What’s the last great book you read?
I’m going to cheat with two. “A Little Life,” by Hanya Yanagihara. Never have I had a more tortured relationship with a book. At several points I vowed I could not go on, but I did, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. Which has to be a testament to its power.
And “Lady Sings the Blues,” by Billie Holiday. I’d never read it but was inspired by a song on the upcoming Mekons album that pays tribute to it. The voice is so strong, so full of heart and heartbreak and rage and sympathy. And it’s such a window into a time and place.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
I will read anything at all by Kate Atkinson, Daniel Woodrell and William Kennedy, who are all fearless. Philip Roth, who I sincerely hope really retired. Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby. In nonfiction, the big ones for me are Joan Didion and Janet Malcolm. And lately I never miss anything by David Grann, Larissa MacFarquhar, Emily Nussbaum, Matt Zoller Seitz, Wesley Morris and virtually all the crime reportage in Texas Monthly, especially by Skip Hollandsworth and Pamela Colloff. And my parents, Philip and Patricia Abbott, writers both.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
True crime has long been a passion for me, but I’m also a sucker for biographies, particularly of politicians, writers or Hollywood icons. I’m working my way through Robert Caro’s L.B.J. volumes, and I just about swallowed whole Karin Wieland’s “Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin and a Century in Two Lives.”
I read all kinds of fiction, but I always have at least one crime novel going. Unlike most crime readers, I don’t read a lot of series, but I adore Ace Atkins’s Quinn Colson novels, which are set in Mississippi and are full of nuance about the Deep South.
I’m ashamed how little science fiction I’ve read. I want to say that I’ve tried a few and discovered it’s not for me, but the truth is — as I say to anyone who resists crime fiction — I’ve probably just read the wrong ones and need to try again.
Who writes the best thrillers?
I never miss Laura Lippman or Gillian Flynn. I think it’s a particularly exciting time for women thriller writers: Tana French, Elizabeth Hand, Attica Locke, Alison Gaylin, Lisa Lutz, Alafair Burke, Alex Marwood, Steph Cha. All this great dark, witchy energy. It’s a genre that has long explored the sharpest corners of sex, marriage, motherhood, female aggression and power, but I think the successes of “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on the Train” revealed how big the reader appetite for these narratives is.
How do you organize your books?
Alphabetically, and in sections, like all the bookstores I grew up in. Fiction is all together, but nonfiction I divide into Hollywood, Memoir/Biography, True Crime, Cultural History, etc. Freud, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Didion and Raymond Chandler all get their own sections because there is just so much. Then, in my office, I keep all my pulps, with the most lurid covers facing out.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
“How to Protect Yourself Against Psychic Attack.” Though those who know me well probably wouldn’t be surprised.
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
A particularly stunning 1953 British edition of one of my favorite novels, Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night,” from my friend (and a great writer) Stona Fitch.
What’s your favorite TV, film or theater adaptation of a book?
This is always a tricky one — do you go with the one that was most faithful, or for one that managed to surpass the book? I think I most value those instances when the book and its adaptation somehow enrich each other, and for me that’s “Double Indemnity,” the Billy Wilder movie based on the James M. Cain novel. It doesn’t hurt that it has both a script co-written by Raymond Chandler, and Barbara Stanwyck (and her anklet) in the starring role.
Tell us about your ideal adaptation of any book, your pick.
Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” starring the two actresses who play the daughters on the TV show “Louie” as Merricat and Constance. They’re too young now, but everything takes forever in Hollywood, so it’s probably best to get the ball rolling.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
For hero, Caddy Compson in William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.” Antihero is probably a tie between Veda, Mildred’s scheming daughter in James M. Cain’s “Mildred Pierce,” and Harriet, the outrageous antihero (or hero?) of Iris Owens’s “After Claude.” In fact, those two would make quite a pair.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
Compulsive. I come from a family of readers. Our house smelled of book. I remember it now as a kind of gorgeous blur, from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series, “The Great Brain,” “Archie” comics and L. Frank Baum’s Oz books to Judy Blume, Norma Klein, and all those terrifying Lois Duncan novels about good girls and their dark doubles.
I also loved those marvelous Time-Life “Our American Century” books, a volume for each decade. I think I read the 1920s through 1950s ones a hundred times, each page filled with true crime and scandal and movie stars, the grand sweep of pop-culture history. At some point around 10 years old, they led me to “Hollywood Babylon” and “Helter Skelter.” I have this memory of standing in a used-book store, my mouth gaping at the photos in the middle. The whole dark, sad feel to both of them. I felt like I was uncovering all the secrets of the world.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
He’s awfully well read, but I’m going with one he may have missed: Robert Kolker’s “Lost Girls.” The ostensible subject is the still unsolved murders of five women whose bodies were discovered on Gilgo Beach in Long Island. But it’s really a profoundly moving story of the victims themselves — their families, how various systems failed them. It’s about class and poverty and how we as a society stigmatize sex workers and the cost of that stigma. It’s the kind of book that could be dismissed as “ripped from the headlines” true crime, but it’s actually interventionist social commentary.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Emily Brontë, Freud and Flannery O’Connor. That’s a tough, tough crew. I’m not getting away with anything at that table. There will definitely need to be martinis.
