Chatting with Helen Maryles Shankman: Her Love of Stories, Her Art, Writing for Journals, and Remembering WWII

I recently had a wonderful discussion with Helen Maryles Shankman, author of “In the Land of Armadillos,” a short story collection of people of WWII from rural, German-occupied Poland. Woven together with history, ancestral stories, and magic, these stories are authentic and captivating. I reviewed the collection yesterday.

Please enjoy my interview with Helen, I know I did!

02_In the Land of Armadillos

Hi Helen, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m very happy to have you here. How has the New Year been treating you so far? Congratulation on your book release!

Helen: Hi, Erin, thanks for inviting me! So far, the New Year has been crazy busy. Who knew there was so much to do before a book is released?

Erin: I think each year just keeps getting busier, especially when you have kids and a busy writing career. Throw a book launch in and you lose all track of time! Come in and have a seat in my library. We’ll sit by the window, though it’s a little dreary here in Ohio, though that’s always a good day to stay in and talk books isn’t it?

I’ll bring in some coffee or tea, your choice?

Helen: Oh, thank you, Erin, coffee would be awesome. And look, I brought you some armadillo cupcakes! Which do you prefer? Chocolate?Or red velvet?

Erin: Super cool! I usually do make a baked good, but I was at a loss on what to serve this week. I’m so glad you stepped in and brought some cupcakes. I ‘m always a chocolate girl (though red is nice with Valentine’s Day coming up)! I’ll pour the coffee and we will get started. Let’s talk about your writing, your new book “In the Land of Armadillos,” and your art. You’re a creative soul, do you find your art and writing just flows one to the other or do you have to completely switch and categorize when working?

Helen: For me, they’re closely related. In both art and writing, you create create create, and then you sit back and evaluate; how is my composition? Does it flow well from here to there? Is there enough color? Is there a good balance of light to dark? And what about texture? In painting, texture is a real, physical thing; anything that is painted with heavier, opaque paint comes out at you. Areas painted with thin, transparent washes give the illusion of going back in space. In writing, I think of that as the difference between dialogue and prose, or showing and telling. But, at the same time, there is one major difference. When I am painting, my eyes are wide open, constantly roving over my photo reference, or over the canvas. When I’m writing, I must close my eyes. Only with eyes shut can I draw out the words, the emotions, the senses.

Erin: You are one of the few people I’ve heard say that about closing your eyes when writing. I’m the same way! It’s then that I see most clearly. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

You’ve written quite a few short stories and had success as in you’ve been a Pushcart Prize nominee and won other awards. Do you love writing short stories best when writing? Why?

Helen: My first attempt at writing was actually a full-length book! The short stories came afterward. I do love writing short stories, though they often edge into novella territory. There’s something about capturing a moment in someone’s life that just turns me on.

Erin: I did find your novel, which sounds like a great read as well! I find short stories very impactful to read, more than novels myself. Your book is a collection of your short stories, some already published in issues of prestigious magazines. For instance, “The Golem of Zukow” was published in the Kenyon Review. I noticed this as Kenyon College is just less than an hour from me and I visited their offices last summer. I highly admire them. How do you write for and submit to literary journals?

Helen: Oh, that’s so cool! It was an incredible thrill when KR selected to publish “The Golem of Zukow.” It was the moment I said to myself, “I guess I can call myself a writer now.” I was concerned that my story would be too specific, too ethnic, for mainstream literary magazines, but since “Golem” was published, I’ve come to believe that the best stories are universal, no matter where they take place, or who populates them. Having said that, there are a few rules for writing to literary journals;

  • Read the journals you want to submit your story to, to get a feel for what they like to publish.
  • Be passionate. Write something that makes you burn. Write something that makes you cry. Write something that won’t get out of your head until you scribble it down.
  • But having said that, there’s also this: There are some story ideas that show up in their submissions again and again. Try to avoid writing them. The science fiction journal Strange Horizons has posted a long and hilarious list of story ideas they’ve seen too often, and if you’re curious, here’s the link: http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common.shtml
  • Edit, edit, edit! Proofread, proofread, proofread!
  • I recommend joining Duotrope Digest for researching journals and magazines where you’d like to submit. Their listings are stuffed full of useful details, and they also have great submissions tracking software.
  • Make sure you follow the submission guidelines for the particular magazine/journal you’re submitting to. Some enormous percentage of all submissions are formatted incorrectly.

Erin: Helen, what wonderful advice! Thank you! What made you decide to put your stories into a collection? I think it’s a great idea and I’m enjoying the book. When you write them, do you choose to stick to the similar theme or do you just happen to have them pouring out that way?

Helen: After I wrote the first two stories, which were “The Partizans” and “The Golem of Zukow,” I realized that 1. They had a common theme, and 2. They were going to just keep coming.  I realized that they really worked best all together, as a portrait of the town of Wlodawa during World War 2. So I found a way to link them, by having them take place in and around the same town in Poland, during the same events, (World War 2) and by having the characters weave in and out of each other’s stories. I have two other stories that didn’t make it into this collection, and truthfully, I think there will be more.

Erin: As well the stories are drenched in your ancestral and cultural history. Are they based on true stories of things that happened, or tales passed down culturally, or are your creations based folklore?

Helen: Most of the stories contain elements of what really happened to my parents during the war. The stories packed with the most real-life events are “The Jew Hater,” “They Were Like Family to Me,” and “A Decent Man.” 

When my parents told us their war stories, there was always something miraculous in their survival; an SS soldier standing on top of the door to my father’s hiding place and not noticing; the silver-tongued Kommandant of my mother’s labor camp driving into the woods to talk SS executioners out of shooting his Jewish workers; my grandfatherhaving the intuition to leave town on just the right day, at just the right time, just before German soldiers swooped in.The mythology of angels, monsters and demons are constants in the Talmud and throughout Jewish history. (The Golem of Prague is our most well known legend.) But I didn’t want to restrict the mythology to a particular religion; after all, the stories all take place in Poland. It seemed natural to add Jewish and Polish folklore to stories of survival that were already almost miraculous.

