Interviews from the Trace Evidence Archive
A Conversation with Booked & Printed Columnist Laurel Fantauzzo
October 21, 2019
Laurel Flores Fantauzzo began penning AHMM’s Booked & Printed column in our March/April 2019 issue. Readers may recognize her name from our masthead; she previously served as the magazine’s assistant editor. Laurel is the author of The First Impulse (Anvil, 2017) and the upcoming The Heartbreak of Corazon Tigubio (HarperTeen, 2021). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, World Literature Today, and the Mekong Review, and she is an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. AHMM managing editor Jackie Sherbow had the opportunity to ask Laurel some questions about her work, reviewing, literary citizenship, and more.
Jackie Sherbow: The First Impulse is a work of nonfiction about the lives and unsolved murders of film journalists Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc. Can you talk a little bit about your experience writing this book and what you learned during the process?
Laurel Fantauzzo: In 2010 I went to Metro Manila, my mother’s birth country, on a Fulbright scholarship. I started meeting young artists, filmmakers, writers, NGO workers and activists. They were haunted by the sudden murders of their friends, Alexis and Nika, and the case remained unsolved. I identified with Alexis; a mixed-race young man of the Philippines, who chose to stay there, and with Nika, who went to the country because she loved him. They were both young writers too—film journalists.
Because the case was unsolved—and three suspects remain at large to this day—I realized it would be a book humanizing both the victims, and the country in which they died. So much of true crime lionizes the perpetrators, the killers—the victims are often props left behind. My book spends more time on the reverberations of loss, and the presence of the victims that remains, while placing the crime in context with the social, postcolonial pain of the country.
Considering the epidemic of homicide in the Philippines now, I’ve been told the book was prescient. I do wish that were not so.
JS: How do mysteries and crime fiction fit into the general literary tradition and sociopolitical/cultural landscape?
LF: I had an advisor, the writer Patricia Foster, tell me this: a crime is like a Rorschach test for a society. A reader will witness it and perceive any number of elements. Humans are drawn to questions of wrongdoing, to questions of injustice, to the puzzles of incompleteness. That’s my theory, anyway, as to the role of mysteries and crime fiction.
In America in particular, violence and killers hold a lot of power in the larger imagination, often for entertainment. It’s a trend about which I have many reservations.
JS: Your reviews include nonfiction, children’s books, novelty books, and other works in addition to traditional crime novels. How do you source books for review?
LF: I follow my curiosity, and I also keep an eye out for any trends that seem to address some larger societal question or anxiety. I did a column on the anxieties of social media in novels, for example. I’m deliberately eclectic.
More practically, I look at social media and industry magazines to see what’s coming up. I also like to find anything that may have flown under the radar. I don’t look at any other reviews of a book before writing mine.
I’m less likely to review literary heavyweights that may approach household names; I like pointing out emerging writers, or writers who’ve worked for a long time without much recognition.
JS: What type of literary citizenship in a community do you believe book reviews serve?
LF: It’s healthy to think out loud about books; to join in conversation about them, to express our praise and reservations and questions about books. It’s also healthy to point out works that may have gone unnoticed, if not for some public discussion of it in a magazine like AHMM.
JS: What do you look for in a book to review?
LF: I have no prescriptive rubric! I do like writers who spend time developing every character; for whom no character is a device, but a fully realized person, even if just for a page. I also like to see a context illuminated, be that of a place, an era, or some other kind of larger background.
Because I’m also in academia with a full-time teaching load, and writing books of my own and completing a PhD, I typically read the first two pages of a review copy to decide if it’s for me. If I’m a little curious, I’ll read the whole first chapter. If I’m still compelled after that chapter, I’ll likely review the book. The method has worked for me so far.
JS: For you, what constitutes a complete review of a book?
LF: The reader should know what the book is about, have some context for what the author is attempting to portray, and the reviewer’s opinion as to whether that attempt succeeded or not.
JS: What should any publisher know when sending a book to your attention?
LF: True crime books that spend a majority of time attending to the perpetrators, not the victims, are likely not for me. I do like unique voices, and narrators we may never have met before.
JS: What type of books do you personally enjoy to read/what are you reading right now that won’t make it into the Booked and Printed column?
LF: I read a lot of longform nonfiction, either in book form or on literary or journalistic websites. I enjoy lightly speculative literary fiction, young adult fiction, and graphic novels. I also reread favorite novels from my childhood and adolescence. I necessarily read academic books about mixed race, trauma and recovery, the Philippines, and Asian-America.
JS: Tell us about what else you’re working on right now.
LF: I’m completing a young adult novel for HarperCollins, The Heartbreak of Corazon Tagubio. It’s set in Los Angeles and Manila, Philippines, and while it’s not a crime novel, I think it takes some taboo risks.
Thank you, Laurel! You can read Laurel’s book-review column in every issue of AHMM—and keep an eye out for her upcoming novel The Heartbreak of Corazon Tagubio from HarperTeen in winter 2021.
A Conversation with the Center for Fiction’s Allison Escoto: Part 1
August 27, 2019
Earlier this year, The Center For Fiction moved from its Manhattan site to a new home in downtown Brooklyn. EQMM and AHMM managing editor Jackie Sherbow had a chance to speak with Allison Escoto, the Center’s head librarian, about the Center and its Raven Award winning mystery and detective fiction collection, her work and goals for the library, the organization’s history, and her thoughts on the mystery genre and other literature. Allison, a New Yorker by way of New Orleans, is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and Queens College and has worked as a librarian for seventeen years. She is also a poet, copywriter, and the associate editor of Newtown Literary. Here is the first half of our conversation; the second half will appear tomorrow at SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN, the Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine blog.
Jackie Sherbow: You’ve had your hands full—literally and metaphorically—during the Center’s move to Brooklyn. What can you share about what the move has meant for the library and for your role there?
Allison Escoto: The Center for Fiction was previously known as the Mercantile Library of New York, an organization that had been in existence since 1820 and has had various homes throughout NYC in the ensuing years. Our building at 17 East 47th Street had been its home since the 1930s so you can imagine how much had been accumulated in that building, especially the library! I came onboard as the Head Librarian right before we moved out so I didn’t really get too much time to spend with the collection but now that we are settling in, I am really getting to know the collection. My vision in the coming years is to continue to add to the amazing titles we have collected over the years and to really take my time getting to know the great fiction that has been decades in the making.
JS: What was the relocation’s timeline, and what can you tell us about the new building?
AE: Our relocation from East 47th Street has been in the works for at least ten years, from the sale of our old location, to the design and planning of this new one. The new building is incredible! There are so many beautiful aspects to the design but my favorite part is of course, the library, which occupies all three levels. There can be little wrong with books everywhere!
JS: You joined the Center’s staff at a transitional moment in its history. How has it been for you to have such an intimate start to your time there?
AE: The unique thing about an organization that has been around for centuries is that even though it evolves and changes with the time, you can always sense the past all around you. I’ve been so lucky to see both the traditional and well-loved building with all its history and memories as well as to witness this exciting phase in an impressive new place. It has been great!
JS: What are you looking forward to now that the move is over?
AE: I am very much looking forward to meeting and greeting new members and program attendees. I’ve witnessed firsthand just how much blood, sweat, and tears have gone into making this Center a literary gathering place to celebrate fiction and I think welcoming people here is going to be great. I’m also looking forward to getting my hands on the collection!
JS: The Center for Fiction is the only organization in the U.S. devoted solely to the art of fiction. What is it like to work with a collection having a singular (yet vast) focus?
AE: As a lifelong and voracious reader, working with an entirely fiction collection has been a dream come true. In my previous jobs in a variety of libraries, fiction was my consistent favorite and to be able to focus on it here has been enlightening. I get to talk about, think about, and work around fiction all day!
JS: What can you tell us about the library’s award-winning mystery and detective- fiction collection?
AE: The mystery and suspense collection is the recipient of a Raven Award and it is a part of the collection we are very proud to have. Our in-depth collection is housed in the cellar of our new space, with over 16,000 titles of mystery and suspense, including rare titles and full runs of many mystery writers including Cyril Hare and Mary Roberts Rinehart as well as extensive collections from the golden age of detective fiction authors such as John Rhode and Ellery Queen. Our contemporary mystery and suspense is growing right along with us as a Center as well with the most dynamic and exciting new mystery fiction.
JS: How often do you acquire new (or new to the collection) works of mystery?
AE: I order new books every month and throughout the year, I always have my eyes and ears open for brand new publications to add to our collection.
AH: Why do you think the mystery genre came to play such a big role in the library’s collection and the Center’s focus?
AE: From the inception of the Mercantile Library in the 19th Century, it was clear to the founders that their members wanted to read for entertainment and enjoyment, along with education. This organization has been collecting fiction and what they called “the best imaginative works” for the members and a huge part of that ended up being mysteries and suspense novels. The tradition was carried through the years and over time we amassed a great collection of the genre.
The conversation continues tomorrow, 8/28/19, at SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN.
