Thursday, March 23, 2017

Those Conventional Librarians--Miranda James



DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm going to start with a quote, on this day when I feel particularly in need of a bit of comfort--from Marilyn Stasio's review in the Crime Column of the New York Times, on the new Cat in the Stacks mystery by Miranda James (aka my friend Dean.)

"Let us now praise the cozy mystery, so comforting on dark days, so warming on chilly nights--the literary equivalent of a cat. 12 ANGRY LIBRARIANS...checks a lot of essential boxes."

What better introduction to this series, if you haven't been fortunate enough to read it!
 

The books feature widowed librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, and are set in a small collegiate town in Mississippi. Here's a peek at Twelve Angry Librarians:
 
Charlie is stressed out. The Southern Academic Libraries Association is holding this year’s annual meeting at Athena College. Since Charlie is the interim library director, he must deliver the welcome speech to all the visiting librarians. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the keynote address will be delivered by Charlie’s old nemesis from library school.

It’s been thirty years since Charlie has seen Gavin Fong, and he’s still an insufferable know-it-all capable of getting under everyone’s skin. In his keynote, Gavin puts forth a most unpopular opinion: that degreed librarians will be obsolete in the academic libraries of the future. So when Gavin drops dead, no one seems too upset…

But Charlie, who was seen having a heated argument with Gavin the day before, has jumped to the top of the suspect list. Now Charlie and Diesel must check out every clue to refine their search for the real killer among them before the next book Charlie reads comes from a prison library…


And here's Dean--er, Miranda--to set us straight on libraries.
 
Libraries come in assorted “flavors” – there are public libraries, government libraries, corporate libraries, law libraries, music libraries, art libraries, medical libraries, as well as various other kinds of libraries. Each type of library has its particular needs that make it distinctive from the other kinds of library. Their collections can be vastly different. For example, a medical library collection and a public library collection don’t have much in common, because they serve different communities.
In my “Cat in the Stacks” series I write about two kinds of library, the public library in Athena, Mississippi, and the library at Athena College. The latter is considered an academic library. An academic library serves the needs of its parent institution, and there are thousands of academic libraries and academic libraries in the United States. There are also professional associations for the different types of libraries, and these association meet, usually on an annual basis.

For the latest book, I thought it would be fun to write a mystery set at an academic library conference, so I made up an association – the Southern Academic Libraries Association, or SALA. Athena College is the host library, and since Charlie is serving as interim director of the library, he will have to play a role in the meeting. Whether he really wants to is another matter.

At these meetings librarians do presentations, and there are usually a couple, if not more, keynote addresses. What if, I thought, someone is murdered during one of these keynotes? What if it’s the person speaking who is murdered? And what if the speaker just happens to be someone that Charlie dislikes?

Those were the seeds of the plot of Twelve Angry Librarians. I decided that some of the important characters would be fellow students from Charlie’s days in graduate school in Texas twenty-five years ago. Readers get a glimpse into Charlie’s history in this book, and they also see a side of his personality that doesn’t surface often. That’s part of the fun of writing a series, actually. Exploring a character’s history and aspects of his personality that slowly emerge as the series progresses.
Now, before anyone gets worried, I’ve been to numerous professional library association meetings, and thus far no one has been murdered. But you never know . . . .

DEBS: And here's more about Dean, who will be checking in to chat with us today!
 
Miranda James is the pseudonym of Dean James, a seventh-generation Mississippian recently returned home after over thirty years in Texas. A mystery fan since the age of ten, he wrote his first novel at the ripe old age of twelve. The only copy of The Mystery of the Willow Key vanished years ago, but since it was highly derivative of the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mystery series, that’s probably a good thing.

DEBS: Now, who's contemplated murder at a professional conference? Come on, readers, 'fess up!! 

37 comments:

  1. I must say, “Twelve Angry Librarians” sounds like a perfect read. [And what a great review.]

    I’ll admit nothing about contemplating murder at a professional conference other than to suggest that when you have the responsibility for part of the conference planning, thoughts of murder may occur before the conference even begins . . . .