Erin: In pursuing my undergrad history degree, I had several Holocaust classes and focused a paper on Anne Frank. It’s a part of history that has always stuck with me. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time has passed or how much we read on the subject, there are always new stories of people and their families. It’s why we can never forget. How do you feel the new generation can be raised to not forget this period of history? Is there still more to be done and more stories to tell? Do you want to tell more of them?

Helen: Wow, that’s a tough question. I wish I had an answer for how to raise the new generation to remember and not forget this period of history. It seems like large swathes of the world are already forgetting it. This may sound strange, but I think that anyone who has a World War 2 story must keep telling it to whoever will listen, whether they were perpetrator, bystander or witness. There are lessons to be learned in all of the stories—some lessons are warnings of the end product of extremism, and some lessons are what it takes to survive. Certainly, I believe there are more stories to tell. Just when people think they know everything there is to know about the tragedies of World War 2, some new book comes out that illuminates a different facet, or tells it in a new way. Think of “All the Light We Cannot See,” or, “The Nightingale.”

Erin: What does it mean to you to share the stories of your relatives?

Helen: There are so many facets of World War 2. To many people, the Holocaust has come to be represented by the Warsaw ghetto, or the concentration camps. But that wasn’t my family’s experience; their experiences with townspeople, labor camps, forests, and bunkers was different, and equally awful, but largely unexplored. I wanted to write about it to honor my family, and also the Poles and Germans who tried to help.

Erin: Do you like the supernatural elements in folklore? Do you use this in your writing?

Helen: I love folklore and fairy tales. Take The Big Bad Wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood.” It’s really just a warning about how a strange man might be attractive, but dangerous. But make an ordinary man into a wolf, and pow, that warning takes on mythic dimensions. I LOVE that. Adding the talking dog to the story of my mother’s experiences as a shepherd girl made it whoosh to life as I wrote it. The supernatural elements help to give the story a certain universal appeal, but also, they serve to distance me enough so that I can create.

Erin: Your novel, “The Color of Light,” also caught my interest as I love supernatural and horror, especially intertwined in history. Can you tell us about that?

Helen: My one-sentence elevator pitch for The Color of Light is “A tale of Art, Love, Vampires and the Holocaust.” In brief: Rumor has it that Raphael Sinclair, the founder of a controversial art school, is a vampire, a rumor he does nothing to dispel. Scholarship student Tessa Moss has long dreamed of the chance to study at Rafe’s Academy. But she is floundering amidst the ups and downs of a relationship with egotistical art star Lucian Swain. Then, one of Tessa’s sketches catches Rafe’s attention: a drawing of a young woman in 1930s clothing who is covering the eyes of a child. The suitcase at her feet says Wizotsky. Sofia Wizotsky, the love of Rafe’s life, was lost during the Holocaust. Or was she? Rafe suspects Tessa may be the key to discovering what really happened. But Tessa senses the truth: despite his wealth, his women, and his townhouse filled with rare and beautiful treasures, Rafe is a haunted man…for reasons that have nothing to do with the rumors they whisper about him at school.

Erin: How different was it to write that novel in comparison to putting your short story collection together?

Helen: It was much easier! There’s lots of room to stretch out when you’re writing a novel, to explore unexpected avenues that present themselves as you go along. When you write short stories, every sentence matters, because they are so concise.

Erin: How do you touch on humanity, and the lessons we learn from it, in your writing? Why do you feel this is important?

Helen:  I felt like I was going out on a limb when I humanized Max, who is a cold-blooded Nazi killer. I wanted to show that the people who went into the forest and executed children weren’t just monsters; calling them “monsters” lets them off the hook, releases them of responsibility. Each of those executioners had mothers, wives, children. I’m fascinated by why people make the choices they do, how someone shuts off their natural humanity to such an extent that they can murder other people without losing so much as a night’s sleep. At the same time, I’m equally curious about how someone becomes a hero, making the choice to risk their lives to save strangers. If we understand what can happen when we allow extremism to penetrate society, maybe we’ll be more vigilant next time.

Erin: You’re also an accomplished artist in every way, but I was excited to read that you presented a portrait of Hillary Clinton to her while she was still First Lady. What was that experience like?!

Helen: Ha! I didn’t get to present it! I spent a year working on this gorgeous portrait, and just as I was going into labor with my first child, we got the call from the White House. “The presentation ceremony will be tomorrow,” they said. The fact that I was recuperating from a C-section didn’t move them one bit. I’ve always wondered where she ended up hanging it.

Erin: Oh, now I feel bad! What a marvelous thing to get to do though. And I’m sure all your other commissions are beautifully done! What other types of art do you do? How does it bring joy to your life?

Helen: I used to play guitar and sing. Does that count? For a while there, I was going to be a rockstar. I still pick it up now and then, just to remind myself that I can do it.

Erin: Yes, that counts. Haha! Creative people tend to do many creative things! What are you currently working on (art related)?

Helen: I’ve been working on a charcoal portrait of an adorable little girl for over a year now, and I’m still not finished! I also hope to paint a portrait of my own kids. I’m pretty intrigued by the new water-soluble oil paints. I’ve bought a few tubes and look forward to try them out. Can’t wait to get dirty again!

Erin: You should definitely should paint your own kids, they grow too fast and time slips away! You could do some amazing cultural books for children. Have you thought of illustrating children’s books or stories? Why or why not?

Helen: That does sound wonderful! But as an artist, I must be honest with myself. I have a knack for portraits. Though I love the art in children’s books, I don’t think I have what it takes to make one myself.

Erin: What books do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

Helen: I am really all over the place. This year, I was blown away by “The Goldfinch,” by Donna Tartt, “The Magicians,” by Lev Grossman, “Ready Player One,” by Ernest Cline, and Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man.” I’ll read anything Michael Chabon writes, though “Kavalier and Clay” and “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” are mind-blowingly great. Last year, I read a lot of Neil Gaiman; “American Gods” and “The Graveyard Book”are my favorites. I read a lot of World War 2. Two standouts are “Life and Fate,” by Vasily Grossman, and “City of Thieves,” by David Benioff.

Erin: I love Lev’s series too and so glad to see it now on television. Surprisingly enough, Ernest Cline went to the same high school in my town that my son goes to now! I’ve been wanting to check out his work. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorites. However, I love all WWII fiction, and like you said, there is always more to tell!

