Wednesday, March 31, 2010

2010 Spinetingler Awards

I can't believe it, but I was nominated again for Best Reviewer for the Spinetingler Awards, along with one of my best friends, Jen Forbus. Congratulations, Jen! (Here's something weird. Today's Jen's birthday. Tomorrow is my birthday, and my college roommate's, Jamie Shaheen.)

And, congratulations to friends, and nominees, Sophie Littlefield and Hilary Davidson as well!

So, here's the link to the award nominations.

Stop by, and vote!

May Treasures in My Closet

It's hard to believe it's already the end of the month, and time to talk about the May book releases. I only have nine May titles in my closet at the moment, but it might give me a chance to catch up with the two dozen April books that are there. There are some hot titles in this stack, so make sure you get them ordered from your favorite bookstore, or placed on reserve at your local library.

You can't kick off May any better than with a new Jack Reacher novel. Lee Child's latest book is 61 Hours (Delacorte Press). A bus accident in a blizzard strands Reacher in Bolton, South Dakota, landing him in a deadly confrontation. I've read terrific reviews about this thriller, a story that gives Reacher only sixty-one hours for a final showdown.

In the fall of 1941, American journalist John Russell is living inside Nazi-occupied Berlin. In David Downing's Stettin Station (Soho Press), he's working as a contact between an anti-Nazi German intelligence organization, and American intelligence. Even as he investigates the disappearance of Berlin Jews, he's trying to find a way out of Germany.

In Barbara Fister's Through the Cracks (St. Martin's Minotaur), PI Anni Koskinen's investigation of a serial rapist uncovers a connection to Chicago politics. How can a politically ambitious Attorney's prosecution of a rape case twenty years earlier tie in with a missing woman?

May marks the return of one of my favorite authors, with a new publisher. Chris Grabenstein brings John Ceepak and Danny Boyle back to the Jersey shore in Rolling Thunder (Pegasus Books). A prominent citizen suffers a heart attack on opening day of a brand new roller coaster. But, suspicions of foul play bring Ceepak and Boyle into the case.

Petra Hammesfahr's The Lie (Bitter Lemon Press) is considered one of Germany's best psychological suspense novels. It topped the bestseller lists for fifteen months, and now it's available in English, translated by Mike Mitchell. Two women who look uncannily alike begin a deadly game, as wealthy Nadia asks Susanne to spend the weekend with her husband, so she can sneak off with a lover. And, one weekend leads to a web of lies.

Ned Kelly Award winner Adrian Hyland brings us a character and setting most of us are unfamiliar with in Gunshot Road (Soho Press). Emily Tempest is half-white, half-Aboriginal, a woman who left home to get an education, and returned to the area where she grew up. Appointed Aboriginal Community Police Officer, she investigates the murder of an elderly geologist, while dealing with her racially mixed community.

Diana Janes' debut novel, The Pull of the Moon (Soho Constable) is described as a "fast-paced mystery that switches seamlessly from past to present, weaving the story of a deadly summer home and the woman who never told its thirty-year-old secret." Kate Mayfield has long been haunted by a summer and a vanished girl, but the request to return to that summer home means her secret may finally be revealed.

Stefanie Pintoff has been nominated for an Edgar Award for her debut novel, In the Shadow of Gotham. Her follow-up novel is A Curtain Falls (St. Martin's Minotaur). Detective Simon Ziele fled New York City after the death of his fiancé in the General Slocum ferry disaster. But, his former partner, Captain Declan Mulvaney needs his assistance when it seems there is a serial killer attacking New York chorus girls. Is there a monster loose in turn-of-the-century New York?

Olen Steinhauer brings back reluctant spy Milo Weaver in The Nearest Exit (St. Martin's Minotaur). When Milo is forced to turn back to his old job as a "tourist," he must prove his loyalty. How dangerous is a man caught between foes, patriots and traitors, life and death?

There are only nine May book releases in my closet at the moment. But, there are some excellent selections among them. I hope you find something to entice you into a book.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Red Delicious Death by Sheila Connolly

If you're not already a fan of Sheila Connolly's Orchard mysteries, Mary Ann Lasher's cover illustration should reach out and grab you. Lasher's book cover beautifully summarizes Connolly's latest mystery, Red Delicious Death. Apples, an old house with an inviting porch, a chef's hat, and a bee. I could just tell you that's my summary of this inviting book, but I won't.

Meg Corey has been in her house in Granford, Massachusetts for about six months, and it was only recently that she learned she had inherited an apple orchard. Between restoring the house, learning about her orchard, working with her orchard manager, and getting to know Seth Chapin, her neighbor and a town selectman, she doesn't have much extra time. But, with the lack of local restaurants, she jumps when a friend calls saying some young chefs are hoping to open a restaurant in the area. Soon, Meg is acting as business advisor, friend, and mother hen to three eager young people. Their ideas of buying local food for the restaurant excite most of the town. But, someone must not have been very happy, because it isn't too long before one of them is found dead in a farmer's pig field.

I'm hoping Sheila Connolly can avoid the Cabot Cove syndrome with her Orchard mysteries. Granford is a very small town, but it's a perfect setting for these stories. It's been enjoyable watching the developing relationship between Meg, her orchard manager, Seth, and the rest of the community. Meg is starting to find her place in Granford. Connolly has created an interesting town in Granford, and Meg's volunteer work for the historical society opens up another aspect of the village, its past. And, the story of Granford's past has been an integral element to each of these books.

Red Delicious Death is another treat by Sheila Connolly. But, the author isn't one to rest on her laurels. Just when the reader thinks they're satisfied with this latest book, she ends the book with one word that leaves us impatient for the next Orchard mystery. Well done, Sheila!

Sheila Connolly's website is

Red Delicious Death by Sheila Connolly. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2010. ISBN 9780425233436 (paperback), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, in hopes I would review it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Penguin Group (USA) & April Book Releases

Check out the April book releases from Penguin Group (USA), the mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian. And, thank you to the two guests featured in today's book chats.

FTC Full Disclosure - All of these books were sent by Penguin Group (USA).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Library Blog Awards

Lesa's Book Critiques has been nominated for The Library Blog Awards. This is what it says on the website for Salem Press.

"As you are probably aware, blogs about libraries have spread across the web. There are (literally) hundreds of people writing about books, libraries, librarians and related subjects. If you count the blogs that come from specific institutions, spreading local news, there are thousands of the things. Some are funny. Some are brilliant. Others, aren't.

"Salem Press' staff includes many fans of library blogs. We're entertained and enlightened by them. So, we've decided to recognize the best efforts in the field. Not only to praise the praise-worthy but also to publicize the good stuff. To that end, we're hosting something we call the Library Blog Awards. We think there should be a well-organized directory of library blogs and a "peoples' awards" program of some kind to let folks know what blogs are best-liked and most widely read.

"So Salem Press is going to host the Library Blog Awards. Complete with cash prizes. These awards won't be at Salem's whim. (Well, not solely at Salem's whim. We are represented on this panel by Peter Tobey, a publisher, editor and author who now works at Salem Press.) We've also enlisted some terrific judges from other walks of life:

"The Editor Judge: Mirela Roncevic, Editor-in-Chief of IGI Global's forthcoming Advances in Library Information Science book series. Prior to her current position, Mirela was Senior Editor at Library Journal, where she directed the magazine's coverage of print and electronic reference sources, managed arts, literature, and philosophy reviews, and wrote extensively on the state of online publishing and librarianship.

"The Public Library Judge: Barry Miller, Acquisitions librarian at Austin Public Library, a frequent contributor and reviewer for Library Journal, and one of the best writers in the library world.

"The Academic Library Judge: Brian Coutts is head of the Department of Library Public Services at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. He's co-author of three reference books and a contributor to several others. No stranger to the judging business, Brian has selected the "Best Reference Sources of the Year" for Library Journal for more than two decades. He chairs the Resources for College Libraries Editorial Board and serves on the ACRL Publications Coordinating Committee.

"The Academic School Library Judge: Caroline Geck, a school librarian at Peshine Avenue Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey. Caroline is a frequent reviewer in a variety of categories for both Library Journal and School Library Journal.

But we'll go beyond an annual celebration and related hoopla. We will also build a website that monitors library blogs and updates folks on especially interesting thoughts and news. You'll be able to scan the gist of several recent posts and then drill down to the blogs themselves."

My notification of this nomination said, "Congratulations. Your blog has been nominated for a Library Blog Award by readers of it. You should be thrilled so many think so much of what you have to say. You are among a number of nominees that our judges will consider. Best of luck to you. We hope that our awards will publicize the most interesting, entertaining and provocative library blogs out there."

