Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why I'm Glad My First Book Is An Anthology: a guest blog by Sarah Weinman

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  Back in 2003, before YouTube, before Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest, young Sarah Weinman was a crime fiction lover who decided to start a "weblog," as they were then known. Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, with its book reviews, author interviews, tales of true crime and news of the publishing world became a daily must-read for writers, readers and publishing insiders. Its success boosted Sarah to national visibility: she became a columnist for the LA Times and the Baltimore Sun, an editor at the publishing industry news blog GalleyCat, and eventually led to her current job as an editor at Publishers Marketplace.

Along the way, she became the go-to historian and literary scholar for all things crime fiction, appearing in publications such as the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and The  Guardian. Her short stories have been anthologized in several books, including Dublin Noir and Damn Near Dead, and have appeared online as well as in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

You can see why we're excited to have Sarah here at Jungle Red Writers. In fact, we think she has so much to say of interest to our readers that we've taken the unusual step of inviting her as our guest for two days running. Today, she talks about a particular kind of sleuthing: that of bringing forgotten women writers back from obscurity.

In the book world there are dreams so many writers dream they almost feel like cliché. Publishing a novel before the age of thirty. Cracking a major bestseller list. Seeing hundreds or thousands of fans at a book signing. Winning a prestigious award. Finding that signature character that will be read and remembered years after leaving the mortal coil.

Having indulged in a few of these reveries myself – and hey, some of them are still within the realm of possibility – I'm no stranger to grand writerly fantasies. But I know that when I look back on whatever further career develops, I'll be glad my first book was an anthology. Especially this anthology. Here's why:

It's not about me. Yes, my name's on the book, I wrote the introduction and selected the stories. And, aside from Dorothy Salisbury Davis, still sharp and spry at the age of 97, I'm the only living representative readers and media can contact. But what would make me utterly giddy is if Troubled Daughters,Twisted Wives spurred current readers to go out looking for what else the authors in the anthology wrote. Which leads to...

If reissues happen as a result, the anthology is already a success. In some instances, backlists are readily available. Patricia Highsmith's, thanks to W.W. Norton and Grove/Atantic, and Shirley Jackson's thanks to Penguin and FSG. Helen Nielsen's, thanks to Prologue Books. Open Road filled in the gaps for Dorothy B. Hughes that NYRB Classics and The Feminist Press hadn't, and also sell much of Charlotte Armstrong's ouevre, too. Stark House Press has been doing yeoman's work with many books by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, and Vera Caspary's greatest suspense novels are also under The Feminist Press's watch.

But Margaret Millar's work remains, for the most part, shamefully out of print. The same goes for Davis, Celia Fremlin, Nedra Tyre, Joyce Harrington, and Miriam Allen deFord. The greater the awareness of these excellent writers off of single stories, the better chance of more permanent fixing in the literary and crime fiction canon.

I learned some valuable skills. The key reason I began work on TroubledDaughters was to give proper due to 20th century domestic suspense fiction, and the female writers who found their voice within this category. But I also wanted to learn about aspects of book publishing I wasn't exposed to as a reporter, critic, and occasional pundit.

People in the book business speak of permissions with grumbling impatience, and there were certainly times – luckily, not that many – when negotiating with an agency or author estate spiked my blood pressure. But those moments were easily counteracted by the satisfaction of being able to tell the child or grandchild of one of the authors that yes, their work would be discovered by a new audience. And yes, I thought the work was good and still held up well and resonated further in the 21st century.

An anthology requires old-fashioned detective work. There were mean streets and blind alleys and wild goose chases and lots and lots and lots of waiting, the same as any detective, working for a police department or a private firm, knows. Some estates or rightsholders were so readily available it took less than an hour to track down. Others took weeks or months. And, in the case of Miriam Allen deFord, the matter of who controls her literary rights is such a mystery that even the daughter of the Bay Area-based ACLU lawyer who was deFord's executor until his death in 1998 didn't have an answer. That's a whole other story I'd like to tell someday – hopefully with a gratifying resolution.

The stories are terrific. These fourteen women, along with dozens of their contemporaries, knew how to tell a chilling suspense tale that is impossible to put down until the reader is done. I still recall my own vivid sense of horror or wonder or voiced-out-loud amazement at these stories, wondering how so many of them had all but been consigned to the dust pile. Now, I hope, they won't ever be again. 

Please join us tomorrow for our group interview with Sarah! You can find out more about Sarah Weinman at her website (currently undergoing renovation) and at Domestic Suspense. You can friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter as @sarahw, and check out her Tumblr

BREAKING NEWS: And we are DEAD ON THE LEVEL (see above)--a signed copy of Sarah's new book to one lucky commenter today..and one tomorrow! Hurray! (And could VANISH IN AN INSTANT.)


  1. I must admit to not having heard of many of the authors you’ve mentioned, Sarah, and now I am quite intrigued . . . I’m looking forward to reading “Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives” . . . .

  2. I have this book on my shelf... read it and loved it! And I love Sarah's notion of "domestic suspense." It's helpful to me, too, since I now have a category for what I write. Sarah discussion of it reminds me of this from Elizabeth George "For the writer who wishes to explore characters, there is nothing so catastrophically catalytic as the intrusion of a crime into an otherwise peaceful landscape."

  3. Welcome Sarah. I often wonder about the terrific writers that most of us have never heard of. Thanks for shining a spotlight on some of the earliest in our field, looks like a cool book.

