Showing posts with label Anthony Award. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anthony Award. Show all posts

29 May 2018

Are the Sensitivity Police Coming to Get You?


by Paul D. Marks, Jonathan Brown, Elaine Ash


Contents:

—Context and White Heat – Paul
—Dude? Why so Sensitive? – Jonathan Brown
—The Right to Write – Elaine Ash
—Paul’s original post
—In conclusion – Paul


“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.”

                                                       —President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Four Freedoms Speech

     Context:

It’s time to revisit a topic that’s very important to me, and I would think it should be to all writers. And though some of it may be repetitive, and it is long, I think it’s worth your time if you’re a writer, a reader, a sentient being.

In March, 2017, I did a piece here about the Sensitivity Police (find it at this link, but also “reprinted” near the end of this new post, http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2017/03/the-sensitivity-police.html ). I don’t get very political on social media. There’s only two things that I talk about in that regard and then not that much. The two things are animal issues and free speech issues. The latter is what this post is about. In a nutshell, I’m a free speech absolutist. There’s almost nothing I don’t think people should be allowed to say or put in print. It can be awful and hateful and offend you or me. But that’s what’s great about this country – you have the right to say what you want. I don’t have to agree, I don’t have to break bread with you, but I’ll fight for your right to say it.

I see things all the time that I agree or disagree with but I don’t see much point getting into verbal firefights about them. I’m not going to change any minds and no one is going to change mine. Mostly, I just scroll past political posts.

This revisit is prompted by an article I saw recently in the Guardian, the British paper. The article was “Lionel Shriver says 'politically correct censorship' is damaging fiction.”  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/22/lionel-shriver-says-politically-correct-censorship-is-damaging-fiction

To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Lionel Shriver. And I still haven’t read her works. But I agree with that statement. Again, I am a total free speech advocate. I know the arguments about shouting fire in a crowded theatre or hurting people’s feelings, but I also remember when the ACLU defended the Nazis’ right to march in the Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois. (And for the simpletons out there, No, I’m not pro-Nazi!) And I remember when people would say “I may not agree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” That seems to be a dying sentiment.

I understand that people get offended. I get offended, but I just grin and bear it and move on. Maybe you’d rather fight back, verbally. Fine. Just don’t stop the other from saying whatever it is. I’m against any form of censorship. And it scares the fucking hell out of me!!! Free speech is the foundation of our society. Without it totalitarianism reigns. Yet a recent Gallup poll shows college students aren’t totally behind the concept of free speech — See:

https://medium.com/informed-and-engaged/8-ways-college-student-views-on-free-speech-are-evolving-963334babe40 .

——Or——

  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/college-students-support-free-speech--unless-it-offends-them/2018/03/09/79f21c9e-23e4-11e8-94da-ebf9d112159c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.fcceb8833c43

As writers sensitivity police should scare the hell out of us. As citizens of a free society likewise. Maybe what we write is uncomfortable, maybe you’re offended. Maybe you should toughen up.

This time around I’m inviting two guests to join me and add their opinions, Jonathan Brown and Elaine Ash. I was originally going to intercut the things that Jonathan, Elaine and I have to say on the subject, but I’ve decided to run all the pieces as a whole. I asked a few people if they’d want to comment from the point of view of wanting censorship of one degree or another. Nobody wanted to go on record. I truly hope you’ll take a few minutes to read everything.

***


     White Heat:

My Shamus Award-winning novel White Heat is a noir-mystery-thriller. It’s about P.I.s trying to find a killer during the 1992 Rodney King riots – that makes it much more than a simple noir-mystery-thriller. While protagonist Duke Rogers tracks down the killer, he must also deal with the racism of his partner, Jack, and from Warren, the murder victim’s brother, who is a mirror image of Jack in that department. He must also confront his own possible latent racism – even as he’s in an interracial relationship with the dead woman’s sister.

The novel looks at race and racism from everyone involved, black and white, and no one gets off unscathed. These things can be a little uncomfortable. Believe me, I know. I was uncomfortable writing some of it. Ditto for Broken Windows, the sequel coming out in the fall, that deals with immigration via a mystery story. These are touchy issues, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk or write about them. And if we do so honestly we might unintentionally hurt some feelings.