If you could be friends with any author, dead or alive, who would it be?
Raymond Chandler. I have romantic notions of drinking gimlets with him, waiting out the Santa Ana winds together in some dim bar.
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
I put books down a lot, and I hesitate to name any because it’s probably more about me than the book itself. Maybe I came to it at the wrong time, or my expectations were too high. But I do have a very limited patience for books by self-described literary writers making casual forays into crime fiction. You have to love a genre to write it. Readers can tell the difference. It’s not like trying on a hat (or, God help us, a fedora).
Whom would you want to write your life story?
Most of my favorite writers are pretty lacerating, so I shudder at what they’d do. Maybe, if she were still with us, Jacqueline Susann, because she is probably the only one who could make my life — comprised mostly of reading, staring at a computer screen and watching “Real Housewives” — sound glamorous.
What do you want to read next?
Ruth Franklin’s forthcoming biography, “Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life,” and Maria Semple’s “Today Will Be Different,” both out this fall.
And, though it’s not out until 2017, I’m already anticipating David Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.” The real-life story about the Osage murders in the 1920s has long fascinated me. It feels like one of those perfect marriages between subject and writer.Continue reading the main story
The Mystery Writers of America revealed the nominees for the 2014 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television, published or produced in 2013. The Edgar award winners will be announced at a gala banquet on May 1, in New York City.The 2014 Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominees:
Sandrine’s Case by Thomas H. Cook (Grove Atlantic – The Mysterious Press)
The Humans by Matt Haig (Simon & Schuster)
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books)
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books)
Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin (Hachette Book Group – Reagan Arthur Books)
Until She Comes Home by Lori Roy (Penguin Group USA – Dutton Books)
Best First Novel by an American Author
The Resurrectionist by Matthew Guinn (W.W. Norton)
Ghostman by Roger Hobbs (Alfred A. Knopf)
Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman (Minotaur Books)
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (Simon & Schuster - Scribner)
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight (HarperCollins Publishers)
Best Paperback Original
The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow Paperbacks)
Almost Criminal by E. R. Brown (Dundurn)
Joe Victim by Paul Cleave (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books)
Joyland by Stephen King (Hard Case Crime)
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood (Penguin Group USA - Penguin Books)
Brilliance by Marcus Sakey(Amazon Publishing – Thomas and Mercer)
Best Fact Crime
Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins (Crown Trade Group)
Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal
by Michael D’Antonio (Thomas Dunne Books)
The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder
by Charles Graeber (Grand Central Publishing – Twelve)
The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and the Medics Behind Nazi Lines
by Cate Lineberry (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company)
The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War
by Daniel Stashower (Minotaur Books)
Maigret, Simenon and France: Social Dimensions of the Novels and Stories
by Bill Alder (McFarland & Company)
America is Elsewhere: The Noir Tradition in the Age of Consumer Culture
by Erik Dussere (Oxford University Press)
Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold
Story of Black Pulp Publishing by Justin Gifford (Temple University Press)
Ian Fleming by Andrew Lycett (St. Martin’s Press)
Middlebrow Feminism in Classic British Detective Fiction
by Melissa Schaub (Palgrave Macmillan)
Best Short Story
"The Terminal" – Kwik Krimes by Reed Farrel Coleman (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
"So Long, Chief" – Strand Magazine
by Max Allan Collins & Mickey Spillane (The Strand)
"The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” – Bibliomysteries
by John Connolly (Mysterious)
"There are Roads in the Water" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
by Trina Corey (Dell Magazines)
"Where That Morning Sun Does Down" – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
by Tim L. Williams (Dell Magazines)
Strike Three, You’re Dead by Josh Berk (Random House Children’s Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)
Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne (Penguin Young Readers Group – Dial)
P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man by Caroline Lawrence
(Penguin Young Readers Group – Putnam Juvenile)
Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
(Disney Publishing Worldwide – Disney-Hyperion)
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (Random House Children’s Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)
Best Young Adult
All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry
(Penguin Young Readers Group – Viking Juvenile)
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (Random House Children’s Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)
Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy (Simon & Schuster – Simon Pulse)
How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller
(Penguin Young Readers Group – Razorbill)
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Best Television Episode Teleplay
“Episode 3” – Luther, Teleplay by Neil Cross (BBC Worldwide)
“Episode 1” – The Fall, Teleplay by Allan Cubitt (Netflix)
“Legitimate Rape” – Law & Order: SVU, Teleplay by Kevin Fox & Peter Blauner (NBC Universal)
“Variations Under Domestication” – Orphan Black, Teleplay by Will Pascoe (BBC Worldwide)
“Pilot” – The Following Teleplay by Kevin Williamson (Fox/Warner Bros. Television)
Robert L. Fish Memorial Award
"The Wentworth Letter" – Criminal Element’s Malfeasance Occasional
By Jeff Soloway (St. Martin’s Press)
Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award
(Presented at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party on April 30, 2014)
There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Fear of Beauty by Susan Froetschel (Prometheus – Seventh Street Books)
The Money Kill by Katia Lief (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper)
Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman (Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine Books)
The Sixth Station by Linda Stasi (Forge Books)