Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Fun of Regulated Reading

Scott D. Parker

Do you ever regulate your reading?

I was struggling over what term to use so let me just explain. Last year, I did a little experiment. The book of Proverbs has 31 chapters. I decided that for every month that included 31 days, I would read a chapter of Proverbs per day. To keep things interesting, I changed translations every month. Then, at the end, I was able to go back and compare notes and compare verses that I underlined. It was a pretty fun experiment and, except for the transition from July into August, I never had a back to back month.

To January 2021. As I often do, I start to cycle through all of the things that have major anniversaries. Anything with a year ending in one or six are the key ones this year. In the first week, it was the 50th anniversary of Chicago III. That got me to thinking about music and what albums we’re gonna be celebrating major milestone anniversaries. It was my son – – an avid musicologist – – who reminded me I had a book on the shelf about the year 1971 in music. Why not just read it.

The book in question is titled Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year Rock Exploded by David Hepworth. It came out in 2016 and I think I might’ve had it since then. Born in 1950, Hepworth came of age about the same time that rock ‘n’ roll did. Those, he was 21 years old during 1971. He has written extensively about music since the 1980s. 

What got me excited about reading this book in 2021 was a table of contents. It is broken out by month. 12 chapters, 12 months, plus an introduction.

As soon as I saw that, I had a brilliant idea: read each chapter at the beginning of each month here in 2021 and go through the year 1971 with Hepworth. I had to read chapter 1 this week, but I'll get to chapter 2  on Monday. and then continue from there. That means Led Zepplin IV is in my future. So is Sticky Finger, Nursery Crime, Hunky Dory, What's Going On, Bryter Later, and Madman Across the Water. That's just the albums I know about. I can't wait to discover new-to-me albums.

And, if chapter one is any indication, this is going to be a blast. Hepworth writes in an engaging style, but primarily he writes only from the limited perspective of that month. He tells you what Bruce Springsteen was doing, the status of the band Slade, and how Yes was reimagining how music was recorded. He even drops a cliffhanger of an ending as the chapter closed about a woman who invented the album business.

But what makes these chapters special is that Hepworth includes a short playlist of songs that were popular in that month. I already made a January 1971 playlist and dang if I haven't discovered a new-to-me band: Badfinger.

Anyway, I don't know if you read books in this regulated manner or not, but I do, and I look forward to learning about 1971 fifty years later.

Are there other books that could be read in a regulated way?

Thursday, January 28, 2021

True crime time with Beau

This week, Beau Johnson takes a look at True Crime from Samantha Kolesnik.

Suzy and her brother, Lim, live with their abusive mother in a town where the stars don’t shine at night. Once the abuse becomes too much to handle, the two siblings embark on a sordid cross-country murder spree beginning with their mom. As the murder tally rises, Suzy’s mental state spirals into irredeemable madness.

10 Questions with Shane Dunphy

Today we're pleased to be Blog Tour Spot and host this Q&A with Shane Dunphy, whose gripping No Ceremony for the Dead is just out this month. 

No Ceremony for the Dead is the true story of Shane’s experiences at St Patrick’s residential home, where he is called in by Charlie, whose girlfriend is a resident and has gone missing. Shane agrees to investigate and uncovers a culture of cruelty and mistreatment, forcing him to work with the residents and his connections to bring the guilty to justice.


Q: Tell‌ ‌us‌ ‌about‌ ‌‌No‌ ‌Ceremony‌ ‌For‌ ‌The‌ ‌Dead.‌ ‌ ‌

Shane‌ ‌Dunphy: The‌ ‌book‌ ‌begins‌ ‌with‌ ‌me‌ ‌giving‌ ‌a‌ ‌talk‌ ‌at‌ ‌a‌ ‌child‌ ‌protection‌ ‌conference‌ ‌and‌ ‌being‌ ‌approached‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ Green‌ ‌Room‌ ‌afterwards‌ ‌by‌ ‌a‌ ‌young‌ ‌man‌ ‌whom‌ ‌I‌ ‌quickly‌ ‌realise‌ ‌has‌ ‌special‌ ‌needs.‌ ‌He‌ ‌informs‌ ‌me‌ ‌he‌ ‌attends‌ ‌a‌ ‌unit‌ ‌for‌ ‌people‌ ‌with‌ ‌intellectual‌ ‌difficulties,‌ ‌and‌ ‌that‌ ‌he‌ ‌and‌ ‌his‌ ‌friends‌ ‌are‌ ‌planning‌ ‌on‌ ‌murdering‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌staff‌ ‌there.‌ ‌When‌ ‌I‌ ‌ask‌ ‌why,‌ ‌he‌ ‌tells‌ ‌me‌ ‌that‌ ‌this‌ ‌person‌ ‌was‌ ‌responsible‌ ‌for‌ ‌injuring‌ ‌a‌ ‌girl‌ ‌who‌ ‌attended‌ ‌the‌ ‌unit‌ ‌so‌ ‌badly‌ ‌she‌ ‌ended‌ ‌up‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌coma.‌ ‌And‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌just‌ ‌the‌ ‌start‌ ‌of‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌did.‌ ‌

