Review: Six Memos for the Next Millennium

In 1985, Italian novelist Italo Calvino delivered a series of lectures at Harvard University. His topic? The future of the novel. Six Memos for the Next Millennium explores five topics relevant to the novelist of today—lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity—and an unwritten discussion on consistency.

Lightness

For this first essay, Calvino draws inspiration from the story of Perseus and Medusa and the play of heaviness and lightness the story contains. The sight of Medusa induces petrifaction, yet the droplets of blood the drip from her severed head produce the Pegasus, an ultimate symbol of lightness. He then juxtaposes two Roman writers, Lucretius and Ovid, the prior of whom explores the atomic nature of reality, the seemingly solid world “composed of unalterable atoms” (11) while the latter concerns himself with external forms that change at a whim—from woman to lotus tree, from Arachne to spider—because of the mythological common substance inside all things. One author finds lightness through scientific inquiry, the other through the fables of myth. He also juxtaposes two Italian poets, Guido Cavalcanti whose vagueness he prefers over Dante Alighieri’s concreteness, comparing a phrase written by Cavalcanti and then altered by Dante: “e bianca neve scender senza venti” (and white snow falling on a windless day) which becomes in Dante’s Inferno “come di neve in alpe sanza vento” (like snow on mountains on a windless day) (17). The distinction of mountain versus air is minute but important to Calvino. The final image, one Shakespeare returns to again and again, is the moon, that object of light that is ever changing and conceals as much as it reveals. Calvino believes literature shouldn’t accurately represent the weight of the world but should instead serve as a magic carpet, as Kafka’s flying bucket or, to return to the original image, as the Pegasus, taking us up and away into the realm of the imagination.

Quickness

This essay begins with a discussion of an old French legend: Charlemagne falling in love with a German girl and becoming heartbroken after her death. Calvino discusses several versions, but concludes that the most straightforward is the best. It takes us from A to B in the most interesting way, implying what is uninteresting and implying through juxtaposition of scenes additional causation and meaning. This is not to say all writers should just skip to the end. “The story is a horse,” he writes, “a means of transport, with a particular gait—trot or gallop—depending on the route to be traveled” (47). He concludes this talk with another story, this time of Chinese origin. In it, a gifted artist, Zhuang Zhou, is asked by the king to draw a crab. He requests five years for the task, then another five years. He requires space and servants. The king obliges and obliges. At the end of the tenth year, “Zhuang Zhou took his brush and in an instant, with a single flourish, drew a crab, the most perfect crab anyone had ever seen” (65). I sometimes become a slave to the act of writing, to producing pages, when I should be conceptualizing what exactly it should look like.

Exactitude

“Literature—by which I mean literature that responds to these demands—is the Promised Land in which language becomes what it truly ought to be.” (68)

Visibility

More than any of the others, this talk deals with the nature of artistic inspiration, the realm of both the muses and the Holy Spirit, of psychology and ideology, of Apollo and Dionysus. In the way Calvino covers both Christianity and Greek Mythology, Dante and Felix the Cat, in “Visibility” does he most remind me of Nietzsche. This discussion could very easily be read as a response or addendum to The Birth of Tragedy, which juxtaposes two varieties of artistic inspiration—Apollo’s orderly rationality and Dionysus’ passionate irrationality. In the end, he finds both impulses in Honore de Balzac, who mid-career “rejects the literature of the fantastic, which for him has meant art as mystical knowledge of everything, and he undertakes the minute description of the world as it is, still convinced he is expressing the secret of life” (119). The degree to which a novelist leans toward Giordano Bruno’s spiritus phantsticus (fantastic spirit), with its infinite well of imagination, or Balzac’s Comedie humaine (human comedy), with its near infinite reality of details, determines how they will attempt to capture the universe: through possibility or through probability. Either way, the individual author is creating a new novel and offering it to the body of literature, bridging “exteriority and interiority, world and self, experience and imagination.” Calvino finds his ultimate truth not in the novel as isolated construction but The Novel as shared idea, a universal body of novels. “These pages of signs,” he concludes, “as dense as grains of sand, represent the variegated spectacle of the world upon a surface that is always the same and always different, like dunes driven by the desert wind” (121).

