Sunday, September 30, 2018

Me and Murphy

9 p.m. every Monday. All through high school. You could find me without fail in front of the TV, watching Murphy Brown. Those are, of course, formative years, and no fictional character impacted me like Murphy did.
She made me want to be a reporter. She was loud and aggressive and smart and independent and successful. She even walked like she owned the world, one high-heeled foot thrown in front of the other, striding over everything in her way.  
In TV and books—hell, in life—those traits usually got women chastised, ostracized, hurt. But not Murphy. Those qualities got her the story. And it made me want the same thing and know it was possible that I could have it.
So off I went off to college to study journalism. There were additional reasons I chose that career; I love to write, I'm curious to a fault, and I ask more questions than a Trivial Pursuit game. I decided early on that broadcast journalism wasn’t for me. I liked print. I liked the physical words on a page; I liked the permanence; I liked the byline. But the Murphy didn’t leave me. I wanted to do the pin-you-to-the-wall interviews, the big investigative pieces. That broadened as I went through school and started working. I wanted to do stories that helped people through tragedy or confusion, let them know about important issues, or commemorated significant events.
Murphy Brown’s 10-year run coincided with high school and college and my first few years as a reporter. My viewing got a little sporadic as time went on and I entered the working world with a crazy schedule and very little time off. I'm still insanely busy, but there will be no way I’ll miss a single episode of the new series, which premiered Thursday on CBS. It’s the same cast playing the same characters. Now they’re trying to make it in the 24-hour cable news cycle, instead of on the staid 60 Minute-ish show Murphy worked for the first time. 
Thursday’s episode was good. It was heavy on the exposition and a few of the jokes felt a little too broad, but I think everything will settle down quickly. There are a lot of plot possibilities with Murphy’s son, now an adult, and his career in journalism. He has his own cable show on a conservative network that competes directly with Murphy’s new one on a rival channel. There's also the perennial comedic promise Murphy's inability to find a good secretary, which continues with this first new episode.
But the revived show’s greatest potential is the same one it had all those decades ago: that young people, women especially, will watch it and decide that if Murphy can be complicated, fierce, ass-kicking, and successfulso can they.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Importance of Awards and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Scott D. Parker

If it weren’t for the Emmy Awards, I would never have watched “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

I’ll admit: I barely watched the actual awards show. I stayed long enough to see Henry Winkler earn his first (!) primetime Emmy award (and his wonderful speech*) I also saw two actors from GODLESS win: Merritt Wever and Jeff Daniels. Loved that he thanked his horse.

The next day, I read through the rest of the winners. What struck me was this show on Amazon that won not only Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. In fact, I think it won the most awards of the evening, taking home five trophies.

But what was this show about? My wife and I were intrigued, so we pulled up Amazon and gave it a look.

NOTE: The show is eight episode long. As of this writing, I have not seen the last episode, so I’ll be basing all my thoughts on the first 7 episodes. But that is enough.

Rachel Brosnahan stars as the titular character, Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a Jewish housewife who inadvertently discovers she has a talent for stand-up comedy. The show is set in 1950s New York, and Midge lives with her husband, Joel, and their two kids in an apartment a few floors below her parents’ apartment. Tony Shalhoub plays her father, Abraham, and in a bit of “Whoa, maybe I really am getting old”, her mother is played by Marin Hinkle. You might not know the name, but she starred as Jon Cryer’s ex-wife in “Two and a Half Men.” She’s a mere two years older than me...and she’s a grandmother!

As the show opens, it’s Joel who tries his hand at stand-up. He’s not good, but Midge dutifully takes notes during his performances, compiling a notebook full of ideas and lessons learned. After a particularly bad night in which he bombed, Joel informs Midge he’s leaving her for...his secretary. She gets drunk, wanders the streets, and ends up in The Gaslight Club, the very venue Joel just stank up. She gets up on stage, overcoat covering her nightgown, and proceeds to let it all out. Susie Myerson, playing a worker in the Gaslight, sees what Midge is capable of and convinces her to give stand-up comedy a serious go.

In what could have easily been a rote-type comedy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel vibrates with a joy not seen on the small screen in a long time. It’s a very New York show, complete with lots of Jewishness and talk about the town and society in the 1950s. This historian part of me loved it all. The clothes, the formal dinners, the evident ‘caste-like’ system is portrayed very well.

But what really sends this show over the top is the whip-smart dialogue. This TV show could easily have been adapted to a stage play, but the better comparison is the comedies of the 1930s movies. Think of the Thin Man movies or any of those films where the characters deliver their lines in a rat-a-tat fashion, always with the perfect comeback and precisely the best time. You will, um, marvel at how well these actors do their thing.

