Mark Smith on his NBA nominated bestseller, The Death of the Detective

I think it was Heywood Hale Broun who said, “When a professional man is doing the best work of his life, he will be reading only detective novels,” or words similar. I hope, even at my age, I have my best work ahead of me, but when I was writing The Death of the Detective, in my leisure hours I was exhausting the classic English who-dun-its written between the Wars, favoring Dorothy Sayers and Freeman Wills Croft, while also re-reading Raymond Chandler and re-discovering Nero Wolfe. In this regard I shared the addiction with the likes of William Butler Yeats, William Faulkner and FDR, among others.

My first two novels, the companion novels, Toyland and House Across the White (original title, The Middleman), were psychological thrillers and a modern retelling of a fairy tale. Before taking on the ghost story, my fourth novel, The Moon Lamp, I settled on my favorite genre, the detective story. Originally sketched out as something of a short story in which the detective in his quest of a killer discovers only his victims, with each murder leading both men to the next, the book became seriously ambitious when I added the moral and ironic complication of the detective himself being somehow responsible for the deaths by reason of his continued pursuit of the killer. This seemed to me a wonderful metaphor for the America of my time and place. And the detective as my representative American—or hero, if you wish. So much better for an urban environment than a cowboy. The novel became enlarged when I added an interwoven subplot of young people and a minor plot of gangsters and made the killer’s victims believable round characters who were either sympathetic or interesting, so that, in a departure from the genre and the movies, the reader would be emotionally effected when their deaths occurred. After all, the tradition in Chicago writing, from Dreiser to Bellow, is compassion. Adding to the novel’s length was my recreation of each particular setting where the corpses were found strewn across the landscape of what is now called “Chicagoland”, thereby involving as many varied localities as I could in the crimes. Many readers would say Chicago was the main character in the book, a response that surprised and disappointed me. Only years later did I come to find there was some justification for this observation. In my day, Chicago, for guys like me, was pretty much an open city, and I felt free to venture where I pleased. After high school, I worked as a mucker (sandhog) digging the subway extension beneath the post office, was a tariff clerk for the CBQ Railroad, the timekeeper on the foundation work for the Inland Steel Building and a merchant seaman on the Great Lakes before graduating from Northwestern University and living on the Gold Coast– across from the Ambassador East, no less.

Some readers, including allegedly mafioso and their children, have claimed the gangster plot is the best piece of the book, and that the gangsters are entirely believable, recognizable characters, perhaps something of a first in American fiction. The question asked then, is how did I come by my insights and knowledge? Henry James said writers should “receive straight impressions from life”, a piece of advice I find irrefutable for a naturalistic writer. Lo and behold, at the age of sixteen I worked as a busboy one summer at a nightclub-restaurant on the outskirts of Chicago owned by a former Capone mobster that was frequented by his fellows in the trade, alone (sometimes to play cards in a closed-off dining room), or with their families. These people not only became human to me, they became ordinary, and for a writer, now accessible to the play of his imagination. For example, I witnessed the tipsy top mobster in Chicago at closing time fail miserably in his attempt to pick up a not-so-exciting waitress, while my boss, a rather comic character who reminded me of Lou Costello (a new restaurant in the area that threatened to be competition for his restaurant was bombed that summer every time it tried to open) would show up at the restaurant furious after losing a bundle at the track and order the help to drain all the nearly empty catsup bottles into new bottles. Without these contacts I suppose I would have had to take my gangsters from the clichés of movies and television (pre-Sopranos) and yes, probably from crime novels, also.

I have a couple of regrets about the novel. I notice a reviewer claimed I had predicted the practice of criminal profiling. If so, I’m not sure where that occurs in the novel. However I did make two predictions that came true that I cut from the book when I reduced its original text by some twenty percent which included not only blubber but the author’s commentary, prophecies and missteps into outright fantasy. One was the prediction that we would suffer from some new and deadly sexually transmitted disease which I changed to suggest old-fashioned syphilis. It seemed to me that given our new libertine sexual proclivities with limitless partners that such was likely to occur. Hence, soon thereafter, AIDS. The other was my direct assertion that the mindless violence on film and television not only deadened us to the pain of violence, but encouraged violence, making it a centerpiece of our culture, a notion that was dismissed as hogwash at the time, but seemed an obvious cause and effect to me. Today this observation is pretty much accepted. So much for my career as Nostradamus.

