Posts Tagged ‘Mystery Scene’


Romantic Crime Films Part II In Mystery Scene

June 29, 2009

Mystery SceneThe new issue of Mystery Scene magazine has just been released, and I was pleased and honored that “Love Bites,” part two of my survey of top-twenty romantic crime films, not only stands as the main cover story but also earned the center-section spot within the magazine, featuring some beautiful full-color stills and poster images from films including Sunrise, Vertigo, Bonnie and Clyde, Basic Instinct and Slumdog Millionaire. And the issue offers great articles throughout, including Oline Cogdill on Tom Rob Smith, Ed Gorman interviewing The Rap Sheet‘s J. Kingston Pierce (one of the first stops on my own morning blog-reading agenda), Kevin Burton Smith with some recommendations from “mystery fiction’s second wave of feminism,” and Jon L. Breen reviewing, among other reference books, John Buchan: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction. A don’t-miss issue, even if I say so myself.

post to facebook


Missing One Mystery Scene, In Another

May 1, 2009

This time of year, I’m usually up in New York for the Edgar Awards presentation by the Mystery Writers of America, but with end-of-semester crunch time, wedding planning, and the general economic tightening, I ended up missing this year’s events and last night’s big finale. For those interested, the list of this year’s Edgar winners is available here.

Each time I’ve been up for the program, Kate Stine and Brian Skupin have invited me to join the Mystery Scene table, but while I wasn’t there with them in person, I was at least there in spirit — and in print too, with not just one but two articles in the just-published new issue of their magazine. My article “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” the first of a two-part seris on romantic crime films, surveys the lighter side of love and suspense; my own personal favorite from this first list is 1941’s Ball of Fire, a charming screwball comedy with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. (A follow-up in the next issue, “Love Bites,” will look at some of the dark places love can lead us). And I also had the opportunity to do a short interview with Hannah Berry about her great debut graphic novel, Britten and Brülightly. In addition, Oline H. Cogdill offers a cover story on Laurie King, and the full issue promises a multitude of riches.

Add to Facebook: post to facebook


Reading A Timely New Essay By William Zinsser (Amidst A March Madness of Magazines)

March 21, 2009

For whatever fluke of timing, I received nearly a half-dozen magazines in my mailbox (and email inbox) over the last couple of days. Good stuff in each of them, worth sharing here. 

The latest issue of North Carolina’s Metro Magazine (under whose aegis I write this blog) features a cover story on Durham, N.C. — really a set of several articles, including Diane Lea’s look at the city’s architectural past, present and future and a great write-up by Morton Neal on “America’s Foodiest Town.” (The latter made me hungry.)

Mystery Scene, to which I contribute regularly, has offered up a great new issue too, featuring a cover story on S.J. Rozan, a look back at Gregory McDonald’s famous Fletch series, an article by Charles and Caroline Todd about their new book A Matter of Justice (also see my own interview here), and Jon L. Breen’s reviews of some new scholarly books, include The Annotated Dracula (and that’s just hitting the articles I’ve read so far!). The issue also includes, I should add, my own quick look at Agatha Christie’s Mrs. Marple. (Note: As I’m writing this, Mystery Scene‘s website has not been updated with the new issue; I’ll provide links later as they become available.)

On the subject of mysteries: The Strand arrived on the same day, and I was interested to see “New Story by Mark Twain” on the cover: “The Undertaker’s Tale,” from the collection Who Is Mark Twain? (Mark Twain seems to be producing a lot of new work lately; threats of a blizzard (that never materialized) unfortunately forced several of us to miss the Olney Theatre’s production of Twain’s recently discovered play Is He Dead?)

I also received an email this week from Stop Smiling magazine, pitching their annual “20 Interviews” issue. The big sell was the last interview conducted with Roberto Bolaño (not available online, unfortunately, and I haven’t seen the full issue yet); what is available online here includes interviews with Ry Cooder and Junot Díaz, among others.

