Thursday, July 9, 2015

Obsession. It's a Good thing.

“Rader-­‐Day again proves herself (after The Black Hour, 2014) a deft manipulator of dark atmosphere, witty dialogue, and complex, charismatic characters. Highly recommended for psychological thriller groupies, especially those who walk on the literary side of the genreand favor books like Tana French’s Faithful Place (2010) and Cornelia Read’s Madeline Dare series.” ―Little Pretty Things STARRED Review, Booklist

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  You’ve seen awards ceremonies. Sometimes the journalism ones are hilarious.  “For Best Breaking news,” the elegantly-dressed presenter will say, “the winner is…”

Suspenseful pause. 

“Horrific Conditions in Dog Shelter”! And the audience cheers the winner. Yay for the horrific conditions!  (And then the disappointed loser gripes to himself: I was robbed. Internet Con Artists was a much better story.)

We cheer because we’re journalists, and it’s not that we have strange tastes. It’s that a good story is our obsession.

We have that in mystery world, too. Obsession. And when you think about it, obsession is in every part of our lives.

If, as the wonderful Lori Rader Day says, we are lucky.   

In praise of obsession
         By Lori Rader Day

One of the things I love best about the mystery community is that we are unabashedly obsessed with reading and watching crime stories. Obsessed with murder, actually—which is a little weird on the face of things. I’m new enough to the scene that sometimes I’ll hear something mystery-centric and it will clang against everyday reality.

Like the Malice Domestic session this year titled “Iron Coffin Boy.” The description in the schedule read: David Hunt and Deb Hull-Walski, Forensic Anthropologists, talk about how researchers solved the mystery of a boy in an iron coffin discovered by utility workers. (Feel free to bring lunch and eat during the presentation.)


People say “obsession” like it’s a bad thing. Maybe they’re thinking of “compulsion,” something you’re forced to do, something you can’t help but do (the characters in my books have a few of these). Or maybe we’ve just come to believe that anything that is felt so strongly must be out of our control, unseemly. Not ladylike. Don’t get me started on why “guilty” pleasures only seem to occur to women.

But the mystery community has given me so much, not least among them permission to love obsessively anything I darn well please. Here are just a few of the little pretty things I’m an absolute sucker for.

Needing no explanation: French macarons
Not macaroons. Those have coconut. Macarons are, as my best friend and I decided, made of crushed baby angel wings and heaven. Fine, it’s almond powder, but they still mix in the heaven at the end.

YouTube videos of children saying amazingly funny or adult things
Remember the ice bucket challenge? The only one I ever watched more than once—the only one I ever watched willingly, let’s say—was the little English girl with the accent so thick you almost don’t hear her when she swears like a sailor.

My other favorite is the little girl who just wants to buckle her own seatbelt, thank you, and you should worry about yourself. I don’t have kids, but if either of those two came up for adoption, I’d be first in line.

The things I loved as a kid and still love without apology
You know about Muppets. I won’t Muppet-splain you. But I even love Muppet’s Treasure Island and I have no shame.

I also feel no reluctance to let you know that I am in fact a Goonie and that I still have the Winnie-the-Pooh I received upon my birth. Now I make sure all the little Goonies in my life get a Winnie-the-Pooh bear upon their birth. The world needs more nerds.

The under-recognized humorous mystery Heads You Lose
I’ve had about six separate conversations about this book since April. The first two happened on the same day, when I was in New York for [blatant brag] the Mary Higgins Clark Award and Edgar Awards events. This meta-fiction mystery is solid amateur-sleuth mystery despite its wacky premise—that co-authors Lisa Lutz and David Hayward’s friendship unravels in the notes as they take turns writing the story. The book is actually a pretty great mystery-writing how-to, by accident. It’s hilarious, and yet not enough people found it. If you like it, I like you.

Humor and wit in mysteries is underrated, I think. I give Catriona McPherson all the credit for showing us how enjoyable a witty turn of phrase can be.

Candy-colored nail polish despite how few times I paint my nails
Is it a girl thing? The collection of nail polish I have would rival just about anyone’s, and yet I only get my nails painted during one season a year, often at a salon. You know, where they have their own polish?

I love OPI’s names and collections. I had to have some of the Muppet-inspired colors, of course. But I also love the interesting colors of the lacquers from Butter London. And now you will, too.

