(Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.)
Who’s your date today? Exit West, a novel by Mohsin Hamid.
Where’d you go? I was in Tacoma for a day trip and stopped by the MSM Deli, a legendary lunch spot that doesn't offer much by way of ambiance — it's a convenience store with some card tables — but enjoys a large Northwest fanbase.
What’d you eat? I ordered the Italian coldcut sub. I didn't know how huge the portions were, so I ordered a large, which turned out to be, uh, large.
How was the food? It was good! the meat was great, and they didn't overwhelm with the oil and vinegar, which is nice. It's definitely an east coast sub, and all you transplants who miss the no-frills east coast sandwich should hit up the MSM. I was a little underwhelmed by the bread, though, which was airy and not the most flavorful. The thing with east coast subs is that you're not looking for fancy dense bread. You want something chewy and a little bit plainer than you'd find at, say, Macrina. But they use a very large French bread loaf at MSM, and it was frankly a little too much bread in the sandwich. I thought the ratios were a little overwhelmed by having too much of a not-great bread in the mix.
What does your date say about itself? From the publisher’s promotional copy:
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice...
Is there a representative quote? Let's go with the opening paragraph: "In a city swollen by refugess but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. For many days. His name was Saeed and her name was Nadia and he had a beard, not a full beard, more a studiously maintained stubble, and she was always clad from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a flowing black robe. Back then people continued to enjoy the luxury of wearing more or less what they wanted to wear, clothing and hair wise, within certain bounds of course, and so these choices meant something."
Will you two end up in bed together? Yeah! Hamid read at Elliott Bay a few weeks ago and I'm upset that I didn't go to the reading now. This is a totally charming beginning of a book. It reads kind of like a fairy tale — although there are some dark elements stirring in even these first few pages — and there's obviously a bit of a Kundera vibe going on, too. I've not been having the easiest time with novels lately, but Exit West seems like it might break the curse.
Sometimes we hear about events too late to get them in the readings calendar for the week, but we still think they're worthy events that you should know about. Here are two:
- Tomorrow from 3 to 6 pm, it's Trivia for a Cause at Green Bean Coffeehouse in Greenwood. This event is a fundraiser for the Eastside Mosque, which was damaged in an arson fire back in January. There will be readings from Seattle poet Samar Abulhassan, eight rounds of trivia, and a set from comedian Wilfred Padua. Admission is $20. If you can't attend because you're busy doing Independent Bookstore Day, you can donate directly to the mosque here.
- On Tuesday May 2nd, Town Hall Seattle is hosting a reading for the poetry anthology Raising Lilly Ledbetter, which celebrates women at work. I reviewed this anthology back when it was first released in 2015, but now that we have a Grabber-in-Chief who surrounds himself in the workplace with aggrieved white men, it's even more relevant. If you're looking for a bit of empowerment through art, this is the reading for you.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to email@example.com.
I’ve published a couple of sci-fi novels — probably nothing you’ve heard of. But every once in a while I’ll do a reading, and then comes the time to sign the books. This always stresses me the fuck out.
Cienna, my handwriting is awful, and my signature is ugly. Every time I sign a copy of my book, I feel like I’m defacing it. I’d probably feel more comfortable if someone handed me my book and asked me to burn it.
I’ve tried to practice my autograph, but that makes me feel like a pretentious jerk and my handwriting just goes back to unreadable anyway. Is there anything I can do about this?
Bob, South Park
Perhaps a corpse hand would boost your confidence? Unlike its cruder cousins – the lobster hand and hook for hand – a repurposed corpse hand would complement the mystique of your chosen genre. A writer friend of mine has corpse heels in place of his original ones – they are the consolation prize he won for jumping out of an apartment window onto a school bus because someone dared him to. As far as I can tell, they don't work any better or worse than his original heels but they are now his most popular feature (the parts of him that are alive are swell, too).
I doubt you or your fans would care much about your penmanship if they were given the opportunity to gladhand your corpse hand while earnestly telling you about the subtle inconsistencies they've detected in the worlds you've created. Even just replacing your thumbs for big toes would be a real treat.
So here you go: I dare you to get handsy with a live blender.
If light body modification is beyond the limits of what you're willing to do for your craft, I pity you, but I understand not everyone has what it takes to be successful. If it helps, authors like Kurt Vonnegut and David Sedaris often signed their works with doodles and compliments to their readers instead of signatures, and they seem successful enough.
You could also just bring a pad of ink with you and stamp fans' books with a thumbprint, nullifying the need to write anything at all. That would be novel. It would be more novel if that thumb were also your big toe, but I won't be pushy about it. Your body, your choice.
This also means it is time to kick off another of our popular annual events! Whether you’ve participated before, or if you’re planning to join for the first time: Welcome to the Cap/IronMan Big Bang 2017!
This is where everything begins for the cap_ironman Captain America/Iron Man Big Bang 2017!
Now - September 27th:: Writers write and weekly “Support and Chatter” go up
September 27th: Drafts and summaries are due/writer sign-ups close
September 28th: Summaries are publicly posted
September 30th: Artists claim stories by summaries
October: Artists art, writers put finishing touches on their fics
October 28th: Teams pick posting date in November
November: Fics and art begin posting
Everything you need to know in this post!
Sunday April 30th: 2017 Grand Slam
Did you know that Seattle is home to a lively open mic scene? It’s true. The viral poet behind “Revenge,” Elisa Chavez, is just one of the incredible talents to burst out of this scene in recent years. Tonight, the greatest readers at Seattle Poetry Slam compete for the right to represent Seattle at the 2017 National Poetry Slam in Denver.
Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, townhallseattle.org. $15. All ages. 7:30 p.m.
Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page
The 2017 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year longlist offers a cornucopia of marvelous mysteries and terrific thrillers, all published in paperback in the UK and Ireland between May 1, 2016 and April 30, 2017. This list includes multiple crime-fiction gems, including Alex Marwood’s seriously dark Darkest Secret, Mick Herron’s canny spyfest Real Tigers, Christopher Brookmyre’s fiendishly clever Black Widow, and Stuart Neville’s suspenseful and heartbreaking Those We Left Behind. Plus, it’s always a pleasure to find industry giants (Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham) rubbing writerly shoulders with relative newbies such as Sabine Durrant, Sarah Hilary, Susie Steiner, and Eva Dolan. Get reading! The shortlist is out on May 20.
Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene
Pete Fernandez is off the sauce and making an okay living as a low-profile PI in Miami, but trouble finds him once again in Dangerous Ends by Alex Segura (Polis). His irregular work-partner-in-crime, Kathy Bentley approaches him with a book project about the legendary Gaspar Varela, incarcerated for killing his own wife while insisting on his innocence, and her plan yields a rich seam of noir-dark mystery that intertwines intriguingly with Fernandez’s own family story. Segura keeps the sultry atmosphere of Hernandez’s love-life strifes turned way up, matched perfectly by southern Florida’s palpable heat and humidity.
Ann Cleeves does not plot her tightly-knit mysteries ahead of time, so it’s good fun to imagine how she negotiated her way from the humdinger of an opening of Cold Earth (Minotaur): within the first few pages, a landslide brought on by relentless rains in Shetland rides roughshod over an ancient cemetery — during a funeral, no less — leaving a single fatality in its path. The remote island community and Shetland’s brooding Inspector Jimmy Perez are the perfect complement to a landscape both rugged and windswept. But even here, life comes at you fast, whether it’s murder, malice aforethought, petty politics, or budding romance.
There’s something terribly amiss in London in Ragdoll by Daniel Cole (Ecco). For one thing, detective William Fawkes, aka Wolf, is back on active duty after violently attacking a suspect in a courtroom four years earlier. For another, someone has just murdered six victims and sewn them together to make a single, gruesome corpse, one of whose fingers appears to be pointing directly into Fawkes’s nearby flat. The multiple plot lines have a manic erratic-ness to them, that sometimes adds, sometimes detracts from Cole’s careening debut.
The disappearance of a young filmmaker following the ransacking of the gym where he held a day-job, kicks off the action in Fallout by Sara Paretsky (William Morrow). Luckily, for the filmmaker, he is a cousin of Chicago PI V.I. Warshawski, who is soon hot on the case. In a terrific, decades-spanning mystery that takes Victoria Iphigenia deep into the heart of a rural Kansas community, master-at-work Paretsky has multiple twisty aces up her sleeve, nicely enhanced with a rich cast of characters, a lovely shout-out to the super-speedy stock-car racer Danica Patrick, and multiple spirited reminders that here in these United States of America, the government is supposed to for We the People.
The Quintessential Interview: Lori Rader-Day
Lori Rader-Day sets her psychological thrillers in restricted, restrictive spaces — a tattered motel, an academic campus, a small town — which instantly projects their claustrophobic-tension levels into the stratosphere. The Day I Died, out this month from William Morrow, started life ten years ago as a short story; this extended version packs a powerful, sinister punch, with handwriting analyst Anna Winger trying to help the local police force locate a missing child and finding her own life spiraling rapidly out of control.
What or who are your top five writing inspirations?
Gossip: What people whisper about is what they care about. Weird news stories I find on Facebook: I save them, never knowing if they'll come into use. Other writers: I love hanging out with them and listening to them talk shop and process. Throwaway facts in nonfiction books that really need their own books. Deadlines.
Top five places to write?
A little desk in my guest room known as my "office." It's tiny. Starbucks: They have really good hot tea. Any cafe, actually: I like cafe noise – but not coffee. My backporch, in good weather and in rain. Airplanes, if I have enough elbow room: On the way to Left Coast Crime in Phoenix, I had my own row. Life highlight.
Top five favorite authors?
I'm going to go historical, to avoid making enemies: Agatha Christie. Shirley Jackson. Josephine Tey. Daphne du Maurier. Dashiell Hammett, but when I say this, I mean The Thin Man.
Top five tunes to write to?
Depends on what I'm writing. I make a playlist for every novel. These five songs helped me write The Day I Died:
- Blood in the Cut by K. Flay
- White Blank Page by Mumford & Sons
- Lucky Now by Ryan Adams
- Go Insane (Live) by Lindsey Buckingham
- Break Free by Matthew Santos
Top five hometown spots?
My real hometown is pretty small, so I'll tell you about Chicago, my adopted hometown: On Lake Michigan, out in water looking back on the city. The Book Cellar, one of Chicago's amazing independent bookstores. The Forest Preserve, in the woods, on a bike, with my husband. I need to do this more. Caro Mio, Italian restaurant with my girlfriends. Just add wine. Winter Garden, Harold Washington Library, which is a glass-ceilinged room with a view of the surrounding skyscrapers. It's just a very Chicago place.