What an honor to be nominated! This is an award I don't expect to win, because my blog isn't really about libraries. It's about books. I originally started it to share my excitement about books and reading with other readers who equally enjoyed books. I think we do share our enthusiasm here, and I thank everyone who takes time to read or comment. We're all in this wonderful world of books together.

So, thank you to whoever nominated me. Let's continue to share that love of books!

Sunday Salon - The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

Alan Bradley won the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award for his first Flavia de Luce mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. And, that book just won the Dilys Winn award from the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association for the book they most enjoyed selling last year. Is it any wonder mystery readers were eagerly awaiting Flavia's return in The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag?

If you haven't met Flavia de Luce yet, she's a precocious eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and poisons. And, once she solved her first murder case, she now considers herself an able assistant to the local police. With her knowledge of the villagers in Bishop's Lacey, and her curiosity, and her ability to portray an innocent eleven-year-old, Flavia is the perfect sleuth. In fact, her curiosity about death extends so far that she spends time pretending to be a corpse in the local cemetery. "I was lying dead in the churchyard," is the opening sentence that leads to Flavia's involvement in her latest case.

Interrupted in her death scene by a bird, Flavia finds a crying woman. Her inquisitiveness leads her to befriend Nialla, who plays Mother Goose in a traveling puppet show. Rupert Porson owns Porson's Puppets, and his van broke down near the cemetery. Flavia forces herself into their business, and, when the vicar asks them to do a puppet show, eagerly learns everything she can before succumbing, like any eleven-year-old, to the magic of the puppet theatre. But, she's as shocked as any of the other villagers when she sees that the Jack puppet, from Jack in the Beanstalk, looks just like a five-year-old boy that was found hanged near his parents' farm five years earlier.

And, as Flavia observes, Rupert seems to stir up all kinds of trouble in the area, not just with his puppet. There are the women who love him, the BBC executive who is mad at him, and the farmer he argues with. Throw in the local mad woman, a former German POW, and it seems as if any one of them could have carefully planned the unforgettable exit scene for a man of the theatre.

Once again, Flavia comes to life as the neglected youngest daughter in an eccentric British household in 1950. Her investigations keep her busy, giving her the attention and approval she craves. At the same time, she is a tragic figure, a lost little girl with no one that actually loves her. And, even her sisters torment her with the stories that her mother was depressed after she was born, and that's why the mysterious Harriet died tragically in an accident. Alan Bradley is brilliant in his portrayal of a young girl, wise beyond her years, but still an innocent child at heart. Even Flavia acknowledges she's in that in-between stage of life, while watching the puppet show. "I'm at that age when I watch such things with two minds, one that cackles at these capers and another that never gets much beyond a rather jaded and self-conscious smile, like the Mona Lisa." The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag continues Flavia's story, and is even better than the first book.

Alan Bradley will be appearing for Authors @ The Teague on Thursday, April 1 at 2 p.m. If you're in the Phoenix area, I hope you can join us!

Alan Bradley's website is

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley. Random House, ©2010. ISBN
9780385342315 (hardcover), 384p.

FTC Full Disclosure: I bought my copy of the book. I couldn't resist when, in Bradley's Acknowledgements, it says, "Thanks, too, to Lesa Holstine and Cathy Johnson, for a very special evening during which we talked happily about everything under the sun." Thanks to Barbara Peters at the Poisoned Pen for that very special evening. You can read about it here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Twitter Book by Tim O'Reilly & Sarah Milstein

Do you Twitter? How did you learn what to do on it? If you're like me, you poked around on it, and learned everything by yourself. I wish I'd known about Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein's The Twitter Book a year ago, when it first came out.

If you're not familiar with Twitter, or have been curious about it, the book tells you what Twitter is good for, everything from keeping up with breaking news to communicating with other people in areas of interest. I've watched award shows, while all of us tweeted about the winners. This book suggests ways to find people to follow, and how to make the most of Twitter.

Twitter limits users to 140 characters to answer the question, "What are you doing?" The Twitter Book provides ideas and examples of things to post. Then it provides ways to make the best use of Twitter, including Retweeting, or repeating what others have written.

I understand The Twitter Book is a year old, and things change rapidly in the world of social media. Even so, I've found a number of tips that may prove helpful. It's a useful book for those of us who learned our own way around Twitter, as well as for those who haven't tried it yet. O'Reilly and Milstein have written a useful tool for anyone who Twitters.

I can be found on Twitter at @LesaHolstine, or

The Twitter Book by Tim O'Reilly and Sarah Milstein. O'Reilly Media, Incorporated, ©2009. ISBN 9780596802813 (paperback), 234p.

FTC Full Disclosure: Library book

Friday, March 26, 2010

Linda Fairstein at The Poisoned Pen

Linda Fairstein kicked off the program at the Poisoned Pen by saying it was always a pleasure to return since Barbara Peters had believed in her since her first book, Final Jeopardy.

Linda said she had the idea of setting Hell Gate at Gracie Mansion for a couple years. Way back then, she had the odd idea that it might make the perfect setting for a political scandal. That was just about the time of the Eliot Spitzer scandal. Spitzer was the Governor of New York who was discovered to be a client of some ladies of the night. Fairstein said she had worked with Spitzer in the Manhattan District Attorney's office. People who knew him were shaken at the discovery. He was a colleague of hers, and, therefore, a colleague of Alex Cooper's.

Then, there was the true story of the Congressman from Staten Island who was discovered to have two families, one in New York, and one in D.C. That was uncovered when he was in a car accident in D.C., rushing his baby to the hospital. Linda said she didn't know about John Edwards and Governor Sanford of South Carolina when she was writing Hell Gate. If she had, she would have had to tone it down. Truth is really stranger than fiction.

In Hell Gate, Fairstein chose to explore City Hall and the tensions that arise when something happens. There can be conflict between the DA and the Mayor.

New York is one of five cities in America that gave a house for the mayor to live in. In 1942, it became the mayor's house. Gracie Mansion is one of three wooden mansions in Manhattan. Fairstein has a three-minute video of it on her website. Mayor Bloomberg lives in a newer mansion, his own. Hell Gate is the spot of water seen from the vista of Gracie Mansion. Since there's no one living in Gracie Mansion, she could do bad things there. The mansion has been restored, and they let her in to do research. Then, she had her breakfast book launch at Gracie Mansion.

In Hell Gate, Fairstein deals with the chain of command. In past books, she's focused on politics, but has never shown how the political situations developed. There's huge infighting between the DA, the federal prosecutor, and the Mayor. Alex Cooper gets caught in the politics. There's a great deal of spin doctoring, trying to keep some of the political stories out of the news. Alex feels the tension. It's the first time political figures have been involved as suspects.
It doesn't help that in New York, the police commissioner is appointed by the Mayor. This book builds on tension in previous books.

Fairstein has a great deal of Mike Chapman in this book. And, there's a scene with him that allows her to show the domestic side of Alex. Mike Chapman hears his own drummer. He's a compilation of the best and brightest of New York police. Most of the police Fairstein worked with in her position as head of the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan DA's office, were bright and highly educated. She said they taught her a lot. Mike isn't one person that she knew, although at least ten guys think they're Mike Chapman. But, those police officers were great friends and colleagues.

Linda was asked where the kernel of a new book comes to her. She answered that she asks herself what world does she want to go into. Once she decided this world was politics, she looked for a place to set it. Gracie Mansion was perfect. Then, she added that City Hall was built on a potter's field. In her last book, Lethal Legacy, the New York Public Library was the world and the place. Linda said she's always looking for places. She carries the characters and writing in her head. She said it's cheating to write a series, because those characters become friends, and they're always in her head.

Barbara Peters asked if we could sneak a look at Linda Fairstein's next book. She said there isn't a title yet, but it deals with the religious institutions in the city. A body is found in a Baptist Church in Harlem. Fairstein said there is Hebrew lettering on a stained glass window, and a pediment with a Hebrew date. Until 1920, that neighborhood was home to Jews. There are ten Baptist churches there that were synagogues.

And, everyone knows St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. But, Fairstein said someone told her about old St. Patrick's. St. Patrick's Old Cathedral was built before the current one, and it's in Little Italy. Fairstein went on to say she learned about some of the stained glass windows in the churches from Hilary Davidson. Davidson's day job is to write Frommer's Travel Guides, and she wrote about the stained glass windows. Davidson has a novel coming out, The Damage Done, and Fairstein blurbed it.