To quote from my article a year ago, “It’s getting to the point where we have to constantly second guess ourselves as we worry who might be offended by this or that? In my novel, White Heat, I use the N word. And don’t think I didn’t spend a lot of deliberating about whether I should tone that down, because truly I did not want to hurt or offend anyone. But ultimately I thought it was important for the story I was trying to tell and people of all races seemed to like the book. I think context is important. But even without context, as a free speech absolutist, I think people should be allowed to say what they want. There used to be an argument that went around that the way to combat negative speech was with more speech, but that doesn’t seem to be the case today. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, ‘Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly.’”

I did add an Author’s Note warning people: “Some of the language and attitudes in the novel may be offensive. But please consider them in the context of the time, place and characters.” Today we’d call it a Trigger Warning. And I don’t mind doing that, as long as no one stops me from saying what I want to say.

If you don’t defend free speech now because your ox isn’t currently being gored, to coin a phrase, then no one will be there to defend you when it is. And revolutions always come back to bite the head off. Look at what happened to Robespierre during the French Revolution. It’s like that quote from Martin Neimoller during World War II: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

My mind hasn’t changed in the last the year. And now here are Jonathan and Elaine to talk about the issue:

***

     Jonathan Brown: 

Jonathan was born and raised in Vancouver British Colombia. He works as a writer, fitness trainer and drum instructor. His Lou Crasher mysteries recently landed him a two book deal with Down and Out Books. The first novel: The Big Crescendo is slated to be released in early 2019 and the follow up: Don't Shoot the Drummer will be released in 2020. Brown has also written a fictional biography about the life of boxing trainer, Angelo Dundee. The book: Angelo Dundee, a Boxing Trainer's Journey is published by The Mentoris Group and will be released in December 2018. Jonathan and his lovely wife Sonia enjoy life in sunny south Los Angeles. jonathanbrownwriter.com

Dude? Why So Sensitive?

When Paul was gracious enough to offer me a chance to weigh in on the ‘sensitivity reader’ issue I said, “Sign me up, please.” For those new to this phenomenon a sensitivity reader is someone hired by a publisher to read manuscripts with an eye sensitive to one particular race, religion or gender and so on. While the publisher’s heart may be in the right place or if the publisher simply wants to avoid a lawsuit, I think the practice is not only superfluous but also dangerous. Dangerous might be a little extreme, let’s say asinine instead.

Here’s where this jazz is headed. The sensitivity reader(s) will essentially be the politically correct police. The potential to take what might be the next great American novel and water it down to Disney meets Hallmark on Mr. Roger’s front porch is huge. For example, Writer X has a vigilante ex-gangbanger as the anti-hero. He enters the warehouse and finds the banger that killed his family. He raises the Sig Sauer. He closes one eye and lines up the enemy down the gun sight. Finally, he shall have his revenge. As a parting phrase the avenger says, “You’re a dead person of color with ancestry dating back to ancient sub-Saharan Africa!” As opposed to: “You’re a dead nigga!” Pop, Pop, Pop.

Under the sensitivity cop regime urban gang bangers won’t use authentic dialog; terrorists will be of a fictitious ethnicity (thus being limited to Science Fiction) and although books will still have steamy sex scenes the party engaging in coitus shall be genderless—out of fairness to the gendered. Can you imagine? Try this scene:

“Hey baby, want to get it on?”

“Sure, if you’ll just put your—”

“Don’t say it. I can’t wait to feel your—”

“No, don’t say it!”

And so the participants put their matching or perhaps mismatching parts together and…did it. 

The End

Can you feel the heat? No? Yeah, me either. I’m rarely the slippery-slope-guy and I’m truly weary of the expression but I must say the incline will become pretty slick here if we engage in this sensitivity reader censorship parade. And what, may I ask makes a sensitivity reader? How does one become one? Is there a questionnaire? The bigger question for me is why have we stopped trusting our own judgment? Don’t we all have some measure of built-in common sense about sensitivity? I say we do, if I may be so bold as to answer my own question.

