Wednesday, February 02, 2011

A Poisoned Pen Press Party

Saturday evening Barbara Peters hosted a Poisoned Pen Press Party at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, celebrating the publication of books by four of the publishing house's authors.  Donis Casey's new book is Crying Blood.  The third book by Jeffrey Siger is Prey on Patmos.  Dana Stabenow flew in from Alaska, arriving at the airport at 4:30 for the 5:00 program.  She was celebrating two books.  Though Not Dead is just out from St. Martin's Minotaur, and Poisoned Pen Press just republished the first book in her Kate Shugak series, A Cold Day for Murder.  The program also marked the debut of a new author, Tina Whittle, with The Dangerous Edge of Things.

Left to right - Dana Stabenow, Donis Casey and Barbara Peters

It was fun to mingle and listen to audience comments before the program.  Donis Casey's latest book includes details of butchering hogs, and one woman said she didn't think she'd be as eager to try the recipes in this book.  Frederick Ramsay, the Poisoned Pen Press author of the Ike Schwartz mysteries told Barbara he always shows up to see Donis.  And, Deborah Ledford, author of Snare, gave me a copy of the book, which has just been nominated for the Hillerman Sky Award to be presented next month at Left Coast Crime to the mystery that best represents the southwest.

Barbara Peters kicked off the program by asking Jeffrey Siger, "man-about-town, resident of Greece, where he hangs out on the beach," to open the champagne.  Then, she started giving us a little background, and told us why Dana Stabenow was included in the group.  Dana's first book won the Edgar for Best Paperback Original.  The first three books in the series only came out in paperback, and, now, eighteen years later, number two through nine in the series are out of print.   Only that first one, A Cold Day for Murder remained in print because it won the Edgar, and kicked off a series.  But, Poisoned Pen Press is publishing the first three books as hardcovers, and the first one was just out.

Peters said the hardcover's introduction includes Stabenow's comments as to how it felt to win the Edgar.  Barbara said that was the first time she met Dana.  Peters, Lisa Scottoline, Nevada Barr and Stabenow all met in the restroom.  The new book also includes a map of the Park.

Barbara went on to introduce two people from the Poisoned Pen Press staff.  Nan Beams is the person responsible for the appearance of the books, with the blood spots on the book jackets.  Peters said people have complained that the quality of the Book News has deteriorated since Nan and Barbara are no longer doing it.  She said Nan was her editor because even an editor needs an editor.  She also introduced Jessica Tribble, Associate Editor, saying she was responsible for lots of things.

Tina Whittle and Jeffrey Siger
She ran through a quick introduction of the other authors, before asking each of them to speak.  Peters said we already knew Jeffrey Siger lived in and wrote about Greece.  The Dangerous Edge of Things was Tina Whittle's first novel.  The book received starred reviews from everyone.  But, people didn't know exactly how to review it.  Some compared it to Evanovich, and Peters said no.  Someone else said Meg Gardner or Karen Slaughter.  Since Gardner and Slaughter are nothing like Evanovich, it's obvious Whittle is unique.                         

Peters said she uses Amazon because it's the world's largest card catalog.  And, she checks to see who they're using to compare Poisoned Pen authors.  Dana hasn't had a comparison, but recently someone said C.J. Box or another Poisoned Pen author, Steven Havill. 

    Peters herself has used Donis Casey's work when describing Ann Parker's.  She went on to say Donis' first book had the best title they've ever published, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming.  Peters liked the second title, Hornswoggled, because it was a word her father always used.  Donis went on to write The Drop Edge of Yonder, The Sky Took Him, and, now, Crying Blood.  Tony Hillerman was a fan.  He blurbed her books, saying her character, Alafair Tucker, reminded him of his mother.  Carolyn Hart and Margaret Maron have recently blurbed her books.

Then, she asked Jeffrey Siger to tell how they met.  Jeffrey said he was shopping his first book, Murder in Mykonos.  He said his agent wanted the book to go to a bigger house, and Jeffrey suggested Poisoned Pen Press.  The agent wanted to wait.  But, Siger insisted they send an inquiry, and Poisoned Pen Press liked it.  However, his agent tried to kill the deal.  However, Jeffrey is a lawyer, and he shut up his agent.  In the meantime, a publisher in Greece fell in love with the book, and wanted to publish it in Greece.  Poisoned Pen Press agreed the other publisher could publish it there.  Murder in Mykonos went to #1 for English books published in Greece.  The Greek version was in the top ten.  Assassins of Athens, the second book, was also in the top ten.  Prey in Patmos hasn't been published there yet.