As‌ ‌I‌ ‌begin‌ ‌to‌ ‌investigate,‌ ‌I‌ ‌run‌ ‌into‌ ‌all‌ ‌kinds‌ ‌of‌ ‌opposition‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌management‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌unit,‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌government‌ ‌department‌ ‌who‌ ‌run‌ ‌disability‌ ‌services‌ ‌(files‌ ‌are‌ ‌either‌ ‌wiped‌ ‌or‌ ‌missing;‌ ‌ I’m‌ ‌informed‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌who‌ ‌was‌ ‌allegedly‌ ‌beaten‌ ‌never‌ ‌existed)‌ ‌and‌ ‌as‌ ‌I‌ ‌begin‌ ‌to‌ ‌get‌ ‌closer‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌truth,‌ ‌I‌ ‌find‌ ‌myself‌ ‌falling‌ ‌foul‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌couple‌ ‌of‌ ‌alt-right‌ ‌groups‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌gang‌ ‌of‌ ‌Nazi‌ ‌Bikers.‌ ‌Which‌ ‌all‌ ‌point‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌fact‌ ‌that‌ ‌things‌ ‌are‌ ‌very‌ ‌badly‌ ‌wrong‌ ‌in‌ ‌St‌ ‌Patrick’s‌ ‌Residential‌ ‌Home.‌ ‌ ‌

Q:What‌ ‌made‌ ‌you‌ ‌want‌ ‌to‌ ‌write‌ ‌up‌ ‌your‌ ‌experiences‌ ‌investigating‌ ‌this‌ ‌case?‌ ‌

SD: It‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌case‌ ‌that‌ ‌offers‌ ‌so‌ ‌many‌ ‌unusual‌ ‌factors.‌ ‌In‌ ‌the‌ ‌telling‌ ‌I‌ ‌am‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌explore‌ ‌ideas‌ ‌about‌ ‌ how‌ ‌Irish‌ ‌folklore‌ ‌and‌ ‌mythology‌ ‌intersect‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌often‌ ‌terrible‌ ‌treatment‌ ‌of‌ ‌people‌ ‌with‌ ‌Special‌ ‌Needs‌ ‌in‌ ‌our‌ ‌recent‌ ‌history.‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌also‌ ‌fascinated‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌uncomfortable‌ ‌history‌ ‌Irish‌ ‌society‌ ‌has‌ ‌had‌ ‌with‌ ‌fascism‌ ‌and‌ ‌extreme‌ ‌right-wing‌ ‌politics,‌ ‌and‌ ‌this‌ ‌story‌ ‌gives‌ ‌me‌ ‌a‌ ‌chance‌ ‌to‌ ‌unpack‌ ‌some‌ ‌of‌ ‌that,‌ ‌too.‌ ‌Maybe‌ ‌most‌ ‌importantly,‌ ‌though,‌ ‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌fact‌ ‌that‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌story,‌ ‌the‌ ‌people‌ ‌with‌ ‌real‌ ‌agency,‌ ‌the‌ ‌ones‌ ‌who‌ ‌end‌ ‌up‌ ‌solving‌ ‌the‌ ‌case‌ ‌and‌ ‌bringing‌ ‌about‌ ‌a‌ ‌kind‌ ‌of‌ ‌justice,‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌residents‌ ‌of‌ ‌St‌ ‌Patrick’s‌ ‌themselves.‌ ‌The‌ ‌whole‌ ‌point‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Stories‌ ‌From‌ ‌the‌ ‌Margins‌ ‌series‌ ‌is‌ ‌to‌ ‌shine‌ ‌a‌ ‌light‌ ‌on‌ ‌parts‌ ‌of‌ ‌our‌ ‌communities‌ ‌we‌ ‌normally‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌pay‌ ‌any‌ ‌attention‌ ‌to.‌ ‌‌No‌ ‌Ceremony‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌Dead‌‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌perfect‌ ‌example‌ ‌of‌ ‌that.‌ ‌