If a manuscript becomes ‘green lit’ by a publisher that means an agent and possibly her assistant has read the manuscript. Then, let’s toss in two to four low-level readers at the publishing house and cap this off with one or two of the top brass readers.  Do you mean to tell me that from agent’s assistant to top Banana none of those cats know what is basically offensive and what’s not? I call bullshit. As members of society we all know what is basically offensive but now we’re too afraid to say it, so let’s put it on the sensitivity reader…yeah that guy. Phew, thank god we now have a scapegoat if this thing goes south, right? Grow up people.

If this castration of the arts by ‘sensitivity cop’ flies then Noir literature will become beige, Romance will have gender sensitive sex scenes (which I suppose means all genders will have an orgy all at once, what with inclusion and all…hmm) and Horror films will no longer have the ominous black cat, they will have to be Tabbys, Siamese or Ginger cats…which will be referred to as: orange hued. Imagine:

As I walked down the dark alley I glanced over my shoulder and noticed a six- month old tabby cross my path. It was then that I knew…I…was…doomed! (Insert wolf howl sound effect!)

Let art be art. It’s a good thing the sensitivity cops didn’t tell Picasso how to paint, and didn’t instruct Beethoven to avoid all minor keys and thank god they didn’t force Harper Lee to make the accused, Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mocking Bird a white-male primary school teacher with a sunny disposition.

***

     Elaine Ash:

Elaine Ash edits fiction writers—from established authors to emerging talent. She works with private clients, helping them shape manuscripts, acquire agents and land publishing deals.  www.bestsellermetrics.com

The Right to Write

When Paul asked me to throw my hat in the ring for a post on free speech and sensitivity readers, I gulped. Navigating these topics can be as delicate as tucking a hand grenade inside a wasp’s nest. But, admittedly, I’ve brought this on myself, since I take pride in freedom of speech and feel strongly about the right to write.

One way to look at sensitivity readers is simply as a new layer of vetting that writers must hurdle when they submit to Big 5 publishers. First, let’s refresh  on what some famed writers have had to say about protecting artistic integrity.

“Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost.”
― Neil Gaiman

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”
― Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”
― Oscar Wilde

Taken in context with these quotes, the picture of a sensitivity reader redlining a literary opus looks as clunky as jackboots on a ballerina. Add on that the average pay of a sensitivity reader is $250 per manuscript, and it seems impossible that anyone paid this low could influence a billion dollar-plus industry and force millionaire writers to change their work—but they are.

Do Sensitivity Readers Affect You?

First you have to look at your target publishers. There are sensitive and not-so-sensitive publishers. In general, sensitive would be Big 5 and their imprints; non-sensitive would be medium and small indie publishers. Big 5 science fiction and fantasy publishers trend “sensitive.” YA and children’s markets likewise.

Mystery and crime-related genres have strongly resisted sensitivity. In fact, noir and transgressive genres are expected to be offensive—that’s how they make a larger point. But agents have recently confided to me that it’s getting harder and harder to sell mystery fiction. Does this have to do with sensitivity bias? I suspect so, but have no figures to back up that claim other than the frontline reports of literary agents. In other words, publisher demand has constricted, and I suspect that it’s not for lack of the buying public—it’s because publishers fear backlash and boycotts. (More about this later.)

S-readers are not called in on 100% of manuscripts, but if a publisher sees that a writer of one ethnicity might be writing a character of another ethnicity, they will call on an S-reader to vet the manuscript. The problem with this is pretty obvious. Since the original writer isn’t reporting fact but creating art to make a larger point, the original intent of the art may become skewed. Want to check the rules to make sure you get them right? Err, that could be a problem. There is no sensitivity readers guild to consult, and no published compilation of guidelines.

A Case in Point

Science fiction/fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal has killed projects over negative feedback from sensitivity readers.  http://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/sensitivity-readers/   The problem with this tactic is that the rules she’s trying so hard to abide by are not set in stone, they’re not law. They’re merely someone’s opinion, and opinions change. The court of public opinion can change with the day of the week. Is it even possible to write something that offends no one? I suppose so. The greater question is, Is it possible to write something that offends no one that is worth reading? Stories are supposed to disturb, instigate, provoke thought. That comes with the risk of offense.

