank acting along and shoulder personal responsibility for a crucial outcome; a strategic alliance with a young woman from the other side; a major role for a gadget; an underground facility; an all-powerful opponent with a grotesque sidekick; a fight to the death; an escape; the cynical abandonment of the temporary female ally; the return home to a welcome that was partly grateful and partly scandalized.” Enough said? Well Child takes it even further. At the same time he was reading Plutarch in school, he was reading James Bond on the bus home, and the parallels between Theseus and the Minotaur and Dr. No make for fine examination.

Similar kudos go to William Bernhardt for his look at Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and to Andrew Klavan for his thoughts on Beowulf, especially for his defense of the Burton Raffel translation over Seamus Heaney’s version and his astute explanation of why the recent Beowulf movie is a disservice to the original. Even when we get to more recent (and more commonly accepted) historical milestones — like Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year — the insights offered by each author-critic are compelling, and the authors seem well-suited, personally, critically and professionally. For example, Douglas Preston, writing about Collins’ book, recounts his own first encounter with a dog-eared paperback of the book (a personal revelation:”one of my memorable literary moments”), discusses the structure of the novel as a precursor to modernist experiments a half-century later (“in many ways it was more radical than… Faulkner’s narrative shifts in As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury“), and then reveals how he and Lincoln Child borrowed heavily on that most villainous of villains, Count Fosco, for a major character in their own Brimstone, “pet mice and all.”

Another great pairing with an unexpected entry into the thriller category: R.L. Stine writing on P.G. Wodehouse’s Summer Lightning. “I know that Wodehouse’s novels cannot be considered thrillers,” Stine writes. “So, that’s the challenge I gave myself: to use Summer Lightning… to prove my theory about the close relationship between comedy and thrillers.” Do I entirely buy that theory? No. But it’s great fun to watch Stine make his case.

As a guideline for books worth reading, this anthology is a great resource. But it’s also welcome reading for those who’ve already explored these titles and want to revisit them through another’s perspectives. After reading J.A. Konrath’s essay, I appreciated anew – and in new ways — John D. MacDonald’s The Green Ripper, the first Travis McGee that I read back as a pre-teen lurking in the adult section. And for anyone who wants to write thrillers, hearing these contributors comment on the genre’s history and their own craft is priceless.

In short: Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads is, yes, a must-read itself.

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