Randy Pausch’s “last lecture” video oh God here come the tears
What is it about videos you know will make you cry? We’re gluttons for it. Don’t get me near a super-cut of videos where kids or dogs welcome home returning soldiers. I cannot.

Professor and (now deceased) husband and father Randy Pausch had already been sick for a while when he was invited to give a “last lecture.” That’s what university faculty members give before they retire. Usually. But Pausch was racing against a different clock. He knows it, and so does everyone else in the room. The video is an hour-plus long and I’ve watched it, oh, too many times. It’s amazing, truly. What I love about it, other than the moment where everything comes together at the end, is how much joy Pausch puts into it. You can bet he didn’t have “guilty” pleasures, just regular ones.

Agent Carter, the TV show you should all watch so I can keep watching it
I’ve never seen Mad Men. The one episode of Games of Thrones I watched telegraphed very handily how much incest viewers were in store for (a lot). The Walking Dead sounds really gross—literally, it sounds moist. Most zeitgeist TV has passed me by, but if you all ruin this for me by not watching Agent Carter, I will watch ahead on any show I can find and post spoilers on Facebook, Twitter, every-dang-where. Agent Carter #loveforever.

A Moscow Mule with extra mule—just kidding, extra lime
I’m drinking one right now.

Look, I know there are real things in this world to worry about, and I do worry about them. I work and vote and give to solemn, well-meaning charities. I write murder mysteries where society’s ills are, if not center stage, just outside the spotlight. I’m also obsessed with taking my ecological footprint down a bit. (My husband, in regards to our recycling bin, calls me “Captain Planet.”) But life is short. It’s a blink. In the time we have, let’s not fight who we are and what we like, and cut the people around us some slack for liking what they like. We’re all nerds in our own way, and there should be more of us.

HANK: Isn’t she wonderful? I am howling, and clicking like mad.  I love the video of all the billions of quacking ducks, too. Google it.   And I love Tyrant, even though it is ridiculous.  How about you, Reds? Tell us some obsessions!

Lori Rader-Day’s debut mystery, The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014), received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her second mystery, Little Pretty Things, is out in July. Her short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago with her husband and spoiled dog and is active in the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter and a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers.

Little Pretty Things
Juliet Townsend is used to losing. Back in high school, she lost every track team race to her best friend, Madeleine Bell. Ten years later, she’s still running behind, stuck in a dead-­‐end job cleaning rooms at the Mid-­‐Night Inn, a one-­‐star motel that attracts only the cheap or the desperate. But what life won’t provide, Juliet takes.
Then one night, Maddy checks in. Well-‐dressed, flashing a huge diamond ring, and as beautiful as ever, Maddy has it all. By the next morning, though, Juliet is no longer jealous of Maddy—she’s the chief suspect in her murder.

Reviews for Little Pretty Things
“Rader-­‐Day again proves herself (after The Black Hour, 2014) a deft manipulator of dark atmosphere, witty dialogue, and complex, charismatic characters. Highly recommended for psychological thriller groupies, especially those who walk on the literary side of the genreand favor books like Tana French’s Faithful Place (2010) and Cornelia Read’s Madeline Dare series.” ―STARRED Review, Booklist
“Once again, Chicago author Rader-­‐Day delivers a breathless psychological thriller with a killer first line, an irresistible mystery, and lean chapters soaked with suspense. Comparisons to Tana French (A Secret Place) and Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train) have become all too common in the mystery genre, but with two consistently great novels now under her belt, Rader-­‐Day has proved their equal in crafting taut, literary mysteries with fascinating heroines.” —BookPage
“Rader-­‐Day...writes absorbingly.” —Kirkus Reviews
“The writing style allows the mystery to unfold slowly, giving readers time to swallow everything they’ve learned, making the surprising end and reveal of the culprit more shocking and full of impact. It’s a great read for the mystery lover who prefers to leave the suspense for the final pages. Compelling. Page-­‐Turner.” —RT Book Reviews
“Pack this one in your beach bag and get your book clubs ready -­‐ I think we’ve found this year’s hottest summer title!” —Rachel Kray, Overdrive Book Bytes
Lori Rader-­‐Day is available for interviews. Use the form at


  1. I love that you appreciate your obsessions, Lori. I laughed and sniffled and cheered through your list and I'm glad that kids still say the darndest things. You're absolutely right, life's too short not to enjoy some things with abandon.
    I so appreciate and enjoy this blog.
    Personal obsessions? Books and dark chocolate and really good coffee and grandbabies . . . .