What are you writing next or working on now? What are some things you hope to write?

Helen: I don’t think I’m done with World War 2 yet. There’s something about war, folklore and myth that just has a hold on me. I also have this fantasy of doing a “Joy Luck Club” sort of book, following the intertwined stories of children of Holocaust survivors.

Erin: I definitely would read any of that once you get it written! Thank you for stopping by and sharing a part of yourself with us and for writing such touching stories for us to read. Best wishes with all your efforts! Let’s finish our drinks before you go.

Helen: Thank you so much for inviting me, Erin! You really do make the best coffee. I hope you enjoyed your armadillo cupcake. The best of luck with your writing. And thanks for asking such insightful, thought-provoking questions!

Erin: Thanks Helen! As for the cupcakes, I’m going to help myself to one more! :) What a nice guest, one who knows how to feed my sweet tooth!

02_In the Land of ArmadillosIn the Land of Armadillos: Stories by Helen Maryles Shankman

Publication Date: February 2, 2016 Scribner/Simon & Schuster eBook & Hardcover; 304 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/WWII/Short Stories/Literary

A Spring 2016 Discover Great New Writers selection at Barnes & Noble.

A radiant debut collection of linked stories from a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, set in a German-occupied town in Poland, where tales of myth and folklore meet the real-life monsters of the Nazi invasion.

1942.

With the Nazi Party at the height of its power, the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish populations. As neighbor turns on neighbor and survival often demands unthinkable choices, Poland has become a moral quagmire—a place of shifting truths and blinding ambiguities.

Blending folklore and fact, Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town: we meet a cold-blooded SS officer dedicated to rescuing the creator of his son’s favorite picture book, even as he helps exterminate the artist’s friends and family; a Messiah who appears in a little boy’s bedroom to announce that he is quitting; a young Jewish girl who is hidden by the town’s most outspoken anti-Semite—and his talking dog. And walking among these tales are two unforgettable figures: the enigmatic and silver-tongued Willy Reinhart, Commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect “his” Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker and his family, struggling to survive.

Channeling the mythic magic of classic storytellers like Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer and the psychological acuity of modern-day masters like Nicole Krauss and Nathan Englander, In the Land of Armadillos is a testament to the persistence of humanity in the most inhuman conditions.

Amazon (Hardcover) | Amazon (Kindle) | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Praise

“Moving and unsettling…Like Joyce’s Dubliners, this book circles the same streets and encounters the same people as it depicts the horrors of Germany’s invasion of Poland through the microcosm of one village…Shankman’s prose is inventive and taut…A deeply humane demonstration of wringing art from catastrophe.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Every story in this remarkable collection reveals Helen Maryles Shankman’s talent for surprising, disturbing and enlightening her readers. Blending the horrors of war with the supernatural, she creates a literary landscape that is strangely mythical and distinctively her own. These stories haunted me for days after I finished reading them.” – Sarai Walker, author of Dietland

“With unflinching prose and flashes of poetry Helen Maryles Shankman spirits her readers back through history to the Polish hamlet of Wlodawa during the dark days of Nazi occupation. Horrific reality and soaring fantasy meld in serial stories that include an avenging golem, an anti-Semite who shelters a Jewish child, brutal SS officers who lay claim to ‘their own Jews’ and an unlikely messiah whose breath smelled of oranges and cinnamon. That scent will linger in the memory of readers as will the haunting stories in which barbaric hatred is mitigated by the reflection of a survivor who reflects that love is a kind of magic. There is, in fact, literary magic in these well told tales.” – Gloria Goldreich, author of The Bridal Chair

“Populated with monsters and heroes [human and perhaps not], but mostly with ordinary people caught up in horrific events they neither understood nor controlled – this series of intersecting stories drew me in completely, making me read them again to find all the connections I missed the first time. The writing is fantastic, and I marvel at Shankman’s literary skills.” – Maggie Anton, author of the bestselling Rashi’s Daughters trilogy

“In The Land of the Armadillos is a moving collection of beautifully written short stories that readers of Jewish fiction will celebrate. Not to be missed.” – Naomi Ragen, author of The Sisters Weiss

Author Helen Maryles Shankman, Biography

03_Helen Maryles ShankmanHelen Maryles Shankman lived in Chicago before moving to New York City to attend art school. Her stories have appeared in numerous fine publications, including The Kenyon Review, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, Grift, 2 Bridges Review, Danse Macabre, and JewishFiction.net. She was a finalist in Narrative Magazine’s Winter Story Contest and earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers competition. Her story, They Were Like Family to Me, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Shankman received an MFA in Painting from the New York Academy of Art, where she was awarded a prestigious Warhol Foundation Scholarship. She spent four years as as artist’s assistant and two years at Conde Nast working closely with the legendary Alexander Liberman. She lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a year, spending the better part of each day in an enormous barn filled with chickens, where she collected eggs and listened to the Beatles.

Shankman lives in New Jersey with her husband, four children, and an evolving roster of rabbits. When she is not neglecting the housework so that she can write stories, she teaches art and paints portraits on commission. In the Land of Armadillos, a collection of linked stories illuminated with magical realism, following the inhabitants of a small town in 1942 Poland and tracing the troubling complex choices they are compelled to make, will be published by Scribner in February 2016.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon Author Page

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/inthelandofarmadillosblogtour/

Hashtags: #InTheLandOfArmadillosBlogTour #HistoricalFiction #WWII #ShortStories

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @hmshankman @ScribnerBooks

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Interwoven Story Collection of WWII Poland: In the Land of Armadillos by Helen Maryles Shankman

02_In the Land of ArmadillosReview~

The stories Helen Shankman weaves, which are showcased in her In the Land of Armadillos collection, are magical, but not only that, important. As in the Jewish culture, like many other cultures, stories are spoken down through the decades, and it becomes more and more valuable to put the memories, even the bad ones, down on paper. Helen’s stories are linked, first of all, as they are from the same area of Wlodawa, Poland during WWII, a small village her mother was from, but told from various people’s perspectives. Even one story was from a SS officer’s home, so you truly see how everyone is impacted or confused in some way, and eventually, how they all are connected in a specific way to the first story too.