Multiplicity

Drawing from two engineers-turned-writers, Carlo Emilio Gadda (Italian) and Robert Musil (German), Calvino demonstrates how two writers with similar backgrounds can develop opposing philosophies and approaches to the novel. Gadda represents a “tension between rational exactitude and frenetic deformation” while Musil’s writing is “fluid, ironic, controlled” (133). Both inhabit the same space, where mathematical rationality meets the roughness of human affairs, but in completely different ways. Here we find perhaps the most literary references to contemporary and near-contemporary authors, from Flaubert and Proust to Borges and Georges Perec. In the tight constraints of Oulipo Calvino finds his answer to the future of literature, quoting Oulipo co-founder Raymond Queneau, “Le classique qui ecrit sa tragedie en observant un certain nombre de regles qu’il connait est plus libre que le poete qui ecrit ce qui lui passe par la tete et qui est l’esclave d’autres regles qu’il ignore.” (The classical author who is writing his tragedy follows a certain number of familiar rules is freer than the poet who writes down whatever comes into his head and who is a slave to other rules of which he is unaware.) (150-51). Or as Frost put it, “writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net.” While there is certainly freedom in exploration and experimentation with forms, abandonment of all constraints is itself a kind of imprisonment.

Consistency

Above the door in my classroom hangs a sign, one foot by three feet, which says simply “Consistency.” I put it there my second year and have been striving toward that ideal ever since. Ironically, the closer I get to it the more I am repelled from it. Every class, every student, every day poses a different set of variables. If I were truly consistent, I would no doubt miss countless opportunities. So it also seems fitting that instead of ending with the last of the six essays, Calvino leaves that talk unwritten. In a sense, consistency as an ideal would contradict all that he laid out before it. If the novels of Balzac from Le Chef-d’oeuvre Inconnu (The Unknown Masterpiece) to his Comedie Humaine teach us anything it is that an author is not a monolith and shouldn’t strive to be one. Perhaps Calvino left off the final topic because he knew that the natural variety within each of us is far greater than any consistency imposed from without. Or he just forgot.

Mystery Review: The Madness of Crowds

Taking it’s name from Charles Mackay’s classic study of crowd psychology, Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds, Louise Penny’s most recent mystery takes us back to Three Pines and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache as he first protects a controversial statistician and then must investigate a murder following her visit.

Abigail Robinson is a visiting Professor of Statistics ready to give a lecture at a nearby university. However, her talk is cut short by gun fire. Why? One reason is certainly the content of Robinson’s lecture: forced euthanasia for the infirm and the elderly. One thing a worldwide pandemic proved, at least in Robinson’s eyes, was that the death of the sick and aged saved the country of Canada a lot of money. What if the nation took the tragedy as a model of public health moving forward? What if unavoidable death became mandatory? The slogan that gave so many hope during the pandemic, ça va bien aller, all shall be well, soon becomes a sinister mantra. If we kill all who aren’t well, then all who remain shall be well.

Inspector Gamache, his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and their team soon uncover an intricate web of deceit, torture, and murder, and it seems that half of Three Pines is involved or at least knows a small piece of the puzzle.

While both engaging and timely (the spurious correlations made by Robinson are some of the very same we’ve heard about the pandemic in general), the plot does tend toward the overly complex at times. I have often wondered if contemporary mysteries have a convolution problem, as if the only way contemporary mystery writers can create an unsolvable crime is to add rope after rope, coil after coil, until they have a proverbial Gordian knot. I won’t give away the resolution of The Madness of Crowds, but suffice it to say, it requires a lot of people to be guilty of a lot of tangentially related things. Rather than an elegant reveal and a motive we should’ve seen from the beginning, we end with Gamache untying a number of threads I wasn’t sure should’ve been tied together in the first place. I had the right suspect fairly early on, but the motive took a lot of uncovering to understand.

That being said, I enjoy Gamache and the folks of Three Pines, and Penny did provide a good meditation on our times. One thing the pandemic has proved, to me at least, is that the pro-life movement continues to struggle toward consistency. With this mystery, Penny offers an interesting take on the concept.

