Sunday, May 17, 2015

Welcome to our new neighbors!

HANK: So exciting to have new neighbors! And by neighbors, I mean here on the internet, in mystery blog world. 

Dee-lighted to introduce you to THE LIFE SENTENCE, a fabulous new opportunity and meeting place and community and resource for mystery lovers!  It’s the brainchild of…well, let Lisa Levy, editor in chief (who, from her editor "photo" keeps a low profile)  tell you.
Because she admits:

I Was a Secret Mystery Reader!
        by Lisa Levy

Figuring out what to do with your life is a tricky business. After college, I decided to go to grad school in English Literature. It seemed obvious: I was a good student. I liked to read and write. Why not sign myself up for a profession where I got to do both? Spoiler alert: I did not end up becoming a professor, but launching a crime and mystery website called The Life Sentence. This story is how I got from there to here.

At the time I was applying, I was obsessed with the literature of Puritans in America. I have always been prone to a kind of literary hyperfocus, where I suddenly have to read everything about a topic or by an author, but my love for the Puritans went beyond my usual dalliances. John Winthrop (he of the “city on a hill” speech), Anne Bradstreet, Jonathan Edwards and his spider dangling over the fire —  I devoured all of it. I was especially enthralled with the conversion narratives they wrote, recasting their lives as reckonings with original sin and salvation. And I loved the captivity narratives too, especially Mary Rowlandson’s, in which she wrote of her life among the Native Americans who kidnapped her from her Massachusetts home. 

So I went to graduate school, only to find, in the way academic fashions go, that the Puritans were decidedly out. I was pushed into the later works of American literature, and ended up doing a section of my comprehensive exams on Edgar Allan Poe. Now, this would be an obvious segue to me editing a website about crime and mysteries, but it wasn’t that simple.

Rather, I started reading a lot of noir in particular and mysteries in general because I missed the Puritans. I missed their questions about how to live in a world where good coincides with evil. I missed their quest to build communities where righteousness is rewarded. I missed the way they framed their lives as a struggle to live morally in an unjust universe. And I found all of that in Chandler, in Cain, in Woolrich, in Willeford, and in Hammett. The noir universe made sense to me; what’s more, it attracted me in a way that the works I was studying in grad school didn’t anymore. 

If all of this sounds awfully serious, well, I do take crime fiction rather seriously. I was trained as a literary critic, and even though I left before I got my Ph.D. (“went off to pursue ephemera,” as one of my advisors put it after I turned in my first book review to Entertainment Weekly) I can’t turn that critical faculty off, nor do I want to. 

I think crime fiction reflects our concerns about our world and how to live in it, as much as the Puritans’ literature did about theirs. The questions are not all that different, even without God in the equation. We still have to reckon with good and evil, with trying to be righteous, with building our cities on the hill. In fact, I think that crime fiction addresses these issues with a lot of nuance and complexity.

I spent a good many years cranking out ephemera, mainly in the form of book reviews, and have also written a few essays that I daresay will stand up to time and trends. Eventually, though, I started to dream a little bigger: I saw a need for a venue that reflected my thoughts about mystery and crime fiction (as well as true crime, TV, movies, etc.). In looking at the way the genre was covered, I became convinced I could build something better. Maybe it’s my own city on a hill.

Thus with a lot of work and the help of some excellent editors, contributors, and advisors (including a couple of Jungle Reds!) The Life Sentence launched in April 2015. We cover as wide a range of crime and mystery-related topics as we can, and we do so with a rigor and enthusiasm which sets us apart from other venues. I do like to think that we are critics first, and fans second, though we don’t let our fandom color what we cover or how we cover it.

Just a screen shot! But here's how it looks!
What will you see on The Life Sentence? Well, we do interviews (which we call Interrogations) with people like Joyce Carol Oates, Laura Lippman, and Bill Loefhelm. We have a series called 101, where a writer runs down his favorites among the Nero Wolfe books, or Thomas Perry’s thrillers. 
We publish pieces on issues affecting the crime fiction community (and beyond), like Rachel Howzell Hall’s call for diversity
We have an amazing Editorial Board of writers (including Hank and Hallie!) who will be keeping us up-to-date about what they are reading, thinking about, and doing. 
And we review books (and give you suggestions about whether you might like them by suggesting other authors in the same vein). Recent reviews include books by well-known writers like Philip Kerr as well as bright new talents like Jake Hinkson.  We are also committed to reviving the reputations of authors lost to thrift stores and library sales, like Don Carpenter and Ted Lewis. And we have lots more planned, including giveaways, TV and movie coverage, and a series on cybercrime and Internet hoaxes.

