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MysteryPeople Q&A with Martin Limón

Today is the release of our Pick Of The Month, The Iron Sickle by Martin Limón. The book deals with Sueño and Bascome, his Army CID cops stationed in Seventies-era South Korea, going after a killer who uses the title weapon on Army personnel. Martin Limón was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and his writing.


MysteryPeople: How did the idea for the sickle killer come about?

Martin Limón: In addition to my years spent in Korea, I still read a lot about Korea and the Korean War.  Most recently, I’ve been reading post-war Korean literature translated into English by friends of minE, Bruce and Ju-chan Fulton, much of it centered around the lingering trauma of the war.  Also, I was influenced, and appalled, by reports of the massacre of Korean refugees at the village of Nohgun-ri.  In addition, I remembered the naht, the short-handled Korean sickle used by farmers to harvest rice and by gardening crews on the American Army compounds to cut grass.  It all came together in this story.  Still, I needed a person to wield the iron sickle.  A person mad enough to use it and an event, or series of events, that drove him to this extreme level of madness.  Gradually, the story and the characters came together.

MP: It was great to see Mr. Kill back.  What made you want to use him again?

ML: Partially, he is a device to get George Sueño and Ernie Bascom off compound.  They are always in trouble with their superiors and thus always relegated to the “black market detail.”  That is, busting Korean civilian dependents for re-selling American-made products out of the Army commissary and PX.  But when Mr. Kill, the highest ranking homicide investigator in the Korean National Police, asks for their assistance, they are freed up from their more mundane duties.  Nothing irritates a military officer more than having one of his subordinates temporarily detailed outside of his or her direct control.  But when the directive comes down from the 8th Army Chief of Staff, their boss has no choice but to comply.

Also, Mr. Kill is highly educated, not only in the States at an Ivy League university but also in the ancient arts of calligraphy and Classical Chinese literature.  It’s fun to bring these elements not only into the resolution of the mystery but also as a counterpoint to modern Korean society and the anti-intellectual American military world in which George and Ernie live.

Finally, and most importantly, people tell me they like reading about him.  I like writing about him.

MP:  Much of the book’s last half takes place out in the mountain area of Korea.  Do you have to keep some things in mind when Sueño and Bascom are out in the wilderness?

ML: Well, they are both city boys.  Ernie grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and George was an orphan who lived in foster homes throughout Los Angeles County.  George had never seen snow—other than in photos and movies—until he went on his first field maneuver in the army.  In the book, they are surprised that the amenities they’re used to—public baths, mokkolli houses, noodle shops—aren’t available in the Taebaek Mountains but the training they received from the army helps pull them through.

MP: The friendship between Sueño and Bascom is both unique and real. What do they provide each other?

ML: They provide complete loyalty.  Both of them are unabashed “lifers,” career soldiers.  Yet they are in constant rebellion against the restrictions of military life and, more often than not, the go-along-to-get-along attitude of most of their superiors and fellow soldiers.  Since they share these qualities, they look out for one another.  Also, Ernie is focused strictly on the moment.  He does what he wants to do, when he wants to do it.  He never looks back or even ponders anything he’s done, much less regret it.  George, on the other hand, is constantly evaluating every decision he makes and is riddled with regrets about the past and anxieties about the future.  Both of them admire the opposite qualities they see in one another, although they don’t fully understand them.

MP: You were pretty much self-taught as a writer.  Did you draw from any influential writers?

ML: There are four writers who made me realize that the type of stories I had to tell might find an audience.  First, was Herman Melville.  I once got in trouble (I know, it’s hard to believe) and was restricted to compound for one week.  I was so angry at myself that I decided to add to the punishment by spending the week reading a classic (like the ones I wouldn’t read when I was in high school).  At the base library I found Moby Dick.  To my surprise, within the first few pages, I discovered that the young man, Ishmael, who was venturing off to see “the watery parts of the world” was much like me.  He craved adventure and, aboard ship, he hated officers.  I flew through the book, enjoying every word of it.  The next was Jack London, a fellow native Californian.  Read “To Build a Fire.”  That is, in my opinion, the greatest single piece of prose writing in the English language.  Third was Richard McKenna.  After serving 30 years in the Navy, he retired as a Chief in the late 1950s and proceeded to write The Sand Pebbles which won the National Book Award.  It was about common sailors and their day-to-day problems.  Not the heroics that most military stories try to shove down our throats.  Finally, was Darryl Ponicsan.  He wrote The Last Detail.  That book showed me that one could write a story about the real lives of enlisted men in the military, with all its beauty and all its squalor.