Barbara Peters suggested that maybe Fairstein should write a book about the places where Alex has been.

Someone in the audience mentioned the Jennifer Levin case that Fairstein prosecuted. Linda said in 1986 Jennifer Levin was killed behind the Metropolitan Museum by Robert Chambers. After he killed her, he sat on the wall, watched, and waited. People said they talked to him, and saw deep scratches on him. He was 19 at the time. He did fifteen years for murder. Fairstein said it was a case of hubris. He became a drug addict while in prison. Once he got out, he was selling cocaine and heroin out of a very nice apartment. There was an undercover operation; he was arrested, and he's now in jail, perhaps for life, for the sale of drugs.

A gentleman brought up the General Slocum disaster. Barbara Peters said that's interesting because she was giving away an ARC of Stefanie Pintoff's new book, A Curtain Falls, and that passenger ship disaster is mentioned in both of Pintoff's books, her new one, and her Edgar Award nominated, In the Shadow of Gotham. The General Slocum was a passenger ship that caught fire in Hell Gate. It was the single largest loss of life in New York City history until 9/11. Fairstein added that Hell Gate also had the largest man-made detonation until the A-bomb.

Barbara Peters asked Linda to tell the story of her first novel, Final Jeopardy, because she liked it. Fairstein said she was prosecuting full-time when she wrote a nonfiction book that came out in 1993. She thought about writing a novel, and her editor told her not to get carried away. So she took August off in 1995, thinking she would work on a novel. But, it was difficult to write every day at the place where she always enjoyed her vacation. Her husband bet her $1000 that she couldn't finish it by Labor Day. That was lots of money to a public servant. On Labor Day, she typed The End. The challenge spurred her on, and her husband did pay off. Barbara mentioned that Linda's husband is a famous lawyer, and he's used to deadlines. Linda said she was always on deadline in her prosecutorial job. She said the discipline was the hardest for her. She had a full-time day job, and now she had to sit in a room, and not walk on the beach when she was used to vacationing. Now, she loves the process and the people and friends she's made in that world.

When asked about research, Fairstein said research is better than the walk on the beach to get lost in. But, you have to know when to stop. Lethal Legacy is dense, and a slower speed. Hell Gate is a faster paced novel. She and Barbara agreed that when Alex doesn't get a chance to get away to Martha's Vineyard, the novel is a faster paced one. The story dictates the place and the pace. Fairstein said Martha's Vineyard allows Alex to step away from her job, except in the very first book, Final Jeopardy.

If you would like to see Barbara Peters' entire interview with Linda Fairstein, you can find it on YouTube on the Authors Events Channel, here.

Linda Fairstein's website is Check out her video clip about Gracie Mansion.

Hell Gate by Linda Fairstein. Penguin Group (USA), ©2010. ISBN 9780525951612 (hardcover), 400p.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Winners and the Male of the Species

Congratulations to the winners of the latest contest. Beth Solheim's At Witt's End will go to Iasa D. from Hurst, TX. Grey Matters by Clea Simon will go to Sabin B. of Castle Rock, CO. I'll mail At Witt's End tomorrow, and Clea will send Grey Matters.

Does it get any more masculine than spy novels and Ernest Hemingway? Once a Spy is Keith Thomson's debut novel. What happens when a CIA agent develops Alzheimer's? Charlie Clark always thought his father was an appliance salesman. When he brings his father, Drummond, back to his apartment, and it's blown up, he blames his losing streak at the track. He never thought someone might be after his father. It's an exhausting, exhilarating chase once Charlie realizes his father might be the target. I have an autographed ARC to give away.

Or you could win Print the Legend by Craig McDonald. McDonald sent an autographed copy of the latest Hector Lassiter novel. On July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide. Or did he? Four years later, Hemingway's oldest friend, Lassiter, and Professor Richard Paulson, show up to confront Hemingway's widow. While crime novelist Lassiter is looking for lost manuscripts, Paulson is convince Mary Hemingway killed her husband.

So, do you want to win Once a Spy or Print the Legend? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries for each. If you'd like to win one, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read either, Win "Once a Spy" or Win "Print the Legend." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, April 1 at 6 p.m. PT. The winners will be drawn by random number generator. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

There's something about Sarah Addison Allen's novels that draws me right in. It might be the magical characters. The small towns are unusual, secretive places. I know the beautiful turn of phrase doesn't hurt. It might be the happy endings. And, the gorgeous covers on these books don't hurt. Her debut novel, Garden Spells, was wonderful. The Sugar Queen included the same magical qualities, although it couldn't beat that first book, in my opinion. But, The Girl Who Chased the Moon is another stellar story by an author who has become a favorite.

When Emily Benedict showed up at her grandfather's door in Mullaby, North Carolina, she knew nothing about him, or the unusual town. But, her mother had died, and Emily went to her only living relative. She didn't know her grandfather was known as "The Giant of Mullaby." She didn't know her mother's story, that the town shunned her for her own actions as a teenager. And, she didn't know that the Mullaby lights, and a few people, would change her life, and their own.

It wasn't long before Julia Winterson, owner of a barbecue joint, and a master of baking cakes, took Emily under her wing. Julia had been a troubled teen, and she recognized someone in need. She didn't want to recognize her own need for Sawyer Alexander. Sawyer was kind, and represented the best of Southern gentility, but, "Staring at an Alexander man too long was like staring at the sun."

But it was Win Coffey's friendship with Emily that shocked the town, and his family. Win Coffey knew the story of the relationship between his uncle and Emily's mother, but it would take courage to tell Emily that story.

Magic and giants, mysterious lights, romance and secrets. Only Sarah Addison Allen can bring them together in a believable story. And, the town of Mullaby, and its people, certainly have their secrets. There are powerful secrets that can destroy souls, or, when shared and revealed, can enchant and bring love. Allen is slow to reveal them in this delicious, heady novel, The Girl Who Chased the Moon.

Sarah Addison Allen's website is

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen. Bantam Books, ©2010. ISBN 9780553807219 (hardcover), 288p.

FTC Full Disclosure: Library book

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guest Blogger - Diane Fanning

Today, it's my pleasure to welcome Diane Fanning as guest blogger. She might not be the person you think she is. I'll let Diane tell you about herself. Thank you, Diane.


MISTAKEN IDENTITY is the name of my just released book but it also could be something you’d call me if you did a Google search of Diane Fanning. You’d find links to Diane Fanning, the True Crime writer. Yes, that’s me, I have had ten books in that genre published by St. Martin’s Press.

You’d also find links to Diane Fanning, fiction writer. That’s me, too. MISTAKEN IDENTITY is my third book in my mystery series featuring a Virginia-based Homicide Detective. And for my local Texas readers, it’s the book that takes the detective on a fact-finding trip to the Lone Star state.

Google will take you to a number of other places that are not me—like many links to news stories about a rude Diane Fanning in North Carolina, a travel site with a comment about a cruise from a woman with my name who is married to a guy named Jim, and a language arts teacher in the Houston area.

So who am I? I’ve been a waitress, a veterinary assistant and a 9-year-old girl who barely escaped a stranger abduction. I’ve worked in radio, television, an advertising agency and non-profit organizations. Right now, I am a full-time crime writer—authoring books in both fiction and non-fiction.

I am best known for my True Crime books—being a finalist for an Edgar Award certainly helped there. And I continue to write in that genre—my latest being a book about the Caylee Anthony story titled MOMMY’S LITTLE GIRL. My current non-fiction project is a book about Raynella Dossett Leath. She claimed her first husband, the Knox County Attorney General, was killed in a cattle stampede. She said her second husband committed suicide. She has been found guilty of the murder of hubby #2 and is now facing a trial in the death of her first spouse.

But, I also write fiction. My current writing obsession here is the troubled detective, Lucinda Pierce. Like many people involved in the world of crime in real life, Lucinda’s world is filled with dark passages, that propelled her into a career in law enforcement. As a teenager, she watched her father shoot her mother and then committed suicide. As a police officer, she suffered facial disfigurement from a shotgun blast while on a domestic violence call.

In a synchronicity I didn’t notice until after the fact, my first two True Crime books were about serial killers as were my first two Lucinda books. With my non-fiction, I shifted to a more personal crime in the third book as I did with MISTAKEN IDENTITY. In this novel, clues are contradictory, motivation obscured by lies and the hidden secrets are bizarre. It follows Lucinda as she unravels the complexities of a double murder that reveals the depth of childhood scars and the costs of irresponsible parenting.

