I'm not normally a reader of historical mysteries, but CITY OF LOST DREAMS, the new book by Magnus Flyte, seems to be much more than that--it is whimsey and fantasy in a historical setting, according to Kirkus, who called it "a lively, amusing romantic mystery," while CNN dubbed it "one of the most original novels released this year."
You had me at romantic, actually, but I always like to read something fresh and lively, and this book seems to be just the ticket for my holiday reading.
There is, apparently, a first book, called CITY OF DARK MAGIC, but I think I'm going to start with number two and see if it strikes my fancy. I can always go back and read the other book by the mysterious Mr. Flyte.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Monday, September 16, 2013
Monday, September 02, 2013
Monday, July 29, 2013
Let’s begin with the title: it’s a clever one, referring both to the publishing business, in which the main character works, and the heroine’s tendency to embellish her history. What came to you first: the title, or the plot?
I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I agree, it is a very apt title; but as usual with my books, I didn’t come up with it. It was the brainchild of my editor at Viking. While I was writing the book, I was calling it “Can You Hear Me Now?” which I quite liked; but “A Dangerous Fiction” really nailed the novel and I loved it as soon as I heard it.
Your main character, Jo, is tough, yet vulnerable, and she goes through a lot in this novel, both personally and professionally. Is she utterly fictional, or is she an amalgam of agents you have known?
The book offers us an inside look at a successful literary agency and some of the work that is done inside. I was shocked by the uncertainty of it: the fear of colleagues who might bear grudges, of media that might affect the agency’s reputation, of clients that might leave, seeking greener pastures. Is agenting, indeed, not for the faint of heart?
Publishing in general is not for the faint of heart, whether you’re an editor, agent, or writer. When I first started my agency, there were times that I had to worry about putting food on the table. But most people who work in that field do it because they love books and writing, and both agents and editors take great pride in their writers' work.
The cop in the novel, NYPD Detective Tommy Cullen, is an attractive man. He reminded me of Joseph Cotton’s character in Dial M for Murder. Do you happen to like that Hitchcock flick?
I do, though I haven’t seen it in ages. In the back of my mind, though, as I wrote A DANGEROUS FICTION, I was hearing dialogue from those classic Thin Man movies and Dorothy Parker’s stories.
Cool!! Jo’s past is littered with memories she doesn’t want to confront: the deaths of her parents; the abuses perpetrated by her grandmother; the marriage she insists was perfect. Why would someone as brilliant as Jo be so limited in analyzing her own experience?
Because it worked for her to compartmentalize her life, instead of integrating all its disparate parts. That integration is part of the journey she’s on, and one of the reasons I feel compelled to write more about Jo. But don’t we all tweak bits of our lives to make it a better story? Fiction is so much tidier than real life: more reason, less chance.
I was particularly fond of a character named Mingus, who happened to be a dog. Is Mingus based on any German Shepherds you have known?
All of them. So glad you liked Mingus! A good German shepherd is pretty much the ideal dog for me. Except for the shedding.
Jo has quite a few men in her corner. Are they protective of her because she is vulnerable, or do they naturally want to help a beautiful damsel in distress?
She has women in her corner, too. And she’s pretty tough; I don’t see her playing the helpless woman card.
While we’re on the subject of beauty—you have quite a few truly beautiful characters. Two gorgeous young interns, a beautiful protagonist, and a former lover whose nickname was “Prom King.” Do you think audiences are more sympathetic to beautiful people—even fictional ones?
Subconsciously they may be. Studies have shown that in real life attractive people have a pronounced advantage; it’s not unlikely that that carries over to fiction. But I’d like to think there are functional reasons my characters look the way they do. Certainly it’s true in Jo’s case, because she’s used her looks, along with brains and determination, to make her way in the world.
You once ran a literary agency in Israel. What are the notable differences between agenting in Israel and agenting in New York?
New York is tougher, because it’s never one person who decides to buy a book, a number of people have to weigh in, and any one of them can veto it along the way. In Israel, editors seemed to have more autonomy. But I haven’t been an agent in many years, and things may have changed.
You once met Madeline L’Engle. What was she like? How did you happen to meet?