When I first set out to start writing, I had these four writers in mind and I was still on active duty in the military.  My goal was to tell the story of the day-to-day life of American soldiers in Korea, and the day-to-day lives of the Korean people who dealt with them.  It was a world that most Americans didn’t even know existed.  In order to show that world, from the cultured environs of cocktail parties hosted by the American Ambassador to the lowest rat-infested back alleys, I figured the mystery genre was the way to go.  I focused my reading on the genre:  Chandler, Hammett, James M. Cain, Robert B Parker, Ross MacDonald and many others.  Fortunately, I stumbled on my all-time favorite:  the Matt Scudder series written by Lawrence Block.  For my money, they’re still the best mystery stories in print; especially the first half dozen or so books in the series.

MP: As with several of the books, The Iron Sickle deals with repressed history.  What is the danger of not knowing all of our past?

ML: The Korean War is often called the forgotten war and for good reason. People forget that Korea had a huge impact on the American strategy in Vietnam.  In Korea, we were able to fight the Communists to a standstill and left the country divided into north and south.  In Vietnam, the goal was the same.  To keep a supposedly democratic South Vietnam and leave North Vietnam under the Communists.  Many people correctly pointed out that to win the war we should invade North Vietnam (either that or withdraw completely).  But the lesson of the Korean War had shown that if we threatened to overrun the north, the Communist Chinese would intervene; as they had in Korea with an estimated two to three million “volunteer” soldiers.  Nobody wanted that, so years of stalemate ensued.

We also forget how much damage was done to Korea.  Our bombing campaign left only “rubble bouncing on rubble.”  Those the words of an American pilot.  Even Winston Churchill criticized the U.S. for “splashing” napalm all over North Korea. Two to three million people died in a country of a little over twenty-five million.  The trauma was inestimable.  And it lingered for years, even to this day, which is what The Iron Sickle is all about.


You can ask Matin Limón your own questions when he calls into our Hard Word Book club discussion of his first Sueño-Bascom novel, Jade Lady Burning, on September 24th, at 7PM.

Double Feature: WINTER’S BONE

This Wednesday, August 20, MysteryPeople is proud to present the latest and last installment of our summer Noir Double Feature series. For those of you new to the series, each event is a two-parter: we screen a film based on a book available on our shelves and then discuss the book and movie together. For our last screening, we present to you Winter’s Bone, director Debra Granik‘s 2010 adaption of Daniel Woodrell’s book of the same name.

Winter’s Bone, both as a film and as a novel, presents an icy, poetic portrait of Ozark strength and suffering. The film and novel have much the same plot.  The story begins as Ree Dolly, teenage caretaker for her younger brothers and mentally ill mother, finds out that her meth cooker father has put their house up as collateral to make bail. When he fails to appear for a court date, Ree must go on a quest to find him – a quest that proves more dangerous than she could have imagined, as she works her way through relatives and members of the community in an increasingly desperate quest.

Daniel Woodrell lived the world he portrayed, and he understands that teens like Ree Dolly have few options. Ree plans to join the military, something Daniel Woodrell himself did at the age of 17. If she loses her property, she can foist her younger brothers and her mentally ill mother off on relatives. However, she knows that by doing so, she will condemn her brothers to a life of criminality and most likely prison, and she doesn’t trust others to take in her mother long-term. Knowing that she must ensure her family’s safety before she herself can leave means that she will risk any danger to ensure their future well being, and her future escape.

Winter’s Bone portrays a world where men are either obstacles or absent, and women are the forces that preserve their near-destroyed community. As Ree goes from relative to relative looking for her father, she must approach any man through their woman, and it is the women of the community that decide what information to pass on and what to hold back.

Winter’s Bone contains a beautiful reversal of noir tropes – instead of an irresponsible, violent man who has created many of his own difficulties, Woodrell has written a strong young woman who tackles challenges head-on, no matter how insurmountable her difficulties may seem. Winter’s Bone passes the Bechdel test in spades. Ree exist within a fully realized female world where topics of conversation run the gamut. She also has strong bonds of friendship that give her the courage to continue dealing with her extraordinarily difficult life.