If you’d like to get a taste of this book and a feel for my style, you can read the first chapter on my website. In fact, if you go to the Reading Room page, you can click a cover and read an excerpt from any one of my books. Other places you’ll find me are on my personal blog, Writing Is A Crime; and on a cooperative blog, Women in Crime Ink.


Thank you, Diane, for taking time for the guest blog. Check out the book trailer for Mistaken Identity.

Mistaken Identity by Diane Fanning. Severn House, ©2010. ISBN 9780727868664 (hardcover0, 224p.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wild Ride by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Are demons the new vampires? I was finishing Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer's new book, Wild Ride, today, a story involving demons, when I had library patrons requesting other titles containing demons. It just seemed odd. And, that's a good description of Wild Ride, odd.

Dreamland is an amusement park in Ohio, desperately in need of renovation. Ray Brannigan put up the money to renovate it, in exchange for a 50% share in the park. But, Ray has plans to take over the park. The rest of the shares are owned by a team of people who desperately need to hold on to the park. Known as the Guardia, they are guards of a group of five demons, keeping them trapped in figures at the park. But, as Halloween approaches, the demons start to escape. And, one demon, the devil, Kharos, has his own plans for the Guardia and the park.

Mary Alice Brannigan, Mab, has no knowledge of any of this. Although she's Ray's niece, she never liked or trusted him. But, she's always been fascinated by Dreamland, a park she was never allowed to enter as a child. Now, she's skilled at restoring anything relating to a carnival. But, the woman who describes herself as, "I have no charm. I'm no beauty. I dress like a tramp and not the slutty kind," will discover she has a power the Guardia need if they're to maintain control of the park and the demons.

As usual for a Crusie/Mayer novel, there's romance, attempted humor, suspense, and Special Forces. This time, throw in a special government team investigating anything having to do with Area 51, the unknown. But, I don't know if it's demons and possession, but this book just fell flat. None of the characters came to life, and it may be because of the unbelievable premise. In my opinion, if you want to read a terrific novel by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, skip Wild Ride. Go back and read their earlier book, Agnes and the Hitman. That's the one that shows them at their best, with a funny plotline, terrific characters, romance, and a frying pan. Wild Ride is a kiddy ride in comparison.

The authors' website is

Wild Ride by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. St. Martin's Press, ©2010. ISBN 9780312533779 (hardcover), 368p.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thomson, Kaufman & Wiley at the Poisoned Pen

St. Patrick's Day was an interesting evening at the Poisoned Pen. Three authors were scheduled at 7 p.m., Keith Thomson, Tom Kaufman, and Michael Wiley, but I was lucky enough to be early, and have the chance to sit in while the Association of Former Intelligence Officers talked to Keith Thomson. Thomson, who writes about the intelligence community for the Huffington Post, discussed his debut novel, Once a Spy.

Once a Spy is the story of a former spy, now retired, who is suffering from Alzheimer's. He's seen as a threat to leak secrets, so for the greater good, it's decided that he needs to be neutralized, the nice term for killed. His son, a professional horseplayer, is a ne'er-do-well. The two of have estranged for years. The son grew up thinking his father was an appliance salesman, and it takes him a while to realize the violence occurring is not directed at him, since he's in debt to the tune of $23,000 to Russian loan sharks. Once he realizes his father is a target, the chase is on. And, it's a chase book, mostly set in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The people have them are quite sophisticated, using traffic cams and gadgets, including a bat drone. It's a drone that flaps like a bat and uses sonar in caves. It recharges its own battery, and people fifty miles away can see via the drone. Thomson said his publisher is saying it's an international spy novel, and, with the bad guy's connections to Martinique and Havana, it does have foreign intrigue.

I snuck out of that discussion to move over and hear Tom Kaufman and Michael Wiley. Tom Kaufman was there to discuss his debut novel, Drink the Tea, and Wiley was promoting his second book, The Bad Kitty Lounge. Both men were winners
of the same competition, the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) & St. Martin's Press Best First Private Eye Novel, awarded to a previously unpublished author. The prize is publication.

They said PWA defines a private eye as an investigator who is not paid institutionally, but is paid. That means they're not an amateur sleuth. Technically, an investigative journalist could be considered a PI, because they are paid. The PWA presents the Shamus award for the best PI novel. Again, the PI must be paid, and they owe loyalty to a client, not an institution that employs them full-time.

Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, said she thought the private eye grew out of the western. Wiley said he thought it went back to Shakespeare, and Hamlet, while Kaufman said it goes back even further. He said it goes back to the knight errant who roamed the country, helping others, and breaking rules. Like the knight, the PI has a moral code in what they're doing for the client's issues. They consider the client's best interests, even though it sometimes causes tension between the client and the PI. In fact, Marlowe's The Big Sleep has a tribute to Sir Thomas Malory, with a "cheesy" moment when the Lady in the Lake is portrayed in stained glass.

Kaufman, who is a director and cameraman, said he went to USC film school, and that's where he became interested in mysteries. A friend introduced him to Chandler in his freshman year. He had the best experience discovering mysteries and private investigators. Wiley said Chandler was also his first love in the field. He read and reread him. They agreed with Barbara that Chandler is more popular than Dashiell Hammett because Chandler's stories are character-based. Hammett was a PI himself, and he was interested in the procedure more than the character. They all admired Chandler's sense of place, LA. Kaufman said Chandler was educated in England, but had an ear for American slang, an ear for dialogue. They also said everyone owes something to Hammett and Chandler. They did say it was interesting that Robert B. Parker, who did his PhD on Chandler, turned more like Hammett in his later writing as it became very sparse.

Michael Wiley's books are set in Chicago. Kaufman's are set in Washington, D.C., as are those of George Pelacanos. Tom said Pelacanos is a neighbor, but he doesn't write about the same D.C. Kaufman said there are two Washingtons, one on Capital Hill, and the other is spitting distance away. That D.C. has other problems including drugs. Kaufman wanted to show how uneasy it is between those two worlds. He works in D.C., and shot documentaries about the homeless. There's a homeless veteran in his book, Drink the Tea. And, he shot political ads with focus groups. That's part of the book. Kaufman said it's hard to avoid politics in a PI novel set in D.C. But, Pelecanos does avoid politics. The federal government and the Capital isn't his focus.

Wiley said Chicago is synonymous with crime and corruption. He likes to go into the neighborhoods. He hasn't lived in the city for twelve years, but since moving, it puts the city in greater relief. He includes the coldness and hardness of the city. He and Barbara, who is from Chicago, agreed that the city still has qualities of blood in the gutters. It's a brawling city.

Wiley's first book was set in Little Vietnam. Chicago is a segregated city. But, there's an extraordinary park system, seventeen miles, available to Chicagoans. Chicago is a beautiful garden city, but, block by block, it's segregated.

Tom mentioned that D.C. and Chicago both had beautiful mansions built in the 1920s. Then the children of the wealthy builders didn't want to live in the city. In D.C., those mansions are now embassies. In Chicago, there are incredible mansions in bad neighborhoods.

When Wiley and Kaufman discussed the complex girlfriend relationships in their books, Barbara Peters said committed couples are hard to deal with in PI novels; there's too much baggage. It's the same when a woman detective has kids. What does she do with them when she's on a case? Wiley has an eleven-year-old named Jason in his latest book, the nephew of his detective. He said kids do cause more problems. What does his character do with the kid?

Once Keith Thomson joined the group, he introduced his book, and told some of the earlier stories about Once a Spy. He said the sequel, Twice a Spy, is due at Doubleday. And, Sony bought the movie rights. Kaufman has already submitted the sequel to his book. St. Martin's likes the book, Son of an Elephant, but they're waiting to see how Drink the Tea does. It has the same detective, and a lot of the same people.

Michael Wiley said he has sleazy titles. The Bad Kitty Lounge, his current book, will be followed by the third with St. Martin's, A Bad Night's Sleep.

Kaufman's debut novel is called Drink the Tea. The title is based on a tea ceremony. George Pelecanos asked him what kind of private eye novel can it be with a title like that. Kill or Dead isn't in the title. Wiley said he didn't get to pick the title of his first book, The Last Striptease. And, there's an unrobed, mostly naked woman on the front.

The discussion went full circle at the end, when Wiley and Kaufman said the PWA/SMP competition does reserve the right not to pick a winner. But, Steve Hamilton, Michael Koryta, Michael Wiley, and, now, Thomas Kaufman, all came out of that competition.