Helen’s stories beguiled me so that I kept turning the pages, even on the nights my eyes were heavy. In the morning, I woke up with the people in her stories on my mind. I felt horribly sad when reading them, but at the same time empowered by the Jewish people, who found so many ways to survive or be strong while atrocities were committed to them. In the case of some, as in the first story which was titled the same as her book, they might give up, but they leave their lasting impression in some way as a memorial to those that were lost. The emotional pull of the stories was beautiful and I was enlightened further with understanding about the depths of despair and fear that this time period ignited. I think it’s important that Helen surprises us at times, such as giving us relationships with a characters and then shocking us with reality. It’s through that unflinching poignancy that we can feel truly the horrors of the Holocaust and its victims.

I also really enjoyed the magical and supernatural elements that her stories carried, which swept me even more away. Many cultural stories are seeping in fantasy and folklore, but it seems that ominous circumstances, and trauma, also sometimes created a type of hallucination leading to people seeing beyond reality. I have heard many supernatural stories of the holocaust previously. I think it must be because they strive to make sense of such chaos, or to take a break from the stark reality. When you are dying, or those are dying around you, animals talk and become heroes. When you are feeling remorse and pain, paintings come to life. For some Messiahs and Golem’s appear.

Helen took real people from a German-occupied, small Polish village and showed how the occupation affected their every day lives, instead of telling us stories of people surviving a concentration camp or a story of someone who helped liberate them. Her stories were real grassroots…the kind of stories that remain with you after you’ve read them. For instance,  someone digging themselves out alive from a mass grave and walking to the local mill, then appearing like a Golem to those being harassed. How horrid would it be..to be buried like that?! This is the gritty part of the lives they lived, those that hadn’t yet been taken to camps, or who lived in fear of being shot in the street or the forest.

When working on my history degree at university, we studied quite a bit of the Holocaust. This book, and books like this, would be a great tool in learning so students could be enlightened more on the struggle outside the big cities. I have continued to want to learn more of the people who lived through it myself. As many years as I’ve read about it, there is always so much more to learn and so many more stories. This war affected many, many types of people of all economic walks of life in so many locations.

As well, in regards to Helen’s stories, to write fiction that showcases much of how it must have been or could have been based on historical information leaves a legacy of remembrance. Many people that survived came to places such as the United States, integrated into society, and never spoke of the horror again. Now that it’s been over 50 years since the Holocaust, new generations are asking questions, hearing stories, or finding journals and researching. It’s a time to speak up now, so these atrocities don’t happen again.

I can’t choose a favorite story, as they all left a mark somehow, just as each moment for people affected by the Holocaust will never leave them or their families.  Every story is a drop of heritage and sorrow on the page, but yet also, some are stories of courage and survival. In reading the last story, there is also a ray of light, that nothing will be forgotten. Helen’s narrative style and voice, exquisite short story structure, and emotional depth all made this collection something to be prized.

Very highly recommend for readers of literary historical fiction. A wonderful mix of history and folklore that will keep you up late into the night reading. It will have a special place on my bookshelf.

02_In the Land of Armadillos

In the Land of Armadillos: Stories by Helen Maryles Shankman

Publication Date: February 2, 2016 Scribner/Simon & Schuster eBook & Hardcover; 304 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/WWII/Short Stories/Literary

A Spring 2016 Discover Great New Writers selection at Barnes & Noble.

A radiant debut collection of linked stories from a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, set in a German-occupied town in Poland, where tales of myth and folklore meet the real-life monsters of the Nazi invasion.

1942.

With the Nazi Party at the height of its power, the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish populations. As neighbor turns on neighbor and survival often demands unthinkable choices, Poland has become a moral quagmire—a place of shifting truths and blinding ambiguities.

Blending folklore and fact, Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town: we meet a cold-blooded SS officer dedicated to rescuing the creator of his son’s favorite picture book, even as he helps exterminate the artist’s friends and family; a Messiah who appears in a little boy’s bedroom to announce that he is quitting; a young Jewish girl who is hidden by the town’s most outspoken anti-Semite—and his talking dog. And walking among these tales are two unforgettable figures: the enigmatic and silver-tongued Willy Reinhart, Commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect “his” Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker and his family, struggling to survive.

Channeling the mythic magic of classic storytellers like Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer and the psychological acuity of modern-day masters like Nicole Krauss and Nathan Englander, In the Land of Armadillos is a testament to the persistence of humanity in the most inhuman conditions.

Amazon (Hardcover) | Amazon (Kindle) | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Praise

“Moving and unsettling…Like Joyce’s Dubliners, this book circles the same streets and encounters the same people as it depicts the horrors of Germany’s invasion of Poland through the microcosm of one village…Shankman’s prose is inventive and taut…A deeply humane demonstration of wringing art from catastrophe.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Every story in this remarkable collection reveals Helen Maryles Shankman’s talent for surprising, disturbing and enlightening her readers. Blending the horrors of war with the supernatural, she creates a literary landscape that is strangely mythical and distinctively her own. These stories haunted me for days after I finished reading them.” – Sarai Walker, author of Dietland

“With unflinching prose and flashes of poetry Helen Maryles Shankman spirits her readers back through history to the Polish hamlet of Wlodawa during the dark days of Nazi occupation. Horrific reality and soaring fantasy meld in serial stories that include an avenging golem, an anti-Semite who shelters a Jewish child, brutal SS officers who lay claim to ‘their own Jews’ and an unlikely messiah whose breath smelled of oranges and cinnamon. That scent will linger in the memory of readers as will the haunting stories in which barbaric hatred is mitigated by the reflection of a survivor who reflects that love is a kind of magic. There is, in fact, literary magic in these well told tales.” – Gloria Goldreich, author of The Bridal Chair

“Populated with monsters and heroes [human and perhaps not], but mostly with ordinary people caught up in horrific events they neither understood nor controlled – this series of intersecting stories drew me in completely, making me read them again to find all the connections I missed the first time. The writing is fantastic, and I marvel at Shankman’s literary skills.” – Maggie Anton, author of the bestselling Rashi’s Daughters trilogy