Q:What‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌hope‌ ‌listeners‌ ‌take‌ ‌away‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌audiobook?‌ ‌ ‌

SD: To‌ ‌understand‌ ‌that‌ ‌truth‌ ‌and‌ ‌reality‌ ‌are‌ ‌very‌ ‌subjective‌ ‌things.‌ ‌There‌ ‌are‌ ‌times‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌story‌ ‌where‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌no‌ ‌clue‌ ‌what‌ ‌is‌ ‌really‌ ‌going‌ ‌on,‌ ‌because‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌caught‌ ‌between‌ ‌conflicting‌ ‌perceptions‌ ‌some‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌other‌ ‌protagonists‌ ‌hold,‌ ‌or‌ ‌have‌ ‌run‌ ‌up‌ ‌against‌ ‌concepts‌ ‌history‌ ‌has‌ ‌conditioned‌ ‌us‌ ‌to‌ ‌believe‌ ‌are‌ ‌true,‌ ‌concepts‌ ‌I‌ ‌learn‌ ‌are‌ ‌really‌ ‌just‌ ‌prejudices‌ ‌that‌ ‌really‌ ‌need‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌overturned.‌ ‌
I’d‌ ‌like‌ ‌the‌ ‌listener‌ ‌to‌ ‌understand‌ ‌that‌ ‌very‌ ‌little‌ ‌about‌ ‌human‌ ‌interaction‌ ‌is‌ ‌simple‌ ‌or‌ ‌straightforward.‌ ‌There‌ ‌can‌ ‌often‌ ‌be‌ ‌all‌ ‌kinds‌ ‌of‌ ‌motivations‌ ‌at‌ ‌play.‌ ‌I‌ ‌suppose‌ ‌that‌ ‌the‌ ‌path‌ ‌I‌ ‌navigate‌ ‌to‌ ‌pick‌ ‌through‌ ‌those‌ ‌interweaving‌ ‌agendas‌ ‌creates‌ ‌the‌ ‌narrative‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌book.‌ ‌

Q:How‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌go‌ ‌about‌ ‌writing‌ ‌up‌ ‌your‌ ‌past‌ ‌investigative‌ ‌experiences?‌ ‌ ‌

Shane Dunphy
SD: I’m‌ ‌always‌ ‌inspired‌ ‌by‌ ‌stories‌ ‌that‌ ‌illuminate‌ ‌something‌ ‌surprising‌ ‌about‌ ‌human‌ ‌nature.‌ ‌Many‌ ‌of‌ ‌my‌ ‌books‌ ‌are‌ ‌stories‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌been‌ ‌living‌ ‌with‌ ‌and‌ ‌percolating‌ ‌for‌ ‌quite‌ ‌a‌ ‌few‌ ‌years.‌ ‌It‌ ‌can‌ ‌take‌ ‌me‌ ‌that‌ ‌long‌ ‌to‌ ‌work‌ ‌out‌ ‌how‌ ‌to‌ ‌tell‌ ‌them‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌way‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌do‌ ‌the‌ ‌truths‌ ‌they‌ ‌contain‌ ‌justice.‌ ‌Once‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌worked‌ ‌out‌ ‌how‌ ‌to‌ ‌do‌ ‌that,‌ ‌I‌ ‌usually‌ ‌write‌ ‌the‌ ‌text‌ ‌pretty‌ ‌quickly.‌ ‌I‌ ‌can‌ ‌write‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌draft‌ ‌in‌ ‌about‌ ‌ten‌ ‌days‌ ‌if‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌left‌ ‌alone‌ ‌to‌ ‌get‌ ‌on‌ ‌with‌ ‌it.‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌shed‌ ‌in‌ ‌my‌ ‌garden,‌ ‌and‌ ‌I‌ ‌hide‌ ‌away‌ ‌in‌ ‌there,‌ ‌sometimes‌ ‌for‌ ‌as‌ ‌long‌ ‌as‌ ‌twelve‌ ‌to‌ ‌fifteen‌ ‌hours‌ ‌a‌ ‌day,‌ ‌and‌ ‌I‌ ‌pound‌ ‌it‌ ‌out.‌ ‌Once‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌complete,‌ ‌I‌ ‌set‌ ‌the‌ ‌manuscript‌ ‌aside‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌week‌ ‌before‌ ‌coming‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌give‌ ‌it‌ ‌a‌ ‌read-through‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌polish‌ ‌before‌ ‌sending‌ ‌to‌ ‌my‌ ‌editor.‌ ‌It’ll‌ ‌go‌ ‌through‌ ‌a‌ ‌few‌ ‌more‌ ‌drafts‌ ‌before‌ ‌publication,‌ ‌but‌ ‌I‌ ‌find‌ ‌that‌ ‌first‌ ‌draft‌ ‌usually‌ ‌remains‌ ‌more‌ ‌or‌ ‌less‌ ‌intact.‌ ‌