Peters said Siger is the only one who was a success in writing about modern Greece.  His books are a painful examination of the problems in Greece.  He predicted the current problems, and where they would occur.  He said if you life in Greece, you know the problems.  His current book, Prey on Patmos, deals with a monastery in an ancient area whose financial scandal is undermining the Greek economy.  That's the beginning of the book.  A year ago, in Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis discussed that exact same subject that Siger had already written about.

 Siger's first book dealt with sexual religious hysteria.  The second, Assassins of Athens, dealt with hubris.  And this third book focused on how the church deals with issues.  They are masters of manipulation.  Prey on Patmos deals with how the church and other people react to threats to the church. 

The subheading on the book jacket says, "An Aegean Prophecy."  The English publisher, Little, Brown, liked that with the connection to prophecies about the end of the world in 2012 and Patmos, the location where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation.  The book starts with a murder in Holy Week in Patmos.  Siger said it's prophetic, and the events surrounding one character will come to be true some day.

Asked why an outsider can write better about a place than someone bound to it, Siger answered that he lives in Greece for seven months a year.  He meets with politicians, crooks, and other people in the middle of the night in bars.  And, he'll only speak English with them, so they are forced to give him the straight stuff, the essence.  He doesn't have to put up with two hours of a story.

Peters said the first book, Murder in Mykonos, had a serial killer, someone who was irrational and emotional.  Assassins of Athens had a serial murderer.  Police have a better chance of finding that kind of killer because there is a pattern. 

Jeffrey Siger is a lawyer who did well enough to retire to Greece to write.  His main character is Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis.  Peters told Jeffrey she liked the banter he had in this book with the woman in his life.  Siger responded that Barbara Peters inspired him.  The femme fatale in this book is named Barbara.  Peters thought that was funny, saying Barbara was fun to read, and maybe Peters will be a cougar.

Jeffrey said he has finished the next book, but doesn't know the title.  It will be "something" in Sparta.  Again, his concept is prophetic, reminiscent of recent events in Tunis.  It has to do with individuals who believe certain acts of behavior can overturn the government.  The incineration of six people in a car at the beginning of the book is right out of the headlines.  He said he doesn't know what he's tapping into to write these stories before they happen.

Siger's fifth book will be a straight police procedural dealing with a secret treasure on an island in Greece.  When people give gifts to the church, where do they go?

Turning to Donis Casey, Peters told us Donis' books almost moved too fast in time for her.  She told her to slow down the time.  This one, Crying Blood, takes place only a few months after The Sky Took Him.
Casey makes a departure in this one.  It doesn't feature one of the children.  It revolves around Alafair Tucker's husband, Shaw.  In Sept. 1915, Shaw and the men in the family go quail hunting.  Donis said they were camping on land that had been abandoned by Shaw's stepfather.  Shaw's always melancholy in the fall.  It reminds him of the time when he was a little boy and hunted with his father.  And, in this book, he's also sad because his children are growing up.  One of the hunting dogs finds an old skeleton.  The kids think it's a great adventure, but Shaw's disturbed.  He doesn't think they should have disturbed the grave.  And, then something follows them home.  There are things in the dark.  The past gets in your head, and you don't know whether it's real.  Shaw plunges into the dark after it. 

Peters said this book makes you think about people who put themselves at risk, and the people that are left behind.  One of the most powerful sentences in the book deals with Alafair preparing herself to face life as a widow.  Alafair is usually the person placing herself at risk. But, there's a role reversal in this story.  She always threw herself into danger.  The book resonates with real emotions.  Barbara said there are real emotions in all of Donis Casey's books.

She told her she couldn't go on marrying off her daughters in every book.  Peters thought the best plot had to do with flim-flam when Alafair went to Enid in the last book, The Sky Took Him.  Donis admitted that book wrote itself.  Casey's husband is from Enid, Oklahoma.  They were visiting, and took her sister-in-law out to lunch.  On the wall in the restaurant were pictures of Enid in 1915, including a street scene of two women going into Kraus' Department Store.  Donis knew that was Alafair and her daughter, Martha, walking in.  That was the first scene written for the book. 