You can check out the Center for Fiction on their website, on Instagram and Twitter @center4fiction, on Facebook @thecenterforfiction, or by visiting them at 15 Lafayette Avenue, Brookly, New York. For a look at their upcoming classes and workshops, visit https://www.centerforfiction.org/events/ and https://www.centerforfiction.org/groups-workshops/.
In Conversation with Puzzle Editor Mark Lagasse
June 12, 2018
With our current issue, we are excited to welcome to our pages a new puzzle series: Mixed-Up Anagrams by Mark Lagasse. Mark is a longtime colleague at Dell Magazines and friend to the mystery-fiction titles. Here, we talk with Mark about mysteries, puzzles, and his career—and even get a tip for solving anagrams.
AHMM: Have you always been a fan of word puzzles?
Mark Lagasse: One of my earliest memories is of me emceeing the boxed home versions of TV game shows (with my sisters as contestants) before I was four years old. A little later, I solved my first crossword in a newspaper and I was hooked. There’s never been a day in my life since when I didn’t solve some kind of puzzle or play a game.
AH: What about mysteries?
ML: I adore mysteries and have read thousands.
AH: If you can pick, what’s your favorite mystery work or author?
ML: There’s no doubt: Rex Stout. The relationship that developed over 40 years between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin was complicated, nuanced, funny, and, most importantly, real; these two can easily stand among the most brilliantly defined characters of all fiction. Now, some people find Stout’s plots shaky and his suspects inadequately differentiated. Still, most readers can’t deny that they are chiefly enjoying the novels and novellas for Wolfe, Archie, Fritz, Inspector Cramer, and of course, Wolfe’s brownstone (a character in itself).
I’m also a huge fan of Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton, Josephine Tey, Stuart Kaminsky, and Lawrence Block. In terms of crime fiction, Patricia Highsmith and James M. Cain reign supreme.
AH: How did you get started constructing and editing puzzles professionally?
ML: I’d been constructing all kinds of puzzles for my own (and friends’) amusement since I was five. Naturally, I bought and devoured hundreds of puzzle magazines published by both Dell and Penny Press. After a BS in management, an MBA, and a couple of years in consulting and banking (all probably misguided), in 1987 I finally wised up and applied to Dell Puzzle Magazines for an assistant-editor job. My résumé was accompanied by a puzzle I made that argued why I would be a good hire; it must have worked because I got the position and have been at Dell for nearly 31 years, today as a Senior Executive Editor.
AH: And your favorite type of puzzle to work? What about your favorite to construct or edit—is it the same?
ML: Dell Puzzle Magazines features hundreds of different variety puzzles, so picking a favorite is tough. I will say I love to solve crosswords, specialty Sudoku, anagram-based material, and Anacrostics. And as corny as it might sound, I’ve never encountered a puzzle I didn’t like to construct.
AH: How do you think the two genres or forms of mystery and puzzles connect?
ML: As Lorenz Hart wrote, “If you asked me, I could write a book” on this subject, as the genres overlap a lot. To be brief, I believe that mysteries and puzzles require both the left and right sides of our brain. We must rationally, deductively, even coldly unravel problems that are presented in a highly artistic, entertaining medium. Furthermore, life doesn’t always provide straightforward solutions or satisfying conclusions; mysteries and puzzles (if done correctly) do. Deriving fun and a sense of accomplishment from mere thinking are rare treats nowadays!
AH: Can you offer a tip for solving anagram puzzles?
ML: Some folks haul out their Scrabble sets and rearrange the tiles to gain a foothold, and others jot the given letters in the margin and scramble them there. It’s key to take into account what exactly you’re forming. For names of characters, for example, a J may lead you to JOHN, JAMES, JACK, JANE, etc. In the November-December 2018 issue, when the answers to Scrambled Grafton will be titles of Kinsey Millhone books, it will be very helpful to realize that each entry will contain IS FOR.
In Conversation with The Digest Enthusiast’s Richard Krauss
July 25, 2017
Richard Krauss is the editor and designer of Larque Press’s The Digest Enthusiast, which has appeared twice yearly since 2015. In today’s post, associate editor Jackie Sherbow talks with Richard about his work and the world of digest magazines. Find out more at the Digest Blog—and you can purchase all issues of The Digest Enthusiast here.
AHMM: Please tell us a bit about yourself. You’ve worked as a designer, marketing strategist, artist, and cartoonist. How did your interest in digests develop, and has that relationship changed over time?
Richard Krauss: AHMM is a long-time favorite, so it’s quite an honor to be here. I’d always read crime fiction, but Geoffrey O’Brien’s reference book Hardboiled America opened the floodgates to 1950s era paperback originals for me. The novels by these crime writers were too seductive to resist. Soon, I found these same authors wrote short stories for digests, by then the preferred format for fiction magazines. There were hundreds of titles—Manhunt, Jonathan Press, Pursuit, and of course Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen, to name just a few.