    When you have a chance please email me at rosemary at rosemaryharris dot com. (I always feel a little silly writing out the url when I plaster my email addy all over, but hey, it's now a habit..)

  4. Hi sarah, welcome to JRW! Can you tell us a bit about how you chose what and who would go in the book?

  5. Thank you, Sarah, for introducing us (me at least) to these early writers. This will be a fantastic book to explore.

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  7. Ooh -- going to look for this one right now! Yummy.

    You know what would also be great -- a 'coffee table' book of period (noire? I don't really have the terminology down!) covers. The Charlotte Armstrong cover is so reminiscent of the first-release Travis McGee books...

    My personal fascination is with Leslie Ford and her Colonel Primrose mysteries. I know they are condemned as politically incorrect today, and, today, they are... but surely it denies all progress to pretend the world never was that way. And they are good mystery stories!

  8. Welcome Sarah.

    Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind was one of the first mystery blogs I remember stumbling upon and I still miss it to this day. But it has been exciting to see how your career has blossomed.

    So happy to see you stop by the JRW's to tell us about this new book. My background with short stories from this period is sorely lacking, so I think this will do wonders to show me the history that has led to modern domestic suspense.

    It's going on the TBR pile.

  9. What a good idea, especially to shine a spotlight on barely remembered women writers. I find myself drawn more and more to my the work of women in writing, music, and on-screen entertainment.

    And I'm thrilled that the Nook version is less than the paperback version. Thank you.

    I wonder how many of these writers' work I've read in the likes of the Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock digests over the last several decades?

    Good luck, Sarah! And thanks for doing such great detective work.

  10. Most of the names are unfamiliar to me. The ones I recognize are authors I'd love to read again. Thanks, Sarah!

  11. Fabulous, Sarah. And inserting how the advent of ebooks has changed things..making them always available-- It's a great boon that you've become these writers' historian.

    Love those covers.

    I know you're crazed--nothing like a book launch week! But is there something these women have--that we're forgetting/losing/missing in current crime fiction?

  12. And TOMORROW--a fabulous revealing and hilarious interview with Sarah--and a special surprise!

  13. I, like many other bloggers, can credit Sarah as one of the motivating forces behind Meanderings and Muses She kept the bar high and if we happened to find our blog mentioned even ever so briefly in her Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind we took it to mean we were doing it right. I miss that blog something fierce! But. Knowing when it's time to move forward is always a very good, very smart thing and this wonderful anthology is proof of that. Cannot WAIT to read this!

  14. I also miss the blog, Sarah, and thank you for introducing me to the new/old writers. Sounds like a good series to me.

  15. Welcome, Sarah! I've been eagerly awaiting this book (from following you on Twitter). Some of my favorite writers are represented within it.

    What do you think it will take to bring the Margaret Millar books back into print? I would so like to see her resurrected. She was one of the best writers out there, and it's almost impossible to find many of her books now.

  16. Hi Sarah, and thank you for being here! And I love the book. What a fabulous premise, and how satisfying for you to introduce new readers to these wonderful writers. Aren't the covers fantastic, too?

    Looking forward to more tomorrow!

  17. Sarah--how lovely to have you here. Welcome to Jungle Reds.
    And I too am intrigued with the category of Domestic Suspense. My mind goes immediately to movies like Gaslight. "No, my dear, it's all in your mind....."

    And we're waiting for your own signature character to appear!

  18. Oh my God, Sarah, I'm loving that you are here today. Just the other night I was drinking a few pints with a writer friend -- a male writer friend -- and he was telling me about how great that anthology is. And then, yesterday, I saw someone else talking about it on Facebook.

    This is just the best. Female-written domestic suspense/crime fiction doesn't get the justice it deserves by the lit-crits. I could go on a soap box, but I won't. I'm sure we're all on the same page. :-)

  19. I wish there were a lot of anthologies like this one.

  20. I can't wait to get my hands on this anthology. I spent lots of time hiding in the stacks in the library reading these authors. (I wasn't old enough to borrow "adult" books.)

    Sarah, thanks for all the work you did to put the collection together. I hope we do see more of these women back in print because of it.

  21. First, thank you all for the kind and wonderful comments! Was out signing stock today (with more stores to visit tomorrow, including two brand-new ones in Astoria, Queens) so apologies for the delay in getting back to everybody here.

    Linda: I would love to see Millar's work back in print. Her literary representatives would love to see more of her work back in print (Stark House Press reissued AN AIR THAT KILLS and DO EVIL IN RETURN as a double trade paperback a few years ago.) My hope is that this anthology will lead publishers to understand there's a market for these women's work, but it takes time.

    Hank: a good question, and I wonder if it's just a sense of subtlety and clarity that contemporary writers can use as inspiration. I do think that if, say, a book like GONE GIRL was published between WWII and the mid-1970s, it would have been half as long and perhaps, even more shocking and strange. But since it's such a book of the now, it's hard to say.

    Lucy/Roberta: the essay I wrote for SHOTS Magazine answers your question pretty well. Link here:

    I'll be back on later tonight to answer more questions, and tomorrow afternoon as well. Thanks again, Reds!

  22. I like anthologies and used to buy them. I don't see many nowadays that I'm interested in. I have a bunch of Charlotte Armstrong's old paperbacks that I got at library book sales and I actually bought one new in trade paperback at a bookstore ten or more years ago. It's called The Balloon Man.

  23. This sounds utterly fascinating. Thanks!

    --Brenda Perrott Williamson