What sensitivity readers are really all about comes down, in the end, to cold hard cash, as everything in business does. Looking at a hot topic through the cool lense of business is a way to bring practicality to the subject. If a publisher is afraid that they may become the target of an angry boycott, they’ll do everything possible to avoid it. Until recently, these boycotts had real power. But the recent trend is “boycott backlash” where the boycott-ee suffers a drop-off from advertisers, and then receives a sympathy bump from purchasers who disagree with the boycott. It reminds me of when banning books was all the rage. It only made them more popular. What people are told they can’t have, they make special efforts to get.

Sidestep the Time Wasters

My purview is not to make a case for S-readers or against them. I’m here to point out navigation tactics. As I write this, tens of thousands of manuscripts are waiting for Big 5 vetting when some of them could be sailing into medium-sized publishers and landing deals without added delay.

If you are a first-time author, my advice is to go for a smaller publisher to land your edgy material. If you are an established author looking to make the leap to Big 5, you’d have the best bet with a fairly controversy-free manuscript from the race or gender aspect. “White savior writing” is a thing, and sensitivity readers are rejecting it. Google the term and read about it for yourself.

Meanwhile, many mystery and crime readers are looking for gritty authenticity, using nomenclature that coincides with a hardboiled PI or criminal.  Already, you can see how S-readers may chill the edgy, provocative material that underscores much of the best mystery writing.

Express Yourself

As an editor, I’m about preserving the integrity of the writer’s vision, intent, art and freedom to write. I am not a censor for political correctness. For example, I’m horrified by third-wave feminist Andrea Dworkin’s contention that every act of sex is an act of rape. Would I edit a story with a character in it who held that belief? Most definitely. I’m not a censor, I’m an editor. My job is to preserve the writer’s vision, even if I disagree with it.

My best advice is to avoid writing to trends and never write to satisfy sensitivity readers. Take my client Chrome Oxide, winner of two coveted Writers of the Future awards. He’s a humorist making fun of big government and bureaucracy—using the sci-fi and fantasy genres as a backdrop. He came to me thinking there was zero chance of getting a publisher—self-publishing would be his only option. But there are so many alternative publishers now for everything from comic books to novels, that a good agent, or an editor wearing many hats like me, can find a market.

If your agent says there’s no market for what you’ve written, it’s time to get another agent. For Chrome Oxide I had to go to Superversive Press out of Australia, but the terms were the best I’d seen anywhere. The terms almost made me cry, they were so beautiful. This publisher really, really wanted Chrome’s material.

Only you can assess where your manuscript and platform as a writer stand in terms of attractiveness to publishers who assess writers through sensitivity vetting. It’s a big world with many markets. Ultimately, what does not sell will take a diminished place in the market and readers will find what they’re looking for.

Bottom line, you must write who you are and what makes you tick, not what you guess sensitivity readers will approve. Express yourself freely and then find the market that matches your angle. It’s out there waiting if you look.

***

      Thank you Jonathan and Elaine. And here's my/Paul's previous post:

Here’s the pertinent part from my earlier article (see link above):

And now to the subject at hand: I recently came across an article in the Chicago Tribune titled “Publishers are hiring 'sensitivity readers' to flag potentially offensive content.” That, of course, piqued my interest. And I will say at the outset that I’m a free speech absolutist. If you don’t like something don’t read it, but don’t stop others from saying it or reading it.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-publishers-hiring-book-readers-to-flag-sensitivity-20170215-story.html

After all, who’s to say what’s offensive? What’s offensive to me might not be to you and vice versa. That said, I see things every day that I disagree with. I don’t like to say that I find them offensive because I think that word is overused and I also think people tend to get offended too easily and by too many things.

As writers I think this is something we should be concerned about. Because, even if you agree with something that’s blue-penciled today tomorrow there might be something you write where you disagree with the blue-pencil. Where does it end? Also, as a writer, I want to be able to say what I want. If people don’t like it they don’t have to read it. I don’t want to be offensive, though perhaps something may hit someone that way. But we can’t worry about every little “offense” because there are so many things to be offended about.

It’s getting to the point where we have to constantly second guess ourselves as we worry who might be offended by this or that? In my novel, White Heat, I use the N word. And don’t think I didn’t spend a lot of deliberating about whether I should tone that down, because truly I did not want to hurt or offend anyone. But ultimately I thought it was important for the story I was trying to tell and people of all races seemed to like the book. I think context is important. But even without context, as a free speech absolutist, I think people should be allowed to say what they want. There used to be an argument that went around that the way to combat negative speech was with more speech, but that doesn’t seem to be the case today. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly.”