Brosnahan is a dream as Midge. Not only does she deliver the normal dialogue well, but when she gets behind the microphone to deliver her stand-up routines, she comes across as a natural. It makes me wonder if she’s ever had any desire or experience being a true stand-up comic. If not, she should definately try.

Tony Shalhoub is hilarious. I laughed out loud multiple times. And the chemistry he has with Hinkle is so palpable that you might wonder if they are not secretly married. Joel’s father is played in a wonderfully over-the-top fashion by Kevin Pollak. I know him best as the third person on Tom Cruise’s legal team in A FEW GOOD MEN, after Demi Moore. He all but steals every scene he’s in.

Every actor in this show is at the top of their game. I rarely binge, but there were a couple of nights when we’d finish one episode and, after a quick check of my watch, rolled right into the next one.

Awards are sometimes derided as things given within a group of people to bolster all those egos. I’ve never thought that. Awards, no matter the group, are intended to showcase good, quality things--in this case, TV shows--and let the world know some examples of good stuff.

I so enjoyed this show...and I never would have likely given it the chance were it not for all those Emmy wins. Well deserved, and highly recommended.

*Henry Winkler, upon winning his first primetime Emmy said, among other things, this fantastic line: “If you stay at the table long enough, the chips comes to you. Tonight, I got to clear the table.”

Let’s hear it for perseverance. And for continuing to show up.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Slow News Day

I’m literally sick over the news lately. I managed to get myself together to “escape” to the Echo Park library and spend an evening reading and listening to crime fiction, having good food and conversation, and then ... back in the car. Sick again.

I don’t know how to write about crime fiction while I watch people debate sexual assault everywhere around me and face the fact that, in a few hours, we will most likely see Brett Kavanaugh appointed to the Supreme Court. I don’t care what your opinion on his truthfulness is (I mean it, I really do not, and attempts to debate with me will result in you being ignored and removed from my life), I care that we still think women with nothing to gain and everything to lose are liars by default. I care that women are asking - begging for an investigation, and it probably won’t ever happen. The Amaerican Bar has asked for one now, but I can’t bring myself to have faith that it matters

I see this cycle play out over and over. A high profile man is accused of a sex crime(harassment, abuse, assault, rape, etc) people rush to his defense, women come forward to cut themselves open and lay our trauma out to be examined. We say “look! You know us! You trust us! If this happened to us and we behaved like this - isn’t it possible these women are telling the truth?”

The result of this retraumatizing, this painful relitigation? We quickly discover who we can trust and who we must be fearful of. We discover how many men seem to be hiding something terrible in their past because as they accuse women of not knowing the difference between a compliment or a cat call, “rough housing” or assault, we know they know us better than that. We know they know women aren’t that stupid.

I want to promote things and generate discussion about our genre but I can’t do it today. I’m looking forward, thinking about what I do if, in a few hours, a serial sexual abuser is given a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. I am thinking about how I will care for myself and the women I care about. I am thinking about the men I know who have also suffered abuse and watch as it’s erased or ignored even though these events and constant discussions are triggering* and upsetting for them, too.

I can only ask that we be kind to each other. It might be the last line of defense.

*When I use this word I am always using it in the clinical sense.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

7 Minutes With: Bunch of D

By Steve Weddle

This episode of 7 Minutes With features Jedidiah Ayres talking about movies, Chris Holm on music, and Holly West on scatology.

The final half-hour of the show is a chat I had at Fountain Bookstore with author Caleb Johnson, who was launching his debut novel, Treeborne.

Listen to the podcast here


Bird Streets review

The Dirty Nil Master Volume

Restorations first listen

Noname Tiny Desk


Mandy review

Small screen viewing

Amercian Vandal

Bonus author chat

Caleb Johnson's Treeborne ->



The water was coming, but Janie Treeborne would not leave. She’d lived alone in this house perched on the edge of a roadside peach orchard in Elberta, Alabama, ever since Lee Malone sold it to her. Sold maybe not the right word for the price she paid, the price he would take. But it was hers and she would not leave. Rather the water take her too.
She’d been telling her visitor exactly how she came to own the house, which once was Lee’s office and, before that, his boyhood home. A complicated matter. To tell how this house and the surrounding property became hers she needed to tell how it became Lee’s, and to do that she needed to first tell about a man named Mr. Prince.
“See, back then folks thought Mr. Prince wasn’t but a rumor and a last name,” she continued. “But he was real. Lived in one of them mansions down on the river. Anyhow, Lee started working at The Peach Pit not long after the storm.
“Worked here for years. Then one day Mr. Prince carried him to lunch out at Woodrow’s. The Hills would of been about the only place they could eat together. They ordered and sat down and Mr. Prince said he was selling the orchard, the old cannery, and a little cottage he owned in town for whatever was in Lee’s billfold right that moment. Can you imagine? Mr. Prince died not too long after. Most of my growing up, folks still thought Lee wasn’t nothing but the orchard manager. Would of got to a certain kind of person. Not him, not to Lee Malone.”
Janie Treeborne’d come to own the peach orchard—and the other properties once belonging to Mr. Prince—the same way as Lee Malone. She sat at a greasy tabletop inside Woodrow’s Pit Cook Bar-B-Q where, years before, Lee’d counted out of his billfold two-dollar-five-cent and a receipt for a bag of dog food, and she searched for what money she had in the depths of a purse she felt foolish toting around. Lee’s heart was weak by then. He had considered turning the land over to Janie for a long long time.