  2. Great post, Lori. I loved the Black Hour and look forward to enjoying the new story.

    My obsessions? Dark chocolate, of course. Finding out new and interesting poisons (see being a mystery writer). Maximizing my MPG in my Prius. Yes, I'm one of those annoying drivers. ;^) Gazing at my darling adult sons when they're home, and when they are home and cooking. Antique New England houses. And red wine, of course.

  3. Welcome, Lori! Great post! You know my husband has performed with Sesame Street and the Muppets, right? He did Bear in the Big Blue House on Disney Channel, among other stuff.

  4. Yes, Joan, really good coffee. It makes such a difference. Really good red wine, too.
    Once I googled "cute kids singing Frozen." Yes, I admit it.

  5. Lori, LOVE your obsessions. And next conference at the bar, I want the seat next to you. I'll have whatever you're drinking (!)

    My obsessions? Anything raspberry flavored. Weird colored cars (I count them to amuse myself on long drives).

    I'm bummed out to discover that Agent Carter is not available through Netflix. I stuck it in my queue but availability is listed as "unknown." Cue Twilight Zone music.

  6. Lately, I'm obsessed with Lori Rader-Day! If any of you haven't read her Anthony-Award nominated debut, The Black Hour, you really must. But her new novel, Little Pretty Things, is a future classic in the best sense of the word. Drop everything and read this book folks.

    For any that missed it, here is my proudly spoiler-free review of the novel:

    And yes, I am clearly obsessed with crime fiction in all its formats. I love the stories, I love the suspense, but most of all, I love the writers. Three cheers for crime fiction!

  7. Thank you, Kristopher! ANd we love that you;re obsessed.

    Yeah, have you noticed that all cars are some version of gray?

  8. Wonderful post lori--and your reviews are to die for! And Kristopher's accolades, too. I'm putting your books on my list.

    Obsessions? Key West, of course. Lunch. My darling pets. And launching FATAL RESERVATIONS. (yes, obsessed!)

  9. Hi, Lori! I've had The Black Hour on the TBR list for a while. Now that you have a second, I really ought to get it in gear. So much to read. Sigh.

    You covered some of my obsessions. Another one - The Princess Bride. I will watch that movie any time it is on, even though I can quote the entire thing. I seem to have a thing for looking at innocent objects and immediately going to crime (must be the crime writer in me).

    I don't get the nail polish thing, either. I also love to buy fun, wacky colors. Right now, I've got French tips because it's easy. I do my nails and two days later, I'm peeling off the polish because it's chipped. And I don't do them myself often enough to justify the basket of various polishes in my bathroom. But I adore looking at the colors!

  10. The quiet car not he train! which is where I am headed right now..more to come later this afternoon!

    SO--you guys understand blue nail polish?

  11. Hank, absolutely! I even have blue nail polish. Light and dark. Sparkly and matte.

    I just never use it.

  12. Lori, your obsessions are very cool ones! More later. My plane is about to take off, so I'll post more later. I do have to say that your new book is amazing, and my review is on Good trade and my blog.

  13. I wear turquoise nail polish on my toes all summer, but never any polish of any kind on my fingernails. Actually, I guess the color turquoise is another of my obsessions.

  14. Lori, I don't think we've even met yet, and I want to spend the weekend with you, watching MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL and doing our nails (while drinking Moscow Mules and eating macarons, of course.

    My most recent obsession, conceived while reading this: getting my hands on a copy of LITTLE PRETTY THINGS!

  15. Lori, after reading The Black Hour I'll read anything else you write.

    My own obsessions include (sadly) Facebook, dark chocolate, politics, gardening (I recently became a Master Gardener), and of course, reading--mostly mysteries. And my ten-year old grandson, who's growing up to be such an interesting person.

  16. HEADS YOU LOSE was wonderful! I laughed so hard at the notes, I could hardly wait to get through a chapter so I could read the notes going back and forth between the authors.

  17. I LOVE Muppets Treasure Island!
    If you like a Moscow Mile, have you tried a Dark and Stormy? Same idea, but with golden rum.
    And My Cousin Vinny. Fabulous stuff!

  18. You had me at HEADS YOU LOSE, Lori. Enjoyed this post immensely--except for the fact that I'm guesting here tomorrow and now I'm going to be a huge letdown for everyone. :)

  19. Hey Lori! Great to see you on Jungle Reds! We need to talk Muppets sometime soon. Animal is my favorite. These days, thought, I am obsessing about Orange is the new black. I'm a little behind on that one...