I represented her U.S. agent, Theron Raines, for Hebrew rights, which meant I handled her books among others. I took the opportunity of introducing myself, because I pretty much worshiped her. She was my favorite writer as a kid, and I still remember the experience of reading A WRINKLE IN TIME one day when I was 8 or 9 and thinking, for the first time, that I wanted to do this; I wanted to make up stories and write books. We met a few times at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, had lunch and talked about books and writing. When my second novel, CAFÉ NEVO, was published, she wrote that it was “a wonderful novel with richly developed characters acting and interacting… the café and its clients will long remain in memory.” What was she like? Some writers put the best of themselves into their work and don’t have much left over. Madeleine L’Engle was as kind and gracious as she was gifted.
I always got that vibe from her dust jacket photo--it's nice to know it was true. What are you reading now?
Ruth Rendell’s THE ST. ZITA SOCIETY and Elizabeth Strout’s THE BURGESS BROTHERS.
Are you writing another mystery?
I’m currently writing the second of what will be at least two more Jo Donovan mysteries. She interests me strangely.
Awesome! You’ve done it all in publishing: agenting, writing, teaching, leading seminars. What advice do you give writers that they seem to find the most helpful?
I also teach writing, at my online school www.nextlevelworkshop.com, so I am a fount of advice. Very generally, I advise writers to work on the craft and not to rush a story into print just because it’s so easy to do in the era of easy self-publishing. Novels are complicated; they take time and multiple drafts to fully emerge.
You’ve traveled many places; is there a place on Earth that you’d love to visit but have not yet done so?
Kenya and South Africa. I want to do a safari, though preferably one with comfortable beds and no bugs.
Which of the places you’ve visited was the most beautiful?
The west coast of Ireland; the Adriatic coast around Dubrovnik; parts of Switzerland; and Ein Gedi on the shore of the Dead Sea.
Thanks for chatting with me, Barbara!
My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Find out more about Barbara Rogan on her website.
Find out more about Barbara Rogan on her website.
Friday, July 26, 2013
I read Millar's story first, something reminiscent of a really good Twilight Zone episode and definitely a fun thing to read right before bed!
Other writers in the book include the great Charlotte Armstrong and Patricia Highsmith (author of The Talented Mr. Ripley).
For those who loved Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" (which used to be in just about every grade school anthology, guaranteeing nightmares for generations of children), Weinman has provided a different Jackson tale, equally eerie and memorable.
It's so refreshing to see a book focused on the talented women in mystery fiction--the undersung writers whose accomplishments, if you read the biographies listed here, are multitudinous.
Hurrah! May more books like this be forthcoming.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
John Barlow is a British crime writer who has just released the second book in his LS9 Crime Series, called FATHER AND SON. In this guest blog, he explains why Leeds has been underused as a site for crime fiction.
The case for Leeds
by John Barlow
Crime writers often base their novels in a specific place, and become identified with that city or area: Ian Rankin (Edinburgh), Peter James (Brighton), John Harvey (Nottingham), Peter Robinson (North Yorkshire), Ann Cleeves Northumberland, Shetlands), Nick Quantril (Hull). The new wave of self-published writers has continued this tradition: Kerry Wilkinson (Manchester), Bill Rogers (Manchester), Mel Sherratt (Stoke)...
The setting for these books become part of the works themselves, almost characters in the fiction. When you open a new novel by one of these writers, you sink back into the familiar atmosphere of a familiar place, just as you reacquaint yourself with the main character.
Looking back at that (very incomplete) list, there’s a lot of northern towns and cities. Whereas ‘literary’ fiction is often associated with the south, especially London, the same cannot be said of crime writing, where both Tartan and Northern Noir are squarely on the map.
Except for Leeds. England’s third largest city (after Birmingham and London) is more or less absent from the list. Sure, there’s David Peace. But his novels, for some reason, don’t resonate with the city in the same way as Ian Rankin’s do of Edinburgh. We do have Kate Atkinson’s STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG there, but apart from that, Leeds really lacks a major presence in crime writing. Which is strange, because rival city Manchester is bursting with crime fiction, so much that at any moment we might expect the city’s Tourism Office to take out ads in the national press reminding people that this is fiction, and that Deansgate and Peter Street are not in fact littered with bleeding corpses.
A couple of years ago I wrote my first crime thriller, and decided to set it in Leeds. As part of the research for the book, I contacted the West Yorkshire Police, explained who I was, and was allocated an official contact on the city’s CID. I asked him what it was like working on serious crime in Leeds. The best place! he said, grinning. He went on to tell me how interesting and varied crime was in the city, and that for a CID officer there was no better posting.