Q:What‌ ‌surprised‌ ‌you‌ ‌most‌ ‌about‌ ‌writing‌ ‌this‌ ‌book?‌ ‌ ‌

SD: I‌ ‌found‌ ‌the‌ ‌character‌ ‌of‌ ‌Andrew‌ ‌Shelley,‌ ‌the‌ ‌man‌ ‌who‌ ‌allegedly‌ ‌beat‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌in‌ ‌his‌ ‌care‌ ‌almost‌ ‌to‌ ‌death,‌ ‌grew‌ ‌and‌ ‌morphed‌ ‌before‌ ‌my‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌as‌ ‌I‌ ‌wrote.‌ ‌I‌ ‌thought‌ ‌I‌ ‌knew‌ ‌him‌ ‌before‌ ‌I‌ ‌started‌ ‌writing,‌ ‌but‌ ‌as‌ ‌I‌ ‌began‌ ‌to‌ ‌craft‌ ‌the‌ ‌story,‌ ‌I‌ ‌started‌ ‌to‌ ‌understand‌ ‌that‌ ‌he‌ ‌was‌ ‌like‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌those‌ ‌deep-sea‌ ‌creatures‌ ‌you‌ ‌see‌ ‌on‌ ‌documentaries,‌ ‌something‌ ‌that‌ ‌has‌ ‌assumed‌ ‌a‌ ‌shape‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌it‌ ‌appear‌ ‌safe‌ ‌and‌ ‌unthreatening‌ ‌and‌ ‌can‌ ‌lie‌ ‌in‌ ‌wait‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌unassuming‌ ‌to‌ ‌pass‌ ‌by,‌ ‌only‌ ‌then‌ ‌revealing‌ ‌the‌ ‌monstrous‌ ‌being‌ ‌underneath.‌ ‌As‌ ‌I‌ ‌wrote,‌ ‌I‌ ‌realised‌ ‌that‌ ‌I‌ ‌had‌ ‌seen‌ ‌the‌ ‌veil‌ ‌slipping‌ ‌several‌ ‌times‌ ‌and‌ ‌had‌ ‌witnessed‌ ‌what‌ ‌lay‌ ‌under‌ ‌it.‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌actually‌ ‌quite‌ ‌a‌ ‌disturbing‌ ‌realisation.‌ ‌

Q: What‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌challenges‌ ‌in‌ ‌writing‌ ‌true‌ ‌crime,‌ ‌particularly‌ ‌relating‌ ‌to‌ ‌your‌ ‌own‌ ‌experiences?‌ ‌