She thought she would of handed everything down to her visitor, this young man sitting with a tape recorder on his lap and a long microphone gripped in his hand. So why’d she not? Janie couldn’t remember. Did it matter? He was here, he was home. Had her same big forehead and freckled nose, her granddaddy Hugh’s thick black hair and high-cut cheeks. A Treeborne, she thought, through and through, right down to the bone.
“Do you remember how much it was you paid?” he asked.
“Foot yes, I do,” she said. “You reckon your grandmomma’d up and forget something like that? It was sixteen dollar and a pack of chewing gum.”
“Did you ever regret not paying him more?”
“Regret, foot,” she said. No amount would of been sufficient. This place was priceless. But how to explain that? “Lee’s body might of blunted,” she went on, “but his mind stayed sharp till the end. I always tell that if mine ain’t then somebody please shove a gun right here and fire that sucker twice. There’s one right yonder in the dresser drawer. I don’t give a rip if it sounds morbid! Life’s morbid! Love sure enough is.
“Lee Malone taught me everything about the peach-growing business. Everything. Even helped run the fruit stand through his last good summer on earth. Could still sing his head off too. Them trees yonder, we planted them together. Look out thataway you’ll see where the house he died in once stood. Wasn’t much to the place itself, but it was in Elberta and belonged to him, and there was a time that meant something. See? Other side the road there, just below the water tower Ricky Birdsong fell off of.”
“Are there any pictures of Mr. Malone?” the young man asked.
Janie got up from her recliner chair and took one of the dozens of photo albums shelved in the living room and stacked in cardboard boxes pushed against the wall. She opened to a picture of the old Elberta water tower. Pointed, turned the page. Black-and-whites of folks standing by water, with dogs, by log houses and woodpiles, next to pickup trucks and wagons, at school, at church, in decorated cemeteries, along fencelines and unidentifiable roadsides and hedgerows. Somehow not one picture of Lee Malone.
She turned the page again and pointed at a girl with straight black hair touching bony shoulders. “There’s me,” she said, squinting as if to be sure. “Would of been the year before MawMaw May died—if I’m right.”
“Do you still think about it?” the young man asked.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Reclaiming Mythology: The Mere Wife, Circe, and The Odyssey

Three of the best books I've read in the past year are reclaimed myths and ancient epics written or translated by women. Mythology doesn't care whether you acknowledge it or not. We breathe it in regardless. "Why do we read Beowulf?" some students cry. And why do we? Do we need to? Its influence is there whether we read it or not. If you want to see our influences, by all means read it. If you are uninterested, Beowulf and the Odyssey don't care whether you read them. They are taking space in your brain anyway.

My Odyssey began with Emily Wilson's beautiful translation of The Odyssey, which has been called feminist, but in reality is just not chauvinist. She strips the bias of prior translations that turned servant-girls into "sluts" and gives us a view of the man as the oldest texts depict him. And it isn't pretty, though it is utterly compelling. Odysseus is a cruel trickster who would be chums with Reynard the Fox. We are supposed to empathize with him for being kept from home for twenty years, but it's easy to forget this is punishment. He urges the slaughter and enslavement of Hector's wife and family so they can't seek vengeance; he and his men insult Poseidon and Aeolus at every turn. They are not so much victims of the cyclops as sheep rustlers caught in the act, and his cruel joking nature is what gets him his comeuppance every time.

It's still a story I love, even if Odysseus is, as the first line reads, a complicated man. And no matter if you read the story ages ago, absorbed it through culture or watched a movie of it, I highly recommend reading Wilson's new translation to help parse this Ur-epic's influence of every story written after. And yes, I will be reading Gilgamesh soon, which predates it.