Winter’s Bone takes place in a community where predefined roles govern each life from cradle to grave. There are no options other than to mimic the lives of those who have come before, and standing in the community is determined solely by how well you fulfill those roles. Happiness, therefore, can come only through succeeding in your role or in leaving the community entirely.

Winter’s Bone has found universal acclaim both as a novel and a film, and although the film is mostly faithful to the novel, the two compliment each other rather than acting as redundant. Winter’s Bone as a book comes in a long line of critically lauded works by Woodrell. The film catapulted Jennifer Lawrence to fame with her powerful performance, as well as bringing director Debra Granik to prominence. The film does not use sets, but uses actual Ozark houses, and this is just one part of the authenticity of Woodrell’s story and Granik’s production.

Come to BookPeople’s third floor, Wednesday, August 20, for a near-perfect movie and a perfect novel. Our screening starts at 6, and discussion of the book and film will follow the screening. As always, our events are free and open to the public. Copies of Winter’s Bone can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


 

Double Feature Stats

Adherence to book:

4.5 [out of 1-5]

Recommended films:

Ride with the Devil, In Country, Cold Mountain, Harlan County, USA

Recommended books:

Anything by Daniel Woodrell, A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor, Crimes in Southern Indiana, by Frank BillPike by Benjamin Whitmer

Crime Fiction Friday: ROADBEDS by Ed Kurtz

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Roadbeds by Ed Kurtz

We can’t wait for next week, Friday 22nd at 7PM to host Ed Kurtz to discuss his first crime novel The Forty-Two (along with a screening of one of his favorite grind house movies, Vigilante). Starting out as a horror writer, Ed has been earning respect for those in crime fiction with his short work, like this story from Shotgun Honey.

“Roadbeds” by Ed Kurtz

 

“Maury was taking a smoke break when the two thugs showed up. They arrived in a black Lincoln and summoned the crew boss from the dusty light of the car’s headlamps. Lucky was bawling out a digger at the time, a Puerto Rican backhoe operator, and Lucky didn’t quit bawling a guy out for anything. But he quit it for them.

The P.R. stared and Maury figured he was probably the only guy on site who didn’t grasp the situation. He’d never seen Cuco Minchillo’s guys come around a worksite in the dead of night, didn’t even know they worked for the guy whose name was on all the equipment. Minchillo & Sons. Both his sons were dead…”

Click here to read the full story.


Ed Kurtz will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Friday, August 22nd at 7PM! You can pre-order signed copies of The Forty-Two now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Glenn Gray

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Glenn Gray’s The Little Boy Inside & Other Stories has won us over, but the collection has earned fans beyond MysteryPeople. Both Joe Lansdale and Scott Phillips are fans of his work. A practicing radiologist, he often uses medical anomalies to launch into his genre-bending tales. We put a few questions to Glenn and here’s what he said.


MysteryPeople: In simple genre terms, you’re all over the place. How would you describe your work?

Glenn Gray: Some kind of twisted medical type stuff maybe? Not really sure. I’ve heard it referred to as body horror, weird fiction and medical noir. I never really thought much about genre, I just write and see what happens. The medical stuff seems horrific to some readers, but to me, it’s often funny. I write the kind of stories I’d want to read, and I found over time I got a kick out of writing certain types of stories. Certain genres overlap in my mind anyway, like noir, horror and crime. To me, it’s all just dark. If I had to pick one description of my work, friend and writer buddy David James Keaton early on dubbed my
stuff as Cronenboiled or Cronenbergian noir, which I really dug. I owe DJK for that one.

MP: Much of your work comes from your experience in the medical profession.  What do other writers who are non-practicioners get wrong about the field?

GG: I’m an anatomy nut, so any description of anatomy has to be correct. And things have to make sense from an anatomic or physiologic standpoint. For example, if there’s a knife or gun wound to the neck, and the jugular was sliced, it wouldn’t be pumping fountain-like arcs of blood. The jugular is a vein, it doesn’t pump. It’s a minor point because it’s next to the carotid artery, which will pump, so if one is cut it’s likely the other will be too. Those are the kind of details that stand out to me. Fun part is, I’ve had writer friends message me and ask all sorts of wild questions, like the proper way to rip someone’s head off with bare hands, or if something with a medical element sounds plausible. It’s great fun being able to help out that way.