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  2. I love that, Joan! And I confess that I am so behind on this series that I haven't read a single one, which I clearly need to remedy ASAP. But as a person with some years in academic under my belt, I can say murder is often contemplated. Heck, it's contemplated even at faculty meetings. Nice job, Dean/Miranda, and what a splendid quote for us cozy writers: "Let us now praise the cozy mystery, so comforting on dark days, so warming on chilly nights--the literary equivalent of a cat."

    Now, murder at a mystery convention? Um, yes, contemplated! But I believe it's been done, in at least one book and short story - thankfully only as fiction.

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  3. Welcome Dean and congrats on the review--I love love love that quote! And the title of this new book is wonderful. I fell behind on this series too, though I love Charlie and Diesel:). For prospective readers who are new, could you explain the role of this cat in the mysteries? Are you still working as a librarian?

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  4. I'll be honest. I contemplate murder (or romance--I'm easy that way) in just about any situation where I find myself sitting around, getting bored. I make up stories about the people around me, and what they might get up to. I try to figure out ways to hide a body in some of the large public buildings where I work. I have even, in the heat of confrontation, had very vivid mental images of the knife going in, over and over. Those mental images release quite a lot of soothing endorphins, actually. Of course, I never carry a knife. But in this case, my mind is wandering off in a new direction. What role does Diesel play? I understand about library cats. I work with an office cat, and I actually have a cat curled up on my arms as I'm typing this. But a detective cat? I'll have to look into that one. The series sounds fun, Dean.

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  5. This sounds like great fun. The title echoes 12 Angry Men, the courtroom drama about the jury at a homicide trial. Dean, did you draw inspiration from that?

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  6. Lucy/Roberta, Diesel the Maine Coon cat in the series is a companion. He doesn't talk like cats in other series. He accompanies Charlie everywhere he goes (except the grocery store and church), and he interacts with the other characters. He occasionally gets involved in the action, however, by doing the kinds of things that cats do.

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  7. Of course. Like Joan--so many people--so much drama--you name a convention, there's room for a murder (or two) from the time you start to set it up until the concluding remarks. Time to revisit Charlie and Diesel. Congratulations, Dean!

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  8. Hallie, the title actually came from the marketing department, but I've no doubt that whoever came up with it had the courtroom drama in mind. Of course, in this case, it's not a courtroom drama, but there are twelve librarians angry about something in the book...

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  9. I stood and applauded when I read that review! Wow, how did you stand it, waiting for it? You knew it would be there, but didn't know what it was?

    Do you sometimes forget whose life you are in? xoxo

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    1. Hank, if I ever forget for long, my cats quickly remind me who I am and what my true function in life is. :-)

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  10. Twelve Angry Librarians? What's not to love about that title, because when librarians get angry, you know they've got some serious agenda to deal with. Library cuts, library closures, cuts, short-sighted politicians, cuts and the current issue in Toronto: the proposal to introduce...staffless library branches. (!!!!) A lot more than 12 angry librarians and users.(Did I mention cuts?)

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    1. Susan, I know all too well what you're talking about. Public libraries in Mississippi are in a sad state. Makes me so angry.

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    2. Why are politicians always so shortsighted about public services such as libraries?!?!?! I join you from Winnipeg in your murderous thoughts, Susan.

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    3. I'll add that Toronto has a great, vibrant library system, in spite of the politicians. But this latest gambit has me seething.

      As for murderous thoughts... yes, my first published short story involved a library-hating mayor meeting his demise at the hands of a library-promoting writer. In a most appropriate manner. :^)

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  11. I love reading books with Charlie and Diesel!! Twelve Angry Librarians is a great title, and then there are the thinly veiled homage to some current mystery writers! I am lucky that Ottawa has a great library system. They have not gone as far as proposing having staffless library branches as Toronto. But they have automated the checkout & return process at several Ottawa branches which frees up staff time to help patrons, so that's a good thing!

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    1. Thanks, Grace! I'm glad to hear that you have such a great library system.

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  12. While it never occurred to me to contemplate murder at the time, looking back I can see two times where it would have been a great temptation if I'd been the sort to take that route to solve conflict. Women can be very cruel to one another, in some cases.