What of Beowulf? He's been taken to task before, as with Grendel by John Gardner, a favorite of mine as a youth. Maria Dahvana Headley goes much further in The Mere Wife, transplanting the story to the American suburbs and making it very difficult to tell who exactly the monsters are. It's not a mirror of Beowulf but a story inspired by it, so while someone loses an arm, it's not a scene for scene retelling. Headley writes with a mythic power, and instead of a mead hall of old men, the planned community of Herot Hall is run by the wives of rich men, who pull the strings and play kingmaker with as much intrigue as a thousand pages of Game of Thrones. Whoopsie! (That's an in-joke, you'll have to read the book to get it).

Their community is built on the bones of an older one, poor unnamed people who built the now-abandoned train station, which the Herot family wants to rebuild into a gentrified commuter delight.
Dana Mills, a soldier from that older community, returns home with child and raises young "Gren" up in the mountains, looking down on the land that was taken from her family. The Herots have a son Gren's age and the two become friends, and later, more than friends, a bond that brings the two worlds together and tears them apart.

Headley uses the old story to tell one about our modern day, and like Grendel, sides with those who aren't allowed in the hall instead of those welcomed in as heroes. The lady of Herot Hall is a great villain because we understand her motives, and sympathize with the cage she was born into.

Circe by Madeline Miller may be my favorite of the bunch, and if you love women behaving badly, she is one of the most infamous. She starts as a small nymph daughter of the sun god, who scorches children who ask too many questions or not bow to his narcissism, and quickly learns to survive in the shadows of the gods as she grows and learns her own unique powers: she is something entirely new, a witch, a human who can harness powers to defy the gods. Needless to say this is dangerous, and is how you get exiled to a rocky island for life. Which is where she meets Odysseus. It's a testament to Miller's storytelling that this happens late in the narrative and I stopped waiting it to happen. She weaves the totality of Greek myth around Circe's life, and the gods are capricious, cruel egomaniacs who demand sacrifice from humans when they aren't torturing us for their entertainment. Circe is only a little better, but her vengeance is sweet.

Circe is the perfect follow-up to your re-read of The Odyssey, and you won't be disappointed. It's beautifully written and paced quickly even though it spans countless centuries of the immortal gods. Scylla has never been more terrifying, Odysseus never portrayed better--from the perspective of someone he wants to make a victim, but who traps him in turn--and I can't wait to read Miller's best-seller The Song of Achilles to see her take on the Trojan war.

In my own work, I rarely invoke myth anymore. I used to do it all the time, but now if it's there, it is buried deep. For me, that works better. Even if you don't know a certain myth directly, often you've absorbed it, so you don't need to know the labors of Hercules--that hitman from Olympus--to be influenced by them. For example when Laird Barron had Isaiah muck out stables in Blood Standard, we didn't have to ask who he was being compared to. And when Jay Desmarteaux throws a severed head that "petrifies" his enemies, you know he's about to release the kraken.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


Kelby Losack and I share the same publisher, Broken River Books.  It's through our mutual publisher that I got to know him, and it's a connection I'm very glad I made.  Kelby's first novel with Broken River, Heathenish (his second novel overall), came out in 2017.  It is a raw, unvarnished yet superbly controlled book about one youthful guy's progression from self-destructiveness to something tentatively better. It presents with absolute clarity and no moralizing people, in Gulf Coast Texas, conniving and scrapping and fighting to survive.

In his new book, The Way We Came In, ordinary people with scant means are still scrapping to survive.  But Kelby changes the emphasis in this story. Trouble begins early and from a situation simple but real: two brothers, twins, both young, need money to pay their rent. This is not a crime novel set among the higher ends of the social ladder.  It's crime among people who are the ones most likely, in actual life, to end up in court and jail.  Kelby has complete command of his material, and the striking matter of factness with which he delivers it only increases your reading engagement. There is emotion but not a jot of sentimentality, and partly because of this, Kelby gets you to root very hard for his central characters as they go through dangers and struggles.

In this piece he's contributed, Kelby talks about where he gets a lot of his writing inspiration from.  

by Kelby Losack

I can’t honestly name an influential crime author off the top of my head. Not to throw shade, but when I’m trying to summon the muses, I’ll click over to Sound Cloud before I crack open a noir. Maybe it’s because familiarity breeds contempt, like, I’m too much inside of the literary world to see the magic all the time. I’m seeing all the gears inside instead of being wowed by the magic or something, I don’t know. What I do know is this: the crafting of my prose, my voice – these are things I’ve tweaked and evolved primarily under the influence of indie rap.
There is a lot of real, honest-to-god art being made in the underground hip hop scene these days, and I’m endlessly searching for more artists to discover. Throughout the writing process of my last novel, The Way We Came In, I had at least thirty-some rappers queued up on the playlist, probably more. Definitely more. If we’re talking influences, though, we can do a pick three of whose work I vibe with... who I’ve learned the most from.

