Categories
Book Recommendations Literary History

Celebrate International Women’s Day!

In honor of International Women’s Day, here are some suggested books about women:

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot 
  • Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
  • Woman As Healer by Jeanne Achterberg
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss

For more reading suggestions, Canterbury Classics has put together a list of works by authors who “all had to defy social norms and push boundaries in order to accomplish what they did, and although some didn’t live to see it, get the respect that they deserved”:

And publishing conglomerate Penguin Random House features the series Modern Library Torchbearers, books by “women who wrote on their own terms, with boldness, creativity, and a spirit of resistance”:

How about you?

What other reading do you suggest for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month?

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: From “Wolfe Island” to “Me”

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month we begin with Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island. According to Amazon, this novel is not available in the U.S. (except in audio CD format for ~$50), although it was just published in summer 2019. Here’s the description of the book from Goodreads:

For years Kitty Hawke has lived alone on Wolfe Island, witness to the island’s erosion and clinging to the ghosts of her past. Her work as a sculptor and her wolfdog Girl are enough. News of mainland turmoil is as distant as myth until refugees from that world arrive: her granddaughter Cat, and Luis and Alejandra, a brother and sister escaping persecution. When threats from the mainland draw closer, they are forced to flee for their lives. They travel north through winter, a journey during which Kitty must decide what she will do to protect the people she loves.

Part western, part lament for a disappearing world, Wolfe Island (set off the northeast coast of the US) is a transporting novel that explores connection and isolation and the ways lives and families shatter and are remade.

From the comments on Goodreads, I see that the novel is about climate change, as Wolfe Island, along with many other coastal islands, has now become nearly uninhabitable, with millions of people worldwide losing their homes. The novel further addresses the issues of family, love, and treatment of refugees. 

1. Whenever I have to discuss climate fiction, my go-to illustration is the seminal ecofiction classic Dune by Frank Herbert. Herbert grew up in Tacoma, WA, USA, my recently adopted home town.

2. Most of Arrakis, the planet on which Dune is set, is covered with sand. Jane Harper’s novel The Lost Man also features a sandy desert landscape, the Australian outback. Nathan Bright returns to his family’s cattle station for the burial of his younger brother. 

3. While Harper’s novel features a man standing over his brother’s grave, My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni shows us a woman, Tracy Crosswhite, at her sister’s grave. The murder of her sister, Sarah, is what caused Tracy to become a homicide detective with the Seattle PD.

4. The novel Long Bright River by Liz Moore, which is in the next-up position on my TBR shelf, also features sisters. One is a police officer, while the other is buried deep in the opiod-addiction crisis.

5. In Two Kinds of Truth Michael Connelly’s fictional detective Harry Bosch goes undercover to investigate an operation using homeless people to obtain and fill prescriptions for opiods that are then sold illegally. Bosch befriends a woman who turned to drugs after the death of her teenage daughter many years earlier. He even helps her through rehab, but, eventually, unable to overcome her grief, she relapses and dies of an overdose.

6. So as not to end on a low note, I turn finally to another book waiting patiently on my TBR shelf, Elton John’s autobiography Me. After many years of abusing alcohol and drugs, he has now been clean and sober for nearly 30 years.

I always enjoy seeing where these free-association book chains end up. I hope you’ll consider participating in this monthly exercise.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Last Week's Links

Literary Links

Top 10 books of eco-fiction

A blog challenge that I’m working on for next month includes a novel about climate fiction. This challenge made me realize that I haven’t read many works in which this topic figures prominently. I was therefore glad to come across this list by Michael Christie, whose recent novel Greenwood, set in 2038, features a vacation spot where wealthy tourists can visit one of the world’s last forests. In addition to Christie’s 10 choices, there are more than 150 reader comments, some of which suggest other titles. 

The Hottest New Literary Genre Is ‘Doomer Lit’

In another entry about climate fiction, Kate Knibbs describes the trend of doomer literature, which “calls pessimistic fatalism one of the major ‘paradigmatic responses to climate change in recent fiction.’”

UNRELIABLE NARRATORS WHO BREAK EVERY RULE WE THOUGHT WE KNEW

A good unreliable narrator is hard to resist. Here Michael Seidlinger takes the unreliable narrator trope a step beyond the usual: “Using a narrator that doesn’t stick to any preexisting rules makes for structural experimentation that changes the very way a story can be told.”

Elizabeth Wurtzel and the Feminist Disability Memoir

Patricia Grisafi writes a tribute to Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose works such as Prozac Nation (1994) address “the burden she feels as a Young Woman Of Promise who keeps letting people down because of her mental illness.” Wurtzel’s writings made Grisafi “felt seen in a way I had not since reading Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.”

Wurtzel, who died on January 7 [2020], made a generation of women feel as if their shitty lives might make a good book someday. She made me feel like I could get help for my seemingly broken brain.

The Outlander Effect: The popular book and TV series is increasing travel to these Scottish sites

Best-selling author Diana Gabaldon hadn’t even set foot in Scotland when she began the book that launched the popular Outlander series. But she’s made the country so attractive to readers — and to watchers of the Starz television program . . . — that the Scottish government’s tourism agency gave her an honorary Thistle Award for generating a flood of visitors to the fens, glens, jagged mountains and soft jade landscapes she so alluringly describes.

PRH Makes Progress in Green Initiatives

I usually avoid pieces based on public-relations announcements, but in light of the first two articles in this listing, that seems both appropriate and praiseworthy. Publishing giant Penguin Random House explains its plans “to publish its books responsibly and minimize its environmental impact.”

Top 10 random encounters in literature

British writer Will Harris, author of the recent poetry collection RENDANG, lists 10 works that “all helped me to imagine the self as a collision point.” Read his discussion in praise of the random encounters in literature.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Audiobooks Fiction Last Week's Links Reading

Literary Links

HOME SWEET HO…MAYBE NOT: THE HAUNTED HOUSE IN FICTION

So what is it about the haunted house that spans media types? What is it about the concept that transfixes both audience in the land of imagination, and truth seekers in the science world? Why is this one of those subjects that bridges the gap between fact and fiction?

S.F. Whitaker examines what makes us, while screaming (even if only in our minds) “Don’t go in there!” dying to know what will happen when some character dares to open that door or window . . .

How locked-room mystery king Seishi Yokomizo broke into English at last

Pushkin Vertigo, an independent press in the U.K., is publishing the first English translations of the classic Japanese mystery novels by Seishi Yokomizo. Yokomizo’s first novel was published in Japan in 1946. Read here about the life and works of the writer called “Japan’s answer to Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr.”

WHAT IS SPECULATIVE FICTION?

Lyndsie Manusos examines the many meanings that make the term speculative fiction particularly amorphous. Manusos consults sources from the Oxford Research Encyclopedia to the Speculative Literature Foundation, including authors such as Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin. She concludes:

Speculative fiction is indeed nebulous. It’s actually why I love this over-arching genre so much. I live for books that maintain our world but bend the boundaries. Books that look underneath the skin of our reality and probe what might be or might’ve been.

Finding Self-Help in Fiction: A Stranger Truth

Rachel Smalter Hall, an editor for audiobook giant Audible (a division of Amazon) writes that, after a difficult year in 2019, she realized that “I get most of my self-help from novels.”

Fiction might not have a checklist at the end of each chapter to help one live a better life, but it does provide a narrative lens through which to view the human experience. It’s proven to help build empathy, and it can give us tools to make sense of our own lives and how we relate to others.

Read her list of six novels that provided her with “unlikely lessons.”

A YEAR OF MOURNING AND READING

Jaime Herndon describes how her grandmother’s death in January 2019 affected her: “it was hard to write non-work things, but one thing I was still able to do was read. I read and read and read. I read over 250 books in 2019.” Here she mentions several of the books that helped her get through that year.

I wish Herndon offered fuller descriptions of some of the books she mentions, but the Book Riot format is short articles. Even without fuller descriptions, it’s good to hear how reading helped her get through such a difficult time.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Libraries List

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Some holiday reading . . .

50 States of Love

“From sea to shining sea, here’s a tour of unforgettable fiction that explores matters of the heart.”

125 Books We Love

As the New York Public Library celebrates its 125th anniversary, “125 Books We Love honors all the books from the past 125 years that made us fall in love with reading.”

Happy reading!

Categories
Author News Book News Fiction Last Week's Links Publishing Television

Literary Links

American Dirt Starts An Important Conversation But Not The One Author Intended

I avoided the recent brouhaha over Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt while it was developing, but most of the dust seems to have settled now. If you looking for a summary of the situation, this article provides a good overview. It also contains a lot of links, so you can go as far down the internet rabbit hole as you like.

What You Miss When You Snub “Chick Lit”

Mandy Shunnarah of Off the Beaten Shelf compares the novels The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, marketed as literary fiction, and Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner, whose works are usually described as chick lit.

Here’s the thing, though: I thought The Female Persuasion was good, but I think Mrs. Everything is truly excellent. It’s about as perfect of a novel as I’ve read.

Shunnarah wonders how many other great novels she’s missed because of the way a “publisher has historically pigeonholed” the books’ (usually female) author.

Bingeing on Cop Propaganda

Nick Martin, writing in The New Republic, argues that:

beyond the familiar tropes, every episode of Law & Order: SVU or NCIS mindlessly consumed after work or on a weekend afternoon is also a vehicle for a particular understanding of law enforcement: a police-know-best mind-set that takes all of the mess and violence of our criminal legal system and packages it for tidy consumption. Given the ubiquity of these shows, it’s jarring to consider the scale of it.

His conclusion:

it’s clear the market and appetite for these shows means something and that the model works for a reason. So the next time you’re hit with the “Are you still watching?” message after the fourth straight episode of white victimhood and cop ass-kicking, it might be worth thinking about why shows like this have become a kind of comfort food.

JOANNA RUSS, THE SCIENCE-FICTION WRITER WHO SAID NO

The New Yorker profiles science fiction writer Joanna Russ, who died in 2011:

she was brilliant in a way that couldn’t be denied, even by those who hated her. Her writing was at once arch and serious; she issued her judgments with supreme confidence, even when they were issued against herself. She was here to imagine, to invent wildly, and to undo the process, as one of her heroines puts it, of “learning to despise one’s self.” But she was going to have a lot of fun doing it. And, if you were doing anything else, you were not really, to her mind, writing science fiction.

Five Fun Forensic Facts 4 Fiction!

Forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek and her husband, writer T.J. Mitchell, have written the nonfiction book Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner and often blog about forensics as presented on television. Here they present “the 5 most common forensics errors that crime writers make.” 

These five points will change the way you watch TV crime shows and read crime fiction.

10 Dual Timeline Novels with Plots You’ll Be Desperate to Unravel

I love novels with unusual narrative structures.

That’s probably why I’ve read six of the 10 novels that Sarah Walsh presents here, “books that traipse between different timelines—the nonsequential events of the past and present forming one intriguing narrative spread throughout time.”

When well done—and the six I’ve read of the 10 mentioned here are all very well done—novels with more than one time line can be enormously satisfying to read.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Discussion Fiction How Fiction Works Literature & Psychology

The Interplay of Plot and Character in Fiction

2020 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2020 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2020 by clicking on either link above.


Which is more important in fiction: plot or character? Novels that engage in complex characterization are often called character-driven stories or character studies, while books heavy on fast action and unexpected turns of events are called plot-driven novels. But even in character studies the characters still have to DO something (even if all they do is think), and even in plot-driven novels someone must be DOING all that action. 

Plot and character are like love and marriage: You can’t have one without the other. 

This is true no matter what kind of fiction you’re reading. Some people distinguish between literary fiction and genre fiction, a distinction in which the term genre fiction refers to format-specific categories such as mystery, thriller, science fiction, horror, and romance. The term is usually used pejoratively, to suggest that literary fiction is somehow better than “mere genre fiction.”

But all fiction requires characters who do something, and the best works of fiction, whether literary or genre fiction, hit the sweet spot of combining complex characterization with interesting plotting. 

I gravitate toward mysteries and thrillers because I think that some of the most thought-provoking fiction—novels that explore the extremes of what the human heart is capable of—slots into those genres.

I often hear that crime fiction is just plot-driven entertainment—that unlike literary fiction, or even general fiction, it doesn’t examine the human condition. The truth is you can’t write crime fiction without examining the human condition and the society of a place or time. If a writer doesn’t understand the very elements that led someone to desperation, to the ultimate bad choice of taking another life, he can never write a convincing antagonist. Villains are not just bad people, they’re often in an untenable situation and see no other way out.

Dianne Freeman

Thriller author Karin Slaughter, when asked what makes for a good thriller, replied, “Character has to matter as much as plot. If they’re not equally strong, then no one really cares what happens.”

But while the question of whether character or plot is more important may be moot, the question of which comes first in an author’s writing process can yield some interesting results. 

Queen of suspense Mary Higgins Clark reportedly scanned the New York City tabloids every morning looking for story ideas, a suggestion she was looking for unusual plot twists.

In contrast, Tana French begins with characters:

I don’t outline at all, actually. In fact, I can’t really figure out what’s going on myself until I’ve been writing the characters for a while. I don’t even know “whodunit” until I’ve been writing long enough to know who might kill someone, and for what reasons.

But in the end, plot and character work hand in hand. 

For me, the best thrillers are a combination of plot and characterization. There is nothing better than a thriller I absolutely can’t put down. That said, it isn’t everything; I also want to feel something for the characters in the books I read. If I don’t, then ultimately I won’t care what happens to them in the end. They also need to feel authentic.

thriller writer Mary Kubica

Plot + character = story, and good stories keep us reading.

We read on because we love the characters but also because we want to know how the story plays out. There are mysteries to be solved here, genuine puzzles that keep us questioning to the very end.

Scottish mystery writer Val McDermid

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Fiction Last Week's Links

Literary Links

The Subjective Mood

Adam O’Fallon Price describes Muriel Spark’s novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie like this: “The novel does not settle for merely telling a story and telling it well; it also on some level considers that story and frames it, in doing so giving the narrative a greater dimensionality, what we might describe as moral depth.”

Price continues: “over and over, I find myself reading well-reviewed contemporary novels that seem unwilling or unable to engage with themselves on a moral level. They tell a story, perhaps tell it well. But I finish the book and close it with no sense of what the book thinks about the story it told.”

He attributes this lack of moral depth in fiction to the internet, which has allowed everyone to curate all the news and cultural entertainment they consume and thereby to limit exposure to new ideas and experiences. This process has produced “a consistent, accompanying shift toward the subjective in the fiction of our moment, in what it does and does not do. What it does do: relate intensely personal lived experience, depict trauma, and—maybe especially—project personality. What it does not do: usually attempt any sort of objectivity or try to situate a narrative in a moral framework.” 

Price laments this situation because “situating narrative in a moral framework is what novels do better than really any other type of art.” He connects the lack of a moral level with “reluctance to engage on a plot level. This is because the basic mechanics of plot—a character encounters trouble, makes a choice, and endures the consequences (which usually occasion further choices and consequences)—almost unavoidably raise moral questions.” Most current novels, he contends, are boring because of this failure to examine the relationship between choices and the resulting consequences. 

Price ends with a call for a return to “fiction that thinks more deeply about life than the average Tumblr post.” 

ARE CRIME WRITERS AS TWISTED AS OUR CHARACTERS?

I remember reading, several years ago, an article in which mystery writer Val McDermid described being told something like “You must be a particularly twisted person to write such dark books.” And her reply was along the lines of “I’m very well adjusted because I get all those dark thoughts out of my head by writing those books.” 