A final admission. Although the Viet Nam war is never mentioned in this novel, and occurred after the time this novel takes place, it occurred during the time I was writing it with the nightly death count on the news. I like to tell myself my rage against that misadventure, along with my nostalgic love-hate relationship with the lost Chicago of my childhood and youth, were the energy sources behind the novel’s composition. It could even be said, with some hyperbole, that I wrote this book alone in my study in place of publicly marching with the thousands demonstrating in the street.

One of my great pleasures of publishing this book, along with receiving a nomination for the National Book Award and seeing the novel on the New York Times paperback bestseller list, were the invitations to join the Mystery Writers of America and the British Crime Writers Association.

The Death of the Detective is available from Brash Books; Toyland, House Across the White, The Delphinium Girl, and Doctor Blues are available from Foreverland Press.

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ANOTHER FOREVERLAND FIRST

FROM DEBUT AUTHOR LORIE ADAIR

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Available Exclusively on Amazon

For your Kindle or Kindle App

In Spider Woman’s Loom, Lorie Adair weaves a tale both lyrical and deeply relatable, a story of family, spirituality, and womanhood. Such beautiful language and images to savor, and yet the story is so compelling you can’t wait to turn the page. —Tara Ison, author of Rockaway, A Novel

Spider Woman’s Loom is an exquisitely woven tale by debut novelist Lorie Adair. Set on the vast and starkly beautiful Navajo reservation in the aftermath of Indian agents exploiting the land and sending children to faraway boarding schools for assimilation, Spider Woman’s Loom is narrated by Noni Lee, an old Navajo weaver whose instinct for survival and fierce resistance drives away even those she loves most.

When her estranged niece Shi’yazhi returns to Sweet Canyon pregnant and utterly alone, Noni Lee is forced to face memories of her own innocence and beauty as well as the haunting traumas that stripped them away. Weaving a traditional rug, Noni Lee reconstructs a history and sense of family for herself and Shi’yazhi—the legacy of Spider Woman, whose gifts of creation and resiliency are a rite passed mother to child, woman to woman, as it was in the beginning, the surest path to hozho, the Beauty within each woman and the transcendence of circumstances most dire.

 

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Three Books! Free Books!

FREE! from July 25-27… get em while they’re HOT!

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OFFSIDES

TOYLAND

 THE GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT, A CONFESSION

“Kerry Madden-Lunsford’s fresh, often hilarious, novel presents a bittersweet and unforgettable view of adolescence. The heroine is young Liz Donegal, the oldest daughter in an Irish Catholic family, who must endure the injustices of growing up misunderstood. When she’s not busy transforming herself into Helen Keller or Anne Frank, Liz is falling in love, making new friends, and learning that life has some painful lessons.” —Mademoiselle

“[Toyland is] a brilliantly-told brutal fairy tale. Sure to evoke varied responses among readers, the story effectively explores evil and the condition of man, through horrible fantasies and explorations of characters lead to an intensely-awaited climax.” —Boston Globe

“[Chehak’s] ambitiously imaginative novel questions the very nature of reality… [a] diverting exploration of metaphysical concepts. Winsome and smartly playful.” —Kirkus Reviews

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Book Two of the Mantz Trilogy is Available Now

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Kindle   All Digital Editions

The Mantz Trilogy, particularly The Road Returns, documents a time of great change in America. During this period, young people began to move away from farming as a life choice. The once rare automobile could be found—in almost every barn. The boom and bust of the economy as a result of the war and advances in automation forever changed our way of life.