“In The Land of the Armadillos is a moving collection of beautifully written short stories that readers of Jewish fiction will celebrate. Not to be missed.” – Naomi Ragen, author of The Sisters Weiss

Author Helen Maryles Shankman, Biography

03_Helen Maryles ShankmanHelen Maryles Shankman lived in Chicago before moving to New York City to attend art school. Her stories have appeared in numerous fine publications, including The Kenyon Review, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, Grift, 2 Bridges Review, Danse Macabre, and JewishFiction.net. She was a finalist in Narrative Magazine’s Winter Story Contest and earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers competition. Her story, They Were Like Family to Me, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Shankman received an MFA in Painting from the New York Academy of Art, where she was awarded a prestigious Warhol Foundation Scholarship. She spent four years as as artist’s assistant and two years at Conde Nast working closely with the legendary Alexander Liberman. She lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a year, spending the better part of each day in an enormous barn filled with chickens, where she collected eggs and listened to the Beatles.

Shankman lives in New Jersey with her husband, four children, and an evolving roster of rabbits. When she is not neglecting the housework so that she can write stories, she teaches art and paints portraits on commission. In the Land of Armadillos, a collection of linked stories illuminated with magical realism, following the inhabitants of a small town in 1942 Poland and tracing the troubling complex choices they are compelled to make, will be published by Scribner in February 2016.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon Author Page

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/inthelandofarmadillosblogtour/

Hashtags: #InTheLandOfArmadillosBlogTour #HistoricalFiction #WWII #ShortStories

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @hmshankman @ScribnerBooks

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Talking Over Absinthe with Jonathan Moore, Author of The Poison Artist

Yesterday, I reviewed my friend Jonathan’s new book, The Poison Artist. I loved this book so very much. Here’s my in-depth review here. Lovers of both suspense novels as well as chilling, gothic reads will love this one.

I caught Jonathan on his plane ride home from his San Francisco book tour for his book launch last week to beautiful Hawaii to talk about the book and his upcoming projects.

Hi Jonathan, welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so excited for The Poison Artist, which is your third book release and the start to a three-part series published with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the U.S. (as well as with other publishers overseas). What a great book, my friend! I absolutely loved it. When I interviewed you a few years ago for your debut novel, Redheads, I knew you’d have great success, but it all happened to so fast! As we are on the cusp of you just celebrating your hot new book, I know you are busy with out-of-state promotion, so what have you got going on?

Jonathan: I’m flying back from three days of readings around the Bay Area. I read at A Great Good Place for Books, in Oakland; at Books Inc. Opera Plaza; and at Copperfield’s, in San Rafael. If someone didn’t make it to an event, but you’re in the Bay Area and want an autographed copy, I also signed stock at all those stores, and at Green Apple Books, and the Books Inc. locations in the Richmond and Marina neighborhoods. I’m always blown away by the book scene in San Francisco. There are so many wonderful stores.

Coming up, I’ve got a few events in the works in Honolulu. And then, in March, I’ve got something very big lined up in the U.K., but I’m not allowed to talk about that just yet.

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Erin: Sounds so fun! I was upset that I live on the other side of the United States! But I think I’ll be going to the UK if you are (haha!), so keep me posted! Thanks for taking some time to spend with me during your busy schedule. Come in and let’s sit in my comfy library chairs and discuss what’s been happening. I usually serve tea or coffee, but I’m interested in all the elixirs you tell me about for when I’m reading, and absinthe was a big part of The Poison Artist. I’ll let you choose the drink this time and I’m sure you can virtually whip it up for us, right?

Jonathan: This is a cocktail that Ernest Hemingway claims to have invented. He called it a Death in the Afternoon. Pour one ounce of absinthe in a fluted glass, and then top it off with ice-cold French Champagne. When you add the Champagne, the cold water draws out the herbal oils dissolved in the absinthe, and the drink takes on an almost opalescent hue.

Hemingway recommended drinking four or five, slowly. I’d start with one, and see how you feel before you take it any farther.

Erin: Ha! Maybe we should sit up at the bar instead, though now that I think about it, staying grounded in this chair might be best. I’ll do my best to keep up with Hemingway. :) Should we begin?

Jonathan: Please.

Erin: I’ve read The Poison Artist, and as I told you, I was completely swept away. My mind is so busy it’s really hard for me to keep focus these days, but your book truly drew me in. For those that don’t know, can you give us a brief break down of the plot and then where you found your inspiration?

Jonathan: This is the story of Caleb Maddox, a research toxicologist in San Francisco, who becomes obsessed with a woman after a brief, strange encounter in a bar. She doesn’t even give him her name, and he has to comb the city to find her. At the same time, he’s helping the city’s medical examiner with a homicide investigation. As he draws closer to the woman, he begins to realize that his hunt for her is connected to his help with the case.

I first had the idea for this story when I was in my twenties. I went to college in San Francisco, and when I had the idea for the story, I was on an all-night walk from Golden Gate Park, across the bridge, and into Sausalito. I tried writing it, but just couldn’t. It was way over my head. Later, in my mid-thirties, I came back to it.

Erin:  How did you create such an element of suspense? Tucking clues in the pacing and yet not openly enough for me to have guessed anything until the end?

Jonathan: Lee Child wrote a brilliant essay for the New York Times in which he explained how to create suspense. So I’ll just paraphrase him. The key is to tell people that you are going to give them some information, and then delay the delivery of that information. I’m going to tell you who shot J.F.K.—right after this commercial break.

Here’s another way of saying that: to create suspense, a writer has to be willing to hold back facts. If you dump all your information at the very beginning, you might have an action story, or a horror tale, but not a suspense novel. In The Poison Artist, I rationed out clues and information like they were from the last tin of cookies on a lifeboat. The hard part was to create the right amount of balance—you want to drive people a little bit crazy, but not so much that they quit reading.

Erin: And you did that very well. You like to put the element of science into your books, whether forensics or toxicology. It’s very technical in nature, yet your stories are so differently done than any straight forensic mystery, such as Patricia Cornwell, and include more science investigation than, for instance, Harlan Coben. Being an attorney by trade, and not a scientist or medical professional, where does this element come from and how do you make it so believable?