MP: Who are your influences?

GG: Roald Dahl, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Chuck Palahniuk and Joe R. Lansdale, to name a few. Mostly because they write what I like to read and write, dark and often with a humorous component. And usually a little twisted or with a fantastical element. I like stuff that goes off the rails but has some basis in reality, however minor. So the reader thinks, this is a little crazy, but I wonder if it could really happen? They all write a lot of short fiction too, which is cool because I love reading the short stuff.  And they’re hard to pinpoint on genre, which helps enforce the notion that it just doesn’t matter. Write whatever the heck you want, what makes you happy first, then worry about it later. That’s the way I see it anyway.

MP: Do you have any interest in doing a novel?

GG: Working on it. I just finished a sci-fi novella and I’m working on a second collection of short fiction as well. The novel is turning out to be a mix of genres like the short stuff.  Some medicine, some crime and some weirdness.

MP: What is your main aim for the reader when you write?

GG: First and foremost is to entertain. I want the reader to have fun. The bonus is if they feel something. Something visceral. Queasy maybe? And think about their body in a way they haven’t before. About how complex the body is, how we’re all just one mishap away from disaster. How so many organ systems keep functioning in concert day after day. It’s amazing to me that more doesn’t go wrong more often.

MP: Is there anything too gross to write about?

GG: Nah. Don’t think so. And I’ve learned that everyone’s definition of gross is very different. I think any topic can be written about, it’s just how you do it. It’s all about the angle.


Copies of The Little Boy Inside & Other Stories are only available on our shelves at BookPeople. Stop by or give us a call at (512) 472-5050 to pick up your copy today!

Murder In The Afternoon with Craig Johnson and the Cold Dish

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We’re kicking off our Murder In The Afternoon book club with a store favorite. Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish is edging up on its tenth anniversary. It is the first of the Walt Longmire series that inspired the A&E television show Longmire, and will be the first of our book club.

In The Cold Dish, we’re introduced to the Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire and his colorful deputies when a murder case divides his Absaroka County. A couple years back a group of boys raped a girl from the nearby Cheyenne reservation and only received a slap on the wrist for their horrendous crime. Now, someone is picking them off one by one, leaving an Indian feather on each body. Even though the subject matter is serious, Johnson’s characters are often hilarious, giving comic relief and human warmth. The book served as a template for an episode of Longmire, but with a much different ending.

We’re happy to announced Craig Johnson will be joining us via conference call. We will be meeting on BookPeople’s third floor at 2PM, on Tuesday, the 19th. Copies of The Cold Dish are 10% off for those attending.


Sometimes you can’t wait until the evening to talk about murder. With that in mind, we invite you to join us for Murder In The Afternoon book club, meeting on third Tuesday each month at 2PM on BookPeople’s third floor. Join us for coffee, tea, and discussions of some of some of our favorite books in the mystery genre. All meetings are free and open to the public!

Crime Fiction Friday: OWEN’S BAD NIGHT by Benjamin Welton

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Owen’s Bad Night by Benjamin Welton

You can always count on the Shotgun Honey for a quick hit of hard boiled. It is the king of flash crime fiction. One of the latest entries is this quick mix of robbery, revenge, and wrestling.

Benjamin Welton is a freelance and amateur journalist who occasionally writes short stories and poems. He fails at all three. He is currently at work on a novel, runs a blog called The Trebuchet.

DUE TO LANGUAGE AND CONTENT, THIS STORY IS INTENDED FOR MATURE READERS

“Owen’s Bad Night” by Benjamin Welton

 

“Death Breath’s boot crashed on Owen’s head. It cut him hardway…”

 

Click here to read the full story.

Double Feature: DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS

Devil-in-a-Blue-Dress

This Wednesday, August 6th, at 6 pm, MysteryPeople will host a screening of Carl Franklin’s 1992 noir classic Devil in a Blue Dress, based on Walter Mosley’s book of the same name. The screening is part of our ongoing Noir Double Feature Film Series, a biweekly MysteryPeople event where we screen a film adaption of a noir classic and follow with a discussion of the film versus the novel. Each screening begins at 6 pm and takes place on BookPeople’s third floor.

Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosely’s first novel to star unlicensed private detective Easy Rawlins, follows Easy as he first enters into the finding-things-out-for-money game. A sinister white gangster hires Rawlins to find a blonde bombshell who likes to frequent black clubs, but when Easy gets a little ways into the case, people around him start showing up dead, and it is up to him to find out whodunit before the law decides to go the lazy route and just frame him instead. Easy Rawlins, as a proud veteran of World War II and the mean streets of Houston’s fifth ward, is up to the task. By the end of the book, he may just have found himself a new career and a permanent outlet for snappy one liners.

Mosley’s novel takes place in 1940s LA, like many a neo-noir, and the book is so cinematically written as to form a perfect bond with Franklin’s jazzy interpretation. With a 20 million dollar budget, Franklin creates a vibrant depiction of African-American neighborhoods in mid-century Los Angeles. This, combined with a tight narrative and stunning early performances from Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle, make this a film not to miss.

As a film, Devil in a Blue Dress shares most symmetry with Chinatown – they both take a modern perspective and delve deeply into LA’s sordid history, and the city plays as large a part as any single character. Walter Mosley and Carl Franklin use the groundwork already laid for LA noir, and Devil in a Blue Dress adds a welcome layer to the cosmopolitan patchwork that is representations of Los Angeles in literature and film.

Devil in a Blue Dress is firmly grounded in the hard-boiled detective novel conventions. Corruption, murder, greed, deviance, prostitution, small-time gangsters – Easy Rawlins does not find post-war LA to be a particularly wholesome world. Easy also has all the particular problems of dealing with racism as an African-American in 1948, including police violence, potential lynching every time he talks to a white woman, and a constant stream of indignities and casual racism from almost every white man he meets. Although Rawlins is well established as a hard-working homeowner in a community in which he is known and respected, the admiration of his peers and the constant booze and sex cannot obscure his place at the bottom of society’s totem pole. The film was made shortly after Compton exploded in the aftermath of Rodney King’s beating, and the film struck a particularly heart-wrenching cord upon its release through its portrayal of issues from an earlier time that to this day pervade society.

Detective novels have long been dominated by voices writing from within mainly white communities, where the majority of minority visitors are represented as the other. Devil in a Blue Dress provides welcome relief from such literary tunnel vision – any white visitor to Mosley’s spot-on recreation of 1940s black LA is immediately viewed as a potentially dangerous anomaly. Mosley is, however, certainly not the first detective novelist to represent the African-American experience, and noir set in black communities has a long history stretching back to Chester Himes in the 1950s. Carl Franklin had Denzel Washington read some of Himes’ novels, including Cotton Comes to Harlem, so as to give him a sense of the time and place the film aimed to recreate.

Mosley is one of the  most intriguing authors writing now in any mystery subgenre. His detective novels, like his sci-fi and general fiction, have all enjoyed wide renown and crossover appeal. Luckily for us, he is also one of the most prolific authors writing now, and you can find his work all over our shelves. Mosley himself will be coming to BookPeople this fall [DATE? - i wanted to promote his visit with the post but i wasn't sure when he is coming], so keep an eye out on our events calendar.

MysteryPeople is proud to offer a screening of Devil in a Blue Dress, Wednesday, August 6, at 6 pm, up on BookPeople’s third floor. You can find Devil in a Blue Dress on our shelves and at bookpeople.com. Our next MysteryPeople Noir Double Feature will be Wednesday, August 20. We will screen Winter’s Bone and discuss Daniel Woodrell’s book of the same name.


Double Feature Stats

Adherence to Book [scale of 1-5]: 4

Recommended films:

Chinatown, LA Confidential, Long Goodbye, In the Heat of the Night, Boyz N The Hood

Recommended books:

Anything by Walter Mosley, anything by Chester Himes, Charlie Huston’s No Dominion, anything by David Goodis

MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant’s latest book featuring post-war Fort Worth private eye Dutch Curridge, Spirit Trap, involves theft and the murder of a family, with members of a western swing band as suspects. Tim will be joining us with Ben Rheder and Reavis Wortham for our Lone Star Mystery authors panel this Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. Tim was kind enough to answer some questions beforehand.