  20. My obsessions? Finding great new authors--and here's another one! My favorite kind of mystery is one that includes wit and humor. Lori, you've just moved up to the head of the pile (although, maybe HEADS YOU LOSE will get there first!).

  21. Big "yes" to blue nail polish! Every summer, that's my little toe festish thang.

    OK, writer geek here, but one of my new obsessions (and it may not last) is Scrivener. I'm just learning it -- who uses Scrivener?

  22. Terrified of scrivener ! I have to learn something else new? I still pay some bills with checks, just saying.

    I AM obsessed with dictating emails on my phone. I love it every time and can hardly type them anymore!

  23. Lisa, I use Scrivener. Switched from Word years ago and won't go back.

  24. I'm such a late adopter, Hank -- truly. I still love using an old-timey paper day planner. And I still pay bills with checks too. So it's kind of strange that I'm into Scrivener. But I must streamline my own writing process, and I think Scrivener may help with that.

    Mary, what's your favorite cool and helpful Scrivener tool?

  25. Lisa, I use Scrivener. Love it. It works very well with my very disorganized writing process.

    I am obsessed with Agent Carter, Lori. I have it saved on my DVR for emergencies.

    Also, coffee. And planning my next season wardrobe.

  26. Scrivener! Of COURSE I should have included that as an obsession. LOVE it. Truly. Hank, we'll give you a tutorial next chance we get (and I pay my bills with paper checks, too). I'm always flipping back and forth to my Series Characters folder (which you can do without leaving the app, of course) to check someone's height or mannerisms or street. Invaluable.

    Oh, sorry, Lori, didn't mean to hijack the thread!

  27. I love the Corkboard - it's like a virtual storyboard. Love how you can easily move scenes. Love the Characters sheets - as Edith said, easy way to remember physical description (I actually got in trouble on one story because I forgot to check it). Also love the status stamps. It helps me stay focused on what I've done and what is yet to be done.

    Yes, Hank. We'll have to give you a tutorial.

    I must also now apologize to Lori. Will it help to say I also loved Agent Carter and I'm glad to see another season in the works?

  28. I agree, Agent Carter rocks! (You rock too, Lori.)

    Thanks for the tips Mary and Edith!

  29. I've been thinking about collecting lately, because one theme in my new book is what happens when a collection becomes an obsession. I honestly thought I didn't have any collections, and then it turns out I've got about a dozen of them! But none feels like an obsession, that I MUST have. Of course, I already do -- no must about it.

    But if we're talking what Dr. Pausch taught us should not be called "guilty pleasures," I also must have red polish on my toes and have a standing (ha!) monthly pedicure appointment. But I've never had a manicure and haven't put polish on my fingernails since, I don't know, a slumber party at age 10.

    I read the Washington Post online and must read "Date Lab."

    I must wear earrings. I have realized I've forgotten them and gone back home to get them. Stopped to buy a pair once.

    And yes, dark chocolate and wine, and I still pay by check sometimes, too!

    Fun post -- thanks, Lori and Hank!


  30. Sorry, Reddians and Lori, testing something here. Will my picture finally appear next to this comment?

  31. Hee, hee. Took me about five years, but I finally figured that out.

  32. I LOVE the worry about yourself girl. LOVE HER!!!!! And I am heading to the bookstore tomorrow to buy Heads You Lose AND Little Pretty Things!!

  33. In NYC! And everyone at Thrillerfest says hi (I have already lined up some fabulous guests!)

    Head you Lose is going into my pile instantly.

    LOri, thank you for a wonderful post!

    (And I love that some of you still use checks, too.)

    AND! Interesting that no one admitted to being obsessed with their call phone Has that gone from an obsession to simply a necessity?.

  34. Was away a lot of the day and just got to read all your lovely posts! Thank you! So we have books, chocolate, nail polish, Agent Carter, and Princess Bride. Yes. Yes, this is a good life we lead. Thank you all for great comments! It was a pleasure being on Jungle Reds today. And poor Brad Parks tomorrow will have to be extra funny. I think he can handle it.

  35. Great post. Nothing to say except yes, Hank, she is wonderful!

  36. Love your posts, but love YOU more, Hank. You know. I do hope I am still "here" when What You See is published. I'd hate to miss it, and I don't think they will provide us with book in the great beyond ;) <3