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Everything posted by MichaelNeff

  1. Maud let out a loud sigh of relief as she sank into her comfortable seat on the plane. She surprised herself, because she rarely showed her feelings. She stole a glance at the passenger next to her, a young man in a suit who was busy trying to stuff his elegant black carry-on into the overhead bin. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t manage to close the door. Good. He probably hadn’t heard her little burst of emotion, which had come straight from the heart. The last few months had been extremely taxing, but now she felt as if the worst was over. At long last she could relax and look forward
  2. Please join Valerie Stivers and Hank Zona for a virtual, Melville-themed wine tasting on Friday, May 7, at 6 P.M. on The Paris Review’s Instagram account. For more details, visit our events page, or scroll down to the bottom of the article. Photo: Erica MacLean. Whenever I would tell someone I was cooking from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick for my next column, they would gleefully shriek, “Whale steaks!” And I would dither a bit and explain that no, those are illegal in America, and that I was instead planning to make two forms of chowder, clam and cod, that weren’t going to be very different f
  3. On August 30th, 1889, Arthur Conan Doyle attended a dinner at the Langham Hotel in London with J. M. Stoddart, the publishing agent for a Philadelphia-based magazine called Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Stoddart had arrived in London hoping to commission brand-new works of fiction that might appeal to their American readers. Conan Doyle, who was a doctor and merely thirty, was also already well-known as a writer. He had published several novels: The Mystery of Cloomber in 1888, and the historical adventure novel Micah Clarke earlier, in 1889. And of course, in 1887, he had published his inaug
  4. There is a brutal rape in my forthcoming novel. The scene plays out twice. Once from the perspective of the character who is experiencing it. And once from the point of view of the character who witnesses the brutality… and does not intervene. Horrifying. And intentionally so. But the reasons for this character’s decision are sound ones, a split second response in a world that’s gone mad. Regardless, the decision haunts her and leads to a cascade of choices that lead both characters astray. In the early stages of development of the story, I noticed a particular strain of criticism of that p
  5. Virginia recently passed a bill that bans the use of gay and trans “panic” defenses in criminal proceedings. The panic defense argues that violence is justifiable when the victim is perceived to be gay or trans. The most egregious version of this defense happens in cases where defendants will claim that a sexual advance from the victim triggered an uncontrollable, violent response in the defendant. In cases such as these, defendants are not making a claim about their own gender or sexual identity. The assumption rests solely on the idea that minorities are the cause of their own victimization.
  6. I’ve got a secret, one I’ve never been willing to reveal in my twenty plus years as a librarian. I hate to burst the readers’ collective bubble, but here is the plain unvarnished truth, and you can trust a librarian to give you the correct answer, even if it’s painful. Here it is. Librarians are not allowed to read in the library. I’ve never pulled a book off a shelf and curled up in a chair even if there is a blizzard outside and no chance of a customer snowmobiling up to the front door. Sure, I can dip into a book to answer a customer’s question, but otherwise, no reading. It would be consid
  7. CrimeReads editors select the month’s best new nonfiction crime books. * The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense By Edward White (W.W. Norton & Co.) White’s study of Hitchcock is an endlessly engaging and insightful read, breaking down the Master of Suspense’s life into twelve aspects, each illuminated with clever analysis of the director’s work. From Hitchcock “the dandy” to Hitchcock “the voyeur” and Hitchcock “the man of God,” White offers up incisive commentary on the multitudes contained within the man’s larger-than-life persona, and the live
  8. Back when I was a football coach, I used to call other coaches and “talk shop.” I wanted to know how they ran their practices, which plays they called on third and long. I wanted to know everything. Now that I’m a writer, not much has changed. Anytime I get a chance to meet up with other authors, I always want to talk shop. “Shop Talk” is a column where I’ll chat with some of today’s leading crime writers about how they put the black on the white. We’ll cover everything from office setup to what a regular workday looks like, and all stops in between. For the first installment of “Shop Talk,”
  9. Many a mystery novel featuring an amateur sleuth places a librarian in that role. With good reason—outside of law enforcement, no profession lends itself to the role of detective more readily. Librarianship requires a combination of temperament and education that produces a professional with a powerful curiosity and the skill set to satisfy it, no matter how obscure the fact we seek. Though often written off as unassuming, cardigan-wearing bookworms, our jobs require traits more often associated with our hard-boiled colleagues in the investigation business. We do good research. Go ahead—try u
  10. Chester Himes is one of the most prolific and underrated Black writers of the 20th century. Himes, who lived from 1909-1984, was the author of 17 novels and numerous short stories. But for crime fiction lovers, he is best known for his Harlem detective series featuring the African American detective team of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. I was first introduced to the duo through the 1970 movie Cotton Comes To Harlem, which was based on the sixth novel in his series. While Himes published his first novel in 1945, he didn’t enter the hardboiled genre until he was recruited by a Frenc
  11. We all know the power of fiction to do some good. It’s cover for forbidden facts. It can shine a spotlight on corruption. Ars gratia artis has it’s place, but not for me, not today. We’re living in a world of teenagers too young to drink or drive, sporting AR-15s. Of Putin and Xi assembling an all-star team of autocrats to take on the world. Fiction has a job to do. And one genre in particular is up to the task. “Fiction in any form has always intended to be realistic,” Raymond Chandler begins his iconic essay on the crime writer’s craft, “The Simple Art of Murder.” The father of American noi
  12. Xandria Phillips. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan. Xandria Phillips is a poet and visual artist from rural Ohio. The recipient of the Judith A. Markowitz Award for emerging writers, Xandria has received fellowships from Oberlin College, Cave Canem, Callaloo, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and the Brown University Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, where they are researching and composing a book of poems and paintings that explore Black feeling and materiality. Their poetry has been published in American Poetry Review, Poets.org, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, and
  13. Ladan Osman. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan. Ladan Osman is the author of Exiles of Eden (Coffee House Press, 2019), winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony (University of Nebraska Press, 2015), winner of the Sillerman Prize. She has received fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, Cave Canem, the Michener Center, and the Fine Arts Work Center. Osman’s first short film (codirected), Sam Underground, profiled Sam Diaz, a teenage busker who would become the 2020 American Idol. She was the writer for Sun of the Soil, a short documentary on the complicated legacy of
  14. Sylvia Khoury. Photo: Yael Nov. Sylvia Khoury is a New York–born writer of French and Lebanese descent. Her plays include Selling Kabul (Playwrights Horizons, Williamstown Theater Festival), Power Strip (LCT3), Against the Hillside (Ensemble Studio Theater), and The Place Women Go. She is currently under commission from Lincoln Center, Williamstown Theater Festival, and Seattle Repertory Theater. Awards include the L. Arnold Weissberger Award and Jay Harris Commission and a Citation of Excellence from the Laurents/Hatcher Awards. She is a member of EST/Youngblood and a previous member of the
  15. Sarah Stewart Johnson. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan. Sarah Stewart Johnson grew up in Kentucky before becoming a planetary scientist. She now runs a research lab as a professor at Georgetown and works on NASA missions. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Harvard Review, and The Best American Science and Nature Writing. Her book, The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World, was selected as one of The New York Times Book Review’s 100 Notable Books of 2020. * An excerpt from The Sirens of Mars: Mars, after all, is only our first ste
  16. Marwa Helal. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan. Marwa Helal is the author of Invasive species (Nightboat Books, 2019), Ante body (Nightboat Books, forthcoming 2022), and winner of BOMB Magazine’s Biennial 2016 Poetry Contest. She is also the author of the chapbook I AM MADE TO LEAVE I AM MADE TO RETURN (No, Dear/Small Anchor Press, 2017) and has been awarded fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, NYFA/NYSCA, Poets House, and Cave Canem, among others. Born in Al Mansurah, Egypt, she currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. * Two poems from Invasive species: “poem to be read from right to left” languag
  17. Donnetta Lavinia Grays. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan. Donnetta Lavinia Grays is a Brooklyn-based playwright who proudly hails from Columbia, SC. Her plays include Where We Stand, Warriors Don’t Cry, Last Night and the Night Before, Laid to Rest, The Review of How to Eat Your Opposition, The New Normal, and The Cowboy is Dying. Donnetta is a Lucille Lortel, Drama League, and AUDELCO Award Nominee. She is the recipient of the Helen Merrill Playwright Award, National Theater Conference Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwright Award, the Lilly Award, Todd McNerney National Playwriting Award, and is the ina