Buy it on Amazon

On Publishing Stories

I received my first print publication of a short story last month—six months after my debut novel came out. Read “The Opening of a New Spy Novel by an Author You Love” online at Calliope on the Web. Fans of post-modernism, especially the work of Italo Calvino, will find much to enjoy.

I was always told to focus on the short form before venturing into writing a novel. However, the short story has frequently eluded me. While novels and feature films feel intuitive, with their large and climactic narrative arcs, their dynamic and wide-open characters, short stories have felt less straight-forward. Where should one start a story? Where should one end it?

I recently read an Oulipo piece, “How to Tell a Story,” by Jacques Bens. In it, a writer character named Matthew fails to teach a class of college students the art of story telling. Afterward, he wanders around Paris contemplating what he should’ve said and as he does so, he concocts an “example” story, featuring a young and beautiful barrel organist. At the end of his wandering, the organist, now flesh and blood, visits him in his office, telling him, the author, that the hero of his story now wants to marry her, which seems a bit fast. Then she adds, “I must be missing an element somewhere.” Matthew responds, “Yes, something is missing, that much is clear. But where? And what?”

I often feel just as Matthew does after finishing writing my own stories, and even more often after reading those of the greats. While some of my favorites wrote primarily short stories—Amy Hempel, Flannery O’Connor, and Donald Barthelme among them—I invariably turn to a guide of some sort, be it critics or the authors themselves. Whereas with novels I almost never do. I read it. I comprehend it. I move on. Even when I do turn to a guide for the purposes of teaching a novel, the guide does not suddenly reveal the meaning I missed. Usually, it merely helps me form the right question or locate the proper page number. What is left out of the story is almost always included in the novel. Why is this? I do not know.

Some things I’ve found helpful over the years are the writing exercises in 3AM Epiphany, George Saunders’ wonderful analysis of Russian stories, A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, and a recent series of instructional videos from Reedsy, entitled “Short Fiction Deep Dive.” I hope these help you in your own journey and that they save you some of the time I spent puzzling and shaking my head.

Christmas 2021

Friends,

If COVID in 2020 was a roaring lion that broke down our door, maimed us, and left us collecting disability, COVID in 2021 has been a lamb braying incessantly. At least for us.

Last year, we continued to wear masks and practice social distancing in our respective schools, but with the advent of vaccines and boosters, life has largely returned to normal in our little corner of the world. In fact, this year marks our tenth year of marriage—and it’s been the fullest one yet.

Margot has gone from babbling to speaking, though often I suspect she’s less interested in communicating and more in shocking us. I’ve convinced the children that if you break the law, you go to jail and in jail one must eat bugs. The other day, after Charlie urged me to “go faster daddy!” to beat an on-coming train, I explained about the law again. “Should I break the law?” I asked. Charlie, whose current nemesis is any word that starts with the letter “L,” responded, “No, don’t break the wall.” Then, with perfect timing, Margot muttered, “I break wall. I eat bugs.” Then she stared down the railroad tracks as far as she could see and rolled a pack of Lucky Strikes into her shirt sleeve.

Thankfully, she’s also developing her emotional intelligence, which should balance out her criminalistic tendencies. Although, she is still working out the nuances. When she does something wrong and I get mad, she frequently asks, “Daddy, you mean?” No, I say. Then she brightens up. “Daddy, you happy?” Then I tell her no, not happy either, and she cocks her head to the side. “You mean?” She’s also learned to open doors, so now nothing is safe. We’ll hear her roaming the house like a velociraptor, her long curved talon clicking eerily against the hardwood floors, and then she’ll appear with my wallet, a pair of scissors, or the circular pin from the fire extinguisher. At least, I hope it was from the fire extinguisher… She’s become so adept at manipulating doors that she recently locked our daycare provider, Ms. Debbie, out of the house.

Charlie started preschool this year—and immediately started speech. After his first session, he told us excitedly that our neighbor was “Luh, Luh, Lucky.” R’s were also giving him some troubles so that his name sort of came out “Chawie Miwwa.” The dropped R’s didn’t cause too many miscommunications, other than people thinking he was from Boston. However, they did garner some unwanted attention at the grocery store when Charlie started belting out a song about his favorite Disney character, Forky. Grandmothers and priests turned with unbelieving horror; middle school boys with unrestrained glee; and our cart turned right back out of the grocery store. He also started the year with both limited letter recognition and unlimited confidence. When asked to spell his name, he replied boldly, “C-H-A-L-T-W!” What about his sister Bonnie’s name? “B-T-2-خ.” I didn’t even realize he knew Arabic! Numbers, on the other hand, seem to be his forte. When Susan introduced him to the coding game her classes had been working on for weeks, he immediately caught up with them, then asked, “Can I do more?” The next day I found him fiddling with our home computer, the screen a mass of numbers like a scene from The Matrix. Then yesterday, he came home from preschool with a pamphlet tucked in his backpack. It looked like recruiting material to me. Then I saw the NSA seal. “What’s this?” I asked. He shrugged. When I pointed to the letters, he rattled them off happily, “T-C-O. That spells dinosaur.” Then he chased Margot around the kitchen table, him a T-Rex, her a compsognathus.

Bonnie started kindergarten and has become our little reader. It’s exciting, miraculous, and terrifying. Finally, she can partake in the joy of reading! What magic! But also, how is she old enough to be reading?? How old must that make me? The first book she read was about a puppy, a little girl, and a fair amount of sitting—they sit, they sat, they sat over here, they sat over there—but it was still a book! Now she’s reading all sorts of things, deciphering words on her own, undaunted by the absurdities of English spelling, whose rules swing wildly and illogically from French to Anglo-Saxon to drunk to the work of a hoarder—who put all these extra letters in “daughter”? What were they, drunk?

She’s also started writing little stories. I don’t mean to sound patronizing. They are physically small. Mostly, they’re on the backs of the 3×5 index cards I use to plot out my own writing. When I read over her stories, I make sure to highlight what she’s doing well before launching into my critique. “This dragon bully is a great source of external tension,” I’ll say. “Uh-huh,” she’ll reply. “But your pegasus protagonist is missing subtextual motivation.” Then she’ll cock her head and say, “Daddy, I asked how to spell kangaroo.”

This school year, Susan traded in the trauma and bewilderment of first year teaching for the far less eventful exhaustion and frustration of second year teaching. Every day I’m reminded how much funnier, more interesting, and more important elementary school is than high school as Susan tells me all the amazing things she’s doing with her kiddos. Still, I wouldn’t trade her. I like teaching picture-less books too much.

In January Susan set out to read one hundred books, and she’s very nearly reached her goal. It’s been inspiring to see how many books she can devour. One downside is she keeps reading amazing books that I must also read as soon as she’s done. While she suffers from abibliophobia, or the fear of running out of reading materials, I have the opposing problem: stackcrashaphobia, or the fear of being crushed to death by my to-be-read pile.

Also this year, I published my debut novel, achieving a goal I set for myself some twenty years ago. How Everything Turns Away follows an FBI agent who must untangle an attack at a private school. If you Google my name, about 1.2 million people who are not me pop up. So, I went with a nom de plume: Steven J. Kolbe. The week the book came out, the most frequent comment I received from friends was that they couldn’t find my book. They, of course, were searching for How (something or other) by Steven Miller. I repeatedly explained that I had used a pseudonym. “Why?” they asked. “So people could find it more easily.” You live and you learn.

I’m currently working on the sequel and just finished the first draft thanks to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I also convinced one of my classes to participate and am proud to say five of them reached their writing goals—one wrote 15,000 words! I printed off fancy certificates on cardstock and only misspelled one of their titles…It was a good lesson in proofreading.

This year we purchased a minivan. It had to happen eventually. Because it is large and gray, we named it Leviathan, the mythological sea monster from the Hebrew Bible. Susan assumed the kids would call him “Levi” for short, but they all faithful say “Leviathan” or “Viafen” or “Lvthvllen.” We planned to take a trip to visit different state capitals this summer. I had a route all plotted out, then a funeral came up in Alliance, Nebraska, so we re-routed. Our stops included Denver, Cheyenne, Pierre, and Lincoln. At each city, we visited the capitol building where the kids excitedly ran up the long stone steps and then asked where we were going for lunch. By the time we reached our third capitol building, Margot was spotting them before we even did. She’d spy the dome rising above the more modern buildings and announce, “Capitol Boop-boop!” Ironically, we did not make it to Topeka. Maybe next summer.

We also stopped at Wall Drug Store, the Badlands and, of course, “Mt. Mushmore.” Walking up to that landmark on the morning of Fourth of July felt like making a religious pilgrimage. Clad in our red, white, and blue, we found the Kansas plaque and flag and explained the importance our state plays in contributing to the greater—“What? No, we aren’t in Kansas right now…We live in Kansas…No, our house isn’t Kansas…Yes, I realize that’s confusing. We’re in Nebraska…Sorry, your mother is right, we’re in South Dakota.” Well, we tried to explain it. Then we ate breakfast on the observation deck, those four foundational presidents watching over us, and life couldn’t have been more perfect if I’d written it for myself.

We hope your year has been full of love, new experiences, and hope. May God bless you in the new year!

Merry Christmas, The Miwwas

Us with tree

Jólabókaflóð

For the past few years, my wife and I have participated in the Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflóð, or Christmas Book Flood. I don’t know where I first came across this tradition, but the internet articles I read universally agreed that it involves gifting books to your loved ones on Christmas Eve so they can spend the evening reading. What could be better?

However, a question nagged at me each year as we picked out books for Jólabókaflóð, the question of authenticity. Is this a real tradition in Iceland? Or is this obscure, out-of-practice, or even mythological, like the idea that the Inuits have 400 words for snow? Apparently, the practice began during WWII when most materials were rationed. Most materials but not paper.

My internet research turned up mostly American’s offering boiler-plate descriptions, and while they all confirmed what I had read, I still didn’t know if this practice really went back to WWII rationing, if it had continued to the present, or if it was a large or a niche part of Icelandic society.

Therefore, I decided to start contacting actual Icelanders. With the use of my email address, Google search, and Google translate, I set out to find the true nature of Jólabókaflóð.

My first stop was the library in Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital and largest city. They referred me to Félag Íslenskra Bókaútgefenda, or the Icelandic Publishers Association. Within no time, I found myself trading emails with Heiðar Ingi Svansson, President of the association.

According to Svansson, Jólabókaflóð isn’t just a part of Icelandic culture, it’s integral to the country’s publishing industry. November and December alone account for 42% of the country’s book sales each year. When you add October, that percentage jumps to 56%! Its impact doesn’t stop with sales.

“This tradition and its season are the highlight and a climax for the whole book cultural sector in Iceland,” Svansson said. “That means that many new titles are published during this time and the effect of that is a lot of book-related events…authors signings and readings in coffeehouses and bars, publishing launch parties, etc.”

Were its origins as dramatic as the American articles and social media posts I’d read?

“This tradition began during World War II once Iceland had gained its independence from Denmark in 1944,” he confirmed. “Because of bad economy and depression, there were…very strict restrictions on many things you could import. And that limited very much the selection of commodity goods that you could choose as Christmas gifts. But fortunately, paper was one of the few commodities not rationed during the war. So paper was imported to produce books that were written and then printed in Iceland. By doing that, Icelanders shared their love of books even more as other types of gifts were in very short supply.”

Being an American, I am always cautious when it comes to cultural appropriation. This was another stumbling block between me and the full adoption of the practice. What would the Icelanders think of me bestowing books upon my loved ones, me with not a drop of Nordic blood?? I decided to ask one.

Svansson, for one, didn’t even realize Americans were beginning to practice Jólabókaflóð.

“But personally, I’m very happy to hear and I find it both very surprising and interesting…maybe we should put some more emphasis on spreading the good word more on an international level.”

Iceland holds two important events each year around this time.

“The first one is the Icelandic Literary Awards [which our association founded]. Its patron is the President of Iceland,” Svansson explained. “The prize was formed in 1989 and has ever since played a very important role in our Book and literary culture…books are nominated each year in three groups with a nomination ceremony 1st of December and then the winners are introduced in late January the year after.”