    Fortunately, those in the mystery world seem to get the murderous rage tendencies out of their systems by pouring it onto the page!

    One of my book clubs is mostly retired librarians. I'll mention this series to them. Bet they choose at least one of the titles as a selection!

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    1. Thanks, Karen, for spreading the word!

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  13. Hi Dean! Readers who aren't familiar with the series should know that they will adore Charlie Harris. He is one of most likeable, authentic characters in fiction.

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  14. Dean, congratulations on the glowing review from Marilyn Stasio. (For those of you who don't follow the NYT, Ms. Stasio rarely reviews true cozies, so it really speaks to the quality of Dean's writing that she singled out TWELVE ANGRY LIBRARIANS for praise.

    As for murder at conferences, anyone contemplating it - or just wanting to laugh a lot - has to read Sharyn McCrumb's BIMBOS OF THE DEATH SUN, about murder and other naughty goings-on at a science fiction convention.

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    1. Thanks, Julia, and I second the recommendation of BIMBOS.

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  15. What a wonderful review. I haven't been to enough conferences to contemplate murder, but I have often thought about it during hour-long team meetings at work, especially if they are on the phone.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. I know exactly what you mean about long meetings! I've been in way too many that lasted too long for no good reason.

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  16. I've never contemplating murder at a conference; that usually happens when traveling to or from! Dean, do you have a favorite library? And did you have someone in mind when you killed off Gavin Fong? ;)

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    1. My favorite library is the one I had growing up, the Elizabeth Jones Public Library in Grenada, Mississippi. These days it's a sad shadow of its earlier incarnation, but I have such great memories of all the wonderful books I found there. Now, as to your second question, well, not sure I can answer that one... :-)

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  17. I've never gone to a professional conference, so I've never contemplated murder at one of them.

    I've had the pleasure of catching up on this series in the last year. It is fabulous! If you haven't started the series yet, drop everything and do so today.

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  18. I haven't contemplated murder at a conference but I have been afraid I would die from boredom. When we lived in Hudson, Ohio eons ago the head librarian, Tom, had a library cat who was quite popular. I can see that happening in small towns but not in the big city unfortunately. I've got to get caught up on your series Dean!

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  19. I have not read this series, but with all these glowing endorsements it is going on my TBR list.

    Dean, if this is not too far afield, I have a young friend graduating with a musicology/music performance degree interested in becoming a music librarian. Any advice on how to pursue that, any grad school recommendations, etc.?

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    1. Susan, it's been so long since I went to library school, I haven't really kept up with LS education. The main thing is to be sure the program is accredited by the American Library Association. Some of the larger schools will offer courses for a music library specialty, I'm sure.

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  20. Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments!

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  21. Hi, Dean! You know the Cat in the Stacks mysteries one of my all time favorite series, right? Being a librarian who has done tours of duty in medical, public, school, and research libraries, I can so relate to murder at one of the conferences! I am thrilled with your NYT review and delighted to read more about Charlie and Diesel - I feel like they're my people!

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  22. I'll bet anyone who has put together a conference can think of at least one author they'd happily bump off. (Oops, did I write that out loud?)

    I love the title, and what a great review. I once worked at a large public library in the city of Baton Rouge. It was located near one of the state police barracks that included a work-release program for prisoners training to be chefs. Because we were next door, library employees were allowed to have lunch at the barracks, served by the prisoners. So we had state police (mostly male), felons (all male), and librarians (mostly female at the time) all having lunch together. Sure, I can imagine a murder!

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  23. I have long loved Charlie and Diesel, ever since winning a signed copy of one of the books a few years ago!


    I read that review, Dean/Miranda, and I was so happy for you!

    Deb Romano

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  24. I'm new to this series but as a former president of my high school library counsel (and acting librarian at the school) and owner of a Maine Coon cat - well, match made in heaven. Things get heated at conferences, any conference. There always seems to be someone with a lot at stake and someone who wants it. Yep, murder could definitely be on the agenda.

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  25. I love Marilyn Stasio's quote on Twelve Angry Librarians -- what a tribute!

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