And, of course, publishers have the right to publish what they want. But limiting things doesn’t change much. It just goes underground.

The Tribune article says, “More recently, author Veronica Roth - of ‘Divergent’ fame - came under fire for her new novel, ‘Carve the Mark.’ In addition to being called racist, the book was criticized for its portrayal of chronic pain in its main character.” So now we have to worry about how we portray people with chronic pain. Again, where does it end?

I’ve dealt with chronic pain. Should I be offended every time someone says something about those things that I don’t like. Get over it, as the Eagles say in their eponymous song. The piece also talks about writers hiring people to vet their stories for various things, in one case transgender issues. If it’s part of one’s research I don’t have a problem with that. Or if it’s to make something more authentic. But if it’s to censor a writer or sanitize or change the writer’s voice, that’s another story.

There’s also talk about a database of readers who will go over your story to look for various issues. But again, who’s to say what issues offend what people? Do you need a reader for this issue and another for that? If we try to please everyone we end up pleasing no one and having a book of nearly blank or redacted pages. Or if not literally that then a book that might have some of its heart gutted.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive for authenticity but I think this kind of thing often goes beyond that. When we put out “sanitized” versions of Huck Finn or banning books like Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which has also been banned and of which Wikipedia says, “Commonly cited justifications for banning the book include sexual explicitness, explicit language, violence, and homosexuality.”


The Wall Street Journal also talks about this issue, saying in part, “One such firm, Writing in the Margins, says that it will review ‘a manuscript for internalized bias and negatively charged language,’ helping to ensure that an author writing ‘outside of their own culture and experience” doesn’t accidentally say something hurtful.’ I’m not saying one should be hurtful, but I am saying one should write what they want to write. And if taken to the ultimate extreme then we would only be “allowed” to write about our own little group. And that would make our writing much poorer.

I’m not trying to hurt anyone. But I do believe in free speech, even if it is sometimes hurtful.

We should think about the consequences of not allowing writers to write about certain things, or things outside of their experience. Think of the many great books that wouldn’t have been written, think of your own work that would have to be trashed because you aren’t “qualified” to write about it. There are many things in the world that hurt and offend and that aren’t fair. And let’s remember what Justice Brandeis said.

In closing one more quote from the Journal article: “Even the Bard could have benefited. Back when Shakespeare was writing ‘Macbeth,’ it was still OK to use phrases like, ‘It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ But that is no longer so. The word ‘idiot’ is now considered cruelly judgmental, demeaning those who, through no fault of their own, are idiots. A sensitivity reader could propose something less abusive, such as, ‘It is a tale told by a well-meaning screw-up, signifying very little but still signifying something. I mean, the poor little ding-dong was trying.’”

***
     In conclusion:

So there you have it, three arguments for freedom of speech.


~.~.~

I’m thrilled – I’m Doubly Thrilled – to announce that my short story “Windward,” from the anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes fromSea to Shining Sea (edited by Andrew McAleer and me) is nominated for a Best Short Story Shamus Award – and that the anthology as a whole is nominated for a Best Anthology Anthony Award. Thank you to everyone involved!



~.~.~

My Shamus Award-Winning novel White Heat was re-released on May 21st by Down & Out Books. It’s available now on Amazon.

Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a "...taut crime yarn."



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com



25 May 2018

Suspense In Stories That Aren't Suspense Fiction


By Art Taylor

In a couple of weeks I'm going to be leading a presentation and workshop at the 4th Annual Spring Writing Intensive at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. The session is about crafting suspense, and it borrows its title from the Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine blog—"Something Is Going To Happen"—but when I was planning this with the program's organizers, they threw in a surprise: They had already scheduled a session on genre fiction, and they didn't want mine to be focused on mysteries.

Crafting suspense but not in the mystery genre?

Well, I'll admit some surprise at the request—but only since people who ask me to present at these kinds of gatherings usually want me talking about genre fiction. Truth is, I think the broader scope here actually makes for a more interesting discussion—about the range of different approaches available for capturing a reader's curiosity, introducing the stakes of a plot, getting that reader invested, getting him or her to turn that next page.