And, Barbara Peters, the perfect host on St. Patrick's Day, treated us to Irish soda bread, and gave away prizes, two Irish potato candies from See's Candies.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mazda 3 Hatchback

No book blog today. I spent the entire day yesterday dealing with cars. I had a 1998 Toyota RAV4 that I loved, but it was starting to make suspicious noises. When I took it to the garage yesterday, they said it would be $1000.

I'd already been looking at a replacement. I didn't want to put $1000 into the car, and turn around and get rid of it. So, I went across county and bought a 2010 Mazda 3 Hatchback. I was close, but that $1000 pushed me over the edge, and the 0% financing finished the deal.

So, an entire day in garages ended my book blogging for the day. I have a headache, and I'm sitting with a cat, Josh.

Want to see my car?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hell Gate by Linda Fairstein

Who would ever suspect that a New York politician would get picked up for DWI? Who would ever suspect that a politician might have a secret life with a second family? Unbelievable! Well, if anyone knows where the bodies are buried, it's Linda Fairstein, and she uncovers a few of them in her latest novel, Hell Gate.

Alex Cooper doesn't think it gets much worse than the disaster of a shipwrecked vessel disgorging it's victims, the human cargo of Ukrainian men and women transported to New York to become prostitutes and workers. It's a slave ship, and, in the middle of all of that human tragedy is the body of an unknown woman who appears to have been murdered. As head of the Sex Crimes Unit for the Manhattan District Attorney's office, she's part of a task force dealing with human trafficking. Before she can get her head around the problem of the women on the ship, and the dead woman, she's caught up in another case, a political hot potato.

While she and Mike Chapman, the homicide detective she frequently partners with, are on an ocean beach watching the disaster unfold, New York City's mayor, the Manhattan D.A., and the police commissioner are facing off. It seems an up-and-coming congressman was picked up after flipping his car. The charges of DWI, reckless assault, and leaving the scene might seem minor compared to the other news; he had fled after fighting with his girlfriend over their baby, but he's a married congressman with another family.

But, appearances can be deceiving. And, everyone seems to want to tangle Alex up in the politics of the cases. It will take a crime scene at Gracie Mansion, and a repeated tattoo, to tie both of Alex's cases together.

Once again, Linda Fairstein has written a fascinating crime novel that entwines contemporary social issues and crimes with the history of the city. Mike Chapman is back at the top of his game, competing for Jeopardy answers, while providing the historical background to the story. Fairstein's main characters, Alex Cooper and Mike Chapman, continue to reveal slivers of themselves. And, Fairstein reveals slivers of another character she loves, New York City. She's skilled at character and story development, and no one else writes such intriguing mysteries of New York City. Hell Gate proves that New York mystery, with all of the history and politics, belongs to Linda Fairstein.

Linda Fairstein's website is Check out her video clip about Gracie Mansion.

Hell Gate by Linda Fairstein. Penguin Group (USA), ©2010. ISBN 9780525951612 (hardcover), 400p.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Alice Hoffman, the Leonards & Scott Simon at Tucson Festival of Books

It was the perfect way to end time at the Tucson Festival of Books. I caught the tail end of Alice Hoffman's presentation, then stood in line to get a front row seat for the Elmore Leonard family, interviewed by NPR's Scott Simon.

I arrived at the program, Conversation with Alice Hoffman and Bobby Rich, just at the point where the audience started to ask questions. Alice Hoffman said her favorite book is always the next book to come, and she still writes about the fifteen-year-old girl she was.

When asked about writing about the supernatural, she said she didn't plan it that what. But, what a child or teen reads stays with you, and influences your writing.
Hoffman loved fairy tales, Edward Eager's books such as Magic by the Lake, and Ray Bradbury. Hoffman said magical realism isn't new. Magic has always been a part of literature. And, she said fairy tales spoke the truth to her as other books didn't, a psychological truth.

Questions involved Alice Hoffman's themes. She said she wrote very early about HIV in At Risk. She was pregnant at the time, and said, when you have your first child, you cross over to the other side, and worry for the rest of your life about your child. She worried about her child getting ill. Since her husband was dealing with ill children at the hospital, At Risk was written.

Someone mentioned that she uses blackbirds a lot in her books. Hoffman said symbols do arise, but she's not always conscious of it. But, she is interested in the attachment to memory and totem animals, and how people relate to them. Hoffman does live in an old house, and loves old houses. She grew up in a Levittown type of community, where every house looked the same.

She does write a lot about family mythology, and what living life gives you; what's passed down to you by mother and grandmother. Hoffman said she writes about strong women and family mythology. She has grandmother figures i her books. She was close to her grandmother from Russia, a woman who was a storyteller. Anyone who is close to their grandmother is lucky. It's a pure relationship. The first story Hoffman ever wrote was about her grandmother.

Alice Hoffman talked about the beginning of her writing career. She said she was about to drop out of high school, but a guidance counselor told her if she went to summer school, she could graduate early. So, she did, went to college, and then applied to a grad school at a university she'd never heard of, Stanford. While in a writing class there, her professor submitted one of her short stories, and it was published. A famous editor that story, and contacted her, asking her if she had a novel. She quickly wrote one, and sent it to him. He didn't publish it, but she's always been a fan of writing programs because of this experience.

The final question asked was, did Hoffman care if people read her books on paper or on a Kindle. That ended the program on a poignant note when Alice Hoffman's answer was, she didn't care, but she felt said to think books may not exist. Books are beautiful. Writing will exist, but books might not.

I couldn't have ended the weekend on a better note, a program called "The Elmore
Leonard Family with Scott Simon." Simon, the host of National Public Radio's (NPR), Weekend Edition Saturday, introduced and interviewed the family. The interview was recorded for NPR. Elmore Leonard was there, along with his son, Chris. Leonard's other son, Peter, had injured his Achilles tendon, and joined the program via speakerphone.

When Scott Simon was introduced, the announcer said Tucson could claim him because his stepfather had once played baseball for the Tucson Toros.
Simon congratulated everyone involved with the festival. He said it was a magnificent event, and he and his family had been to more than one book festival. In fact, he said his daughters were already asking if they could come back again. He said the support the festival provided for literacy was so important, and made a difference in the community.

Simon went on to ask if Representative Gabrielle Giffords was in the audience. She had asked him to participate in the festival. In return, he said, his daughters' pictures would soon be appearing on twenty dollar bills, by an act of Congress.

Simon then introduced the members of "One of America's preeminent crime families." First he introduced Elmore Leonard's sons. Chris Leonard, who once owned a restaurant in Tucson, is at work on his first novel, having written 100 pages. Peter Leonard is the author of two books. He joined the group by phone, saying he'd been holding off on his medications all day so he'd sound intelligible. And, then he introduced Elmore Leonard as one of the most successful novelists in the world. He's the author of Road Dogs, Maximum Bob, and Get Shorty, among other books. Leonard has a fresh set of characters, and a fresh storyline in each novel.

Scott Simon asked the sons what it was like to grow up with their father always plotting murders. Chris said he thought of it as his father plying his trade. He saw crushed papers in the wastebasket, and the papers that didn't make it were on the floor. Peter said he remembers him writing, with those rolled up yellow papers around. He said he was always working, and remembers him writing when they went on a trip to Florida, and the other adults were around the pool.

Leonard said he remembers his family life differently. He would stop writing at 6 p.m. He used to start at 9 a.m., and write until 6 p.m. He'd try to quit at 6, and think about something else. He found his writing fun, and satisfying. It is the most fun he can imagine having because he can write whatever he wants.

Peter said when he told his father he wanted to write screenplays, Elmore asked why. He said wanting to be a screenwriter was like wanting to be a co-pilot. Peter said it's amazing how fast the day goes now that he's writing books instead of ads. When asked if he learned anything that could carryover to writing books, Elmore said he learned nothing writing ads, and Peter agreed. Chris said the restaurant business was a grind, day-to-day, but he did witness the entire life cycle from dating to engagements, break-ups, and fights. He's also an ordained minister, and married ten couples.

Elmore Leonard's one-line answers were usually funny, as when Scott Simon asked him if he's taking things in all the time. He said, "If it's worth taking in." He said he's always listening. He learned to listen to people talk, and he was not as anxious to say what he wanted to say.

He said he likes to watch Wheel of Fortune to see the way people express themselves. Those are natural, real people, and he watches their reactions. He said that other show, Jeopardy? He thinks he should be on it because he knows all the answers. Now, though, it takes him four or five minutes to come up with the answers.

