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Pub Date

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Well, I could go on with stuff, I suppose, but I’m pretty sure that this is the official publication date of Living Witness.  I say that because it’s the date that those of you on my mailing list are supposed to get an e-postcard, and it makes sense that that date was set for pub date.  Besides, the online stores seem to have been shipping the thing for most of the week.

Pub dates are weird things.  For one thing, they’re largely fictional–they’re the date on which retail reviews (newspapers, for instance) have the okay to publish a review.  Industry reviewers published theirs weeks ago.

But I can never get to a pub date without wondering if I’m doing the right thing, in the short run and the long.  Gregor and the gang on Cavanaugh Street have been around for a long time now.  Sometimes I get sick of them, and sometimes I get angry with them, and sometimes I’m happy to be back.  This time I was happy to be back, but this book is more complicated than that.

I write straight murder mysteries that are just about the mystery (and the characters), but I also write ones that deliberately take on the personalities around social conflicts.  Living Witness is about a small town in Pennsylvania being torn apart by a move by a member of its school board to promote Intelligent Design in its public schools.

Now, I’ve read my share of mysteries that take on issues, and by and large I don’t like them, because by and large they falsify the very issues they’re supposed to be illuminating.

Years ago, I read a book in a series I liked very much where the issue was whether or not a group home for the mentally ill would be established in a neighborhood.  The book was written so that the people opposing the group home were invariably misguided–they had no reality-based objections to the establishment of such a home, just groundless fears and ignorance (in the best cases) and prejudice and malevolence (in the worst).

Coincidentally, there was at the time I read that book an almost identical argument going on in the town in which I live, although the group home was to be for the mentally retarded and not the mentally ill.  So I knew that there really a solid, objective problems with placing these sorts of institutions in neighborhoods.

For one thing, whether we want to admit it or not, the resale value of homes in the vicinity goes down precipitously in such neighborhoods, and many of the people in my town objecting to the establishment of this group home had a perfectly practical objection:  their entire life savings were tied up in their houses, and their retirement years would be better or worse on the basis of what their houses sold for when it was time for them to leave. 

And this was not just a lot of selfish greed on the part of the people in this neighborhood.  It was the reason this neighborhood was chosen and not the one half a mile away where all the houses went for three times as much–rich people can count, especially if it’s their own money.

There were other considerations, too, having to do with security, garbage collection, the protocols for who would and would not be admitted as a resident, that were sketchy at best and would have an enormous impact on the quality of life in that neighborhood. The residents were, I think understandably, unhappy with the idea that all decisions would be in accord with “good social work practice.” 

All this is leading up to the admission that, in writing Living Witness, I went out of my way to make the situation actually correspond to the one that existed in the Dover case.  That is, the school board is not trying to get science teachers to actually teach Intelligent Design. nor is it insisting on the strategy of teaching what is supposedly “wrong” with the theory of evolution.  Instead, it is asking that a disclaimer be placed in each book–some people don’t agree with evolution–and a book, called Of Pandas and People,be placed in the library for students who want to investigate a different point of view.

Now, I tend to agree with the Dover decision.  The theory of evolution is no less well grounded than the theory of gravity, and if you’re going to start handing out disclaimers about oneyou should be handing out disclaimers about the other.

That said, I think the majority of Americans would be completely mystified as to why there was a court case in a situation like this.  To people who don’t care much one way or the other about the theory of evolution, all the people in the Dover case must look nuts.  And I mean on both sides.

So Living Witness tries to get inside the way all these people think, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The only two really admirable characters in the whole thing are a school administrator named Catherine Marbledale and a Holiness Church preacher named Nicodemus Frapp.  There are enough pretty unadmirable characters, including two bone-stupid Fundamenatlists and a rabid atheist bully named Henry Wackford, of the town’s most important law firm, Wackford Squeers.

Oh, and in case you haven’t guessed yet, I did that thing where I name characters or places or institutions after something that exists in literature or history, the way the characters in Glasss Houses are named after various people in the Tudor saga.

I have no idea how this book is going to go over.  I like novels that deal with issues.  I like political and social points of view.  Lots of people, though, don’t want to be bothered.  They think it makes the books less of an escape.  They just don’t care, one way or the other, and they’re tired of people nattering on about all this stuff.