MysteryPeople: Music always plays a big part in the book and this time, Dutch has to deal with a lot of them in this mystery. Being one yourself, what did you want to get a across about a band?

Tim Bryant: There wasn’t a lot of planning that went into Spirit Trap. I experienced it, in some ways, as I would if I were reading it. Still, I brought my history in music to it. I would have to say what came out of that was the dichotomy that, if you look at a band from the outside, it appears very much as a family, a unit that works together. Seen from the inside out, though, it’s made up of a bunch of individuals, each of whom will have their own motives and may see what they’re doing in completely different ways. Both of those things can be useful in writing about life, especially when you’re talking about mystery.

MP: Dutch’s voice is so unique and it carries the book. How did you develop it?

TB: There’s a lot of myself in Dutch, so I didn’t have to invent him from whole cloth. Obviously, we share a dark and rather twisted sense of humor. There’s also a good bit of my grandfather in him, and  people that I remember from my grandfather’s era, men who hung around him. I have an ear for how those kinds of people talk. Not just what they say, but how they say it. I had written a series of short stories with a character called Cold Eye Huffington. Cold Eye was a good bit like Dutch, although he was set in New Orleans. The very first story I ever wrote with Dutch as a character was published in REAL literary magazine, and his voice was pretty much fully formed from the beginning.

MP: Which came first to write about, Dutch or Fort Worth?

TB: After the Cold Eye stories, I wanted to develop a Texas character, because I do consider myself to be a Texas writer. Of course, with Cold Eye, I had the whole New Orleans music scene as a backdrop, and I very much wanted to keep music in the picture. It’s something I know well and enjoy writing about, and there’s endless fodder for storylines. So, looking at Texas, and being a huge fan of both western swing music and jazz, Fort Worth became the obvious setting for Dutch. Fort Worth has such a rich music history, and a lot of people aren’t aware of just how rich it is. I mean, Bob Wills and Milton Brown are both  associated with Fort Worth, but so is Ornette Coleman. Plus, I knew that Dutch would be a little guy going up against bigger foes, and Fort Worth, always being in the shadow of Dallas, fit into that psychology.

MP: One of the things I Iike best about Dutch is his sense of humor. How important is humor in a story when you’re dealing with somber subject matter?

TB: I think it’s important as a writer and a reader to have that spark of humor there in the dark, but it only works because it’s important for Dutch himself to have that humor. It’s a survival mechanism for him, as much as anything. And he’s no longer a churchgoer, but he remembers from childhood that a joke is always funnier when you’re in a place it doesn’t belong or isn’t expected. The humor just comes naturally from what’s going on. I suppose they all come from my mind as I’m writing the story, but it honestly feels as if they come from the mind of Dutch as he goes about things. That’s what makes it natural, what makes it work.

MP: For an author, what makes Dutch Curridge a character worth coming back to?

TB: The fact that I know him like a friend. I not only know what has happened to him in the three novels, but, at this point, I know the day he was born and I know the day he dies. Elvis hasn’t arrived on the scene in the books yet, but I know what he thinks about Elvis. He’s like any friend. I may need a break from him every once in a while, because he’s pretty intense in a lot of ways, but after a while, I start to hear him whispering in my ear, and I start to miss the guy.


MysteryPeople welcomes Tim Bryant, along with Reavis Wortham and Ben Rehder, to BookPeople for a conversation about crime fiction on Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm. His latest novel, Spirit Trap, is available on BookPeople’s shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Wendi Corsi Staub Guest Post: THE PERFECT STRANGER

the perfect stranger

Wendi Corsi Staub shares with us a little bit about her latest thriller, The Perfect Stranger, and her inspirations for writing her heroines. 


My latest suspense novel, The Perfect Stranger, is the second in a trio of thrillers that are all connected not by characters or setting, but by theme: you never know who might be lurking behind a familiar online screen name. The Perfect Stranger is about a breast cancer survivor/blogger named Landry Wells, who finds kindred support and friendship online in a group of fellow bloggers who eventually become her closest confidantes. Now they meet in person for the first time at the funeral for one of their own, the victim of a random murder—or so they believed. Landry wonders if she shared too much online and if her killer is a fellow blogger who might be preparing to strike again.