Elmore Leonard has written his books in longhand for fifty-nine years. He started on a Royal Portable, but he'd write a line, and then xxx it out. Then, he just stared at xxx. So, he writes on 8 1/2 by 11 yellow pads with no lines, buying them at 50 pads at a time, and they last him a year. He writes three pages a day, and at the end of 100 days he has a book. Now, it takes him a year to write a book.

Peter picked on Chris, and said how's that working for you, Chris, since he's been writing that book for a while. Chris said he hit a wall, but his father tells him to keep writing. The characters will tell him what to do.

Peter said Elmore told him, first you audition your characters. Then they'll show themselves, and it's almost as if you have no control. The characters become more important than the plot.

Elmore said all his scenes are written from the character's point of view. Readers are looking through his eyes. So, the language doesn't have to sound literary. Leonard doesn't use words his character wouldn't use. As an author, he doesn't want to appear in the book.

Simon mentioned that in Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing he said, never open a book with weather. Elmore responded, it's all right if you open a book with it, but you have to get out of the weather in three lines, and get into the character's reaction to it.

When asked if his books are compared to his father's, Peter said he doesn't think of it. When he writes, he doesn't wonder what Elmore would think. He did say, though, that he had dinner with his wife, and a friend, Senator Don Riegle, and told him he was writing a book. Riegle said you writing a book is like Michael Jordan's son going into the NBA. Peter said when his book came out, a crime story set in Detroit, people were very protective of his father. They said, how dare he? He told his father he was surprised that one of his ten rules wasn't "cut to the chase," and Elmore snapped back, "Make up your own list."

Most of Elmore Leonard's books have short titles. He said his next one for HarperCollins is called Jabuti, after the port in east Africa. It's about a woman film director who goes to film the pirates in Somali.

He said he had two women as his editors at HarperCollins for twenty years. The mark of a good editor is that they don't have to change anything. He now has his first male editor, and he's a little more aggressive, and he wants to edit. But, he did find something that needed to be changed.

Scott Simon asked all three men if they believed in evil. Elmore answered yes, but it's mostly selfishness or laziness, or a combination of the two. Peter said there is evil. He met a fifteen-year-old kid who had been arrested for murdering four people, and he thought the kid was evil. He had an aura, and was totally detached from the murders, as if someone else had done them. Chris still thinks his first boss in the restaurant business was evil.

Chris or Peter were to answer the question, what did you learn about literature or life from your father? Peter learned who the good writers were, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck. And, he learned how to make fried Spam for breakfast, fried Spam with jelly. Scott Simon immediately responded. "Right, there is evil in this world."

Elmore Leonard lived his life by example. He didn't tell his sons what to do. He just said, do it well, whatever you do. He's a hard-working guy, who likes his work. Elmore said he took them to a restaurant, told them about sex, and then took them to see Cleopatra. Chris said he had a lucky childhood. He adored his father. He told them what not to do, rather than what to do. Peter said he learned about dressing because his father was cool, and better dressed than the kids. Chris said he realized early on that Elmore was way cooler than he'd ever be.

In answer to a question about his depraved characters, Elmore said he doesn't think of them as depraved. He thinks of them as normal people. The guy about to rob a bank is cranky. He had to decide what he should wear to rob the bank? A mask? He gets into what doesn't quite fit with that type of character.

When asked how his books translated to movies, Elmore Leonard mentioned Be Cool. He said, when asked, he'll talk to movie people about characters. But, if you get a guy like Cedric the Entertainer in one of Elmore Leonard's stories, you know he doesn't fit. And neither did any of the other characters. He said some of his books have been made into successful pictures, but they don't look like what he wrote. Some are good, some not so good. Rum Punch, made into the movie, Jackie Brown, was the best. So, he was asked which of his books he'd like to see made into movies, and he said, "I'd like to see all of them." And, his role when his books are made into movies? Lately, he gets a chair with his name on it, "Dutch," and they ask him if he'd like to look through the monitor. That's as close as he gets to the movie. He is still getting residuals from the Charles Bronson movie, Mr. Majestyk.

One audience member asked why he quit writing westerns, and he said the market dried up. He didn't like TV westerns, since they weren't realistic enough. But, there was no market for westerns, so he switched to crime, which is always there.

The two final questions were addressed to Scott Simon and Chris Leonard. Simon said he went into journalism because it was a way to see the world, and ask impertinent questions of people he wouldn't normally get to talk to. And, Chris Leonard was asked, now that his restaurant had closed, where could they go in Tucson to get fried pickles and gator tails.

Perfect, entertaining way, to end the Tucson Festival of Books.


I needed this weekend. It gave me a chance to get away for a few days, spend time with friends, enjoy some good food. I felt as if the Tucson Festival of Books just enclosed me in a bubble, a world of books, and readers, and literacy. It was my kind of place. And, I have three friends to thank. Left to right in the picture with me is, Jenise Porter, Lisa Colcord, and Anna Caggiano. Thanks for a very special book weekend.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Winners and a Paranormal Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Jenn McKinlay's Sprinkle with Murder will go to . won the autographed copy of Rotten to the Core. I'll put them in the mail tomorrow.

This week, it's a paranormal giveaway. Clea Simon, author of Grey Matters, will send one lucky winner a copy of the book. Dulcie Schwartz is on her own. Everyone seems to have deserted her, including the ghost of her beloved cat, Mr Grey, after she finds the body of a fellow grad student. The student of Gothic literature seems to be living in her own Gothic mystery.

Or, you could win a copy of Beth Solheim's Sadie Witt mystery, At Witt's End. Sadie Witt is not only the co-owner of a resort in northern Minnesota. She can see souls, souls waiting to cross to the afterlife, and she has to help them find the reason they haven't been able to go, and help them make a decision. So, with a murder on the property, and five crossers in Cabin 14, Sadie has her hands full.

Do you want to win Grey Matters or At Witt's End? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries for each. If you'd like to win one, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read either, Win "Grey Matters" or Win "At Witt's End." Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, March 25 at 6 p.m. PT. The winners will be drawn by random number generator. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Thursday. Good luck!

Sunday Morning at Tucson Festival of Books

Sunday morning did not start out on an auspicious note for me. Before I even arrived at the first program, Craig Johnson's Another Man's Moccasins, I discovered I lost the notebook I'd where I'd been keeping my schedule and all of my notes. So, I had to sneak out early, and backtrack to my starting point in order to find it. Unfortunately, that means there is no picture of author Craig Johnson. It's a shame. I know he's a favorite of my friend, Jen Forbus, and I had hoped to say hi.

Johnson started out by saying he loves reading festivals. When he was first invited to the LATimes Book Festival, he was courted by a woman who told him they attract a quarter of a million people. When, he didn't say anything, she said, that's a lot of people. He said, yes, that's half the people that live in my state.

Another Man's Moccasins is the fourth book in Johnson's Sheriff Walt Longmire series. It was the winner of the 2009 Spur Award for Best Western Short Novel, given by the Western Writers of America. It not only is about a present-day case in Wyoming, it also takes readers back to Walt's past in Vietnam in 1967.

Johnson said the second novel is always the most difficult to write. It may take seventeen years to write the first book, but once you're under contract, the publisher wants the second book. And, that's tough. But, he looks at that first book for exploration. It's like an archaeological dig. Go back to the first book, and dig through it for stories for future books.

Sheriff Walt Longmire is an inactive Marine. By the time of Another Man's Moccasins, he has been sheriff for twenty-four or twenty-five years. But, in the first book, The Cold Dish, he tells a date about being drafted into the Marine Corps, and joining the military police. Then he tells the story of his first homicide case, when he took on the investigation in the murder of someone no one else cared about. Johnson considers Longmire the detective for the disenfranchised. Anyways, Johnson thought he wanted to hear the rest of that story, so he went back to write it as part of Another Man's Moccasins.

He said a man came up to him, with long hair and a beard, and just stood there, finally saying, "This book. This book. You were there there." Then, he looked at Craig Johnson, and said, "How old are you?" Johnson said he wasn't there; he was eight. But, his brother was there, and he talked to others, including a deputy sheriff from a county over. He was lucky enough to receive email from him asking if he could get together with him. And, when he met the deputy for breakfast, he saw the tee shirt, and knew he was a Marine. It turned out he was in Vietnam for his first term of duty from 1967-68, in the military police, and even served in the town where Johnson had placed Walt. So, he read the manuscript, and put notes in the margins, giving him more details.