Collectors D. Blake Werts, Rob Imes, and I were chatting one day via e-mail about digests. As the brainwave to document them dawned, The Digest Enthusiast was born. Every potential contributor asked was eager to help: artist/writer Joe Wehrle, Jr., magazine historian Tom Brinkmann, author Lesann Berry, illustrators Michael Neno and Larry Johnson, cartoonist Bob Vojtko, and Hugo award-winning artist Brad Foster. Once the first couple of editions were out, our circle grew to include writers like Steve Carper, Peter Enfantino, and Gary Lovisi—and our contributor list grows with every new edition.
My passion remains crime fiction, but working on the magazine expanded my interest in all genres of fiction, and even nonfiction titles like True Crime Detective, Fate, and Exploring the Unknown.
AH: Each issue of The Digest Enthusiast is full of a wide variety of content, from interviews to reviews (in many genres) to poems, artwork, and features like “Opening Lines.” What guiding principles help you maintain focus?
RK: Our purpose is to explore the diverse world of digest magazines. We cover all types of genre fiction digests and select nonfiction titles. Variety is essential. We want something for everyone, every time. We even include a few short stories. After all, fiction is what draws most readers to digest magazines in the first place.
Much of our content is a look back, but we also report on the current scene. Recently we started a column called “News Digest,” which includes all the late-breaking industry news we can gather as each issue enters final production. We present cover previews and news about the four Dell digests, F&SF, Nostalgia Digest, Fate, and the new generation of digests, mostly made possible by today’s publishing technology—Pulp Literature, Paperback Parade, Weirdbook, Switchblade, Mystery Weekly, Betty Fedora, and many others.
AH: And what motifs and themes do you see across the variety of digests?
RK: Editors like Ellery Queen, Ray Palmer, Robert A.W. Lowndes, and H.L. Gold were as important to their readers as their magazines. Publishing a genre fiction digest has always been challenging. The editors, artists, and writers that create them love what they’re doing, and readers know it. Readers want that affinity for their favorite writers and their stories and characters.
You expect crime and deception from a mystery digest; new ideas and concepts from a science fiction title. But with a closer look, you’re struck by the unexpected, and energized by the unbounded creativity in digests. For example, Robert Arthur’s Mysterious Traveler digest, with every tale hosted by the title’s namesake. In 1981, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine had flash fiction from Robert Lopresti before flash fiction was labeled. B.K. Stevens’ epistolary approach to her Bolt and Walt series for AHMM—and the inclusion of Dale Berry’s seven-page comic story earlier this year. Get a digest and get enthused.
For writers, these days, it’s all about platform. Most successful digests also leverage platform. Alfred Hitchcock, Isaac Asimov, The Man from UNCLE, and The Saint were all well established names/brands before their digests debuted. In 1953, Manhunt began serializing a brand new novel by Mickey Spillane, at the height of Spillane’s popularity. Manhunt sold over half a million copies of their first issue. In 1948, the UFO craze seized America. Fate Magazine debuted with Kenneth Arnold’s account of his famous 1947 sighting, catapulting Clark Publishing into success.
Slow and steady only wins if you can afford to stay in the race. Otherwise, better to hitch your wagon to a proven platform.
AH: Can you talk a bit about the relationship between visual elements and copy in your favorite digests?
RK: You judge a book by its cover—or more precisely, you form your first impression from a book’s appearance. The cover is primary, but you react to the whole package. How does it look and feel? Digests have an inherently appealing size, easy to hold, easy to carry, and inviting to read.
Some fiction magazines use the same fonts for every story title, intro, text, and notes. Others vary the titles using different fonts to reflect the feel of the story to come. The text font is probably unconscious to many readers, but the magazine’s designer has given it a lot of thought, trying to balance all the options in style, size, weight, leading, and line length.
If the budget allows, an illustration can spark interest in a story in a heartbeat. The best are custom-made, depicting a scene from the story, or perhaps the overall feel of its milieu. Digest collectors follow their favorite artists as often as their favorite authors.
AH: What observations do you have about the community of digests enthusiasts (collectors, artists, writers, fans, etc.)?
RK: The community is as friendly and welcoming as you could ever want. Writers and editors, reviewers, contributors, collectors, and readers—they’ve all been enthusiastic and energizing. Just a terrific group of people, sharing and celebrating their common interest, a love for compelling fiction and artistry.
AH: What are the top three things you wish everyone would know about digests?