Finally — and especially timely given where we are on my syllabus at this point in the semester — the Yale Alumni Magazine brought an essay by William Zinsser, legendary writing teacher and author of the book On Writing Well. In one of my own classes this week, I’ll be teaching Joseph Mitchell’s “The Old House At Home,” and in another, I’ll be in the thick of one-on-one conferences with my students, trying to tell them what they did right and where they still need to put in more effort on their big research essays, so it was coincidental to see Mitchell discussed in the following excerpt from Zinsser’s essay, and given Zinsser’s reflections on teaching writing, I’m doubly prepped now to get my own hands dirty in those conferences:

toc_zinsser1Every week I assigned a paper in one of the forms that nonfiction commonly takes: the interview, the technical or scientific or medical article, the business article, the sports article, the humor piece, the critical review, writing about a place. I would explain the pitfalls and special requirements of the genre, often reading one of my own pieces to demonstrate how I had tried to solve the problem, or reading passages by writers I admired who had brought distinction to a particular form: Alan Moorehead, Joan Didion, V. S. Pritchett, Norman Mailer, Garry Wills ’61PhD, Virgil Thomson. I wanted my students to know that nonfiction has an honorable literature — they were entering the land of H. L. Mencken and George Orwell and Joseph Mitchell.

Mitchell had been the most influential journalist for nonfiction writers of my generation. His long New Yorker articles about the New York waterfront were gems of reporting and humanity; the “ordinary” people he wrote about were never patronized or judged. But he had perversely allowed his books to go out of print, and the students in my class had never heard of him until I brought in some passages to read….

When I first taught my course I assumed that I would achieve most of my teaching with my didactic little talk explaining the form that the students had been assigned next. I sent them forth to do a travel piece or a sports piece or an interview in full confidence that they would apply all the hard-won principles I had so lucidly imparted. But when their papers came back, only about 20 percent of those principles had made it onto the page; pitfalls I had specifically warned against were repeatedly fallen into. The moral was clear: crafts don’t get learned by listening. If you want to be an auto mechanic you take an engine apart and reassemble it, and the teacher points out that you have put the carburetor in wrong. I would need to get my hands dirty making sure every carburetor was properly installed.

The full essay, “First, use plain English,” is well worth the read — for writing teachers, for writers, or for anyone. 

Add to Facebook: post to facebook


Civil Rights Era Mystery Novels

September 29, 2008

The latest issue of Mystery Scene has just arrived and features, as always, a wealth of information about the mystery genre — from an article on new legal thrillers to another on mysteries set in Maryland to another on fall TV programs (including a quick preview of True Blood, the vampire series based on Charlaine Harris’ books). This issue also features an interview with hot new novelist Tana French (whose books I was lucky enough to review in the Washington Post and Metro Magazine) and a talk on writing with Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake) as several of his early novels are being republished.

I’m pleased to be included in this issue myself, with the article “Murder in Black & White: Novels of the Civil Rights Era.” This article — first presented in a slightly different form as a scholarly paper at the last meeting of the Society for the Study of Southern Literature — seeks to examine how genre writers explore pressing contemporary social issues. Raymond Chandler long ago argued for the genre’s ability to engage and explore real world problems, and we often see “ripped from the headlines” plots on television today (Law & Order is particularly adept at these), but I was curious how well novelists from the Civil Rights Era — those writing both about the era and from within the era — were able to navigate the rapidly changing politics and social mores. Joe L. Hensley’s The Color of Hate, for example, boasted a cover that seemed to play up some tawdry and prurient elements of its story, but was the novel itself a case of exploration or exploitation?  Both Ed Lacy’s Room to Swing and John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night won Edgar Awards (in 1957 and 1965, respectively), but how well did each book capture the times in a way that might be useful to today’s readers? In short, was that “ripped from the headlines” quality an asset to the pertinence and staying power of such books or just a selling point that ultimately sold readers — readers both then and now — short?

To some degree, my interest in these questions was prompted by the recent republication of Shepard Rifkin’s 1970 novel The Murderer Vine by Hard Case Crime — the first time in over 35 years that the book has been in print. As is their tradition, Hard Case Crime also chose to give the reissue a provocative and even slightly titillating cover, but the true event from which the story grew was nothing but serious — in fact, it was one of the pivotal moments in the evolution of the Civil Rights Era: the killing of three civil rights workers — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner — in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer voter registration drive. My interest in that mixing of real-world, high-stakes events with the elements of genre fiction was deepened when I taught Chester Himes’ Cotton Comes to Harlem in one of my classes at Mason last semester. And the essay grew from there.

No need to detail too much of the argument here, since the magazine itself is available now. But did want to call attention to it for readers either interested in this chapter in American history or intrigued by the question of whether genre fiction can hold its own with more literary titles when it come to trenchant analyses of the world around us.

— Art Taylor

Add to Facebook:  post to facebook

%d bloggers like this: