In lawyer Solange Ritchie's debut thriller, The Burning Man, an investigative powerhouse named Cat confronts the twisted mind of a killer. In a guest blog post, Ritchie explores the perspectives of these two characters.
During the Middle Ages, the discovery of perspective transformed painting from a flat, nuanced medium into a lifelike portrayal of reality. In my first novel, The Burning Man, I wanted to approach the mystery / thriller genre from a different perspective. When I had finished, The Burning Man had two perspectives that I feel give a more lifelike portrayal of reality. The first perspective is from inside the killer’s head, which gives the reader a glimpse into the gyrations of a crazed, murderous mind. The second is a woman trying to navigate a male-dominated profession and balance the ordinary challenges in her family life, all while confronting extraordinary evil. I didn’t want to use the stereotypical male tough-guy protagonist so often found in mysteries.
I am a fan of the genre. I especially like stories with a serial killer component. But while reading them, I always wondered, Why is he doing it? So I set out to create a character of supreme evil and to invite the reader inside the killer’s head as he stalks, seduces, then tortures and kills his victims. The lead investigator, in viewing the Burning Man’s handiwork, worries that he is leaving messages directed at her: “It was like looking at a Picasso or a Van Gogh. One could not begin to understand the artist without first studying the brush strokes . . . the use of color, line, symmetry, light, dark.”
The reader enters the mind and the insanity of the killer as he spins deeper and deeper into depravity and vicious murder, and in doing so learns of the killer’s past and the torture he endured that set him on his course as the Burning Man.
As for my choice in a lead character, I didn’t want to write about another ex-military, hardboiled, testosterone-fueled male homicide detective. I don’t understand that kind of man, and so to be true to myself, I needed a lead character that I and other career women could relate to. Dr. Catherine (Cat) Powers was born.
Cat is the kind of woman I would want as a friend. She is a strong woman, navigating a male-dominated profession. She understands “life balance” in a different way from noir male detectives. While balance to the hardboiled male character may be choosing whether to have another beer at the bar before returning to his messy studio apartment, balance to Cat is figuring out how to do her job while dealing with the challenges of being a divorced mother, whose young son, Joey, has homework and cries as he watches his mother leave to chase yet another serial killer. Through it all, the reader sees that this mother and son share a strong moral core, true grit and an unbreakable bond—even as Joey becomes bait used by the Burning Man to lure Cat into a deadfall trap.
I gravitated to Cat because of my experience in a male-dominated profession. I am a lawyer, and some days when I enter the courtroom, the only women present are the court clerk and the court reporter. I have been subjected to my share of inappropriate “honey” and “sweetheart” comments. I know the “dismissed” feeling of being a woman in a male-dominated arena. I’ve experienced the unspoken rule that a woman must be “more than equal, she must be better,” or she won’t survive. I bring these experiences to Cat’s story to express the challenges that every marginalized group experiences as we strive to succeed in a game with unfair rules.
The Burning Man’s shifts in perspective give a more lifelike feel to my book. Our lives are filled with mundane tasks of seemingly no great consequence that monopolize our attention. The Burning Man is fixated on the extreme and has no room for the mundane. Cat Powers must catch the Burning Man while juggling a world of the mundane. I feel it creates a tantalizing pairing for the reader as they go from inside the killer’s head to inside Cat’s head and back again.
Looking for the perfect side to complement any grilled dish? Try these Grilled Fingerling Potatoes (ready in just 10 minutes!) from Joe Carroll and Nick Fauchald's new cookbook, Feeding the Fire.
Grilled Fingerling Potatoes
Makes 4 servings
This simple side dish can be served alongside any meat or other main course you’re throwing on the grill. A hot grill crisps up the exterior of the fingerlings so they are like fat steak fries, making them the perfect starch accompaniment.
1. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly, then cut lengthwise in half.
2. Prepare a hot single-level fire in a grill (see page 149).
3. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with olive oil until well coated. Season with salt and pepper and toss again. Grill the potatoes, cut side down, until charred on the first side, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the potatoes over and grill until the skin is crispy, about 2 minutes longer.
4. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and toss with the garlic butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the parsley, and toss again. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve.
Get ready for some fabulous fall (well, almost-fall) reading! LibraryReads has put together a list of the 10 books coming out in September that librarians are most excited about putting on their shelves.
Three fiction debuts make the list: Bill Clegg's heartbreaking Did You Ever Have a Family; the ghostly mystery The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young; and the story of a woman who dares to defy society, Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart. Lauren Groff returns with a riveting examination of a marriage combusting, Fates and Furies, while Jonathan Evison follows a widow making the most the most of her latter years in This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!. Meanwhile, Lee Child continues the thrilling Jack Reacher series, which he started in 1997, with his new novel Make Me. Jenny Lawson is coming out with a new memoir, Furiously Happy, at the end of September, and I'm furiously excited about it.
You can see the full September LibraryReads list here. Which book are you most looking forward to picking up at your local library or bookstore?
Fans of folklore-based fiction like The Snow Child, The Great Glass Sea or Mr. Fox would enjoy Adrienne Celt's myth-steeped first novel, which wraps Polish folktales and a family curse over four generations of women. Lulu is an opera singer, but after her beloved grandmother dies the same day her daughter is born, she can't sing a note. As her complicated history and many secrets unfold, the reader is left to contemplate familial bonds and the ancestral stories that we share.
Told from Lulu's point of view, The Daughters is full of depictions of music and its power.
So you see. I was wrong to think that I could run away and make my life lighter. If I hadn't been there, hadn't left John alone to wonder about me, if I hadn't sung for Funn and watched his eyes dance in the firelight, there may have been no Kara. No birth. And so Ada wouldn't have been in the hospital either, wouldn't have fallen to the cold tile floor.
On the ranch, I opened my mouth and let sound rumble from my deepest well. Not knowing, then, who I was really singing to. Si je t'aime prends garde à toi! I thought it was a wake-up call for the sleepers in their beds. I didn't know it was a warning.
What are you reading this week?
Discovering a new voice that speaks to you is one of the most exciting things that can happen to any book lover. Here, we're highlighting the best 12 debuts of the year (so far). Share your favorite in the comments!
This sweet, alluring first novel follows an elderly woman as she leaves her home to trek across Canada by foot and see the ocean for the first time. As Etta walks across the countryside, she reminisces about her past and the two men who meant the most to her.
Fans of Southern noir will thrill to Cooper's dark, enticing story of corruption in the Louisiana bayou after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, where folks who live on the fringes struggle to eke out a living in ways that just might push the boundaries of legality.
This sharp and insightful social satire is an all-too-timely look at race relations in America, as three ostensibly liberal and definitely privileged Berkeley students from various backgrounds travel with a friend and classmate to his home in rural Georgia—just in time for a Civil War re-enactment.
Australian author Davis takes on the tricky subject of recovering from loss—whether you're 7 or 87—in her winsome first novel, which finds an abandoned young girl embarking on a road trip with very unlikely companions.
Eli Goldstein idolizes his uncle Poxl, a Czech Jew who served in Britain's Royal Air Force. But does Poxl's best-selling memoir really tell the whole story? Torday's tour-de-force of a novel puts a fresh spin on World War II (yes, really) in a page-turning tale of truth, lies and forgiveness.
Freeman's rabble-raising debut, set in the rough-and-tumble world of 1800's prize-fighting, features two memorable and very different heroines who push the limits for women of the day to fight for a better future. Fans of Sarah Waters or Michel Faber, meet your new favorite author.
What makes a home? This question is pondered (and argued about) by the 13 Turner siblings and their children in this tender family saga as they must decide whether to sell the Detroit house that has been home to three generations over 50 years. Flournoy paints an impressively realistic portrait of sibling bonds and a city in decline.
At just 28 years old, Nović has written an insightful first novel that will appeal to fans of Anthony Marra and Téa Obreht. Moving back and forth between 1991 Croatia and 2001 New York City, Girl at War follows Ana as she survives a dangerous childhood and attempts to transition to a new family and culture in the United States.