The second event is a book fair in late November.

“Publishers and authors introduce and sell new titles. It is accompanied by a diverse literature program for kids and adults. Unfortunately, we had to cancel this event last year and this year as well. Instead, there were some book-related online events.”

After a week of research and going straight to the source, I’m happy to report that Jólabókaflóð is alive and well, and we Americans are officially invited!

Need some ideas on what to give this year? These mysteries are a perfect fit!

Jólabókaflóð Mysteries

Jólabókaflóð, or Christmas Book Flood, is a literary tradition a number of American readers have been borrowing over the last few years. It centers on buying books for friends and loved ones and giving them on Christmas Eve. In this way, you can share your love of books and spend the evening reading by the Christmas tree, fireplace, or wherever you spend this important day.

If you’d like to know more about the tradition, check out my post in which I speak with the president of the Icelandic Publishers Association, Heiðar Ingi Svansson.

These titles are sure to keep you reading late into the night this Jólabókaflóð!

Rescue teams are sent to Lónsöræf in search of a group of missing people. What was their mission in the wilderness during the winter? Why did they leave the little shelter they had, poorly equipped and vulnerable? At the same time, strange events are happening at the radar station in Stokksnes. And on the headland there is a hole in the sea rock that attracts people… Not everything is as it seems here, whether it’s a bloodbath in a snow-covered landscape far from human settlements, a radar disturbance – or a child’s shoe that appears unexpectedly decades after it disappears. The Prey by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is an amazing story that makes the reader’s hair stand on end. Bráðin received Blóðdropann 2021 as the best Icelandic crime story of the year 2020. Buy an Icelandic copy today! Don’t read Icelandic? Try Gallows Rock.

Life was not always a dance of roses.

Tony is a young man who has always been an outsider in life. He grew up with a sick and drunk mother who had once been Iceland’s main star of hope in ballet. When her dreams of fame in the dance world come to naught, she tries to pass them on to her son with cruel methods – and dire consequences. In Öskjuhlíð there is a body that has clearly been lying there for a long time. The investigative lawyer Valdimar examines the case and gets Ylfa to join him, who is taking his first steps within the police. It soon becomes apparent that a brutal murderer is on the loose and that not everything is as it seems. Thriller writer Oskar Gudmundsson broke through with his first book Hilmar, followed by books Blood angel and Commandments. They were well received by readers and critics. Hilma received the Blood Drop in 2016 as the best crime story of the previous year and was nominated for the Glass Key as the best Nordic crime story. Get a copy in Icelandic today! Don’t read Icelandic? Try The Commandments.

The disappearance of four asylum seekers from a hostel has been announced and Hörður Grímsson is involved in the case. The search for the men is carried out in secret, as the police do not want the public to worry. If people can not be safe up here in little Iceland, where then? Get an Icelandic copy today!

First-grade teacher Desiree Tucker is on the brink of winter holidays with her new, romantic boyfriend when danger encroaches on her joy. Ominous, untraceable texts buzz on her cell phone. Terrifying secret Santa gifts show up for her in the classroom. As the stalker moves closer to the prey, Desiree doesn’t know who she can trust. Her charming new man is a prime suspect. Is he a deadly stalker? If not him, who? What can she learn from the legend of the snow kiss cookie? Just when she’s starting to believe in magic again, she finds herself fighting for her life. Just the right length for a snuggly Christmas Eve read while snacking on snow kiss cookies (recipe is included). Buy on Amazon!

When Annie Barkley discovers a boy living in the attic of her cookie shop, she’s stunned—and oddly elated. She can almost believe the universe is giving her back the infant son she lost eleven years ago. Annie senses that something bad happened to the boy, but he won’t talk. All she knows is that he’s terrified of being found. When her long-ago crush, police captain Sam Stern, stops by to inquire about a missing boy, Annie says she hasn’t seen him. Big mistake. Because that lie might cost her more than a romance with Sam. It also leaves her vulnerable to a ruthless pursuer, one who’s determined to silence the boy for good. This novella is a tale of love and intrigue that will keep readers up late on Christmas Eve. Buy it here today!