If any of you read it, though, I’d be interested in knowing what you think.  I’d be especially interested if you have strong feelings on one side ofthe issue or the other.

In the book I’m working on now–yay!  almost finished!–I’m back to an entirely frivolous setting, so to speak.  Not as frivoless as Cheating at Solitaire, but, you know, reality TV is hard to take seriously.

Although I do think all those women fighting to become Flavor Flav’s next girlfriend should have their heads examined.

Written by janeh

April 14th, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Pub Date'

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  1. Well, in reverse order:

    If you’re writing about reality TV, you *must* watch The Soup, which is a hilarious compendium show of all the most outrageous crap from the past week, edited down so it doesn’t substantially affect your sanity. Look in the listings for the E! network. Usually airs on Friday night. We like the host, but really like getting to laugh at all the reality stuff without actually having to, you know, *watch* it. Ewww.

    Next, issue books. I’ve seen people (in reviews on Amazon) actually celebrating the fact that your books *do* address issues. They like it because it gives the mystery a little more substance than just whodunit. In some ways, those issues can become the most interesting parts of the book, and certainly provoke some of your best writing. It’s entirely a different strokes matter, so don’t agonize too much over those who don’t like issue books. There are plenty of people who would dismiss you as Just Another Mystery Writer if you didn’t include issues.

    Reading the book…I got a Kindle 2 recently. Almost all my new book purchases are on the Kindle. Love it extremely. But your book isn’t available on the Kindle. You need to speak firmly to your publisher, as it’s the publisher who determines if a book will be made available in the Kindle format. Not only am I buying ebooks, but I’m buying way *more* books, as formerly I’d go to the library rather than purchase hardcovers. With the Kindle edition available at less cost than the hardback without waiting for the paperback, it’s prompting me to spend more on books, and less time at the library. I’ll probably do the library thing for your new book, though. Storage problems and finances prevent me from buying hardbacks, and I don’t want to wait for the paperback!

    Gregor & gang…I’m gonna urge you to try a standalone. I’ve told you before that I think the first part of “Other People’s Music” before Gregor shows up was some of your finest writing. Characters were awesome, the development of the story was great. I know Gregor is a franchise and the franchise sells. For some reason when I think back on that first part of OPM, I compare it to Laura Lippman’s “What the Dead Know”, also a terrific book, and it stands up well. Go on, take a chance. I think your name alone, without the support of Gregor, could sell as well.

    And finally, congratulations on your newest publication! May all your reviews be positive. I can write pretty well in fits and spurts, but have come to the conclusion I will never complete an entire book. The ability to do so is something special in itself, and a large body of (commercially successful) work is even more so.


    14 Apr 09 at 2:40 pm

  2. I can’t say much about reality TV – most of it I simply can’t watch. It seems to me to be an attempt to persuade people to display their absolute worst characteristics for the amusement of those with a mental and emotional age of about 10. Very rarely, when I’m visiting somewhere with cable, I like those reality shows on the obscure cable channels that show how to fix up houses, or manage money or something practical like that. That’s one of my guilty secrets!

    I sometimes like social issues in my fiction, although it has to be done right. One or two authors I’ve liked have also written stuff like that book about the group home only on different issues – like it in that reading it felt like being hit over the head with a 2×4 with the Right Political Opinion.

    There wasn’t a whisper about NIMBY when they started to build housing for people with mental problems in my neighbourhood. That was probably because the group doing it is respected locally, the neighbourhood is extremely mixed already (although prices are going up so there are a good number of middle class sorts living here) and there are probably far more undesirable people living here in private housing right now (mostly on my street, I sometimes think, but that’s a bit unfair). There was a terrible ruckus about a two different projects for addiction treatment in two different neighborhoods.

    I’ll be looking forward to your new book, but as usual I’m a couple behind as I tend to depend on the library and paperback editions.

    I have to admire anyone who can write a complete novel. To also produce something interesting and thought-provoking, as you do, is a marvelous achievement.


    15 Apr 09 at 7:33 am

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