Librarian Simon Watson is barely holding his life together when a mysterious book appears on his doorstep. Could this journal be the key to understanding his mother’s death—and saving his sister from a similar fate? Fans of magical stories like The Night Circus will flock to this ambitious debut.
Plum Kettle is sure that bariatric surgery will change her life. But when she crosses paths with a mysterious young woman, Plum ends up involved in a full-on riot grrl ride to a feminist awakening. Walker's first novel is a fierce and fiery look at the struggles women face in today's world—and it's as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
Finding out your father cheated on your mom? Bad. Finding out by reading his dirty emails to the other woman when you're just 11 years old? Even worse. Pierpont’s debut makes this common premise feel fresh thanks to character-enriching details (Kay copes by writing smutty “Seinfeld” fan fiction, for example) and a willingness to shake up her narrative structure.
Food and family combine in this vibrant first novel, which hopscotches through the life of Eva, a Minnesotan who has risen to become one of the country’s best young chefs. When the mother who abandoned her returns, Eva must decide if they can repair their relationship. The unusual setting, embraceable characters and mouthwatering recipes add up to a can’t-miss debut.
For librarians who work with teens, summer is either the busiest time of the year or the slowest. Young adult (YA) librarians who work in public libraries typically have a nonstop schedule of programs to run, volunteers to supervise and events to coordinate, while school librarians are busy developing curriculums and collections for the coming school year. Summer can also be a good time to step back and think about why we do the work we do. What's the point of YA librarianship? What keeps us going day after day?
To start thinking about these issues, I talked to a sampling of YA librarians working in schools and public libraries around the country. I asked them each two questions: What do you love about being a YA librarian? Can you share a meaningful experience in which you connected teens and books?
Some of answers I got were funny, others were profound, and others were totally energizing. Here are some of my favorites. Do they make you as excited about YA librarianship as they make me?
"I love that my work enables me to connect with tweens and teens in a unique way. I'm . . . someone they can trust and be honest with, because I'm not grading the students or judging their reading choices. I love that I can connect with students individually. And I especially love that 'non-readers' and reluctant readers feel just as comfortable with me as book nerds."
—Alicia Blowers, St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School, Alexandria (VA)
"I love that the library is all about their [teens'] individuality. I love to buy all kinds of books, to show kids there are no 'right' books for everyone, just the right book for you. This age group is so special. It's a difficult, transitional time and they have a lot of questions and a lot of exploring to do. I like that they can do that through reading."
— Michelle Reasso, West Stanly Middle School, Locust (NC)
"The gratitude they [teens] show when I provide a new book, some guidance, a safe space for social growth are all ways that my work makes itself important . . . it might not show up on an evaluation or concrete analysis but when teens come in and trust you enough with their ideas, opinions and dreams, it really shows our abilities as librarians to encourage and inspire. Teenage lives can be roller coasters and sometimes the thing you need the most is a good partner for the ride; a book can be that perfect partner."
— Cassandra Black, San Mateo County Library, Belmont (CA)
"A few years ago, I worked with a 6th grade honors student who did an independent study of The Catcher in the Rye. We had some great discussions, but my favorite moment was sharing John Green's videos about Catcher in the Rye with him. We had to watch them twice (John Green talks fast!), and then we had some great conversations about classics and how they can still be relevant. I think it's the only time all year I saw that student smile."
— Gabrielle M. Casieri, Lawrence Intermediate School, Lawrence (NJ)
"I have had a couple of teens actually say that reading certain books changed them, maybe not their whole lives, but changed them and the way they look at the world, in a way that nothing else did."
— Kim Day, Burlingame Public Library, Burlingame (CA)
Maybe the most interesting answer of all came from an adult reference librarian who sometimes works with teens. "I've had a few teens ask me to look for The Hunger Games and I finally picked it up one day and just could not put it down. And I guess it's the same with Harry Potter. I kept hearing about it and finally gave in and read it," Dan Vetrano of Sayreville (NJ) Public Library told me. "So, teens connected you with a great read?" I asked him. He agreed.
Hooray for teens and libraries!
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. Read more BookPage reviews, interviews and posts by Jill here.