Yet, when we read the story of the Mantz family of almost a century ago, we can find many things to identify with—the nasty and manipulative neighbor who has his own sorrows, the joys and heartaches of raising children, the economic and political factors whose impact on our lives seem out of our control, right down to the drunk driving accident, unplanned pregnancy, and even suicide.

We hope you enjoy this second volume of Paul Corey’s The Mantz Trilogy for what it is: a story primarily of the trials and tribulations that come of the interaction and interconnection of a few families at a pivotal time in our collective history.

Author Paul Corey was born and raised on a 160 acre farm in western Iowa. He was the youngest of seven children. His father died when Paul was not yet two years old, leaving older brothers and sisters to carry on with the farm work until the place was sold in 1917, at which point the Corey’s moved to Atlantic. This family history would become the autobiographical basis for the Mantz trilogy, the chronicle of one family and their neighbors on a journey through the nation’s tumultuous agricultural history.

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Chehak’s DANCING ON GLASS is now available in paperback

DANCING ON GLASS

A startling tale of illicit passion, transgression, and retribution, set in the very heart of middle America. “A deeply chilling, disturbing, beautifully written novel. Shocking, stunningly written… Faulkner himself would have admired and respected [DANCING ON GLASS]… Its events should linger in the reader’s mind long after it has been read.” –Los Angeles Daily News

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Pen-New England Award for Literary Excellence in Nonfiction goes to Douglas Bauer

What Happens Next

What is life about but the continuous posing of the questions: what happens next, and what do we make of it when it arrives? In these highly evocative personal essays, Douglas Bauer weaves together the stories of his own and his parents’ lives, the meals they ate, the work and rewards and regrets that defined them, and the inevitable betrayal by their bodies as they aged.

His collection features at its center a long and memory-rich piece seasoned with sensory descriptions of the midday dinners his mother cooked for her farmer husband and father-in-law every noon for many years. It’s this memoir in miniature that sets the table for the other stories that surround it—of love and bitterness, of hungers served and denied. Good food and marvelous meals would take on other revelatory meanings for Bauer as a young man, when he met, became lifelong friends with, and was tutored in the pleasures of an appetite for life by M. F. K. Fisher, the century’s finest writer in English on “the art of eating,” to borrow one of her titles.

The unavoidable companion of the sensual joys of food and friendship is the fragility and ultimately the mortality of the body. As a teenager, Bauer courted sports injuries to impress others, sometimes with his toughness and other times with his vulnerability. And as happens to all of us, eventually his body began to show the common signs of wear—cataracts, an irregular heartbeat, an arthritic knee. That these events might mark the arc of his life became clear when his mother, a few months shy of eighty-seven, slipped on some ice and injured herself.

In these clear-eyed, wry and graceful essays, Douglas Bauer presents with candor and humor the dual calendars of his own mortality and that of his aging parents, evoking the regrets and affirmations inherent in being human.

You can read about the award HERE and pick up your copy HERE.

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If you like “True Detective” you’ll love Toyland

AVAILABLE NOW

exclusively on Kindle

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Mark Smith’s brilliant first novel is an exciting tour de force which explores startling new dimensions of innocence and dread, destruction and redemption, guilt and responsibility through the lives of its two protagonists, Pehr and Jensen. They are middle-aged, intelligent, alienated from the flesh-and-blood world that has broken them. Their profession is killing for hire. Jensen, a soulless and crafty assassin, amuses himself by the intermittent mental torture of his partner Pehr, equally depraved but with power left to perceive his own depravity.

At the request of a rich and malevolent eccentric, the two men have undertaken the murder of two small children: the boy Poor and his sister Iselin. It is early spring; the children, already captives, are in the front seat of the car; their suitcases and stuffed animals are in the trunk; Pehr is driving and playing whimsical games with the children, while in the back seat, Jensen is deliberating the details of the children’s deaths.

