Tag Archives: interview

A Conversation With Booked & Printed Columnist Laurel Flores Fantauzzo

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.

Laurel Flores Fantauzzo. Photo courtesy of the author.

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.

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A Conversation with The Center for Fiction’s Allison Escoto: Part 1

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.

Allison Escoto. Photo courtesy of The Center for Fiction.

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!

One corner of the Center’s extensive mystery/detective/suspense fiction collection. Photo by Jackie Sherbow.

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.

Photo by Jackie Sherbow.

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.

Photo by Jackie Sherbow

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/.

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In Conversation with Puzzle Editor Mark Lagasse

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.

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Mysteristas Interviews B. K. Stevens

At Mysteristas, B.K. Stevens talks about her series character Leah Abrams, and much more.

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A Few Words With “Dying Words” Constructor Arlene Fisher

Section of a "Dying Words" acrostic grid.

Section of a “Dying Words” grid.

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!!!

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Remembering Jim Ingraham

At the beginning of this year, we received some sad news: Our author Jim Ingraham has died. An ex-marine (WWII) and a retired professor of American history, Jim Ingraham had been at various times, a movie extra, a piano player in saloons in Detroit and Providence, and a portrait painter. We published “Mystery of the Chinese Ball” in 1986, and since have published nine more. He’s also written and published half a dozen novels. Last year we bought a new story from him, and he told us then in an e-mail that “I’m not a very interesting person but some people around here think it exceptional that I wrote this story at the age of 91 and sold it at the age of 92 and am working on other stuff.” On the contrary, he was a very interesting person indeed, and his life experiences informed his stories. Like his P.I. Duff Kerrigan, Ingraham grew up in Maine; he told us once: “Where Duff Kerrigan lives on the docks of old Portland, was my boyhood paper route. In real life the area has changed, but in Duff’s life it’s as it once was.” He did an interview with us for our September 2007 issue, which we think you’ll find interesting too, so you can read it here.

AHMM: You come from an academic career. Can you tell us a little about your background? How did you come to write P.I. stories? How has your writing been influenced by your work as an academic?

JI: After graduating from NYU as a history major (I didn’t want to spend my life grading English papers), I wrote three sprawling novels, one of which caught the attention of a New York editor who gave me a lot of advice. I spent two years trying to satisfy him and failed. I just didn’t understand story organization. After I had tried for many years to get published, your predecessor, the late Cathleen Jordan, accepted my story “Mystery of the Chinese Ball.” She rejected at least ten subsequent submissions but always encouraged me to keep trying.

Through some form of osmosis I began to realize that crime stories provided the structure I had been searching for. Before I became a history major at NYU I was a music major at Michigan State. Strange as it may sound, the biggest academic influence on my writing has been my acquaintance with the music of Beethoven. All of art is composition and symmetry and Beethoven is the grand master of that. It’s the structure, the order, not the content, that led me to write the Duff Kerrigan stories.

AHMM: What are the origins of the Duff Kerrigan character?

JI: I guess Duff Kerrigan is me. I think every first-person narrator is a version of the writer. Hemingway’s point-of-view character is always the same—Robert Jordan in one book, Nick in the “Three Day Blow.” It’s always Hemingway—not a portrait of himself, but an emanation from himself.

AHMM: Like you, Duff Kerrigan grew up in Maine. To what extent is that an important aspect of his character, and of yours? You now live in Florida; do you visit Maine often?

JI: What I like about Maine people is their lack of pretension. Maine, unlike Massachusetts, was not founded by Puritans. It became established by fishermen and farmers and resisted the encroachment of the Puritans. The people I like to write about are ones I admired as a boy—self-respecting, independent working people who do not intrude upon their neighbors. I see Duff as that kind of man.

I don’t try to avoid the postcard image of Maine. I just try to represent my memory of Maine and its people truthfully. The first member of my mother’s family took a job in a lumberyard in Kittery, Maine, in 1623. Her people were obstinately Yankee. My father’s father arrived in this country at the age of fifteen. I don’t believe my mother’s people ever forgave her for marrying an immigrant’s son, especially a Catholic immigrant’s son. Maine, like all of New England, seethed with intolerance, of Irish Catholics on the coast or French Canadians who came down to work in the mills. The tourist magazines like to present Maine as though no “foreigners” had ever settled there. I grew up among Irish longshoremen in Portland, who were looked upon as trash. I could write a lot of stories about this aspect of Maine life, but it’s still too painful to think about. I ran away from home twice before I was in the eighth grade.

I go back to Maine at least once a year. I visit the waterfront and upstate woodlands and pastures, sit with people, talk with people, absorb atmosphere, I love it but can no longer tolerate the winters.

AHMM: Is there a chance that Duff Kerrigan may appear in a novel?

JI: I guess there’s every chance, although I have nothing planned. I think of Duff as engaged in tight little plots that unfold in a few thousand words. But who knows? Good ideas pop up all the time.

AHMM: Have you published any novels?

JI: Glad you asked! My novel Remains to be Seen has been purchased by Five Star Mysteries and is scheduled to appear in July 2008. It’s a fair-play whodunit, unfolding in an academic setting in Maine and follows a murder investigation by a young woman detective called Perci Piper. A major character, Vinnie Milano, comes right out of Duff Kerrigan’s neighborhood in Portland.

AHMM: Which writers do you admire and why?

JI: I admire writers I can learn from. There are, of course, the giants on whose shoulders we all stand. But aside from them, I admire Ross Thomas, Hemingway, Graham Greene, Dashiell Hammett, Somerset Maugham, Tony Hillerman—pretty much in that order. To me, Ross Thomas was the best of the modern crime writers—witty, urbane, structured. Hemingway for his understanding of point of view, Greene for his seamless placing of characters in the story’s atmosphere, Hammett for his directness, Maugham for his storytelling, Hillerman for his evocation of atmosphere.


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