Here's the full description of my session:

Hooking your readers with a killer opening—that’s a must. But how do you get them to turn not just the first page but the next too? and then the next? …and the next? Crafting suspense may seem like the special province of crime fiction writers, but literary writers and genre writers both can profit from heightening tension, escalating conflict, tossing in the unexpected left turn, and generally keeping readers focused on the idea that “something is going to happen,” (to borrow the title of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s weekly blog). This session draws on work by writers including Patricia Highsmith, Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, and Scott Turow to illustrate various techniques for incorporating suspense into your own work.

...though as I'm prepping for the session itself, and here with a couple of recent events, I'm considering substituting a couple of authors for those mentioned above.

I'm writing this post just as news comes out about the death of Philip Roth, one of my own favorite novelists, and earlier this week I picked up the collection Last Stories by William Trevor, who died in 2016—another favorite writer and one of the great masters of the short story, not just now but ever. Neither of these writers is known for flashy, grabby openings; in fact, the New York Times' book review of Trevor's Last Stories commented directly on his low-key approach: "Most notably, his stories open with comments so blandly informational, so plain and unnoticeable, that they arouse no expectation and appear to promise little."

And yet, I find myself drawn in quickly to Trevor's stories, to stakes which are at once high but muted, their intensity downplayed but maybe all the more engaging for it.

Here are the opening paragraphs of Trevor's "Making Conversation" from this final collection:

'Yes?' Olivia says on the answering system when the doorbell rings in the middle of The Return of the Thin Man. The summons is an irritation on a Sunday afternoon, when it couldn't possibly be the meter-man or the postman, and it's most unlikely to be Courtney Haynes, the porter.

A woman's voice crackles back at her but Olivia can't hear what she says. More distinctly, the dialogue of the film reaches her from the sitting room. 'Cocktail time,' William Powell is saying, and there's the barking of a dog. The man Olivia lives with laughs.

'I'm sorry,' Olivia says in the hall. 'I can't quite hear you.'

'I'm not used to these answering gadgets.' The woman's voice is clearer now. There is a pause, and then: 'Is my husband there?'

'Your husband?' Frowning, more irritated than she has been, Olivia suggests the wrong bell has been rung.

'Oh, no,' the voice insists. 'Oh, no.'
The opening scene continues on for three more short paragraphs, but this is enough, I think. The opening scenes set the stage for all that follows: Two women connected by the husband of one of them, their conversation about those connections (though the title "Making Conversation" refers to something else entirely). The pace is leisurely, it would be charitable to say—a sketch of a Sunday afternoon, a small interruption. So is there... suspense?

Certainly there are questions raised here, both within the scene and pointing further ahead. What was said in that crackle that Olivia doesn't hear? Is the woman at the wrong address? Does Olivia know her husband? Is he perhaps even the man sitting there watching Return of the Thin Man?

Spoiler alert, that's not him, but as for Olivia knowing the woman's husband at all....

Conventional approaches to suspense might require the drama to be amped up more forcefully. Not a ring of the doorbell but a blaring of it—the bell pushed and held. Or someone pounding on the door itself. Not a voice lost in a crackle but a voice screaming, shouting, demanding. The irritation would become anxiety or fear. That word insists would need to tremble with a little more menace.

And yet I find myself drawn forward—and the story amply rewards, mysteries in bloom, though perhaps not the kinds of mysteries we think of with genre fiction.

As for Philip Roth, I just reread the opening of my favorite of his books, The Human Stain. I'll quote the first two paragraphs—and you can find the full first section of the opening chapter at the Random House website here:

It was in the summer of 1998 that my neighbor Coleman Silk—who, before retiring two years earlier, had been a classics professor at nearby Athena College for some twenty-odd years as well as serving for sixteen more as the dean of faculty—confided to me that, at the age of seventy-one, he was having an affair with a thirty-four-year-old cleaning woman who worked down at the college. Twice a week she also cleaned the rural post office, a small gray clapboard shack that looked as if it might have sheltered an Okie family from the winds of the Dust Bowl back in the 1930s and that, sitting alone and forlorn across from the gas station and the general store, flies its American flag at the junction of the two roads that mark the commercial center of this mountainside town.

Coleman had first seen the woman mopping the post office floor when he went around late one day, a few minutes before closing time, to get his mail—a thin, tall, angular woman with graying blond hair yanked back into a ponytail and the kind of severely sculpted features customarily associated with the church-ruled, hardworking goodwives who suffered through New England's harsh beginnings, stern colonial women locked up within the reigning morality and obedient to it. Her name was Faunia Farley, and whatever miseries she endured she kept concealed behind one of those inexpressive bone faces that hide nothing and bespeak an immense loneliness. Faunia lived in a room at a local dairy farm where she helped with the milking in order to pay her rent. She'd had two years of high school education.
No rush of suspense here—none that I can see—and not even drama in the sense of conventional scene-building. It's all exposition and description. But the foundation for tension is laid: in the words affair and confided, for example; in the contrasts between the idea of an affair and the description of "church-ruled, hardworking goodwives" and "stern colonial women locked up within the reigning morality and obedient to it"; in the contrast between miseries "concealed" and a face which "hide[s] nothing"; and then in the disparity between the main characters' ages—71 and 34—and their educational backgrounds, a classics professor and a high school dropout.

Needless to say, undramatic as all this is, there's plenty of drama ahead.

But does this count as suspense as well?

How about if you add in the chapter title looming over this bit of confidence? "Everyone Knows." 

Such are the questions I'm going to try to explore in my session at St. John's—perhaps not with these passages, which I've chosen mainly because Trevor and Roth have been on my mind today, this week, but with similar ones, looking to see how writers introduce small bits of tension and conflict from the start, how they raise the stakes bit by bit, often in excruciating ways, and, of course, what we other writers might learn from these moves.

Anthony Award News


A bit of news since my last post here: I'm honored that my story "A Necessary Ingredient" has been named a finalist for this year's Anthony Award for Best Short Story, alongside stories by my fellow SleuthSayer Barb Goffman and by Susana Calkins, Jen Conley, Hilary Davidson, and Debra H. Goldstein. As I've mentioned before, my story was part of the anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, co-edited by SleuthSayer Paul D. Marks, also a finalist for an Anthony in the anthology category, and featuring stories by several more of our SleuthSayers family. Been a great year for this anthology, and I'm thrilled to have been invited to be part of it. Oh! And I hope you'll enjoy the story itself, which you can read here for free.

See you all at Bouchercon in just a few months!

20 October 2017

Capstone to a Career


By Art Taylor

Last week's Bouchercon in Toronto was terrific and memorable in so many ways, with one of the great highpoints coming on the final day, when our fellow SleuthSayers B.K. Stevens won the Anthony Award for Best Novella for her outstanding story "The Last Blue Glass."

As most folks in our community know, Bonnie passed away suddenly back in August, but her husband Dennis and their daughter Rachel were in Toronto for much of Bouchercon to represent her as an Anthony finalist—attending several short story panels and being part of the weekend generally.

In addition to sitting near them at the panel for Anthony Award finalists in the novella category, I was fortunate to join Dennis and Rachel along with author Debra Goldstein, Linda Landrigan of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (Bonnie's longtime publisher), and Linda's husband John for dinner on Saturday night—a chance to get together with friends (part of a group that had gathered at several other conferences in recent years) but also, of course, an opportunity to remember Bonnie and her work. Dennis and Rachel shared some stories from years past, the early years of Dennis' and Bonnie's marriage, theirs moves from school to school and state to state, the years of raising kids—those stories from two perspectives, of course, with Rachel looking back on her own childhood. Many stories, of course, but one image that stood out related to Bonnie's commitment to her craft: her writing days when husband and kids were elsewhere so as to give her time and space, her family committing themselves in support of her work.

On Sunday, we gathered together again at the awards brunch, sat together along with Roberta Rogow, Deborah Buchanan, Michael Bracken and his wife Temple, and then Alan Orloff who arrived in time for the official presentation. Before the awards were presented, Roberta told us that she had always been good luck at awards ceremonies—that people at her table always won. Whatever role Roberta's luck played, we all erupted in cheers when Bonnie's name was called—and fought tears too when Dennis stepped up to the podium to explain what had happened to Bonnie, to talk about her long hopes of winning such an award, and to thank people in the mystery community for their support—those connections that he said meant so much to her, those friendships with her that meant so much to us. I say "fought tears" but that fight wasn't entirely won, as you might imagine.