SD: I’ve‌ ‌been‌ ‌doing‌ ‌it‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌long‌ ‌time,‌ ‌now,‌ ‌and‌ ‌have‌ ‌become‌ ‌used‌ ‌to‌ ‌doing‌ ‌the‌ ‌small‌ ‌tweaks‌ ‌necessary‌ ‌to‌ ‌ensure‌ ‌I‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌get‌ ‌sued.‌ ‌There‌ ‌are‌ ‌small‌ ‌things‌ ‌you‌ ‌can‌ ‌do‌ ‌to‌ ‌mask‌ ‌locations‌ ‌and‌ ‌individuals’‌ identities:‌ ‌never‌ ‌stating‌ ‌where‌ ‌a‌ ‌town‌ ‌is‌ ‌located,‌ ‌for‌ ‌example,‌ ‌means‌ ‌no‌ ‌one‌ ‌can‌ ‌say‌ ‌you‌ ‌were‌ ‌writing‌ ‌about‌ ‌where‌ ‌they‌ ‌live;‌ ‌if‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌writing‌ ‌about‌ ‌a‌ ‌family‌ ‌that‌ ‌in‌ ‌actuality‌ ‌has‌ ‌four‌ ‌kids,‌ ‌you‌ ‌say‌ ‌they‌ ‌have‌ ‌six;‌ ‌if‌ ‌a‌ ‌character‌ ‌is‌ ‌male,‌ ‌change‌ ‌their‌ ‌gender‌ ‌to‌ ‌female.‌ ‌Small‌ ‌things‌ ‌like‌ ‌that‌ ‌make‌ ‌all‌ ‌the‌ ‌difference.‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌also‌ ‌learned‌ ‌to‌ ‌follow‌ ‌the‌ ‌advice‌ ‌of‌ ‌my‌ ‌legal‌ ‌team‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌letter.‌ ‌Their‌ ‌job‌ ‌is‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌sure‌ ‌I‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌get‌ ‌dragged‌ ‌into‌ ‌court,‌ ‌and‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌writing‌ ‌career‌ ‌that‌ ‌now‌ ‌spans‌ ‌fifteen‌ ‌years‌ ‌and‌ ‌seventeen‌ ‌books,‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌not‌ ‌been‌ ‌sued‌ ‌once,‌ ‌so‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌playing‌ ‌it‌ ‌safe‌ ‌is‌ ‌working.‌ ‌
The‌ ‌other‌ ‌challenge‌ ‌is‌ ‌keeping‌ ‌the‌ ‌story‌ ‌as‌ ‌real‌ ‌as‌ ‌you‌ ‌can.‌ ‌It‌ ‌can‌ ‌be‌ ‌tempting‌ ‌to‌ ‌cast‌ ‌yourself‌ ‌as‌ ‌ a‌ ‌hero,‌ ‌but‌ ‌I‌ ‌always‌ ‌try‌ ‌to‌ ‌keep‌ ‌as‌ ‌true‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌reality‌ ‌of‌ ‌my‌ ‌actions‌ ‌as‌ ‌I‌ ‌can.‌ ‌Which‌ ‌means‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌written‌ ‌about‌ ‌my‌ ‌running‌ ‌away‌ ‌from‌ ‌danger‌ ‌(in‌ ‌the‌ ‌very‌ ‌first‌ ‌scene‌ ‌of‌ ‌‌No‌ ‌Ceremony‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌Dead‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌fleeing‌ ‌physical‌ ‌attack),‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌painted‌ ‌myself‌ ‌as‌ ‌often‌ ‌being‌ ‌arrogant‌ ‌and‌ ‌intransigent‌ ‌in‌ ‌my‌ ‌views,‌ ‌and‌ ‌as‌ ‌being‌ ‌sometimes‌ ‌quite‌ ‌judgemental‌ ‌and‌ ‌rude.‌ ‌If‌ ‌you‌ ‌read‌ ‌my‌ ‌work,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌come‌ ‌across‌ ‌me‌ ‌puking,‌ ‌getting‌ ‌diarrhoea,‌ ‌drinking‌ ‌myself‌ ‌into‌ ‌oblivion‌ ‌to‌ ‌avoid‌ ‌pain,‌ ‌attending‌ ‌a‌ ‌therapist‌ ‌to‌ ‌cope‌ ‌with‌ ‌trauma,‌ ‌becoming‌ ‌frozen‌ ‌by‌ ‌fear,‌ ‌bawling‌ ‌my‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌out….‌ ‌I‌ ‌try‌ ‌to‌ ‌put‌ ‌it‌ ‌all‌ ‌in.‌ ‌I‌ ‌want‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌as‌ ‌human‌ ‌a‌ ‌protagonist‌ ‌as‌ ‌I‌ ‌can‌ ‌be.‌ ‌ ‌

It’s‌ ‌not‌ ‌always‌ ‌pretty,‌ ‌but‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌true.‌ ‌