I started to realise that Leeds was in fact perfect for crime fiction. It is large, with a varied economy and a rich social mix. There’s the broad swathe of 1960s social housing to the north of the city, which at one point included Quarry Hill, at the time the largest social housing project in the UK. Then, just a few miles further out are the millionaires’ residences and golf clubs of the city’s rich folk, many of whom are extremely rich, and absolutely fair game for any fictional criminal...
Leeds also has a long history of immigration, with a number of very well established ethnic communities. For example, when young Polish immigrants began to arrive in the city in recents years, they found the remnants of an earlier wave of Polish immigration, including social centres.
Then, inevitably, there’s the Ripper. The hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper was coordinated from Millgarth Police Station in Leeds city centre. It was a watershed in British policing, and showed how inadequate the investigative practices of the time were; at one point, the floor in Millgarth used to store the huge card index system for the Ripper inquiry had to be reinforced, since it was threatening to bring down the whole building.
A direct consequence of this was the HOLMES nation database, which figures in most police procedural novels these days, since all serious crime is entered into its vast digital store. Every police officer I have talked from the city to carries the Ripper investigation deep in their psyche, part of the DNA of policing there.
To say Leeds could be the new Edinburgh is not stretching the imagination. And given that the Harrogate Festival is just a bus ride away (OK, a short drive in your BMW), it seemed a good place to celebrate Leeds in all its (fictional) criminal glory. The Tartan lot may have had all the headlines up until now, but I think Northern Noir is ripe for a surge, with Leeds at the helm. I’m doing my bit, with a series set right in Leeds city centre. I don’t know to what extent this is a risk, but when the first novel came out, last year, a blogger from Australia not only reviewed the book, but wrote a piece about the city itself.
So, if you’re looking for a new destination in your crime reading, give Leeds a try. The streets are not littered with bleeding corpses just yet, but I’m doing my best.
John Barlow’s second novel set in Leeds, FATHER AND SON, is out now. Buy it here:
Or find him at his website, www.johnbarlow.net.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
The narrator of THE NEVER LIST is one of the captives, and she begins her tale by saying "There were four of us down there for the first thirty-two months and eleven days of our captivity."
Perhaps the most frightening thing about this book is that it doesn't even necessarily seem like fiction. Several high-profile rescues in the last ten years (notably two in Austria and two in California) involved similar kidnappings and imprisonments of women, sometimes for many years. One of the Austrian women, Elisabeth Fritzl, was imprisoned (by her own father) when she was eighteen and was only freed twenty-four years later, after giving birth to seven children sired by her father and suffering repeated abuse by him.
THE NEVER LIST, to my relief, does not so much detail the abuse that the prisoners received as it does examine the psychology of imprisonment--not only the motivation of the captor, but the many repercussions, physical and psychological, created by the loss of freedom.
The book's title emerges as a central irony of the novel--the narrator, Sarah, and her best friend, Jennifer, survive a car crash when they are young, after which, in their anxiety, they try to manage their lives by preventing any possible tragedies. They do this by creating THE NEVER LIST--what never to do if one wants to stay safe. Never walk alone, never trust a stranger, never park far from your destination, etc. When Jennifer and Sarah eventually become captives, Sarah is faced with the bitter truth: victimization is not necessarily something one can avoid by being vigilant.
Indeed, the notion of victimization is explored at length in this novel, in an interesting and compelling way. While I didn't always predict the direction that the novel would go and I found at least one event utterly unbelievable, I must admit that I read this book practically in one sitting, and it was truly compulsive reading.
Zan's premise is fascinating not only because she takes us inside the mind of one who has endured horror, but because she examines the reality of anxiety in teenagers. Recent studies have suggested that both anxiety and depression have increased at a rapid rate in young people, and I thought of that when I read Sarah's account of the time she spent with her teenage friend chronicling all possible disasters that could befall them and then making plans to avoid them. Their anxiety created a sort of agoraphobic avoidance, an imprisonment-before-their-imprisonment.
Sarah's narrative voice is compelling and heartbreaking, and her life after captivity makes the reader root for her even while they acknowledge that she can never be the same.
An interesting and sobering read.