Jonathan: I’m so glad it comes off as believable!

If it’s working, it’s mostly because I go out and ask for help. I love to research, and I love to talk to people and ask questions. As an attorney, I may not know the answers to science questions, but I do know how to pick up the phone and pester people until I get what I want. I’m also lucky in that I have a lot of great scientists in my family, and a network of friends who know everything.

Erin: You have so many layers and elements to your story, however. I loved your use of art and history in your piece. I don’t want to give away anything in this interview so that people may enjoy the book, but can you talk about how you enjoy intertwining dark, gothic, and atmospheric references within what could be a cold and sterile scientific environment/plot? You’ve done it several times now, but this time was outstanding.

Jonathan: Again—I’m so glad it worked for you. You’re right that this is a complicated story that involves a lot of science. There’s a study about pain thresholds, and there are references to research grants from the NIH, and the way mass spectrometers work, and techniques for autopsies on bodies that spent way too long in the water. I wanted to tell a complex story, but I wanted to do it in an elegant way. I didn’t want it to sound like a Wikipedia article, and I didn’t want to cheapen the experience by forgetting about all the things that actually motivate people—things like beauty, and desire, and loneliness. Things you can’t really control, like lust and addiction.  So it’s certainly true that this was a story that involved science and investigative techniques, but I always hoped it would be more than that.

Erin: In your last two books, Close Reach and The Poison Artist you were able to capture as well a psychological element based on a character’s past and their current actions or ordeals. In fact, Redheads was quite psychological as well. One of the things that draws me to your characters is their deepest struggles and how they do, or don’t, deal with them. Why do you feel this is so important in the creation of your characters as well as your story?

Jonathan: That must be a good question, because I have no idea what the answer is.

I think one of the things I enjoy most about writing is the way a story can slowly reveal a character. I’m always fascinated by watching when a good artist sketches something. You see her hand move across the sheet, and you watch as the lines are laid down. You understand the parts as she creates them, but you won’t grasp the whole until she’s finished. I think characters work the same way. You peel back the layers scene by scene, so that at the same time you’re advancing your plot, you are bringing a character to the surface. It’s a lot more fun to do if there is some real depth to the character, so that you can explore that history throughout the book. Perhaps that’s why my characters often have, for lack of a better term, a backstory.

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Above: Jonathan provided this photo just from the other night, after his return to Hawaii, when he and his wife were out taking in this glorious scenic view!

Erin: If anyone read about you here before, or knows you, they know you love sailing. You wrote your first book on a sailboat you loved and enjoy being out on the ocean. Of course, Close Reach takes part primarily on the sea. I was thrilled to see you incorporate a bit of boats into The Poison Artist, which took place in San Francisco.

A: How important is it to you to leave a map of your own self on each of your books by including interests such as this?

B: Since you live in Hawaii, how were you able to research the piers near Golden Gate Bridge, as well as the rest of the San Francisco area around them, which were so important to the action and descriptive locations of your story? You really made the area come to life with your details.

Jonathan:

A: My next book, The Dark Room, does not have a single boat in it. But it does indulge in some of my other pet interests, such as photography, live burial, and blackmail.

B: Researching San Francisco for The Poison Artist was incredibly fun. In fact, I had such a good time, that my next two novels are set there. I went to college in the city, and I go back several times a year on business. On top of that, my sister lives next to Golden Gate Park, and she’s always willing to reconnoiter a place for me. I had her case the security at the Legion of Honor and the Haas Lilienthal House, and it was through her that I got in touch with some wonderful people at the Sausalito Police Department. Last year, for my book The Night Market, I sent her up the bell tower of an old church on the edge of Chinatown, and then to a North Beach strip club.

Erin: Back to the gothic elements, it was splendid how you placed them strategically around the book to create a foreboding tension. I’d name them all, but I don’t want to give it all away for readers. However, your use of absinthe was a huge part of your novel, and as it is most well-known for being popular in the 19th and 20th century in France, and so this was very interesting. It was almost mesmerizing and hypnotic in the way you explained, through your characters, how to drink it with sugar. It became a rather toxic thing in my own head, like it has a mind of its own! Now I can see how Hemingway wrote and Van Gogh painted (both huge absinthe drinkers)! Can you tell us anything about your thoughts behind this or about your intentions or use of it in the book?

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Jonathan: Rightly or wrongly, people ascribe a lot of meaning to each other’s drink orders. You think one thing about a man who orders an after-dinner brandy, and something entirely different about a guy who drinks Smirnoff Ice.

There is a character in The Poison Artist who has a rather distinct sense of style. She drives an Invicta Black Prince, a car with a production run of only 15 automobiles. She wears pearls, and hook-and-eye corsets, and only takes off her silk gloves to play the piano or go to bed.

Absinthe was the only thing I could give her. I didn’t have any say in the matter; she was very clear on that subject.

Erin: One of your main characters was the coroner, Henry. He was a supporting character to Caleb Maddox in this first novel, but do you hope to use someone like Henry again, since he is a coroner and ultimately has the ability to view and deal with further cases?

Jonathan: Henry Newcomb is a character in The Dark Room, and also in The Night Market. All three books stand on their own, but they share a mood and a tone—and Henry.

Erin: Can you tell us anything else about the next two books in your series? When will book two come out and how far along are you in writing them?

Jonathan: The Dark Room comes out in January of 2017, and The Night Market follows in 2018. The Dark Room follows an SFPD homicide inspector named Gavin Cain, who is pulled off a cold case murder investigation to hunt for a man who is blackmailing the mayor. The story takes place about one month after the events in The Poison Artist.

The Night Market is a little different, not the least because it’s set fifty years in the future. The main character, Ross Carver, wakes up with his memory gone after spending the night investigating a horrific murder. There’s a strange woman in his apartment, and because he doesn’t know if he can trust her, he keeps her at his side as he tries to find out what happened to him.

Both manuscripts are finished. My editors and I are almost done polishing up The Dark Room, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we take a breather before getting to The Night Market. We’ve got two years, and they’ve probably had just about enough of me for now.