Casey said she did a lot of research on oil wells and nitroglycerin for the books.  Asked if she was afraid she'd be put on a watch list, she said that's why she did her research on nitroglycerin at the library. 

When everyone laughed, Barbara Peters said mystery authors have rich life we don't.  She said David Baldacci once was on a train, and forgot he was in a crowd.  He was on the phone talking about murder, and the conductor came to escort him off. 

She asked Jeffrey about that, and he said he was taking pictures of the Greece National Headquarters, never thinking he was taking pictures with men with guns watching.  While working on his second book, he had his camera in a cab, and he was surrounded by terrorists.  One man came up to the car, and demanded his camera, and he told the taxi driver to just go. But, when he looked, there were eight men around him.  The driver explained he was a writer.  But, you get in a zone, and forget where you are.

Going back to Crying Blood, Peters said Casey's book has lengthy descriptions of hog butchering, and Barbara told her it was too detailed and needed to go in the Appendix.  Casey said they got so much from the hog, soap, as well as food.  She said she always has that problem.  She does so much research, and has to decide how many details to put in the book, and how much in the appendix.  She admitted after doing that much research, she wants to put it in.

  When it was Dana Stabenow's turn, they discussed her book from St. Martin's, Though Not Dead.  Dana said it's her longest book, and her favorite.  She never thought she'd write a history of Alaska.  There are three tracks in this book.  A character died at the end of the last book, and he sent Kate Shugak on a treasure hunt.  There's the Alaskan history.  And, Jim, one of her characters, has a life elsewhere in the book.  And, in one scene, a character hitches a ride with Dana's dad.  She said it's her favorite book. 

Tina Whittle and Barbara Peters met because Tina submitted her book to Poisoned Pen Press.  Whittle told us she was from Georgia.  She was a composition instructor at a college, and one of the perks was that she could take classes for free.  So, she took a mystery fiction class.  And, a story she wrote for that class took first place in a short story competition.  She had a great character in that story that stayed with her.  Tina went back to teaching, and then read about stroke victims who were unable to speak, but are better at telling if someone is telling lies or the truth than others.  So, she paired him up with her heroine for the short story.  That pairing was the basis of The Dangerous Edge of Things.  Peters said she picked the title from a Robert Browning poem. 

Tai Randolph inherits a gun shop in Atlanta, and her brother disappears.    Peters said she liked Tai, but there is a lot of interest in the male character, Trey.  Tina said he's the dangerous edge.  He's traumatized and physically broken, a broken man.  But, he puts his life back together, and he's a security guard.  He thinks in black and white.  Whittle admits she finds him fascinating.  She went on to talk about events in the news recently, the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords.  She said each brain injury is different, and each recovery is different.  The brain has a remarkable way of working around what is lost.  What is the same is that someone is not going to be the same person coming out of the injury.

Whittle's mystery is set in Atlanta.  She said her husband is from there, so she visited Atlanta a lot.  It's the hardest city to capture though, because it shifts identity.  Sherman set it on fire, but the citizens took the rest of the city down.  They knocked it down and created a glorious landscape.  The melting pot never took there, and it has different communities.  It's a commercial and modern city.

There's lots of history in Georgia.  It was the only penal colony in the United States, the place the British sent prisoners before they sent them to Australia.  It's the setting of Gone with the Wind.  Tina said you can set any kind of story in Atlanta.

Whittle's protagonist, Tai, bounced around in her 20s.  Then she inherited a Confederate themed gun shop.  Whittle said authenticity is important for Confederate reenactors, and lots of her family does that.  Reenactments are huge for historic purposes, and the authenticity is important.  But, the Confederacy is a divisive part of Atlanta's history.  Inheriting that shop will change Tai's life.  Tina asked,  "How do you be a liberal feminist gun shop owner? Do you want to keep the shop, or how do you dispose of it?"  The gun culture is strong, and regional in Atlanta.  There are moral and ethical issues along with the inheritance. 