A heart attack sends detective Rory Naysmith reeling. Too young to retire, he accepts a position in small-town Winterset, Nebraska. Handed an unsolved truck hijacking case, Rory sets out to prove he can still go toe-to-toe with younger men. When the body of a Vietnam veteran turns up before Thanksgiving, he dons his fedora and spit-shines his shoes. But before the detective can solve the murder, an older woman disappears, followed closely by a second hijacking. He doggedly works the cases, following a thread that ties the crimes together as the town prepares for the Annual Christmas Gala. Rory digs deep to up his game, fearing the loss of his job, or worse—a disaster for Winterset. More than simply a detective mystery, this is the story of a small town with a plot that keeps the reader on edge and reading into the night. Now on Amazon!

It’s the 1950s, and everyone has a secret. When Harriet Laws loses her grandmother and her job, her happy life in London seems over. Alone, grief-stricken, and penniless, she thinks wildly of ending it all. Fate steps in as Tom Fletcher saves her, gives her hope, and guides her to new employment.  He takes her to dinner, and she finds him attractive. He’s older, but she doesn’t mind. Does he? Tom, a quiet, hardworking man, is unsure of Harriet’s feelings, but he’s also very busy building his business interests. So it’s no wonder a suave, sophisticated fellow walks off with Harriet right under Tom’s nose. What follows, no one could have predicted, as Harriet not only loses contact with all her friends but must again fight for her very life…will she ever see Tom again? Go to Amazon to get your copy!

Ezra James used to be a big deal: Harvard graduate, FBI agent, beautiful wife. After being accused of fabricating evidence in a serial killer trial, he finds himself suspended, on the verge of a divorce, and working security at a posh Catholic school in Chicago. Then something out-of-the-ordinary happens: a young student-teacher is attacked during a Christmas pageant and left for dead in the snow with a noose around her neck and an electrical burn. Plus, she’s pregnant. Ezra, along with up-and-coming police detective, Lucia Vargas, and school chaplain, Fr. Remy Mbombo, must work fast before the culprit returns to finish the job. Get an ebook for only $5.99 on Kindle.

Willow Daniels has a heart of gold and is willing to help anyone who needs it, but when she helps Ethan McCormick one snowy night, she may just have made the biggest mistake of her life. Trapped by a winter storm in a tiny, North Yorkshire village, Willow is forced to re-evaluate everything she believes in, and wonders if anyone is truly who they seem. Fate may have brought her to Ethan, but as danger closes in around them, Willow must draw on a strength she never knew she possessed in order to protect the man she has grown to love, not only against his worst enemy, but also against himself. Romance, mystery and suspense set against a backdrop of a tiny Yorkshire village at Christmas time make this a perfect Joloablokafod book to curl up with!

Get your copy at http://mybook.to/WinterStormEGray!

All Darrell Henshaw wanted was to enjoy his honeymoon with his beautiful wife, Erin, in the charming town of Crystal River on the sunny Gulf Coast of Florida. Only a pair of ghosts decide to intrude on their celebration. And not just any ghosts, the spirits of two young Latino children. Unwilling at first to derail the honeymoon for yet another ghost hunt, Darrell finally concedes when a painting of the kids comes alive, weeping and pleading for his help. When he and Erin track down the artist, they discover the children’s family were migrant workers the next county over. But when they travel there, their questions about the kids gets their car shot up and Erin hospitalized. Torn between fear and rage, Darrell must decide how far he will go to get justice for two young children he never even knew.

SCARLET AT CRYSTAL RIVER is the third entry in the Haunted Shores Mysteries and, like the first two, is a cold case murder mystery wrapped in a ghost story and served with a side of romance. But it is also a Christmas mystery, this time celebrating the holiday on the sunny Gulf coast of Florida.

Get your copy today!