Erin: It was only a few years ago you had Redheads published with an important nod from legendary author Jack Ketchum, and soon after, you were short-listed for the Bram Stoker Award. I knew you from shortly before you released Redheads until now, and even though you have a big book deal and a blurb from the ultimate author Stephen King, I can certainly say that you’ve been pretty even keeled through it all, and extremely humble. In fact, you are the most humble person I know. I’d have fainted and been swinging from treetops. How do you keep balanced? How do you feel about accomplishing so much in such a short time? How do you feel about book fame in comparison to telling a good story?

Jonathan: I’ve been extraordinarily lucky, and I’m very grateful for everything. There are a lot of kind people in the world, including Jack Ketchum and Stephen King.

Erin: I’m so happy for you! You’ve published three books now and all with stellar reviews. You signed the three-book deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as well as international publishers like Orion, and last but not least, you are getting ready to be a dad for the first time. Of course, I know which one you are most excited about! How will you manage all this and your law practice duties as well? Do you think this will change with a child and how will you take on the task?

Jonathan: There have been some amazing advances in 3-D ultrasound technology, so I can say with complete conviction that my son has beautiful, dexterous-looking little hands. I’m sure it will only be a year or two until he’s taking dictation from me and doing all the typing. That’s how it works, right?

Erin: Do you have more plans for other books following this series? If so, what are they?

Jonathan: Yes, I have a few ideas.  I’d like my next book to be set outside of San Francisco, just for a change of pace.

Erin: Have you thought of writing more short stories? I know you had one to be featured in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I love short mystery or horror stories. It seems to be a lost art or do you think it will make some resurgence?

Jonathan: I think that story, A Swimmer from the Dolphin Club, will come out in the March/April double issue of Ellery Queen. And right after I finished writing my last book, I wrote a new short story called Your Name Will Be Written In Lights. We sold that to Ellery Queen, and I hope it will come out in 2016 as well. That one was a fun little exercise—it’s a piece of noir, but it’s set on the Big Island of Hawaii, up near the rim of Kilauea.

Erin: I enjoyed A Swimmer from the Dolphin Club (so people should buy that issue!) and I can’t wait to read the next one!

If you could write any other book other than suspense or mystery, what would it be? Who are your literary writing idols, mentors, or those for which you like to read to study the craft?

Jonathan: If I could, I would write a book like Haruki Murakami’s brilliant novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. His books are so beautiful, and so strange. I don’t even pretend that I understand them, but I enjoy them immensely.

Erin: I know you sold your beloved boat, and now have a smaller boat and still love to fish. Have you been on the water lately? 

Jonathan: I didn’t do very much fishing in 2015—I was busy writing. And then, on top of that, my wife is seven months pregnant. The ocean can get pretty rough, and so we’ve been playing it safe and taking hikes with each other instead.

Erin: Since you traveled to San Francisco for your books, and for your book promotion, what’s the best food or restaurant? What are you enjoying different about San Francisco than what you do in Hawaii?

Jonathan: It’s funny—on my last night in San Francisco, I took some people out to The Tonga Room, which is a tiki bar from the 1940’s built beneath the Fairmont Hotel, on Nob Hill. It’s got a lagoon in the center of the restaurant, and the Polynesian band plays from a floating barge in the middle of the lagoon. There are carved masks and grass roofs and tropical drinks big enough to overfill a trashcan. So I guess I must have missed Hawaii.

Erin: Finally, your Hawaii volcano is still NOT going to erupt anytime soon right? Do you think you’ll always want to live in Hawaii? Why?

Jonathan: Kilauea is erupting right now, and has been continuously since the 1980s. The crater is a couple of miles from our house. We go at night, so we can see the glow of the lava. When it’s very quiet, and there’s no wind, we can hear it rumbling.

Yes, I’ll probably always want to live here. There’s a hole in the world, and it shoots out fire and smoke, and it’s practically in our backyard. We can’t wait to share that with our son.

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Above Photo by Maria Y. Wang, when the author visited Japan this year. And me…forgot to ask the travel questions!!! Next time.

Erin: Since you’re so busy right now, and I’ve already hounded you, I’ll let you go. Where can readers learn more about you or follow your books?

Jonathan: You can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jonathanmoorefiction; at my website, www.jonathanmoorefiction.com; and (on extremely rare, special occasions) on Twitter: @jonmoorefiction.

Erin: Thank YOU so much, Jonathan, for coming by and sharing in the publication of your amazing book, The Poison Artist. I’m beyond over the moon for you. Since we may have had a little too much absinthe though, I think we better sit awhile before we see monsters lurking in the corners. :) Cheers to amazing book sales and talk to you again soon.

Jonathan: Thank you. I hope I haven’t misbehaved too badly, because I’d love to come back next year and talk about The Dark Room.

Erin: It’s better if you don’t behave. And make sure you stock up on liquor. 

Note: If you’d like read my past interview with Jonathan about Redheads, go HERE.

Praise for The Poison Artist~

“An electrifying read… I haven’t read anything so terrifying since Red Dragon.”
—Stephen King

“Patient, stylish and incredibly suspenseful”—Lee Child

“Magnificent, thoroughly unnerving…I dare you to look away.” —Justin Cronin

“With crisp dialogue and skilled plotting, this atmospheric novel—fittingly set in a dark and foggy December in San Francisco—is an engrossing thriller by an author to watch. Give this one to readers who like forensic thrillers but would also be drawn in by the creepy mood.”—Booklist, STARRED review

“Exquisite…The sympathetic, though brutally flawed hero and the shocking, Hitchcock-esque finale make this psychological thriller a must-read.”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

“Moore writes beautiful, careful prose and presents readers with an atmospheric story…Where he excels is in the sensuousness of his writing: food, sex, alcohol—he fully engages all of the senses…Absinthe, oysters, the painter John Singer Sargent, a classic car, and a string of disturbing deaths…make this dark tale memorable.”—Kirkus Reviews

The Poison Artist is an elegant, gripping, hair-raising gothic chiller, a wicked mix of Poe, The Silence of the Lambs, and Vertigo. Settle in for a long night of reading—once this one grabs you, it doesn’t let go.” —William Landay, New York Times best-selling author of Defending Jacob