Let’s talk plot structure, and let’s also talk JPEGMAFIA. “Peggy” – as he’s lovingly nicknamed – spits bars in an often hostile, energetic tone over glitchy, lo-fi beats that bring to mind the days of dial-up internet and dusty cartridge games. The standard sixteen-line verse is rarely delivered on a Peggy track. The music often “skips” like a scratched CD and Peggy will shift instantly from yelling to singing to whispering to yelling again. His last album, Veteran, is one I’ve kept going back to since it dropped in January. The chaotic energy of it has inspired me to give less fucks about hitting all the notes the right way – the expected way. Whenever I get bored with a chapter or a concept I’m working on, I’ll cut to another scene, start developing another idea, shift the tone. Sometimes I want to yell, sometimes I want to sing, and that transition – especially because of my ADD – can happen at any moment.
If JPEGMAFIA has influenced the way I like to arrange words on a page, Starlito and Cousin Stizz have been the main rappers I should acknowledge for developing my delivery of the words themselves. Starlito sprinkles little details throughout almost all of his songs that let you know this is something he’s lived – it’s something he could only know if he’s been there before – and as a result, it’s a more engaging experience for the listener. For example, there’s this line, from “Baby Fever”: “Drove from Phoenix to Vegas with just three songs on my playlist/‘Dear Mama’ by ‘Pac and Jay-Z’s ‘Momma Loves Me’ and ‘Mama I Made It.’” Starlito is in his thirties with no children, writing a song loosely inspired by the implications of its title, and in this line he’s describing a four-hour drive with the same few songs on repeat – all of them songs about mothers. He doesn’t have to tell you what he’s thinking, just that he was listening to these songs over and over, and you can imagine the things that were going through his head at the time.
It’s the little details that are especially important when you’re trying to express yourself in a three-minute song. Or, yeah, when you’re writing minimalist prose. It’s why when I’m writing a scene about characters cutting and bagging up dope, there will be a Weight Watchers scale on the table. Or, when a character is having his Tarot read at a party, the cards will be prostitute calling cards with Sharpie drawings on them. I’ve seen both of these scenarios before, and it was these odd little details that stuck with me. There doesn’t need to be a lot of detail, because just the right detail will amplify a single bar, or a single sentence.

You ever feel like all the ideas have been expressed already? All the good stories already told?
Yeah, they probably have been. Doesn’t mean they can’t be expressed in new ways, though.
There’s a line from “No Bells” where Cousin Stizz says, “Look inside my cup, ask my drink what’d it smack me for?”
I love that line. Whatever is in his cup is giving him a buzz, nothing special about that, but it’s the unique way he describes the shift in his inebriation that makes the line stand out. I don’t meditate on clever lyrics like this too much when writing, however, because trying to be clever comes across as pretentious, obnoxious, dishonest. It is something I think about, though, when contemplating the purpose of the story I’m trying to tell. During those “why bother” moments, I’ll remember that yes, every story has been told, but I haven’t told it my way yet. Thanks to the inspiration of my favorite rappers, I’ve got that underground hip hop flavor to spike the literary punch bowl with. 

You can get The Way We Came In right here.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Breaking Wind at the Crime Fiction Community Clubhouse Meeting

Years ago, Allan Guthrie was reviewing something I'd written and called me out for being melodramatic. Now, that isn't my normal style, but it did make me realize something.

I'm a sucker for melodrama. I cry at Canadian Tire Christmas commercials. Pop some video on Facebook about a person adopting a dog or rescuing a cat and I'm bawling like a baby. Why I don't have stock in Kleenex is beyond me. The emotional stuff gets me every time. When the kids were younger and we'd go to a movie they'd start watching me. "Are you crying?" I was asked.

"NO, I'M NOT CRYING AT TOY STORY III, DAMMIT, SHUT UP!" Of course, I couldn't say that. But it was noted that I was the first one to shed a tear at anything the slightest bit mushy or emotional.

I think a lot of people in crime fiction circles might be surprised at that, because of my reading tastes and my tendency to write characters that are tougher. It's probably stemmed from a degree of self-deprecation; I want to make logical decisions instead of emotionally reacting to things. Want to.

And yet, there are times when emotions get the better of me.

This happens to the best of us. Even people who aren't overly emotional or typically swayed by emotional outbursts or displays. Anyone who has ever felt the need to defend themselves has been feeling something.

And there's been a lot of defensiveness going around lately in the crime fiction community.

This is delicate territory, and my intent isn't to offend anyone. (Except for the people who are racist and/or sexist. I couldn't possible care less about what they think of what I'm about to say.) But... it's an emotional topic. So hopefully, everything comes out as intended. And is taken the same way.