This is the second time I’ve chosen to create a heroine who’s battled breast cancer, and it’s a bold and perhaps risky decision, I know. But the disease has ravaged my personal life, robbing me not just of my mom but of my mother-in-law and her sister. My sister-in-law and several of my closest friends are survivors.

The first time I set out to write my breast cancer heroine,  I’d just lost her my mom—it was May of 2005, just after her 63rd birthday and Mother’s Day.

Throughout my career, I had managed to get past whatever was thrown at me. Nothing was impossible. At that time, I was juggling deadlines as usual, scheduled to finish writing an upbeat chick lit novel and a thriller—both due that summer. But suddenly, I was unable to focus. Instead of working, I ran away from home.

Well, not really.

Yes. Really.

I took my husband and my sons with me, and escaped. We traveled for two months that summer, meandering from place to place as I struggled to get over my loss so that I could get back to work. Even Disney World—the happiest place on earth—couldn’t make it entirely better, but it helped.

Back at home, I struggled again to finish the chick lit novel.  I managed to do it, but then, instead of turning my attention to my other deadline, I felt compelled to write a proposal that I knew would be a difficult sell. Not because it was a Christmas time travel romance, but because Clara, the novel’s heroine, had breast cancer. The conventional view in the publishing industry is that breast cancer is too depressing—who wants to read about that?

I assured my agent that the book wasn’t depressing, it was uplifting. Clara’s character was inspired by my mom’s stalwart hope in the face of adversity.  My agent was dubious—and surprised by my attitude.

She knew me well enough to know that I am too commercial and too busy a writer to waste my time on something that isn’t a sure thing. I was supposed to be writing a thriller that was already overdue, and I had never blown a deadline in my career.

What the heck was I doing?

I wondered the same thing myself.

But I listened to my instincts. This Christmas Time Travel was a book that I just had to write—even if only for me.

I didn’t realize it then, but writing isn’t just my passion or my job. It’s also my way of working through issues.

I sent the proposal—the first three chapters and an outline–to my agent just before Christmas. She wasn’t enthusiastic. Nothing had changed in the past couple of months; no one was lining up to buy books about heroines who had breast cancer.

My agent reminded me that business was all but completed for the month—the year, really. Most publishing houses close down the week between Christmas and New Year’s; no editor would consider it until January.

“I know,” I said, “but submit it anyway.”

Really, I was physically and emotionally spent. I had been possessed by that story I felt compelled to tell, and now that I had purged myself of it, I just wanted it off my plate.  After the New Year, I told myself, I would get back down to business and write what I was supposed to be writing.

The next day, I flew with my husband and sons to my hometown to face our first Christmas without my mom. Walking into my childhood home, I felt emptiness, and I fell apart. Mom’s joyful spirit that always embodied the holidays was gone. Never again would there be a perfect gift chosen just for me out of maternal love.

But I’d been raised by a woman who believed in the impossible, and she taught me to believe in it, too.

Plus…Christmas is a season of miracles.

Minutes after I arrived, my cell phone rang.

It was my agent. “Are you sitting down?”

I sat.

“An editor at Penguin read your proposal this morning. She said something made her want to read it right then. She loved it, and she tracked down the Editor in Chief on a ski slope somewhere to get permission to make you an offer.”

“They want it?” I asked, incredulous.  “Yes, on one condition, and I’m not sure it’s possible—they want you to write the whole thing by the end of January so that they can publish it next December.”

Was it impossible to write an entire book—a time travel that demanded extensive research into another era–in four weeks?

What do you think? That book, If Only in My Dreams, was released the following Christmas to a barrage of terrific reviews and even some movie interest from Hollywood. It’s still in print, and Amazon Montlake picked up the digital rights last year. I even wrote a sequel, The Best Gift.

That first Christmas without my mom—the one I thought would be the first without a Christmas gift from her—actually turned out to be the one when I received my last, and most meaningful, Christmas gift from her. When I look back at how that book, If Only In My Dreams, came to be written, I know that it was my a heaven-sent gift from my mom.

This week, when The Perfect Stranger hits the shelves, I’ll proudly and boldly introduce my readers to breast cancer survivor Landry Wells, a heroine I hope they’ll welcome as warmly as they did Clara. Here’s to strong women facing and conquering challenges – both in fiction and in real life!