Johnson had asked a number of sheriffs what their worst case scenario was, and, to a man, they all said a body dump on the interstate. A car pulls up, someone dumps a body and drives away. There's no idea who the body is; there's no crime scene. So, Johnson dumped every lawman's worst nightmare into Walt's lap. He gave him a dumped body, that turned out to be a Vietnamese girl, so Walt deals with the progression of both investigations in the course of this book.

Craig Johnson's program, including stories of sheriffs and getting published, was fascinating. Since I can't reproduce the entire program here, I hope you'll get the opportunity to hear him at your local bookstore. I'm planning to see him at the Poisoned Pen in June when his new book, Junkyard Dogs, is out.

After finding my notebook where I left it on a chair at a booth, I headed off to a panel, The Softer Side of Murder. The four mystery writers were Kate Mathis, Juliet Blackwell, C.C. Harrison, and Sophie Littlefield. The moderator began by asking them if their books actually embodied the "softer side of murder."

Kate Mathis is from Tucson, and her debut mystery is Living Lies. She said she thought if fit the theme, since there was no gruesome murder in the book. But, it's more a "mysterious stranger" book. She said she wrote what she wants to read. She made her character courageous, but Living Lies does tend to attract female readers. It has a bright pink cover, and very few men would want to carry it around. She said next time she'd like a flip down cover so men could have a cover that would appeal to them.

Julie Goodson-Lawes writes under the names of Juliet Blackwell and Hailey Lind. Julie said her books fit the category, The Soft Side of Murder. Her latest book, Secondhand Spirits, is about a witch who owns a vintage clothing shop in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. There is no explicit sex, and no gruesome details, but they are adult books. Julie said that's what is great about the mystery genre. It covers everything from blood and gore to cozies. She said cozies may feature subjects as diverse as cats or knitting. Julie commented that frankly, she finds it a little more twisted to have someone killed with a knitting needle than a gun.

C.C. Harrison just responded bluntly that she doesn't write books on the softer side. Her main characters are women who can take care of themselves. They are curious and courageous. Harrison always admired Scarlett O'Hara because she picked herself up, and rebuilt her life. So, that's the kind of character she creates.

Sophie Littlefield responded that it was an interesting question. Her book, A Bad Day for Sorry, shows a woman's legs, and the woman is holding a gun. Market research in publishing says women don't buy books with guns or helicopters on the front. And, since men don't frequently buy books by women, Sophie said she thought she wouldn't have readers. But, she's received email from women saying, like Stella, her character, they're older, and have a gun. So, to applause, Sophie said her readership is pissed off middle-aged women with gun collections.

Sophie said her favorite quote was from someone at Tucson's Clues Unlimited bookstore, who said she wrote a "bondage cozy." She herself quilted and sewed, so the victim in her book is killed with a rotary cutter. There's a fair amount of violence. She thought she'd insulted everyone with her book, and that cozy fans would be horrified. But, she said most avid readers are open to a breadth of material.

Julie said to some, cozy has become a derogatory term. Instead the preferred term is traditional mystery, in the style of Agatha Christie. The murders and sex are off scene. She mentioned the Agatha Award is presented to more traditional mysteries, and the award is a teapot with a cozy on it, probably why such mysteries have been called cozies.

The women were all asked by a man in the audience to discuss their men characters. Since the man who asked was balding, Sophie immediately responded that Goat Jones, the sheriff in her books, didn't have a lot of hair, but was all the sexier for it.

C.C. Harrison drew laughter when she said she doesn't struggle to create her male characters. She just makes them men she wasn't married to, and they turn out fabulous.

Kate Mathis said she grew up with three older brothers, and gets her male prototypes from them. And, Juliet said she even has a myth-buster in her book because she has a male witch. She went on to say she has a haunted home reconstruction business series starting in December. Her character runs her father's construction company. That's a world peopled with men.

There were numerous questions about writing, and publicising your own books, so the final agreement was that it's smart to major in marketing if you want to be an author.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Through a Glass Darkly: Crime Fiction by Dennis Palumbo

Are you tired of the recap of the Tucson Festival of Books? (Warning - I have another day to summarize!) Dennis Palumbo kindly agreed to allow me to reprint his recent column from the Huffington Post. I thought it was an important topic that you might find of interest. Thank you, Dennis.

Through a Glass Darkly: Crime Fiction as a Window on American Culture

The author Tom Wolfe (The Bonfire of the Vanities) once said that the purpose of fiction was, among other things, to chronicle a society's "status details." In other words, to give the reader a felt sense of the social, cultural and political realities of the world the novel portrays.

Usually, this task has been seen as primarily the province of the "literary" novel, such as Wharton's The Age of Innocence, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, or Updike's "Rabbit" novels. But I believe that, in a similar manner, the best crime fiction has been exploring and illuminating the contours of American society for years.

For example, to get a sense of how Los Angeles worked in the 30's and 40's -- how money and power actually operated in the lives of both the powerful and the desperate -- you need only read Raymond Chandler. The "mean streets" that private eye Phillip Marlowe walked took the reader from the monied mansions of robber barons to the back alleys of two-bit hustlers and the chumps they made their prey.

Just as, fifty years later, nobody provides a clearer view of contemporary L.A. than Michael Connelly, particularly with his Harry Bosch novels. From the O.J. trial to the Ramparts police scandal, from the self-inflicted woes of the wealthy and influential to the municipal response to torrential rains, Connelly uses his dogged police detective to dissect life in the City of Angels.

For a wry, amused and knowledgeable look at Boston society, high and low, you'll find few better guides than the late Robert B. Parker's character Spenser. Or equally few authors who capture the self-delusions and broken-hearted dreams of petty criminals as well as Elmore Leonard. And I can't think of a writer who better reveals the dark, noirish heart of the ostensibly laid-back surfer scene than Kem Nunn.

My point is, great crime fiction offers what no sociology text can provide. To feel the living, breathing essence of New Orleans, both pre- and post-Katrina, check out the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke. In similar fashion, Tony Hillerman brought the Native Americans of the modern Southwest to life in his novels about Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. Just as Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski gave fictional heft to the idea of a strong female protagonist, and Walter Mosley's "Easy" Rawlins gave us perhaps our most well-known African-American one. Since its inception as a genre, crime fiction has both mirrored and commented on society's often-tumultuous change. In short, it told the truth about it.

So forget FrontLine. If you want to get the straight dope about the thriving gun trade going on along the border between the US and Mexico, look no further than T. Jefferson Parker's thriller, Iron River.

If you want to know what it's really like to be a cop, read Joseph Wambaugh. If you want to hear the authentic street rhythms of New York's Lower East Side, read Richard Price.

What all these fine crime novelists have in common is their use of suspense and intricate plots to underscore the conflict among vivid, fully-realized characters; and, moreover, how that conflict is inevitably intensified by the social context these fictional men and women find themselves in. Utilizing the high stakes and narrative drive of crime fiction, these writers demonstrate how issues of class and status, and the yearning to re-invent oneself, continue to define the American character.

In my view, no genre of fiction illuminates the "status details" of our evolving, conflicted society better than crime fiction. Where and how that conflict is played out, and how realistically it's depicted, determines how powerfully the novel affects us.

In a line stretching from Dashiel Hammett to Dennis Lehane, from James M. Cain to George Pellicanos, from Ed McBain to Sue Grafton, the best crime fiction -- like all great fiction, period -- shows us who we are.


Dennis Palumbo is a former screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), now a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. He also writes crime fiction. His stories have appeared in EQMM, The Strand and elsewhere. His first mystery novel, Mirror Image, will be out in August from Poisoned Pen Press.

Tucson Festival of Books - Saturday Afternoon

It takes a lot for those of us who were English or Lit majors to brave buildings built for Chemistry or the hard sciences, but I was willing to do it to see some of my favorite authors of women's fiction. However, it's still a little intimidating to see signs on doors that say, "Chemistry students and staff only. High magnetic fields. Maintenance staff stay out. We'll empty our own trash." Would you want to go into those rooms?

Fortunately, the program "Women Searching (In Storytelling) with Meg Waite Clayton and Michelle Richmond wasn't held in one of those scary rooms in the Chemistry building. Meg Waite Clayton is the author of The Wednesday Sisters. I interviewed her in 2008, when the book originally came out, and I also reviewed it. But, I had never met her, or heard her talk about her writing.

Michelle Richmond is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Year of Fog. She was talking about that book, and her other novel, No One You Know.