Peters mentioned that Tai's missing brother is a psychiatrist, and there are other interesting characters in the book.  Whittle and Peters agreed it's important to have strong supporting characters.  She pointed to Fred Ramsay in the audience as an example.  His Ike Schwartz books have a great group of deputies and their families.  Dana's books feature family members.  Stabenow said good crime fiction in a series is about the ensemble.  You have to have it to maintain a series.  She gleefully admitted she kills off anyone she wants to, whenever she wants to. 

Peters mentioned that Left Coast Crime has an awards category this year called the Watson, for the best sidekick.  Barbara said she nominated the dog in Dana's series, Mutt, but Mutt was beat out.  It was also pointed out that Deb Ledford, a nominee for the Hillerman Sky Award was in the audience.  Peters said she was reviewing Deb's book, Snare, in the next Book News.

Tina said she bonded her two characters together.  It was necessary for them to work together.  They both have deficits, and they complement each other.  She liked the relationship professionally.  Barbara Peters said there would be another book in the series.  She said there's nothing worse than introducing readers to a new author, and letting them wonder if there will be a second book.

Peters said although one series is a police procedural series set in Athens; one series features a gun shop owner in Atlanta; the third is set in Oklahoma at the turn of the century, and the fourth series ranges around Alaska, they have one thing in common.  They are all about identity, who are we and how does life shift.  Siger's Andreas is resolving his life.  Jeffrey said Tim Hallinan told him, "The return to order in a broken society is the basic underpinnings of every crime novel."  He said that wasn't original with Hallinan.  Siger said mysteries are optimistic.  Barbara agreed, except for noir, where there is a spiral downward.  Someone said the quote might have originated with Agatha Christie, and said the victim and perpetrator were both out of order, and the sleuth's job was to restore order.  Dana said Dorothy L. Sayers, in a couple books, allowed Lord Peter and Harriet to have a discussion whether crime fiction was worthwhile, and Lord Peter always came down on the side that it was.

When an audience member mentioned that he had to leave soon, Peters said she feels they owe the audience a performance and interaction, but, after one and a half hours, she knew the chairs became butt killers.  Then, there was one final question before the book signing.  Someone mentioned the mystery writers did a good job not giving away the endings of their books.  Are you different from other writers, such as nonfiction authors, who can reveal everything?  Dana answered for the group.  She said she hopes there is a revelation or discovery in every book.  No. She isn't going to give away the ending.  You have to read the book for yourself.

Jeffrey Siger, Donis Casey and Tina Whittle


Mary Jane Maffini said...

That must have been a fun party (and not just because it was far from our snow). Poisoned Pen publishes excellent books and has some really interesting authors too. Sounds like a great new crop.

Donis Casey said...

You always give such a rich description of events that it's almost as good as actually being there.

Lesa said...

It was a lot of fun, Mary Jane. You're right. I've already read two of the books from this batch. It is a great new group.

Lesa said...


That's really nice to hear since you were there! It's always nice to hear from one of the authors that I caught the right tone and summarized it pretty well. Thank you! And, thanks for the navigation that night!

Kay said...

Oh, what a wonderful event! This was the one that I had intended to attend, but no go. Lesa, you always do such a good job relating all the scoop it's just like being there. No champagne though!! LOL

Bev Stephans said...

That was quite a party! I will have to look into Donis Casey's books. She sounds like an author I would like to try.

I will be getting the two Dana Stabenow books tomorrow. It's always a red-letter day when one of her books comes out. I'm so happy that Poison Pen Press is publishing her first three books in hardcover editions.

Thank you for another great post!

Lesa said...

Well, darn Kay. I wish you would have been there in person. I didn't have any champagne, either. I discovered it's too hard to have a glass of champagne while juggling my notebook, pen and camera. Something had to give. It was the champagne.

Lesa said...

I suggested my friend Beth start with the first book, Bev. Donis Casey's first is The Old Buzzard Had It Coming. It introduces Alafair and her whole family. I hope you like it!

Isn't it great that Poisoned Pen Press keeps series going by republishing the early books?

kathy d. said...

Yes, and the first few Kate Shugak books are excellent. So glad that PP is republishing them.

Sounds like a great event, so glad you gave us such a good write-up, that we were magically there.

The authors all sound interesting. And so does Barbara Peters; talk about juggling several plates in the air! And well.

Lesa said...

Not only that, but Barbara reads much more than I do, Kathy. You're right. She really is interesting.

It was a terrific event. I'm glad I could share a little bit of it with readers.