Now, before I really get into the dirt here, this isn't all about Pelecanos. It's about much, much more than women in publishing. Bear with me.

First, something happened at Bouchercon. Now, I wasn't at Bouchercon. However, people who were there, and specifically some who were in the room when this "something" happened have referenced it on social media, including this group blog here.

This means that far more than just the people who went to Bouchercon are aware that there was an incident. 

Prior to Bouchercon there was a push for an anti-harassment policy and some authors made public pledges to be available to anyone who felt harassed or threatened or uncomfortable in any way.

Why mention this? Just to underscore that no community is 100% perfect. Anyone telling you it's all love and happiness inside X community is delusional.

So, to get on with it, Jim Thomsen wrote a piece this weekend about George Pelecanos' latest book. Part of me loathes referencing it, only because Pelecanos needs no extra attention. He's getting profile in the New York Times and elsewhere, and I would rather send a shout out to someone who might actually benefit from gaining readers.

However, Jim's piece is about far more than Pelecanos' book and is well worth the read. It should be a must-read for crime fiction authors and publishers. It cuts to the heart of a lot of issues in the United States, and globally, right now. It touches on problems in the crime fiction community that aren't easy to talk about, either. There are things here that need to be said, and need to be examined. Much of it he says so well already, there's nothing for me to add. However, there are a few points I want to expand on.

[Jim referenced] recent controversy involving Pelecanos, who did a “By The Book” Q&A with The New York Times in which he cited only male authors and their novels as inspirations and recommendations, and took a needless swipe at a female author, Harper Lee. That drew a swift rebuke from author Lauren Groff, and a few female crime-fiction authors. Said M.J. Rose, on Groff’s thread: “(So) damn typical. So many men have similar lists and I’m sick of it.” But, by and large, crickets from the some of the loudest voices in the crime-fiction community, which is often paralyzed by the notion that speaking ill of others is tantamount to exile from publishing (I’ve already accepted that). It’s as if most of the members of the crime-fiction tribe stood silently in the same room, looking fleetingly and self-consciously at one another, faces wrinkled in “who farted?” expressions.
I’m taking aim at the male-driven machine that seems bent on making him into an avatar of the Male Resistance to the Female Takeover of Crime Fiction, in somewhat the same way bad male actors are trying to push their way past #MeToo and back into the spotlight they feel they deserve after all-too-short periods of cultural exile.
As The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino put it, sardonically: “Women have had their ‘moment,’ their unprecedented time in the spotlight of cultural favor. The gravitational pull of male power is exerting itself, turning our attention back to the place where it has been trained to linger: the hero’s journey of men.”
Well, I certainly had something to say in the wake of all of this. And I'll be blunt. There are people who are often seen as the spokespeople for the genre. They're the ones writing regular articles, maintaining websites that touch on the regular happenings in the genre. They talk author news. They're the ones who are positioned as reporters covering crime fiction.

There are also the loud voices who have usually spoken out about issues relevant to gender and stereotypes in crime fiction that seemed to stay silent. I was watching Twitter for a couple of days, looking to see who would respond. If anyone of any position of real influence within the genre did, other than M.J. Rose, I missed it. (Now, there was more commentary on Facebook. But Facebook has different privacy settings than Twitter. When you say things on Twitter you speak to the masses. Facebook depends person to person... so I can't necessarily cite those as public statements.) On Twitter, the overwhelming majority of the commentary was driven by writers from outside the genre, and it was as though almost everyone within the genre stood shoulder to shoulder to not let anyone know we were all plugging our noses because someone farted in our clubhouse.

This is bigger than just how women in crime fiction are treated. Look, I've read Pelecanos. I've watched episodes of The Wire that he wrote. He's a male-oriented writer. That is neither good nor bad. It just is. I guess I'd say he's a man of his time, and for me, for my personal entertainment, that doesn't really fit my interests currently. I love me some male protagonists (Rebus) but I'm far less interested in men of a certain era who view women a certain way. I'm really interested in the men of the next generation, who have a far more inclusive view of the world and are secure in their masculinity so they aren't threatened by strong women, gay men or anyone else. So bring on those authors and those protagonists. PLEASE.

The thing is, we aren't saying enough about diversity in the genre. Jim said about the crime fiction community that it's

Kellye is quoted as saying, "We need to stop treating diverse writers as a trend and start treating them as the status quo.”

All of this brings me around to the most important question. What can I do to promote inclusion?

This year I have run reviews of books by diverse writers, such as Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, and I've profiled writers such as Chanel Hardy and Willie Davis.