As Pehr drives the car toward a tautly awaited climax deep in the Michigan woods, the satanic inner mechanisms of the murderers reveal themselves through Pehr’s dreams, déjà vues, frozen moment and flashbacks. Their perversity and evil and their struggle against it take many forms–ranging from outright terror to a bizarre humor verging on slapstick–which ultimately reflect a fatalistic but compassionate human condition that all of us share by the very fact of our existence.

With its evocative landscapes and atmospheric descriptions, its unique portrayal of the introspective criminal, and its subtle, probing language, TOYLAND alternates between the real and the phantasmagoric–between modern metaphysical thought and folk themes older than Grimm.

 

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What Happened to Paula: The Anatomy of a True Crime

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Susan Taylor Chehak writes:

I celebrated a birthday on February 16th.

If you already know me, then you already know:

I live an insanely blessed life, filled with dear friends and beloved family, dogs and cats, a highly stimulating career, absorbing hobbies, travel,beauty, warmth, good health and (at least many moments of) inner peace.

I want you to also know: I’m deeply grateful for every little bit of it.

Around this time of year fifteen years ago, I’d published five novels and I was ready to write a new one. As is my habit, I went searching for a story to get me started. What I found was an unsolved murder, the death of a lovely girl, who I’d known only vaguely when I was in high school.

1970. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I remembered the story, but I wanted to know more.

So I wrote a letter and made an appointment and talked a judge into signing an order, effecting the release to me of a photocopy of the entire police file on the case. I remember thinking when I opened it and began to read: I have found my life’s work.

And so it has become.

At the time of her death in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during the summer of 1970, eighteen-year-old Paula Oberbroeckling was a beautiful leggy blonde who dreamed of becoming a model. She disappeared in the early morning hours of July 11th, after she’d borrowed her roommate’s car to go off on an unspecified errand. She was barefoot and dressed in a light blue nightgown with matching panties. The next morning, the roommate’s car was found parked in a red zone near a grocery store, and Paula was gone. Four months later, two young brothers who were on a hike along the railroad tracks down by the Cedar River came upon some human remains and homicide detectives were called in. While rumors flew, the ensuing police investigation brought no conclusive answer to what had happened to Paula.

Although theories have been put forth, still all these many years later, the case remains unsolved.

In 2008, I brought a crew to Cedar Rapids with a plan to make a documentary film about Paula and my ongoing independent murder investigation. In the process I conducted interviews with Paula’s family and friends, as well as two homicide detectives who were on the case in 1970, the doctor who was coroner at that time, and others who had been mentioned in the file.

In 2010, I conducted further interviews with several more people who were involved, including the roommate and the man who was believed to have dumped Paula’s body in the woods.

In 2012, in an effort to raise the stakes by crowdsourcing further investigation, I published a website and posted there the entire police file, obituary, FBI reports and other documents, as well as news articles, photographs, and my own transcribed interviews, inviting readers to comment and consult. I also built a Facebook page, where we’ve posted updates and tributes and ongoing group conversations as well.

Next Monday, February 25th, would have been Paula’s 62nd birthday, and now, on that day, in honor and memory of her, Foreverland Press will publish an e-book revealing what has come of my 15 years of research into the circumstances of her untimely death.

What Happened to Paula: The Anatomy of a True Crime doesn’t mark the end of my investigation. It doesn’t offer a solution to the case. It’s neither a conventional novelization nor a nonfiction narrative rendering of what went down. Rather, it’s a compilation of raw data, presented in such a way that it tells Paula Oberbroeckling’s story, reveals the socio-political realities of that time and place, and invites you, the reader, to follow the threads, make the connections, imagine the scenarios, come to your own conclusions, and in so doing, join me and other readers in this murder investigation.

The e-book will be available in the Amazon Kindle store on February 25th, and it will be continually updated as additional data is added and new information comes to light. (Readers will be able to sign up for alerts to these updates as they’re made.)

All proceeds will go toward funding what promises to become a powerful collaborative effort to discover and reveal, at last, what happened to Paula.

Together we’ll come to the truth. Solve the crime. Close the case.

Let the girl rest in peace

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