I’ve never been able to find this discussion so that I can document it, but novelist Bryan Gruley addresses the same issue in this article: “are we (authors) secretly as twisted as the twisted characters we conjure?” I particularly like this reply:

“Ideally, our darkest characters come from a place of empathy, a part of us that wants to understand why other people—people who are fully human, not sociopaths or narcissists—rationalize transgressing important societal boundaries,” says Laura Lippman, author of many acclaimed novels . . .

About his own fictional villains, Gurley writes, “The only thing I have in common with these fictional people is that we’re human. And that matters.”

And this truth is at the root of why I like mysteries and thrillers so much. I’d also argue that the best mysteries and thrillers offer the moral depth that Adam O’Fallon Price laments the lack of in the article above. Perhaps he’s just not reading the same books I am.

On My Love of Locked Room Mysteries: The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr

I recently wrote about locked-room mysteries.

Here Scott Adlerberg offers his own appreciation of a classic locked-room mystery, The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr, recently reissued by American Mystery Classics.

THE POWER BETWEEN THE PAGES

Nandi Taylor, a Canadian writer of Caribbean descent, writes here about “what she’d always wanted more of growing up—protagonists of African descent in speculative settings.”

The relationship between art and life is symbiotic: one feeds the other. As representation of marginalized segments of our society has increased, so has respect and tolerance for those segments of society, which has led more accurate and nuanced portrayals of marginalized people, and today we find ourselves with a wealth of diverse mainstream media and heartening advances in human rights.

We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Die

Jessi Jezewska Stevens, whose debut novel, The Exhibition of Persephone Q, will be published in March, offers “an unbeliever’s rereading of Christian conceptions of the afterlife” in Marilynne Robinson’s 1980 novel Housekeeping.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: What Goes Around Comes Around

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month we begin with a book that topped the critics ‘best of 2019’ lists, Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. I found a copy of Fleishman on the Lucky Day shelf at my local public library. The Lucky Day shelf houses a few copies of current, popular books—the kind of books that probably already have 100 or more pending requests. I had wanted to read this novel and felt lucky indeed to find it waiting for me.

1. The same day I found Fleishman Is in Trouble on the Lucky Day shelf I also found Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok, another book I wanted to read. Sylvie Lee, a woman in her 30s, travels from the U.S. back to Sweden, where she spent her first nine years, to visit her dying grandmother and pick up her inheritance of the family’s jewelry. Before her grandmother dies, she reveals a secret to Sylvie.

2. In Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star, the death of a grandmother triggers questions that finally lead to the revelation of family secrets.

3. The protagonist of The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware finds out about a grandmother she never knew she had when she receives legal notification that she has inherited her grandmother’s family house. On her trip to the house she meets more family members and finally learns about a whole bunch of secrets that her mother had never told her.

4. In The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell, Libby Jones has known for most of her life that she’d find out about her birth parents on her 25th birthday. But she’s surprised to learn at the same time that she has also inherited from her grandparents an abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames that is now worth millions. And of course she has also inherited a whole truckload of dark family secrets.

5. From The Family Upstairs we move easily to The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, set in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Nora Eldridge, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher who gave up her youthful ambitions of becoming an artist, finds the Shahid family, who move in downstairs, mesmerizingly fascinating. The husband, Skandar, is a Lebanese scholar here to take up a fellowship at Harvard. The wife, Sirena, is a glamorous and self-confident Italian artist. Their son, Reza, attends the school where Nora teaches, and through this connection Nora quickly insinuates herself into the Shahid family. Nora assumes that the Shahids feel the same way about her that she feels about them. When a casual occurrence reveals that Sirena doesn’t think of Nora as her bosom friend and confidant, Nora unleashes a torrent of rage and pent-up loneliness and frustration.

6. Nora’s rage leads us back around to Fleishman Is in Trouble, a novel that begins as the narrative of a failing marriage but ends as a statement of feminist anger about what happens to ambitious, intelligent women who overachieve.