  18. Tope Folarin. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan. Tope Folarin is a Nigerian American writer based in Washington, DC. He won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013 and was shortlisted once again in 2016. He was also named to the 2019 Africa39 list of the most promising African writers under 40. He was educated at Morehouse College and the University of Oxford, where he earned two Masters degrees as a Rhodes Scholar. A Particular Kind of Black Man is his first book. * An excerpt from A Particular Kind of Black Man: Tayo and I learned early on that all junkyards are basically the same. Dad had been
  19. Steven Dunn. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan. Steven Dunn, aka Pot Hole (cuz he’s deep in these streets) is the author of two novels from Tarpaulin Sky Press: Potted Meat (2016) and water & power (2018). Potted Meat was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award, and shortlisted for Granta Magazine’s Best of Young American Novelists, and adapted to a short film by Foothills Productions. The Usual Route has played at L.A. International Film Festival, Houston International Film Festival, and others. He was born and raised in West Virginia, and teaches in the M.F.A. programs at Regis University and Corne
  20. Jordan E. Cooper. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan. Jordan E. Cooper is an OBIE Award–winning playwright and performer who was most recently chosen to be one of OUT Magazine’s “Entertainer of the Year.” Last spring he had a sold out run of his play Ain’t No Mo’, a New York Times Critics Pick. Jordan created a pandemic-centered short film called “Mama Got A Cough” that’s been featured in National Geographic and was named “Best of 2020” by the New York Times. He is currently filming The Ms. Pat Show, an R-rated “old school” sitcom he created for BET+, which will debut later this year. He can also be seen
  21. Joshua Bennett. Photo: Beowulf Sheehan. Joshua Bennett is the author of three books of poetry and literary criticism: The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016), Owed (Penguin, 2020), and Being Property Once Myself (Harvard University Press, 2020), which was a winner of the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize. He is the Mellon Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College. Bennett holds a Ph.D. in English from Princeton University, and an M.A. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Warwick, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He has received fellowships from the
  22. In Off Menu, Edward White serves up lesser-told stories of chefs cooking in interesting times. Alma Reville with a wax figure of Alfred Hitchcock’s head, 1974. © Philippe Halsman/Magnum Photos. Within the shifted reality of an Alfred Hitchcock movie there is no steady fact of existence that cannot be undermined. The ambiguity extends even to food and drink. In Notorious, Ingrid Bergman’s heroine is poisoned in her own home by a cup of coffee, while homebodies in The Man Who Knew Too Much feel discomfort in foreign lands because of the exotic food they are fed. In mid-twentieth-century Americ
  23. Young Man, It Starts Here Almost all the people I called my peers were second-generation township dwellers. When my father said he was going home, he embarked on an exhausting, bumpy drive to the rural south coast, past Umzumbe and beyond, to dusty villages where youths still greeted elders. I went there too from time to time. There was nothing lavish about the place. When I said I was going home, I meant Umlazi—a township. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents were of the last generation that lived in the same place for their whole lives. Times changed fast. Even I, bush mechanic that I
  24. Even Sherlock Holmes, wrote the Monster, couldn’t beat us. In March of 1984 a kidnapping rocked Osaka. Masked men with guns dragged 42-year-old Katsuhisa Ezaki, president of the multimillion-dollar Ezaki Glico confectionery company, out of his bathtub. Here was a man whose name was a fixture in stores and vending machines across Japan (Glico candies are iconic; Pocky is just one of them)—the leader of a company that in the ruins of postwar Japan had been an engine of revitalization, selling everything from dairy products to meat curries, coming to represent health and vitality to so many mill
  25. If a thrilling movie filmed in a foreign locale helps you escape for an hour or two from limitations on travel imposed by the pandemic, imagine what watching 25 episodes of an international thriller series might do to uplift your psyche and energize your creativity! I thought I’d test that theory, and over the last month have streamed 27 international thriller TV series in a variety of subgenres—espionage, political, romantic, and more—from continents across the globe. I do feel considerably less home-bound, and have drawn from what I learned about the wider world as I write my next book. Bas
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