A self-published sci-fi novel that became a bestseller tops our selection of paperbacks on sale today:
By Andy Weir
Broadway • $15 • ISBN 9781101903582
Who wants to see Matt Damon in the role of an astronaut stranded on Mars, using his scientific smarts and ingenuity to survive? Or Kristen Wiig as the snarky NASA spokeswoman trying to explain what went wrong with the botched Mars mission? In a film adaptation directed by Ridley Scott? Picture me wildly waving my hand. This new movie tie-in edition of Weir’s absorbing and thoroughly convincing SF tale should give you plenty of time to enjoy the book before the film hits theaters on Oct. 2.
By Bryan Stevenson
Spiegel & Grau • $16 • ISBN 9780812984965
In a powerful memoir that was included on several best books of the year lists in 2014, the Harvard Law grad and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative recounts his efforts to represent the poor and wrongly condemned, focusing on the disturbing case of a young black man sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman in Monroeville, Alabama (Harper Lee's hometown).
The Moor's Account
By Laila Lalami
Vintage • $15.95 • ISBN 9780804170628
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, Lalami's searing historical novel was also named a Top 10 Book of the Year by the Wall Street Journal. The Moor of the title is Mustafa, who is sold into slavery and sent on a mission to the Americas in 1527 with the Spanish explorer Narváez. Lalami brings the conflicts of the era to life through extensive research and an entirely new perspective.
In Born on the Bayou, Blaine Lourd looks back on a childhood spent deep in the humid marshes of Louisiana. Our reviewer writes, "A dazzling storyteller, Lourd so skillfully describes the hazards of growing up in the bayou with a larger-than-life father that we can’t help but read with wonder that he survived his upbringing and lived to tell these tales." (Read the full review.)
We asked Lourd to share three of his favorite books with us.
Many great books kept me company during the several years I worked on my new memoir, Born on the Bayou. Southern writers—Faulkner, Welty, Warren and Harper Lee—provided inspiration in the strong sense of place they evoked. Entering a writer’s world is such a gift, made possible only by one’s true talent of moving mountains on a page—and the writers above demonstrate that talent again and again. But I also read and would recommend a few other books that have moved me over the years . . .
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
A Moveable Feast is a book that I, perhaps like many writers, re-read from time to time. Hemingway, nearing death, reached deep one last time into his well of incomparable artistry to deliver this memoir of a time long lost to him—his youth in Paris. The intimately conversational quality of this work is the kind of tone a writer working on a memoir should read again and again, I think.
In God’s House by Ray Mouton
In God’s House is a life-like fictionalization of an important historical event—the worldwide clergy sex abuse scandal. Writing a fast-paced, character-driven narrative, Mouton’s authentic Southern voice delivers a suspenseful tale of tragically flawed characters unfolding in a twisting, dark plot that ultimately shatters the great institutions of Rome.
Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Self-Reliance is one of the books I keep on my desk in Lake Bruin, Louisiana, and in my office in Beverly Hills. Although aspects of Emerson’s style might seem archaic or outdated to some modern readers, upon closer inspection it’s also evident that no word is ever wasted, and that he had a measured elegance that remains unmatched. "But the soul that ascends is plain and true; has no rose color, no fine friends, no chivalry, no adventures, does not want admiration; dwells in the hour that now is, in the earnest experience of the common day,—by reason of the present moment and the mere trifle having become porous to thought, and bibulous of the sea of light. "
Emerson always said, “Insist on yourself, never imitate”—some of the best advice a writer, or any person, can ever follow.
Thank you, Blaine! See any favorites on the list, readers?
(Author photo Gene Fama)
This week's debut is Joe Schreiber's heart-pounding Chasing the Dead, a horror-filled road trip that goes from 0-60 on the first page and doesn't let up until the final one.
Joe Schreiber's brilliantly creepy debut novel will have discerning horror connoisseurs everywhere comparing it to terror-inducing classics like Stephen King's Pet Sematary and Peter Straub's Ghost Story. Equal parts supernatural horror and psychological thriller, the majority of Chasing the Dead takes place during one nightmarish 14-hour period.
Scared yet? Read the rest of our review here.