Bittersweet is the word that kept coming up time and again at the brunch and again in the days since then. Poignant is the word that Dennis himself used, and it's difficult not to feel great sadness that Bonnie wasn't there to accept the honor herself, to enjoy the moment.

The Anthony Award is surely a fine capstone to Bonnie's terrific career as a short story writer, novelist, essayist, and more—but here's wishing again that it had simply been the next step in a career still being built, with more of her writings still ahead.

Congratulations to our fellow SleuthSayer and our too-soon-departed friend, B.K. Stevens.

06 December 2016

A Day in the Life of Dru Ann Love


by Barb Goffman

Her name says it all. Dru Ann Love. She loves mysteries and their authors, and they love her back.

You'd be hard pressed to find someone in the mystery community who doesn't know Dru. A self-described book nerd, she began blogging about the mysteries she adores in 2008 on her blog Dru's Book Musings. In 2010, Dru attended her first mystery convention, Malice Domestic, where she found what she calls "her community"--mystery readers and writers. A year later she implemented her idea to let mystery authors share their characters directly with her blog readers, uploading A Day In the Life posts in which the fictional characters talk about their days, and her blog really took off.


Since then, Dru has been a finalist for the 2015 Anthony Award for Best Critical or Non-Fiction Work. And last week she was named the 2017 recipient of the Raven Award by Mystery Writers of America (MWA). The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. Dru will receive the Raven during MWA's Edgar Award ceremony in April.
Dru Ann Love

"I knew a couple of weeks before," Dru said. "It was hard to keep the news to myself. I wanted to shout it to the world."

The mystery world shouted their approval back once the news was announced. And I thought this is the perfect time to let people get a glimpse into Dru's life. (Reporting and writing by Barb Goffman, life lived by Dru Ann Love.)

A Day in the Life of Dru Ann Love

It's four a.m. and I'm wide awake. No alarm necessary. I've always been an early riser, and today's no different. First stop: my computer to check email and Internet. I have several friends who are regularly up at that hour, and it's nice to touch base with them. Barb Goffman, this means you. (Note from Barb: If I'm up at that hour, it's because I woke up hot and will be returning to bed once the sheets cool off.)

Then things happen in a hurry. I turn on the TV news and weather at 4:30, hit the shower, and am out the door at 5:10, on my way to the Daytime Situation. After an hour-long train ride during which I read mysteries (of course) on my Kindle, I arrive at a well-known financial conglomerate and head to my desk in the marketing department. While my author friends are at their computers during the day, writing zigzagging plots and zany characters, I'm working on online surveys, helping to write them, program them, and send them out.

Love my Kindle!
Finally lunch time comes. Some days I'll meet a friend for lunch, but today I'm heading to the Irish pub across the street from my office. I love how quiet it is. I grab a corner table, order my favorite meal of fish and chips--extra crispy, no lettuce, tomatoes, or anything that would make my fish soggy--and I read, read, read.

Alas, lunch time must end. I'm spending this afternoon reviewing survey results to ensure we received enough back as well as  working on a preliminary analysis for clients. I wonder if I could program a survey through which I send out cryptic murder instructions. I'll have to share that thought with my author friends. (Note from Barb: Excellent idea! I feel my muse preparing to visit. ...)

The benefit of starting work early means I get to leave relatively early too. Before you know it, it's a little after five p.m., and I'm back home in Brooklyn. On the agenda for this evening: dinner with a friend, people-watching on the boardwalk, reading (of course), catching up with Facebook friends, and working on my blog, all with the TV on for background noise.
Heather Webber

This weekend I'll begin work on a new quilt and probably start reading another new book. And for sure I'll thank author Heather Webber. She was the one who convinced me to go to Malice Domestic for the first time. I'm such an introvert, it's amazing she succeeded in getting me out of my comfort zone. But boy, I'm glad she did. I wouldn't have found this crew of people, my community, without her.