Have more titles you think should be on this list? Email me at kolbestevenj@gmail.com

Gone Astray

Everyone thinks Roy Naysmith is past his prime as a detective. His bum heart doesn’t help matters. When he makes a switch from Omaha PD to tiny Winterset, Nebraska, his first major case involves the shooting death of Homer Coot, a Vietnam vet with a drinking problem. This investigation quickly takes a backseat, however, when a prominent citizen, Lydia Mullins, goes missing during a snow storm.

Through the course of the novel, Naysmith must work with eager rookie Clarence Thacker to unravel the corruption and petty crimes that plague Winterset and seem to add up to one giant conspiracy that could undo the entire town.

Terry Korth Fischer has a strong sense of police procedure, which she details with Hemingway-eque specificity. There is no gray area with how her detective solves the two cases he finds himself embroiled in, nor is there much suspension of disbelief required on the part of the reader. While the Homer Coot case falls by the wayside for a majority of the book, its relevance becomes apparent in the parallel investigation, whose actors are both more relevant to the community and more time-sensitive, so this also makes logical sense.

This mystery will appeal to mid-westerners and fans of realistic police procedural novels, but the characters of Roy Naysmith and Esther Mullins in particular give readers of any genre much to enjoy.

Get a copy at Amazon ($4.99) or Barnes and Noble ($4.99) today!

Wild Rose Review: Murder Undetected

After her husband runs off with the girl next door, psychologist Britt Thornton decides to blow off some steam by accompanying her friend Arielle to France where Arielle is planning on purchasing a cheese shop.

Once in France, Britt immediately realizes her accounts have been frozen. Not only has her husband been unfaithful, he’s been embezzling funds and is now being tracked down by the FBI. They also track Britt down overseas.

Viane Thibaudet is a young, ambitious chef whose great aims lay far beyond her town of Chevalier. She wants to buy a restaurant in Paris with her husband’s money, only Jean-Luc isn’t willing to do it.

When Jean-Luc collapses after eating something his wife made for him, Britt is there to give him CPR. It is after all Viane’s cheese shop her friend Arielle is trying to buy.

This was a solid mystery with a delightful setting. Like the author, I am also a bit of a Francophile and it made me long to visit this fictional village. The only thing that didn’t connect for me was a B-plot or C-plot about a troubled teen named “Thirteen.” Britt receives steadily more unsettling text messages from him back in the states, but the tension never really rose for me. It is a very minor thread, however, and didn’t take anything away from the read.

Fans of cozy mysteries, especially those set in international locations, and epicureans will find much to enjoy about these characters and their strife.

Amazon

Alumni Spotlight: Steven Miller

K-State English

Steven Miller (MA ’15)


“Late Have I Taught You”

Whenever I told people I wanted to study English, they would invariably reply, “So you want to be a teacher.” I would laugh—ha!—and tell them I’d never be a teacher. I wanted to be a great novelist.

Apparently, they knew more than I did.

After a decade of trying out various careers—reporting, ad sales, insurance, editing, and even a stint doing various part-time jobs—I found myself applying at a high school in tiny Holcomb, Kansas.

Other than its proximity to Garden City, where my wife and I settled after grad school, I think what drew me most to Holcomb is its literary history. The sight of the Clutter murders, Holcomb became famous after Truman Capote and Harper Lee visited and Capote forged a new genre, the nonfiction novel, with that tragedy at its heart. As an aspiring mystery writer, I felt…

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Review: Standard Deviation

Graham Cavanaugh is on the twelfth year of his second marriage, Audra is his beyond-outgoing wife who works as a graphic designer part-time and may or may not be having an affair, Matthew is their middle-school-aged son with Asperger’s and an obsession with origami, and Elspeth is Graham’s ex-wife, a successful attorney who Audra is convinced they should become friends with. The characters of this novel are richly imagined, unique yet believable. The story itself is just as new and real as the people. Just when you think you know what’s happening or what’s coming, the story takes a hard left.

I have read a lot of funny books, but Katherine Heiny hangs with the best of them. Like very few authors–Dave Barry, Steve Martin, Nora Ephron–she is able to deliver real laughs almost every page. I was impressed and also wildly discouraged as a writer. Like all great books, this made me want to work a whole lot harder at my craft.

I just finished reading Standard Deviations and wrote this review immediately, because you have to read it!