In my own reading, I've been emphasizing works by women and diverse writers. This has included reading works by Willie Davis, Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel and Rebecca Roanhorse.

There is still a very long way to go.

The thing is, each and every one of us who is serious about inclusion must make a conscious effort to read diverse writers and to talk about diverse writers. Unfortunately, that puts a certain burden on diverse writers. I have emailed several about doing author features for Toe Six. I only get responses from a fraction of the people I reach out to, across the board, regardless of race or gender. (Women are the hardest group, actually.) Within crime fiction I have a bit less than a 1 in 5 return rate. I expanded to horror and the horror community has a 3 out of 5 return rate. I haven't looked at things in terms of race or gender; however, I am aware that this presents me with a specific challenge. I have to work harder to try to ensure that I am being inclusive... and the trouble is, I only have so much time to devote to this. 

And all y'all who don't have email addresses or ways to contact you? Pffft. I can't even try. So, sometimes I'm hunting down a website or the person on Twitter and they don't allow messages and don't have a public email. And it's not right to call people out on blog comments or Twitter feeds. I don't want to do that, so guess what? I can't even invite you for an interview.

Someone I wanted to email today... isn't getting that email. I wish I could feature them, but I can't. I have an even worse return rate for reaching out through publicists for interviews. It sucks. But I also hate it when people give out my email address without permission. Sometimes it works out fine, but I have an email address on my website that people can use. It isn't my main account but stuff will get to me. Nobody needs to give out my main email address if they have it. I keep things in different places for specific reasons, and my sanity is one of those reasons.

I'm not asking anyone for an author's email address. Even if it's a person who blogs here at DSD. 

Authors, if you don't have a contact form or email system in place, you don't know what you're missing out on. Even if you do have a publicist. I guarantee you. 

I would call on reviewers to focus more on novels that:
  • are written by diverse writers
  • are written by women
  • feature non-white protagonists
  • include LGBTQ characters 
Now, this does put a certain burden on diverse writers, because we can only interview them if they are available. (And like I established, some aren't. Not via email. Not unless you know somebody.) 

However, all of us can make a choice to read more diverse authors and talk about their books.

This isn't about who's at the top of the publishing heap. This isn't about maintaining the status quo. This isn't about accepting the way things are and playing the politics.

This is about the world we want to leave our kids. Do we want to leave them with gender bias and racial stereotypes and exclusion? Or do we want to help usher in a new era of inclusion?

If you are an author or a book-related reporter or editor/publisher and you aren't pushing yourself to read more diverse authors and female authors and books about non-white characters and stories about LGBTQ characters, you are facilitating the current problem in publishing. 

Do we all have the right to read what we like and want to read? Sure. But when this is your business, when you earn bucks from writing or editing or publishing, you are an influencer. You are a person who can shape the industry and the future. Maybe all you do is make someone feel like they belong, or that they have a chance to be published. Maybe all you do is inspire a writer who is black or Indigenous or Hispanic to pick up a pen. It's still something. 

And I'm sorry to break that news to you, but it's a reality. Man, when I started Spinetingler 13+ years ago I just thought about promoting what I loved and sharing what I was passionate about. Eventually, it became clear that there was much more to it. I think one of the first things that really made me aware was an uproar back then about focusing on female writers. And I don't think I took it seriously at all. We did have us some blog spats, back in the day. I recall counting our short story publication numbers by gender and writing about that to someone, or somewhere... I see now I should have treated the issue more seriously than I did.

We will not fix our problems if we don't admit they exist. 

A few months ago, there was an article about how shocked the publishing world was that there were people who didn't live in New York City. There was talk of the scramble to get something published that would interest these peculiar people who'd previously been invisible.

The thing is, as of 2017, 50.8% of the people living in the United States are women. Almost 40% of those people are mixed race or Indigenous, black or Hispanic. 

That means that more than half the country is female and almost half the country identifies as a minority. There is absolutely no way that the overwhelming majority of books in any genre should be primarily written by white men or should be mainly about white men. 

What else can I do?

Obviously, I'm white. I cannot express to you how much I love Middle Eastern and Native American music. There's something in it that calls to my soul, although I have no reason to think that I have any ancestry that is anything but the typical Irish, Scottish, English, French, German mixed bag. I can't change that.

I started searching. Back in April I started an email journey, to find out if there was a directory for Indigenous authors in Canada. Cleo Big Eagle sent me some information and I've continued the journey from there. Now I'm in touch with the HQ Reference Library. I hope to be able to profile more Indigenous authors regularly with the resources they've directed me to.