Q: How‌ ‌did‌ ‌you‌ ‌find‌ ‌narrating‌ ‌the‌ ‌audiobook?‌ ‌ ‌

SD: I‌ ‌was‌ ‌very‌ ‌nervous‌ ‌and‌ ‌unsure‌ ‌about‌ ‌doing‌ ‌it‌ ‌at‌ ‌first.‌ ‌I‌ ‌visited‌ ‌Audible‌ ‌studios‌ ‌before‌ ‌doing‌ ‌the‌ ‌ first‌ ‌book‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌series,‌ ‌Bleak‌ ‌Alley,‌ ‌and‌ ‌was‌ ‌sitting‌ ‌having‌ ‌coffee‌ ‌alongside‌ ‌actors‌ ‌I’d‌ ‌been‌ ‌watching‌ ‌on‌ ‌TV‌ ‌only‌ ‌the‌ ‌night‌ ‌before,‌ ‌who‌ ‌were‌ ‌in‌ ‌to‌ ‌narrate‌ ‌a‌ ‌Dickens‌ ‌novel.‌ ‌I‌ ‌felt‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌total‌ ‌fraud‌ ‌alongside‌ ‌them.‌ ‌But‌ ‌my‌ ‌editors‌ ‌were‌ ‌insistent‌ ‌I‌ ‌give‌ ‌it‌ ‌a‌ ‌go,‌ ‌and‌ ‌they‌ ‌were‌ ‌allowing‌ ‌me‌ ‌to‌ ‌compose‌ ‌music‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌series‌ ‌too,‌ ‌which‌ ‌was‌ ‌an‌ ‌opportunity‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌too‌ ‌good‌ ‌to‌ ‌pass‌ ‌up‌ ‌(I’m‌ ‌a‌ ‌multi-instrumentalist‌ ‌and‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌performing‌ ‌live‌ ‌for‌ ‌years).‌ ‌In‌ ‌the‌ ‌end,‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌come‌ ‌to‌ ‌quite‌ ‌enjoy‌ ‌the‌ ‌process.‌ ‌Through‌ ‌reading‌ ‌the‌ ‌book‌ ‌aloud,‌ ‌you‌ ‌almost‌ ‌get‌ ‌to‌ ‌know‌ ‌it‌ ‌from‌ ‌another‌ ‌perspective.‌ ‌And‌ ‌I‌ ‌like‌ ‌to‌ ‌do‌ ‌the‌ ‌voices!‌ ‌ ‌

Q: What‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌think‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌key‌ ‌messages‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Stories‌ ‌From‌ ‌The‌ ‌Margins‌ ‌series?‌ ‌ ‌

SD: We‌ ‌live‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌world‌ ‌that‌ ‌can‌ ‌seem‌ ‌safe‌ ‌and‌ ‌secure,‌ ‌a‌ ‌world‌ ‌where‌ ‌bad‌ ‌things‌ ‌happen‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌news‌ ‌or‌ ‌to‌ ‌people‌ ‌we‌ ‌hear‌ ‌about‌ ‌in‌ ‌podcasts.‌ ‌But‌ ‌every‌ ‌crime‌ ‌we‌ ‌read‌ ‌about‌ ‌on‌ ‌our‌ ‌social‌ ‌media‌ ‌is‌ ‌actually‌ ‌something‌ ‌that‌ ‌happened‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌real‌ ‌person.‌ ‌It‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌family‌ ‌devastated,‌ ‌a‌ ‌wife‌ ‌left‌ ‌bereft,‌ ‌children‌ ‌orphaned.‌ ‌These‌ ‌are‌ ‌stories‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌real‌ ‌human‌ ‌cost.‌ ‌And‌ ‌they’re‌ ‌happening‌ ‌right‌ ‌where‌ ‌you‌ ‌live.‌ ‌‘The‌ ‌margins’‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌housing‌ ‌estates‌ ‌and‌ ‌villages‌ ‌and‌ ‌care‌ ‌homes‌ ‌and‌ ‌alleyways‌ ‌you‌ ‌see‌ ‌all‌ ‌around‌ ‌you‌ ‌as‌ ‌you‌ ‌go‌ ‌about‌ ‌your‌ ‌daily‌ ‌life.‌ ‌You‌ ‌walk‌ ‌past‌ ‌and‌ ‌never‌ ‌look‌ ‌at‌ ‌what’s‌ ‌going‌ ‌on‌ ‌over‌ ‌there.‌ ‌I‌ ‌want‌ ‌to‌ ‌take‌ ‌you‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌hand‌ ‌and‌ ‌lead‌ ‌you‌ ‌over‌ ‌and‌ ‌suggest‌ ‌you‌ ‌take‌ ‌a‌ ‌closer‌ ‌look.‌ ‌You‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌surprised‌ ‌by‌ ‌what‌ ‌you‌ ‌see.‌ ‌
Q: Who‌ ‌are‌ ‌your‌ ‌favourite‌ ‌true‌ ‌crime‌ ‌writers?‌ ‌

