To the barricades! (And don’t forget your paint brushes.)

When I was growing up, my parents would throw legendary parties in the Cameron Park neighborhood of Raleigh, inviting a combination of journalists, artists, writers, professors, and what was rather euphemistically called “free spirits.” I learned a lot lurking in the corners of those parties. But the only time they ever had to send out an actual invitation to their iconic New Year’s Eve party was when they had to cancel it after 25 years because they had grown too old to keep up the shenanigans. That year, they sent out an invitation saying that the party would not take place and thanking their guests for years of debauchery.

Each year at the end of April, my parents would also throw a Walpurgisnacht party, which was a low rent version of a black-and-white ball. People would arrive dressed in black and white clothing, packing into our sprawling Victorian house on Park Drive, drinking punch that steamed with the smoke of evaporating dry ice, shouting above the loud music, sweating, dancing, and engaging in a whole lot of conversations and other activities that I’ve spent years in therapy trying to forget.

I often think about those Walpurgisnacht parties when I look around the world we live in today. It’s like a black-and-white ball, only without the fun. Everyone is forced to take a position on either one side or the other of any issue, with no room to live in between. Everyone is shouting to be heard against the background noise, drunk on either power or self-righteousness. There seems to be very little room for nuance or thoughtful original opinion. Meanwhile, smoke and mirrors abound and we’re all trying very hard to convince ourselves that we are having fun.

I’m not having fun. Are you? [Read More…]

Ignoring the Truth

True DetectiveThis past week, socked under by a killer virus that would not abate, I sought refuge in reading true crime in front of the fire. I do not read just any true crime book that hits the racks, mind you, and you should not either. A large percentage of them consist of breathless prose highlighting the more lurid aspects of a crime, much like the detective magazines of (not-so-) old. But I do read good true crime because of the amazing psychological insights into human behavior that thoughtful reporting on a case can provide. This means I primarily read (or re-read) Ann Rule, who, until her death last year, stood head and shoulders above all other true crime writers. I know of no one else who has even come close to Rule’s ability to illuminate the cause and effects of aberrant behavior, in part because times have changed. The need to rush a manuscript to market—and be the first to offer a book on a major crime already well-publicized by other media outlets—means that few publishers are willing to wait until the case has wound its way through the courts. Tracking a non-fiction story over years is also exhausting and life-consuming, which may have been why Rule switched to short-form crime reporting toward the end of her life. But at her best, Ann Rule had an amazing capacity to let the psychological themes of a case emerge as she examined a real life tragedy, traced its inception by backtracking to motive, then detailed what happened during the trial. She always made sure to report what happened to the victim’s families, gave investigators and prosecutors their due, and followed up in the years after the verdict to see whether the punishment imposed had changed the perpetrator (answer: rarely, if ever). Each of her in-depth books on a case represented a microcosm of human behavior, invariably showcasing the best and the worst in people.

[Read More…]

The Great Debate

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table….

TS_EliotThese opening lines from T.S. Eliot’s iconic poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, have sparked many a debate among literary fans: is it a beautiful metaphor for twilight’s stupor… or could it be a metaphor for life itself?

As it turns out, it could very well be a metaphor for how T.S. Eliot felt when presented with a literary novel over one from his beloved detective genre. Yes, the undisputed arbitrator of literary genius was a huge detective fiction fan, a fact that the bastion of high brow writing, the New Yorker,revealed in this recent illuminating article. And not only was T.S. Eliot a devoted reader of the genre, he also wrote a number of anonymous reviews of detective novels and stories, defending the conventions of the genre with passion and advocating for some of its most notable authors in the time between the two great world wars.

Where was T.S. Eliot when I needed him? I have spent much of my career defending my decision to go into crime fiction as an author and remain as surprised as anyone that I have chosen to dwell there for decades and counting. But now that I know a man of unimpeachable authority in matters of literary judgment shares my passion, I have decided to stop mincing words when it comes to why I choose to write crime fiction over what some in the world might describe as more worthy novels. If J. Alfred Prufock can dare to eat a peach, then I can surely dare to point out the obvious in this endless debate: [Read More…]

Getting Our Group On

Adobe Photoshop PDFDon’t miss the novel by members of the Thalia Press Authors Co-op called Beat Slay Love. It’s a fun read because it combines the world of celebrity cooking with sex — and what could possibly be better than that? Order the book online now.

There are so many cooking metaphors I could use to talk about the process of writing this novel, a journey that involved five separate authors, all with their own long list of previously published books: me, Thalia co-founder Lise McClendon, Taffy Cannon, Kate Flora, and Gary Phillips. Instead, though, I see the creation of this novel as a metaphor for the overall authors co-op we have forged here at Thalia. When we first got together to write the book — a process that began and then lived in the virtual world since we are scattered across America — we were not quite sure what we wanted to do. It was much the same way with our co-op. We knew that we wanted to share ideas, support each other, and cheer each other on. But beyond that: we just had to dive in. We were creating something new and who knew where it would lead?

Where the idea of a group novel led to ultimately was an experience that proved more fun than I ever thought possible and, eventually, a damn good book. I am proud of what we have written and very proud to be associated with so many fine writers. [Read More…]