New York Times bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub is the award-winning author of more than seventy-five published novels and has sold more than four million books worldwide. Under her own name, Wendy achieved New York Times bestselling status with her single title psychological suspense novels. Those novels and the women’s fiction she writes under the pseudonym Wendy Markham also frequently appeared on the USA Today, Barnes and Noble Top Ten, and Bookscan bestseller lists.

The Perfect Stranger is available for purchase on BookPeople’s shelves and via our website, bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Ben Rehder

Ben Rehder is an Austin-based author who has long been known for the humor in his books. The second book in his series is Gone the Next, featuring legal videographer Roy Ballard. Rehder’s novel follows Ballard as, during his surveillance work, he notices someone who bears a strong resemblance to a girl who has been abducted.

We are happy to have him join us for our Lone Star Mystery Authors panel this Wednesday, August 6, at 7 PM, on BookPeople’s second floor. He’ll be reading and signing his latest book in the series, Get Busy Dying. We caught up with him for this quick interview.


MysteryPeople: Child abduction is such touchy subject matter that many writers avoid it. What made you decide to take it on?

Ben Rehder: I don’t usually set out to choose a particular topic for a novel; most of the time, raw ideas just occur to me, and I start to play around with them to see if they go anywhere. In this case, the idea was this: What if an investigator had someone under surveillance for a white-collar crime, and suddenly, without any explanation, there was a little girl in the subject’s presence? What if that little girl matched the description of a girl who had recently gone missing? Worse, what if the investigator couldn’t convince the cops of what he’d seen? I saw no reason to avoid the topic of child abduction, and in fact it seemed that there couldn’t be too many more compelling subjects. How far would most people go to save an abducted child? I think the lengths might just be boundless.

MP: As serious as the subject matter is, Ballard is very funny. How do you balance the humor with the darkness?

BR: You hold the darkness in your left hand and an equal quantity of humor in your right hand. Okay, Ballard isn’t necessarily making light of abduction or missing kids, but he does appreciate the value of humor in making tough situations a little more bearable. There’s a back story there I won’t get into, but if Ballard couldn’t laugh about life, he’d be insane by now. He deals with feelings of guilt and sadness and anxiety by making jokes. Of course, he also makes jokes in the absence of guilt, sadness, or anxiety.

MP: What made you choose a legal videographer as a series character?

BR: I was doing research on insurance fraud investigators and I stumbled across that phrase, “legal videographer.” I had no idea what it meant (was it the opposite of an illegal videographer?), but when I read the job description, I realized I’d found the job title for my character. A legal videographer’s duties typically include recording depositions, accident scenes and re-creations, witness testimony, and in some cases, attempting to obtain evidence of insurance fraud. (That’s Roy Ballard’s specialty.) The bonus was that I couldn’t remember any novel revolving around a legal videographer, so it seemed like a unique way to go.

MP: What do you get to do with Roy that you can’t do with the Blanco County series?

BR: The biggest difference is that I get to use the first-person point of view. I’m writing from Roy Ballard’s perspective, so the reader can’t see into other characters’ heads as the story unfolds. That’s actually quite liberating, even though first person also carries some obvious limitations. Also, I get to swap the rural Blanco County setting for a more suburban and urban atmosphere in the Ballard novels. And Roy Ballard is a total smart aleck, whereas John Marlin (the Blanco County protagonist) is a little more serious. It’s a nice change of pace to switch between the two series.

MP: I really enjoyed banter between Roy and Mia. Do you have a particular approach to dialogue?

BR: You want to capture natural speech patterns as closely as possible and still keep it readable. Ever read a transcript of a deposition or any other recorded conversation? The truth is, actual dialog is often very awkward and hard to follow in written form, because you can’t hear inflection or see body language, and there is a lot of interrupting or hemming and hawing. So you have to strike a balance—keep it real but also keep it readable. And if there’s a choice between a straight line and a wise-ass remark, I’ll generally go for the latter.


MysteryPeople welcomes Ben Rehder, along with Reavis Wortham and Tim Bryant, to BookPeople for a conversation about crime fiction on Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm. His latest novel, Get Busy Dying, and Gone the Next are available for purchase on BookPeople’s shelves and from our online store at bookpeople.com.

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