So my secret mystery reading is now integral to my job, though my job is a lot more than just reading and writing. It’s looking at the whole universe of crime and mystery and deciding what’s worth covering, and how to present this material in a way that’s thoughtful and entertaining.

 I do hope you agree!

HANK: So Reds, welcome to  The Life Sentence! (You can click on any of the links above!)  Reds, what would YOU like to see on the site? Who would you like to read about? And what do you think of the site?

And to all at TLS--congratulations!


  1. Wow . . . what an amazing site! So much to read and think over; congratulations and best wishes for much success.

  2. Reds, had you heard of the site before?

    Lisa, it must be so much work!

  3. I went and took a look - and wasn't fairly interested. But their site isn't friendly to my reader - I can't get a full feed and I can't get a feed just for mysteries.. You'd think sites about books would know to make it easy for us. I wish them luck nonetheless.

  4. Susanne --that's exactly what Lisa needs to know! She'll be here later to chat !

  5. The new site is all about input and you can't get that without real readers trying it out. So keep the comments coming!

  6. I'm so pleased to be involved with this terrific new site... love that that Lisa started with an obsession with, of all things, the Puritans! And from there to noir and evil... natch.

    The Life Sentence is off to a great start. It's right up there with Sarah Weinman's The Crime Lady and all of Jane Friedman's posts and tweets for my weekly writers' fix.

  7. Welcome, Lisa and congratulations! "I think crime fiction reflects our concerns about our world and how to live in it, as much as the Puritans’ literature did about theirs" — yes, indeed. Can't wait to dig into the site, especially the piece on Phillip Kerr.

  8. Lisa, that is one heck of a site! Congratulations on a job well done. I do remember seeing something about the site, but I hadn't checked it out until now, and I'm so glad I finally did. It would be amazing to be a part of such an endeavor. Is there any way for someone to contribute who isn't already a contributor on the site, besides leaving comments?

  9. Hi Lisa! What a great site. I had not heard about it. Now going on my regular daily list. Great topics!

  10. Thank you for all of your comments! Yes, we wecome new contributors--if you go to the Contact page you can find how to pitch to us.

    Deborah, I'm a huge fan of your work so knowing you'll be stopping by is an honor. And I'm very glad to have Hallie, Hank, and now Susan on our Board! I'll get you all yet, my pretties...

    I so admire this community and am grateful for all of the support I've found in it. Keep reading!

  11. So I'd love know-what blogs and mags do you all check out every day?

  12. Your take on the morality and community of mystery is interesting. I've heard others talk about it before, but not in quite such detail.

    Off to check out your site.

  13. Lisa! We are—mirror twinsies—I don't know exactly what to call it, but I think that's it.

    While you were obsessed with the literature of the Puritans in America, I was obsessed with the Native American history at the time of contact in New England and New France. I too have always hyper focused when a topic grabs me. It doesn't matter my current situation, whether at home, school, or work. I can't let it go and must research and study everything about it, and my love for Native American studies of the period led to a divinity degree where I studied with David D. Hall and focused on the early Puritan relationships with native people of the area. His classes required us (blessed us) to read the original documents of the time in the school archives. These included the captivity narratives… and guess which one was my favorite? Mary Rowlandson’s, of course! Jonathan Edwards' history with Native American communities as a young minister who annoyed the local powerful and was banished to western Massachusetts… is a narrative, by its own value, that is worth exploring for historic-based novels. This led me to follow the trail to western Massachusetts and visit the site of the old Kahnawake Mohawk settlement that sits along the captivity route by the Mohawk River. My grandfather's aunt lived on the Mohawk reserve of Oka that is near "new" Kahnawake.

  14. Oh… has Lisa come and gone already? Is it my naughty time zone?

  15. Thanks for your comment, Reine! Oh, to read those texts in the original sounds divine.

  16. Sorry I missed this yesterday. I hadn't heard of the site, but will head over now to check it out. Thanks for sharing the origins, Lisa!

  17. I found THE LIFE SENTENCE page and am fascinated. Great resource!

  18. Missed this yesterday when I was working, but excited to see it today. I'm happy to have a new crime fiction site to check in on daily!

  19. PS I realized I'd already visited you when I read RACHEL HOWZELL HALL's excellent post on Colored and Invisible. Great job!