What goes around comes around: a chain of six books that ends right back where it began.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Author News Fiction Last Week's Links Literary Criticism Literary History Notes in the Margin Reading

Literary Links

The Million Basic Plots

Novelist and screenwriter Ned Beauman laments the existence of the website TV Tropes, which breaks down the plots of all forms of popular-culture storytelling into such minute parts as to prevent him from coming up with any original plot elements.

I don’t write fiction but I love reading it, and I read a lot of it. The fact that “there’s nothing new under the sun” has never bothered me as a reader. What I look for when reading is how an author puts together various story elements to create an original work of art.

Reading will supposedly make you a better person. That’s not the real reason to pick up a book.

About all those reported studies claiming that reading makes us more empathetic and compassionate, Mark Athitakis, in The Washington Post, says, “Ugh.” He bases this opinion on his own experience with an emotional rough patch that left the perfectionist part of himself anxiety ridden and unable to read. 

What finally helped him through that time was a copy of Sidney Sheldeon’s 2000 novel The Sky Is Falling left in the lobby of his apartment building: “It was reassuring in a way, to be in such a world. What I valued was the simple happening-ness of life. The book reknitted my conception of reading, demonstrated that it wasn’t a stoic march to edification but a way to be open to experience.”

WHEN MEN NARRATE PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLERS

I read a lot of mysterie and psychological thrillers. The usual trope set-up for these novels is a woman under duress, whose carefully constructed current life is about to be ruined by some ex who shows up and threatens to expose all her secrets. In this article crime fiction critic Lisa Levy discusses seven novels that turn this trope upside down by having a man narrate the story.

Annotate This: On Marginalia

How could I pass up this article on a web site called Notes in the Margin? (I initially wanted the title Marginalia, but that domain name was already taken.) 

Here Ed Simon, Editor-at-Large for The Marginalia Review of Books, a channel of The Los Angeles Review of Books, declares “in the genre of marginalia, which is its own form of instantaneous commentary on a literary text, there is a creative act in its own right. Such commentary is the cowriting of a new text, between the reader and the read, as much an act of composition as the initial one.”

One of the reasons for seeking out used books is the possible discovery of marginalia:

Such scribblings, notations, and glosses, whether commentary on the writing itself, or personal note, or inscrutable cipher known only to its creator, is artifact, evidence, and detritus, the remainder of what’s left over after a fiery mind has immolated the candle of the text. A book bloody with red ink is the result of a struggle between author and reader, it is the spent ash from the immolation of the text, it is evidence of the process – the record of a mind thinking. A pristine book is something yet to be read, but marginalia is the reading itself. Far from the molestation of the pristine object, the writing of marginalia is a form of reverence, a ritual, a sacred act. So rarely do you get the opportunity to write back to authors, whether out of love or hate. Marginalia lets you do it for even the dead ones.

Murder, We Wrote

The depiction of homicide in popular culture is continuously evolving, and our ceaseless fascination with these narratives says something about us. Human nature being what it is, we can’t ask “where is murder going?” without also asking “where are we?”

Brian Phillips discusses popular culture’s fascination with murder, particularly as featured in “the wave of psychological thrillers often lumped together under the heading of “Girl books”—Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, The Woman in the Window, and so forth.”

I’m a novelist – and this is why I choose middle-aged women as the heroes of my crime thrillers

Emily Bernhard Jackson, Lecturer in English at the University of Exeter, discusses why, when she started to write crime novels in her 40s, she made her detectives two women in their 40s. “Women in the 40-to-60 range don’t get much of a showing as main characters in literature generally, so maybe it’s no surprise that they don’t show up as headliners in the mystery genre.” But, she adds, she didn’t create her detectives simply to mirror herself:

For all its advances and improvements, contemporary culture remains uncomfortable, not just with middle-aged women, but to an even greater degree with contentedly single middle-aged women – and to an even greater degree than that with childless women who are childless by choice. I wanted to confront this odd aversion head on, so I made sure that between them my detectives fill all these categories.

Jackson says she created her detectives to offer a model of a world in which the choices to remain single and not to have children as normal enough to be unremarkable. Published under the name Emilia Bernhard, Jackson’s novels include Death in Paris and The Books of the Dead

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown