Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blatant Self-Promotion —Mysteries, Thrillers, Suspense Are Not All The Same

Coming Soon
Not too long ago, people who wrote fictional pieces about crime were called “mystery writers.”  Many people still use that name and in many bookstores that’s the name of the section where you’ll find suspense, thrillers and, for lack of a better word, whodunits. Or perhaps a better word would be “mystery, if it weren’t confused with such notions as suspense or thrillers.”  In the last few years, there has been a general movement to use “crime fiction” as the general category, a trend I like because I think we should reserve “mystery” for books that encourage the reader to engage in the investigation and solve it before the protagonist does.

I’m not in any way ranking one kind of crime book over another, just calling for a more accurate way of identifying them.  I grew up with The Rockford Files and Columbo as top of the line crime shows.  I read every James Bond Ian Fleming wrote. Like everyone else, I didn’t mind knowing who the perpetrator was during the first five minutes. I also know that one book can be both a mystery and a thriller. And probably most crime fiction benefits from achieving the highest level of suspense possible. But they are not necessarily the same thing.

What I write – for better or worse — are mysteries.  All of them, whodunnits.  One of the things I do before submitting a manuscript to a publisher is ask a few people I know to read it.  I want them to tell me where in the book they stopped reading each time they stopped reading and when interest flagged. I welcome all comments and encourage them to be not to be bashful about criticism.  But the comment I look most forward to hearing is when the reader made his or her first guess about who did the deed.  And if they had a change of mind later, I want to know that too.  I truly want to stump the reader.  But I want a level playing field just as much.

With a mystery comes perhaps a stricter set of rules. I’d put them under the general heading of “fair play.” Here I’ll use an Amazon review of Death in the Haight from my late friend and writer, Randy Rohn.

E-Book Available Now
I always look forward to Ron Tierney's books. His characters, although flawed, are real and in their very human way, heroic. This novella packs a wallop. Well-drawn characters, great plot and an interesting take on a social issue that's making headlines these days. The descriptions of San Francisco make the city come alive. The story is a genuine mystery in the finest sense of the word. There are no cheap tricks like leaving out details until the very end to make the "twist" more unexpected. In this one, you find all the clues just as the protagonist Private Investigator Noah Lang does. And as he muses on different scenarios, you are invited into his thinking process. I read this book in one sitting, because I just couldn't put it down. One caveat, this book might be bad for your diet. Ron's descriptions of San Francisco restaurants were so well conceived, it made me hungry.”

I couldn’t resist leaving in all the flattering remarks.  But the real point of it is his statement that “you find all the clues” just as the P.I. does.  Fair play.

By the way, all my books are mysteries in that sense.  Lately, I’ve been writing shorter tales, tailored to one-sitting reading.  I’m preparing three separate novellas for publication soon and the 11th full-length Deets Shanahan mystery for late next year to celebrate the series’ 25 years in print.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Booknotes — Banned Books Update

We’re in the middle of Banned Book Week.  Independent Bookstores and libraries are busy promoting books that many people don’t want you to read — books by such legends a Mark Twain, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Ray Bradbury.

Banned Book Week
September 22 — 28

North Carolina was right on time when, according to the Los Angeles Times, a county school board member joined the majority to ban Ralph Ellison’s classic about American racial attitudes.  Invisible Man won the National Book Award in 1953.  One of the board members couldn’t “…find any literary value” in a book that a national critics’ poll (1965) declared the “greatest American novel written since World War II.”

It’s not all that surprising to hear about literary censorship in the South, particularly if the subject is at least partially about racism. It is more fun to talk about the unexpected.  NUVO, an alternative weekly in Indianapolis, reported some strange goings-on in the red state’s capitol.  Not only did the anti-evolution, anti-gay governor Mike Pence officially proclaim Banned Book Week in Indiana, the first lady read from the often-banned children’s book Harriet the Spy at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.  The book has been criticized and challenged for its alleged portrayal of the main character as a disobedient child with lesbian overtones (or undertones?).
Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, Indianapolis

Indiana’s previous governor, Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University, was in the censorship spotlight recently by revelations that while in the state’s highest office he searched for ways to remove books by historian Howard Zinn from college curriculums.

Incidentally, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library honors the Indiana author of Slaughterhoue Five, banned by the state of Missouri and one of the most challenged, as well as honored books in American literature.  The library, featuring a week-long program on the subject of censorship, opened two years ago.

September 26, 2013 UPDATE:  The decision in North Carolina to ban Invisible Man was reversed today. The book is back on the shelves.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Book Notes — Best Mystery/Crime novels of the New Century, Updated for 2013

Louise Penny, 2013 Macavity and Anthony for The Beautiful Mystery

Each year there are hundreds of awards given for mystery-related writing.  What follows is a list of awards for the top award  (“best novel” of the year) as determined by the genre’s most established award givers Mystery Writers of America (The Edgar and Anthony),  Private Eye Writers of America (The Shamus), Mystery Readers International (The Macavity) and the comprehensive mystery review quarterly, Deadly Pleasures (The Barry).

Congratulations to all the 2013 winners and to all of the nominees. Check the organizations’ web sites for best first novels, best short stories and other outstanding accomplishments by today’s crime writers. 

2000   Jan Burke, Bones, Edgar
            Don Winslow, California Fire and Life, Shamus
            Peter Robinson, In a Dry Season, Anthony
            Sujata Massey, The Flower Master, Macavity
            Peter Robinson, In a Dry Season, Barry

2001   Joe R. Lansdale, The Bottoms, Edgar
           Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Havana Heat, Shamus
           Val McDermid, A Place of Execution, Anthony
Val McDermid, A Place of Execution, Macavity
Nevada Barr Deep South, Barry

2002   T. Jefferson Parker, California Girl, Edgar
            S. J. Rozan, Reflecting the Sky, Shamus
            Dennis Lehane, Mystic River, Anthony
            Laurie R. King, Folly, Macavity
            Dennis Lehane, Mystic River, Barry

2003   S. J. Rozan, Winter and Night, Edgar
            James W. Hall, Blackwater Sound, Shamus
            Michael Connelly, City of Bones, Anthony
            S.J. Rozan, Winter and Night, Macavity
            Michael Connelly, City of Bones, Barry

2004   Ian Rankin, Resurrection Men, Edgar
            Ken Bruen, The Guards, Shamus
            Laura Lippman, Every Secret Thing, Anthony
            Peter Lovesey, The House Sitter, Macavity
            Laura Lippman, Every Secret Thing, Barry

2005   T. Jefferson Parker, California Girl, Edgar
            Ed Wright, While I Disappear, Shamus
            William Kent Krueger, Blood Hollow, Anthony
            Ken Bruen, The Killing of the Tinkers, Macavity
            Lee Child, The Enemy, Barry

2006   Jess Walter, Citizen Vince, Edgar
            Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer, Shamus
            William Kent Krueger, Mercy Falls, Anthony
            Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer, Macavity
            Thomas H. Cook, Red Leaves, Barry

2007   Jason Goodwin, The Janissary Tree, Edgar
            Ken Bruen, The Dramatist, Shamus
            Laura Lippman, No Good Deeds, Anthony
            Nancy Pickard, The Virgin of Small Plains, Macavity
            George Pelecanos, The Night Gardener, Barry

2008   John Hart, Down River, Edgar
            Reed Farrel Coleman, Soul Patch, Shamus
            Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know, Anthony
            Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know, Macavity
            Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know, Barry

2009   C. J. Box, Blue Heaven, Edgar
            Reed Farrel Coleman, Empty Ever After, Shamus
            Michael Connelly, The Brass Verdict, Anthony
            Deborah Crombie, Where Memories Lie, Macavity
            Arnaldur Indridason, The Draining Lake, Barry

2010   John Hart, The Last Child, Edgar
            Marcia Muller, Locked In, Shamus
            Louise Penny, The Brutal Telling, Anthony
            John Hart, The Last Child, Macavity
            John Hart, The Last Child, Barry

2011   Steve Hamilton, The Lock Artist, Edgar
            Lori Armstrong, No Merci, Shamus
            Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead, Anthony
            Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead, Macavity
            Steven Hamilton, The Lock Artist, Barry

2012   Mo Hayder, Gone, Edgar
           Michael Wiley, A Bad Night's Sleep, Shamus
           Louise Penny, A Trick of the Light, Anthony
           Susan Gran, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Macavity
           Jussi Adler Olsen, The Keeper of Lost Causes, Barry
2013   Dennis Lehane, Live By Night, Edgar
            Robert Crais, Taken, Shamus
Louise Penny, The Beautiful Mystery, Anthony
            Louise Penny, The Beautiful Mystery, Macavity
Peter May, The Blackhouse, Barry

Thursday, September 19, 2013

News Release From American Library Association — Banned Book Week

CHICAGO — What would you do if you went to the library to check out a book, only to find it wasn’t there? Not because it was already checked out, but because someone else disapproved of its content and had it removed from library shelves? Banned Books Week, Sept. 22 – 28, stresses the importance of preventing censorship and ensuring everyone's freedom to read any book, no matter how unorthodox or unpopular.
Despite the perception that censorship no longer occurs in the United States, attempts to ban books frequently take place in our schools and libraries.   According to the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), there were 464 reported attempts to remove or restrict materials from schools and libraries in 2012 and more than 17,700 attempts since 1990, when the ALA began to record book challenges.
Just recently Alabama State Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) called for a ban on the novel "The Bluest Eye," stating that the book should be removed from libraries and the 11th Grade Common Core reading list because he believes the book is "highly objectionable" and has "no value or purpose." "The Bluest Eye" is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison's first novel and is often included in honors and Advanced Placement English classes.  Holtzclaw's demand is just one example of the kinds of book challenges that, if successful, deny students and their parents the right and the freedom to choose books and literature that contain diverse ideas drawn from across the social and political spectrum.  
“The ability to read, speak, think and express ourselves freely is a fundamental freedom that sustains and upholds  our democratic society,” said ALA President Barbara Stripling. “Banned Books Week serves as an opportunity to remind all of us that the freedom to choose books for ourselves and our family is a right, not a privilege.”
Book challenges to school library materials are not the only threat to students' freedom of inquiry.  Online resources, including legitimate educational websites and academically useful social networking tools, are being blocked and filtered in school libraries. In an effort to raise awareness, the American Association of School Libraries (AASL), a division of the ALA, has designated one day during Banned Books Week as Banned Websites Awareness Day – Wednesday,  Sept. 25 – and is asking school librarians and other educators to promote an awareness of how excessive filtering affects student achievement.  
Banned Books Week 2013 has been celebrating the freedom to read for more than 30 years.  Libraries and bookstores will observe Banned Books Week by hosting special events and exhibits on the power of literature and the harms of censorship.  ALA, along with Banned Books Week co-sponsors, will host one of those events, a Virtual Read Out on YouTube [] where participants will read from their favorite banned books. Past participants have included highly acclaimed and/or frequently challenged authors such as Judy Blume, Chris Crutcher, Whoopi Goldberg, Lauren Myracle and many others.
For the first time this year, Twitter parties will help promote the message of Banned Books Week.  A party will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern time on Monday, Sept. 23, with a second party scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 25, from noon to 2 p.m. Eastern time.  Supporters are urged to tweet using the hashtag #bannedbooksweek. More information about the Twitter parties is available on the Banned Books Week website,
Also, many bookstores, schools and libraries celebrating Banned Books Week will showcase selections from the ALA OIF’s Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2012. The list is released each spring and provides a snapshot of book removal attempts in the U.S. The Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2012 reflects a range of themes and consists of the following titles:
1) Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey.
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
2) "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie.
Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
3) "Thirteen Reasons Why," by Jay Asher.
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
4) "Fifty Shades of Grey," by E. L. James.
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
5) "And Tango Makes Three," by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
6) "The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini.
Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
7) "Looking for Alaska," by John Green.
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
8) Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
9) "The Glass Castle," by Jeanette Walls
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
10) "Beloved," by Toni Morrison
 Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence
Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores.  It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. In 2011, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Freedom to Read Foundation, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, and PEN American Center also signed on as sponsors.
ALA’s work opposing censorship takes place not just during Banned Books Week, but throughout the year. OIF tracks hundreds of challenges to books and other materials in libraries and classrooms across the country.  OIF provides support to librarians, teachers and community members looking to keep books on the shelves.  Those wishing to support Banned Books Week and libraries can do so by texting ALABBW to 41518 to provide a $10 tax-deductible donation.
For more information on Banned Books Week, book challenges and censorship, please visit the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom’s Banned Books Web site at, or

The above is a news release published for public distribution by the American Library Association.