Jennifer Baker on Representation in Mystery Novels

At Electric Literature, Jennifer Baker recommends twelve mystery novels starring diverse sleuths. Her list includes Blanche Passes Go, the final book in Barbara Neely’s groundbreaking series, as well as Nancy Jooyoun Kim’s The Last Story of Mina Lee and David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts, which were featured in our Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2020 Book Preview. “When BIPOC characters are the stars of mystery and crime novels, there’s no doubt we’ll be privy to the complexity of how race affects their quest for a solution,” Baker writes. “The layers of this make for stories of power, inequity, and frustrations ready to boil over.” 

CJ Hauser on Gothic Literature’s Life Lessons

At the Paris Review, CJ Hauser reads Rebecca for the first time and is unsettled to recognize herself in the story. “Do you know what thrills me in so many of those gothic novels? When a woman sets fire to a house. Sometimes a house feels too haunted, too complicated, to live in anymore. Imagine the cleansing relief of burning the whole thing down. I’ve been there. I get it,” she writes. By the end of the essay, the Family of Origin author realizes that to avoid the second Mrs. de Winter’s fate, she has to allow the past and present to coexist. “Probably only a very troubled person would learn things of a personal or moral nature from du Maurier. But I did. Du Maurier showed me that promising a new partner that they will eclipse your past is an act of violence against the meaningful loves that existed before. It’s a fucking bloodbath, and we are the murderers, and we forgive ourselves for it, every time.”

Bryan Washington on Creating Space in Publishing

At The New York Times, MJ Franklin profiles Houston-based author Bryan Washington and notes there is a theme of preservation running through Washington’s debut novel, Memorial. “The book preserves Houston and Osaka. It preserves the feeling of being young and lost. It preserves the food that gives us comfort and nourishment and purpose,” he writes. “But there is one thing Washington doesn’t want to preserve: the limited path for writers like him. He wants to evolve it.” Washington hopes that his upcoming novel, which was featured in our October Most Anticipated list, will create space for more unique stories. “Ideally, it’ll kick the stone a little further down the line for books that don’t hit quite down the middle of obvious marketability. And the next person will be able to work on their weird thing, and so will the folks after them.”

Yaffa S. Santos on Going Beyond the Five Senses

At the Rumpus, in conversation with Sheena Daree Miller, author Yaffa S. Santos explains why she needed to explore synesthesia in order to complete her debut novel, A Taste of Sage. “I knew I wanted to write about a Dominican woman chef working in upper Manhattan. And I wanted it to be something I could and would finish, because I had started previous projects that I hadn’t completed,” she says. “I realized that, in order for me to be invested enough to get to the end, there had to be some sort of aspect beyond the five senses. It was important for me to incorporate that, no matter what shape it took. I wondered what sort of element I could add that would keep me focused from start to finish.”

Leesa Cross-Smith on the Moment a Story Begins

At CRAFT, Leesa Cross-Smith discusses her story collection, So We Can Glow, her upcoming novel, This Close to Okay, and how she uncovers a story’s beginning. “I almost always start with some sort of visual of a tiny moment or a word or a line of dialogue. Sometimes it’s a fully formed character, but not as often. It can be someone touching someone else’s hand or the cuff of a sweater.” Cross-Smith has published flash fiction, short stories, and novels, and says the different formats allow her to revisit her characters. “I give myself room to circle back. That’s why so often I write flash fiction or a short story about a character and return to that same character later, because I’m not finished. And it’s not that I need to make the original story longer…but it’s because I want to meet them again…wherever they are…and listen.”

Rumaan Alam on Genre Snobbery

At the Paris Review, author Rumaan Alam discusses his suspenseful new book, Leave the World Behind, and the efficiency of genre writing. “I think there is a prevailing snobbery about writing horror or thriller, ‘genre fiction,’ that it’s fundamentally less serious. I don’t think that’s true. Because, in the end, it’s really about building a very efficient machine in order to achieve a very specific goal,” he says. “The author wants to make you quake. He wants to make you shiver. He wants to terrify you. Literary fiction is a genre all its own, with its own expectations and conventions, and the aim is less often to elicit that emotional response. It’s more often about doing something compelling on the level of language or style—it’s a different kind of endeavor. But I don’t think that means one is better than the other.” 

Maggie Smith and Patricia Lockwood on Viral Poems

At Slate, Dan Kois talks to Maggie Smith and Patricia Lockwood about what happens when your poem goes viral online. “The strangest thing about having a viral poem,” says Lockwood, “is that you are framed in reference to it afterwards to a degree that feels ensmallifying. It feels a little like you’re placed into a box.” Smith, author of the poem “Good Bones” and the recently published Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, says, “What I’ll always be known for is writing this poem about how bad things are, and maybe they could be better, but they’re bad. Every time my mentions tick up, I know to check the news because something bad has happened.”

John Banville on Pen Names and Pretension

At The New York Times, Irish novelist John Banville discusses his latest mystery, Snow, and his decision to do away with his pseudonym, Benjamin Black. “I’m one of those writers who dislikes and is shamed by his own work. I am in pursuit of perfection and, as we know, perfection is far beyond the reach of our puny powers,” he says. “But when I found that I liked the Blacks, I said to myself, ‘Why do I need this rascal anyway?’ So I shut him in a room with a pistol, a phial of sleeping pills and a bottle of Scotch, and that was the end of him. I’ve never been ashamed or felt I had to defend what Black wrote. His books are works of craftsmanship written honestly and without pretension.”

Sarah Kasbeer on Writing About Trauma

At Guernica, in conversation with Sara Petersen, essayist Sarah Kasbeer shares her thoughts on whether writing plays a role in processing trauma: “I do think the work of writing about trauma helps you separate it from yourself, and allows you to look at the story more objectively. Writing is a tool for thinking, so to say that it has no role in how we process traumatic events or our lives in general feels dishonest to me. At the same time, you need therapy, or another person who supports you, in order to heal from trauma. I don’t think writing is ‘healing’ in and of itself; in fact, sometimes it’s retraumatizing.” Kasbeer’s debut essay collection, A Woman, A Plan, an Outline of a Man, is featured on our October list of most anticipated books

Agustina Bazterrica on Cannibalism and Dystopian Fiction

At Electric Literature, Agustina Bazterrica discusses her novel, Tender Is the Flesh, with Elizabeth Sulis Kim, and reflects on fiction’s ability to raise questions and open minds. “I love literature that makes an impact and generates a response, but does not tell me what to do,” Bazterrica says. “In my own writing I want to generate questions. And a lot of people told me that after reading my book they stopped eating meat. I don’t know how much that decision endured. I don’t care if they stop eating meat for one day, one week or several years, it’s not the important thing. The important thing is that they start looking at reality in a different way.”