Meg and Michelle were very comfortable together. They both live in the Bay area, and they tour, hike, and have dinner together. They also share the same editor. Meg talked about The Wednesday Sisters, the story of five women who first met over books. It's about the different way we remember things. The women formed a writing group. One woman, Linda, wants to write, and she wants all of her friends to write as well.

But, I was particularly interested in hearing about Meg's forthcoming book. The Four Ms. Bradwells is due out next January. It's the story of four women who went to law school together in 1979. They reunite when one is a nominee for the Supreme Court. Clayton said she wanted to make the nominee an immigrant, and her editor wouldn't let her, saying it wasn't going to happen. Then, one day, she called with just one phrase, Sonia Sotomayor. She was allowed to change her character back to an immigrant.

Michelle Richmond did mention the setting in a chemistry building before she started discussing her books. She said she'd always been terrorized by the periodic table, and now there she was, staring at one that took up half the wall.

Richmond's book, No One You Know, features Ellie, a woman based in San Francisco, who is a coffee buyer, and travels all over the world. Twenty years earlier, her sister, a math prodigy, was murdered. A friend of Ellie's wrote a true crime book about the murder. Ellie felt the storyteller took advantage of the friendship, and had the story wrong. She set out to find out what happened to her sister.

The Year of Fog is about the day a child went missing on Ocean Beach. Photographer Abby Mason was with her fiancé's daughter. Abby stopped to take a picture, and, by the time she looked up, Emma had disappeared. It's a story of guilt and memory. Richmond explored how we recreate memories to our own imagining.

Since many in the audience were interested in the writing process, a number of the questions had to do with how and when the authors wrote, and themes of the their books. It was an interesting program, and, before I moved on to the next program on women's fiction, I had the chance to introduce myself to Meg Waite Clayton. Thanks for the hug, Meg!

The last program of the day was called, "Food, Fiction and Friendship: Writing about Topics Near and Dear to Women's Hearts." Barbara Samuel O'Neal and Cassandra King didn't spend much time talking about food, but that was just as well at 4:00 in the afternoon.

Barbara O'Neal said by that time of day, she was as filled with books and ideas as we were, so she felt a little scattered. She said she wrote stories about women's lives at all stages. She said she writes about sisters more than friends. O'Neal is a big fan of cooking, and spent fifteen years working in restaurants. Her books include cooking and food, and recipes are part of her works. In fact, she said the recipes are a huge, popular part. O'Neal spent the whole winter baking bread in preparation for her next book, because she's writing about a bakery. She said she is doing her dream work, talking to women of all ages, and walks of life. Hopefully, her books offer a moment of hope to someone. Barbara Samuel O'Neal's books were some of my favorite women's fiction when she wrote under the name Barbara Samuel, and her two books under O'Neal were favorites of the last couple years. She's the author of The Lost Recipe for Happiness, and The Secret of Everything.

When Cassandra King was introduced, it was mentioned that she's married to Pat Conroy. She said they met when he wrote a blurb for one of her books. The topic for the afternoon led one man in the audience to challenge King, asking why a man would want to read her books. She said her novel, Making Waves, was told from a young man's perspective. She said she doesn't like the label men's fiction and women's fiction, since people face common struggles and conflicts. She tries to write strong male characters, and doesn't write for a particular audience. King said she wants to write something people will find interesting.

Barbara O'Neal and Cassandra King, like the authors in the previous program, spent time answering questions about writing. Questions involved learning to write fiction, books into movies, what it's like to see a new book on a shelf, even about reading reviews. I appreciated the question about what they were reading. King said she doesn't have as much time to read now. She finds herself sneaking in time to read just as she used to sneak time to write. But, she recently read The Time Traveler's Wife, and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. O'Neal said she's a voracious reader. She's been reading YA books, since they're different from hers. And, like other authors that same day, she mentioned Ray Bradbury as an influence on her. She also mentioned one of my favorite books, Anya Seton's Green Darkness.

And, Barbara Samuel O'Neal had two comments that ended the day perfectly for me. When asked what they thought of a blog being turned into the movie, Julie & Julia, O'Neal said she loved that blog, and thought some of the best writing being done today is being done on blogs. And, she concluded the program, following a question about research, by saying no matter what career you choose, writing or any other, you need to find the one you can be passionate about, and dig into it.

Saturday at the Tucson Festival of Books was perfect. It left a feeling of great anticipation for Sunday at the Festival.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tucson Festival of the Book - Saturday Morning Recap

Where do you start with a book festival that has 450 authors, panelists and performers? I kicked off Saturday morning with a children's author, Jon Scieszka.
If you don't know him as an author, you've missed some of the funniest books, beginning with one I love, and have used successfully with adults, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Of course, he became a smash hit with boys with his book, The Stinky Cheese Man. And, this author who works so hard to write books that boys would read, was named the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Children's Book council and the Library of Congress. His presentation on Saturday was Guys Read: Inspiring Boys as Readers.

Scieszka addressed an audience of kids and adults, all fans, and began by telling us he gets lots of questions from crazy people. He said his favorite question, though, came when he addressed a group of school children and talked to them for almost forty minutes about writing. He said he made the mistake of taking a question from a little girl in the front row, usually the first graders or kindergartners. It was, "Do you have a real job?"

As much as I'd like to repeat Scieszka's entire program, there isn't time or room. So, I'll just say his interest in boys and reading came about because he was the second of six boys who grew up in Flint, Michigan, sons of a principal and a nurse. That childhood, wrestling with his brothers, is related in an autobiography, Knucklehead, that VOYA said, "reads more like a conversation with the class clown in the back row of Algebra I than a memoir." And, Scieszka's presentation was just as lively, and just as much fun, as that conversation. A perfect way to kick off the Tucson Festival of Books.

The Tucson Festival of Books was held on the campus of the University of Arizona, during spring break. An ideal location, with plenty of buildings to hold sessions (and plenty of clean restrooms for those of us who care). And, the festival committee was very smart in scheduling a half hour between sessions to give us time to get across campus. My second session was in the Student Union. Other Countries,
Other Crimes featured mystery authors. Right to left in the picture are Libby Fischer Hellman, Cara Black, Shilpa Agarwal, and Suzanne Arruda. Each author told a little about themselves. Libby said she's the "best author you've never heard of," and proceeded to introduce the audience to her two series characters, Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis. The books are set in Chicago, but Doubleback, the latest book, brings both characters together in a novel that goes from Chicago to Wisconsin, and ends in a border town in Arizona.

Libby and Cara Black have both appeared at the Velma Teague Library in the last year. Cara was just there last week, discussing her latest Aimée Leduc investigation, Murder in the Palais Royal. That book brings Aimée repercussions of her first case in Paris, Murder in the Marais.

Cara turned the mike over to Shilpa Agarwal, whose debut mystery is Haunting Bombay. That novel is set in India in the 1960s, and it tells the story of the drowning of the baby of a wealthy family in Bombay. Subsequently, the grandmother adopts another baby, Pinky. At age thirteen, Pinky opens a door in the family bungalo, and finds the ghost of the dead child in the room. Agarwal was born in Bombay, but grew up in Pittsburgh. She would spend summers in Bombay with her extended family, and she asked her parents to tell her about the family. That drowned child is part of Agarwal's family history.

Suzanne Arruda claimed she was a Saturday matinee writer. If you remember movies such as King Solomon's Mines, you know what her books are like. Her character, Jade del Cameron, grew up an unruly child in New Mexico, and her mother sent her to finishing college in England. It failed to take, and, in the first mystery in the series, Mask of the Lion, Jade is a driver in the ambulance corps in World War I. The period after the war was a time of clashing of cultures in British East Africa, a time in which the "Wild West moved to Africa." The series gives Arruda the chance to take Jade to Morocco, and Nairobi. In the latest book,
Treasure of the Golden Cheetah, Jade is leading a group of silent movie actors on a safari up Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya. But the producer is murdered, and Jade is on a mountain with a group of out-of-control actors. Arruda calls her character a "female Dirk Pitt."

Each author answered questions about the particular settings they used, and it was a fascinating discussion, emphasizing the author's own family stories that led to these mystery stories.

And, what are they writing next? Libby Fischer Hellman has Georgia Three; Cara Black called her book Aimée Twelve. Shilpa said she can't say the title because she likes to keep her working title close to her chest. And, Suzanne Arruda announced Crocodile's Last Embrace.

Saturday afternoon was spent with authors of Women's Fiction. But, it was fun to end the morning with hugs from Cara Black and Libby Fischer Hellman.

Tomorrow: Saturday afternoon - Women's Fiction at the Tucson Festival of Books.