My writing. My latest book has a protagonist named Moreau who is part white, part Aboriginal. Dana King recently asked me if I was concerned about accusations of cultural appropriation, but as I said to him, "We don't live in androgynous, monochromatic worlds. In order to truly represent society we need to be able to incorporate people with different backgrounds."

What's key is doing this with sensitivity and respect. Moreau's boss is black. Moreau herself faces discrimination and harassment throughout the story, which is intended to show what people actually experience. Some of the stuff I wrote that was directed at her was awful and it bugged me to write it. But I was also really, really pleased when The Masked Reviewer said Moreau was "admirable." 

I also wrote a story about a post-op trans woman that was published in The Dame Was Trouble. I wrote it because of a family member who is trans. ("Crossing Jordan by Sandra Ruttan doesn’t feature murder or a shoot-out but does get us inside the head of a trans sex worker as she tries to unsuccessfully kill herself. But it’s not just A Man Called Ove done up in high heels.  It is a story of persistence and strength in the face of misunderstanding, rejection, and violence. A story that will stick with me.")

These are, to me, the greatest compliments I have received as a writer. To have people embrace Moreau as an admirable character, to say, "I look forward to reading future novels about the adventures of Kendall Moreau in the RCMP....  I have confidence in Moreau's ability to handle all the situations that might arise in the course of her career, and Ruttan's ability to portray them." 

That means a lot to me. It's such a small thing, but one can only hope that if people want to spend time with characters who are mixed race that they will welcome diverse writers too. That they will look to the heart of the story. That they will help usher in an era where we aren't just seeing books about white people in white communities. 

I would love to be able to hang a shingle up at Toe Six and say it exclusively focuses on small press, indie and diverse authors. I won't... not any time soon. The only reason is because I'm limited by what returns to me, and if I say that's what I'm about then I am not going to touch anything from big presses. Current limitations aside, there are some up-and-coming authors who are with bigger presses who still can benefit from promotion, too, because they're the small guys swimming in big ponds. But I am going to be putting my emphasis on the small press, indie and diverse authors wherever I can. This year I have read far more books by women and am increasing my numbers of diverse authors.

And I'll be paying a lot more attention to reviews that focus a lot less on the conventional bestseller list and seek out those undiscovered gems that deserve our attention. We have to give our print to what we want to see more of. I'm not always going to succeed, but that's what I'm going to try to do.

Now, about that incident at Bouchercon...

I don't know what happened. I don't need to know. However, I am going to put this out there for the people who do know. Clearly, there's been enough of a ripple effect for some people to feel they needed to address it on social media. And everything I have seen has avoided specifics.

Please. If you were involved or witnessed it, personally go and document the events and keep a record of it.


The fact that people are aware something happened will lead to gossip and speculation. Like I said, i wasn't even there and I know something big went down. I know what panel it was at. I know some of the people involved.

And my husband and I have had a whole conversation about it.

It begins and ends there and here for us. However, for each person who may know this little tidbit or that supposed fact, there will be stories swirling. This may be a community, but it's a community of associates, some of whom are friendly and some of whom are friends. Make sure you have you account of the facts in case you need it some day. You never know when it may matter to an agent or a publisher or when you may need to address slander that follows in the wake of some drama. I have the kind of mind that connects dots and it's a curse. I have picked up on crazy stuff from small changes to a person's social media account. Stuff my husband was completely oblivious to, and I was proven right. So you do not even want to know what I started thinking as info started coming my way about what happened at Bouchercon. I can only hope I'm wrong.

It makes me very uncomfortable with the idea of attending a convention again. Without understanding what happened it just leaves you to worry that you'll save your vacation money to go to a convention and be attacked when you're on a panel and have a really bad experience. And there are so many other ways I could spend any vacation money I ever have...

The people who need to be paying attention to this are the convention planning committees. Not hte ones who handled this past B'con. The ones who are planning the next one and the one after that. Measures should be put into place that ensure that whatever happened doesn't happen to anyone else in the future.

That involves dialogue. But not publicly. Not on social media. Not with me. With convention organizers.

Here's hoping they're paying attention.

So no, things aren't perfect over in the crime fiction community. It's a real community, filled with real people, which means there are some real problems. But you know what? There are a lot of really great people who are trying to move things in the right direction and things are starting to change for the better. It may be slow, but it's happening. We can celebrate that. We can also see that we still have some work to do, and each of us can ask ourselves what we can do. 

Hopefully all voices - big and small - will start to pull together instead of putting career interests or kissing ass first. Until then it will be baby steps. 

But at least there are steps. Pledge with me. Read more diverse authors. Read more female authors. Read more LGBTQ authors. And talk about their books. The NY Times has the likes of Pelecanos covered. Spread some love to those who have potential and that you want to see still publishing five years from now.