RK: First, they’re a bargain. Probably no surprise to AHMM readers, but digests offer the best, most affordable short story writing available. Online, at your local newsstand, or by subscription, there is no better fictive bang for your buck.
Second, they gave many of the world’s favorite writers their start. Perhaps the biggest star, Stephen King, had his first professional stories published in Startling Mystery Stories. But there are plenty of examples: Orson Scott Card, Lawrence Block, John D. MacDonald, Joe Lansdale, etc. Art Taylor’s “Rearview Mirror” first appeared in EQMM and later won the Agatha Award for best first novel as On the Road with Del & Louise in its expanded version. If you want to discover tomorrow’s bestselling, award-winning author today, read a digest. (And many of the greats return to the pages of their earliest supporters.)
Finally, there are hundreds of terrific digest magazines available. Whether you want a new adventure or a new passion, digests are easy to find online, highly collectible, and more affordable than just about any other type of magazine.
AH: Are you working on or planning any other projects?
RK: Writer and filmmaker, Alec Cizak, published of one of the earliest digests to leverage the new publishing technologies, Pulp Modern. After a year hiatus, he and I teamed-up to revive the title and released our first new issue from Volume Two in May 2017. The next Pulp Modern will be out late this year, near the same time as The Digest Enthusiast #7.
I’m also working with Marc Myers on a collection of Clark Dissmeyer’s comix work from the 1980s, which will be released this fall.
A Few Words with “Dying Words” Constructor Arlene Fisher
March 8, 2016
Arlene Fisher has constructed more than 100 acrostic puzzles for AHMM. She recently answered some of our questions about her interests and career as a puzzle constructor. Her answers are below—and they include some clues for solving the Dying Words puzzle, which can be found at The Mystery Place and in every issue of AHMM (with the solutions appearing the following issue). You can find more puzzles through our sister publications at Penny Dell Puzzles.
AHMM: Tell us a bit about your relationship with puzzles and puzzle-making. When did you become interested in puzzles? How long have you been a puzzle constructor, and how did you develop this skill? What inspires you?
Arlene Fisher: My initial interest in puzzles was fostered by my 6th grade teacher who had my entire class subscribing to the New York Times and working as a team to solve the daily puzzle. And, of course, with her input, failure was never an option. By the time I finished 6th grade, I was hooked and although more years have passed than I care to calculate, that habit has persisted and my day is not complete until I solve the New York Times puzzle. I do not seek out any other puzzle, but if I stumble across one, I am compelled to solve it. Somehow, an empty crossword grid just doesn’t sit well with me.
AHMM: What other types of puzzles do you construct? If you strictly build acrostics, why do these appeal to you?
AF: In my adult years, I started trying to solve the acrostic puzzle which appears in the Times on occasional Sundays and with the passage of time, my solving skills improved and my interest in its complexity and design captured me. I took it upon myself to study its construction and learn the rules of building and coding it. By submitting my constructions to various publishers—which I started to do around 1990—I learned from my mistakes and experienced increasing success in securing publishers from various sources. And, the more acrostics I constructed, the more I became enamored with “words.”
I absolutely love words, find the dictionary to be a wholly entertaining tome and I am always ready to engage in a Scrabble marathon—although I have great difficulty accepting certain “Scrabble words.”
AHMM: What do you like to read?
AF: By profession, I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and I work full-time so my spare time is limited as is my recreational reading. However, my favorite author is Nelson DeMille and more recently I’ve really enjoyed the non-fictional works of Erik Larson.
AHMM: How do you find the quotes for the puzzles?
AF: Finding appropriate quotes—especially ones with solid mystery themes—is always a challenge. I subscribe to Mystery Scene Magazine primarily with the hope that each edition will be a source of unending quotes and each issue generally yields at least one suitable quote. I also skim the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal daily and always keep an eye out for a quote of interest. Book reviews, travel sections and human interest articles occasionally yield a quote here and there.
AHMM: How do you think mysteries and puzzles work together? And what’s a good tip for our readers wishing to solve the Dying Words puzzle?
AF: At the risk of sounding trite or stating the obvious, I believe that mysteries and puzzles are clones of sort . . . Both lure you in, require some thought and are solved by patience and logical thinking. There are times when solutions are elusive but perseverance usually provides the ultimate reward. So . . . for readers who are interested in solving the Dying Words puzzle . . . trust your instincts but be patient with yourself and do not hesitate to forge ahead. Most importantly, learn from your efforts. When success eludes you, check the answers the following month. In time, you learn to think like the constructor. How does that happen??? Well . . . that’s a mystery!!!