SD: Truman‌ ‌Capote’s‌ ‌‌In‌ ‌Cold‌ ‌Blood‌ ‌‌was‌ ‌probably‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌True‌ ‌Crime‌ ‌book‌ ‌I‌ ‌ever‌ ‌read,‌ ‌and‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌it‌ is‌ ‌a‌ ‌work‌ ‌of‌ ‌genius.‌ ‌I‌ ‌love‌ ‌Ann‌ ‌Rule’s‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌Stranger‌ ‌Beside‌ ‌Me‌ ‌‌–‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌anyone‌ ‌interested‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌genre‌ ‌should‌ ‌read‌ ‌it.‌ ‌And‌ ‌Irish‌ ‌crime‌ ‌journalist‌ ‌Paul‌ ‌Williams‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌good‌ ‌friend‌ ‌of‌ ‌mine.‌ ‌He‌ ‌wrote‌ ‌The‌ ‌General,‌ ‌about‌ ‌Irish‌ ‌gangster‌ ‌Martin‌ ‌Cahill,‌ ‌which‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌made‌ ‌into‌ ‌a‌ ‌couple‌ ‌of‌ ‌movies.‌ ‌Paul‌ ‌just‌ ‌published‌ ‌a‌ ‌book‌ ‌about‌ ‌Gerald‌ ‌Hutch,‌ ‌another‌ ‌Irish‌ ‌gangland‌ ‌figure‌ ‌who‌ ‌was‌ ‌dubbed‌ ‌"The‌ ‌Monk"‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌press‌ ‌here.‌ ‌It’s‌ ‌well‌ ‌worth‌ ‌a‌ ‌read.‌ ‌

Q: Why‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌think‌ ‌true‌ ‌crime‌ ‌continues‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌such‌ ‌a‌ ‌popular‌ ‌genre?‌ ‌ ‌

SD: Because‌ ‌it‌ ‌tells‌ ‌us‌ ‌truths‌ ‌about‌ ‌what‌ ‌is‌ ‌going‌ ‌on‌ ‌in‌ ‌those‌ ‌shadowy‌ ‌places‌ ‌I‌ ‌mentioned.‌ ‌True‌ ‌Crime‌ ‌has‌ ‌become‌ ‌the‌ ‌modern‌ ‌equivalent‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌camp-fire‌ ‌ghost‌ ‌story.‌ ‌The‌ ‌fact‌ ‌that‌ ‌these‌ ‌stories‌ ‌are‌ ‌all‌ ‌real‌ ‌and‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌happening‌ ‌just‌ ‌down‌ ‌the‌ ‌road‌ ‌from‌ ‌where‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌reading‌ ‌this‌ ‌right‌ ‌now‌ ‌only‌ ‌makes‌ ‌them‌ ‌more‌ ‌compelling.‌ ‌

No‌ ‌Ceremony‌ ‌For‌ ‌The‌ ‌Dead‌ ‌‌by‌ ‌Shane‌ ‌Dunphy‌ ‌is‌ ‌available‌ ‌exclusively‌ ‌on‌ ‌Audible‌ ‌now.‌ ‌

Be sure to visit the other stops on the tour for more insight.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

It's Not Only About Adversity

Anyone who's seen Douglas Sirk's 1959 film Imitation of Life knows that it has one of the greatest closing sequences in movie history.  In the story, the black character Annie has spent the entire movie, it seems, caring for and looking after her employer, the white actress named Lora, as well as Lora's daughter, Susie.  Annie has a daughter of her own, Sarah Jane, and these two have their own problems, as Sarah Jane, much lighter-skinned than her mother, tries to, and successfully does, pass for white, a move that causes her mother much grief.  Throughout the story, Annie serves as the embattled, and rejected, mother of Sarah Jane, the surrogate mother to Susie, and the nanny, maid, trusted confidante, and even the closest friend to Annie.  In other words, complex and full of depth as she is, Annie seems to have no life apart from what we see of her in her interactions with these other three characters. And in truth, she has enough work to do and crises to manage dealing with the high maintenance issues of the other three.  When Annie dies at the end, in true tearjerker style, with Lora sobbing at her side, we assume that Annie will get a proper burial, but what she does actually get is something huge and sumptuous, a magnificent funeral, with hundreds of people, black people, in attendance.  Who are these people?  We can only surmise that during her life Annie had a full and rich existence outside her life as a housekeeper, mother, and confidante to a white woman, and that this funeral is evidence of that life.  She had friends, a social world, an entire existence we were not at all aware of because the film gave us no indication of it. In certain ways, the ending undercuts everything in the story you've seen before and implicates the audience in assuming something about Annie we had no right to assume.  Yes, she had all that stuff going on that we knew of, but she also had a life of her own and, quite clearly, the love and respect of many many people we didn’t know about.  Damn, you think, that movie was great, the ending was remarkable, and now I'd love to see a film about the "other" life Annie had. That life, you assume, probably had a lot less drama than the part of her life we saw, with social activities and friendships and laughter and ordinary give and take with other people, except it was in the black community.  A ton of stuff must have happened in her life, offscreen.

Cut to late 2020, and we have the appearance of Sylvie's Love, on Amazon, a melodrama in the Douglas Sirkian mode that puts center screen the type of black characters once relegated to its fringes.  I don't often find myself recommending love story movies to the people in my house, but that is precisely what I did with this film, which dares eschew any snarkiness or easy irony in its portrayal of a late 1950s early 1960s romance between two young people in New York City, an ambitious woman from a solid middle-class home (Tessa Thompson) and a jazz musician with lots of talent but little money in his pocket (Nnamdi Asomugha).

Douglas Sirk has been redone, so to speak, before.  Todd Haynes did it with Far From Heaven and Carol, and the great directors Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Pedro Almodovar have put Sirkian aesthetics to their own specific uses in a number of their films. Sylvie's Love takes lush color, artfully designed sets, undisguised emotion, and class differences and puts them at the service of a story that has an old Hollywood feel yet feels fresh because it looks at a world, Harlem-based, that we haven't seen in quite this way before. The director, Eugene Ashe, has said that photographs of his family from the 1950s, pictures showing his family happy, helped inspire him to make the film.  He wanted to make a film revealing the lives behind these photos.  As he says, "I wanted to make a film where Black people of the era don't exist through adversity but through love."  

It's a simple sentiment, but when you think about it, you realize how rare it is, even now, that you see a film where duress and conflict with the world, at some level, is not the focal point of a black-centered story.  Not that adversity stories don't reflect reality, but there is more to life than this.

Sylvie's Love doesn't ignore what's going on in the world at the time of its tale; it just does not make the typically depicted struggles its focus.  Bigotry and racism exist of course, but Sylvie and Robert (the musician) as well as Sylvie's husband deal with it and continue to live their lives without being consumed by such toxicity.  The Civil Rights marches are going on, but we are aware of these only through glimpses of the marches on television and phone calls to Sylvie from her best friend, who is down in the South taking part in them.  There is also the change going on in gender roles, and Sylvie is in the thick of this, getting a job in television and having to find a way to balance her working life and her own ambitions with her domestic life and the demands of her successful but traditionally-minded husband.  Much goes on in the story, but as one excellent review I read put it, by critic Tomris Laffly on the site, "Ashe keeps his lens tight on the normalcy of the epoch’s everyday life, a luxury that’s formerly been almost exclusively afforded to white-centric stories of the period."

An old-fashioned tale can be made into something new, and straight melodrama, when done well, can provide a satisfying experience.  I found both things to be true with Sylvie's Love.


Monday, January 25, 2021

Edgar noms are out

Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce, as we celebrate the 212th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, the nominees for the 2021 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2020. The 75th Annual Edgar® Awards will be celebrated on April 29, 2021.

Best First Novel


Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March (Minotaur Books)
Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen (Simon & Schuster – Gallery Books)
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (HarperCollins Publishers - Ecco)
Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel (Penguin Random House - Berkley)

Visit for more

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Power of Words Softly Spoken

By Claire Booth

A bright yellow ray of sunlight and future promise came out on Wednesday. Sure, there was Joe Biden, but I’m talking about Amanda Gorman

In case you somehow missed it, either on live TV or on social media afterward, America’s Youth Poet Laureate recited a poem she wrote specifically for the Presidential Inauguration. 

“The Hill We Climb” stopped me in my tracks. Gorman stopped me in my tracks. Every word choice, every pause, every beat of the language was perfect. This time, the power of words was used for good.

There have been other poets who’ve appeared at inaugurations (Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Alexander) so asking Gorman wasn’t unprecedented. Still, it was a heartening showcase for the written word. An endorsement of things written with care and thoughtful intent. It warmed my weary writer’s heart like you wouldn’t believe.

“ . . .Where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one . . .”

Amanda Gorman, don’t give up that dream. The way you think and the oratory skills you summon could someday put you back on that inaugural stage, giving a different kind of speech.