“Jonathan Moore has written a wickedly smart, emotionally complex novel that will haunt you long after you turn the last page. Whether you find it seductively terrifying or terrifyingly seductive, in my mind, The Poison Artist is better than Hitchcock.” —Lou Berney, author of Whiplash River and The Long and Faraway Gone

“With The Poison Artist, Jonathan Moore has given us a brilliant debut thriller, confident, mesmerizing, edgy and very cool. So much happens on every page, it’s almost dizzying. Hitchcock should come back from the grave and film this story.” —Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist and Next Life Might Be Kinder

The Poison Artist, Synopsis~

tpaHardcover, 288 pages
Published January 26, 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (US); Orion (UK)

A gripping tale of obsession and deadly mystery, where the secrets of salvation and the most devastating desires are all written in blood

Dr. Caleb Maddox is a San Francisco toxicologist studying the chemical effects of pain. After a bruising breakup with his girlfriend, he’s out drinking whiskey when a hauntingly seductive woman appears by his side. Emmeline whispers to Caleb over absinthe, gets his blood on her fingers and then brushes his ear with her lips as she says goodbye. He must find her.

As his search begins, Caleb becomes entangled in a serial-murder investigation. The police have been fishing men from the bay, and the postmortems are inconclusive. One of the victims vanished from the bar the night Caleb met Emmeline. When questioned, Caleb can’t offer any information, nor does he tell them he’s been secretly helping the city’s medical examiner, an old friend, study the chemical evidence on the victims’ remains. The search for the killer soon entwines with Caleb’s hunt for Emmeline, and the closer he gets to each, the more dangerous his world becomes.

From the first pages up to the haunting, unforgettable denouement, The Poison Artist is a gripping thriller about obsession and damage, about a man unmoored by an unspeakable past and an irresistible woman who offers the ultimate escape.

Purchase~

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble

Jonathan Moore, Biography~

jmJonathan Moore is a Bram Stoker Award nominated author of dark thrillers.Redheads was his debut novel, followed by Close Reach. Currently available is The Poison Artist, with two more to come in this series (stand alone, yet featuring one similar character), called The Dark Room  and The Night Market.

Before graduating from law school in New Orleans, he lived in Taiwan for three years, guided whitewater raft trips on the Rio Grande, and worked as an investigator for a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C. He has also been an English teacher, a bar owner, a counselor at a wilderness camp for juvenile delinquents, and a textbook writer.

He lives with his wife in Hawaii and are expecting their first child.

Connect with Jonathan on Facebook or online at his website.

 

 

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Jonathan Moore’s The Poison Artist is a Dark Masterpiece to Make a Modern Hitchcock Proud

tpa

Review~

When my friend Jonathan Moore told me he garnered a book deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for a book called “The Poison Artist,” not only was I happy for him, but I was excited for the book, as I loved his debut work, “Redheads,” which was about a serial killer and went on to sling him to the short list for the Bram Stoker Award. I also loved the tension he created in his Random House Hydra dramatic title “Close Reach.” With “The Poison Artist,” I knew this was going to be another mystery rich with a scientific portion, a psychological component, and something dark and gothic to make it uniquely different and put on the stamp as his own.

As soon as I snagged my copy from him, I let it set on display for when I could take the time to really immerse myself in it. I’m glad I did, because I tore through the pages in several sittings and thoroughly enjoyed being held hostage by the story. It will be very hard for any book in 2016 to beat my experience with this one.

This book is one of those that is hard to review in terms of telling you about the plot, because so much of it is wrapped up in allowing it to be a suspenseful mystery. Any little tidbit could lessen the experience for a new reader. However, I will say it’s so much more than what the synopsis lends to it. Yes, it’s the story of a toxicologist, Caleb, caught up in a serial-murder investigation; however, how caught up he is allows us many twists and turns to discover and ponder. When he meets Emmeline one lonely night in a bar, and she shows him how to drink absinthe, seductively, he knows once they part that he must find her again. He’s becomes obsessed.

In this, then, is how the book showcases several mysteries: the case of a serial killer he’s secretly helping Henry, the local coroner, to understand; the police investigation running alongside regarding the same victims, but in their focus they are questioning him as he was in the same bar as one of the men on the night the man was killed; and his own obsession with finding and being with this mysterious woman who dresses like she is from a bygone era, drives a roadster The Black Prince, and enjoys Berthe de Joux by French pour.

The moments with Caleb and Emmeline are captivating. She seduces him and us (as readers) as well. I was hypnotized easily by her voice, the touch of her hand, her style, and most of all, how she used the French pour for her drink. The way Jonathan wrote her in each scene was mesmerizing! I was completely caught up in wanting to know who she was to the point of her becoming a bit real to me.

Jonathan does forensics very well in his novels, this time utilizing a toxicologist and his lab, as well as a coroner, much like any good Patricia Cornwell novel. He’s very serious about his science and extremely technical. He’s done his research. His added suspense techniques reminds me of Lee Child or Alafair Burke. However there is more to the plot of this novel than just forensic science leading a suspenseful chase to a killer.

As Caleb breaks down gradually from stress, and things come to a head from all sides, Jonathan works what I call an original magic. He makes a novel that teeters on the edge of a forensic thriller and puts in seeping suspense and atmospheric conditions, dropping clues and imploring techniques of bait and chase with us as readers. He also creates foreboding and inserts gothic themes by the choices he uses in describing the landscape or surroundings. He properly sets certain props in rooms/scenes to create the atmosphere of a gothic, much as Charles Dickens or Oscar Wilde. You have to be smart to pick them up (or love gothic like me!!). His use of history, art, architecture, and landscape all attribute to madness within the novel, a nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and are also reasons I admire it so much. His use of the San Francisco locale, his descriptions of place, as well as hard drink was a bit like Hemingway. I loved how he incorporated a boat and that we were given a birds eye view of the piers of the city. It all blended into a full cinematic experience for me as a reader.

I really wish I could share the plot and the ending with you more. It certainly hasn’t left me. I’ve sat on this review for just a bit and every day I’m still every bit as entranced by the book. Maybe I was hypnotized after all.

Beyond what I mentioned, why does it keep knocking at the back of my brain? There are even more layers to this story, psychological ones I can’t speak of without spoiling. I didn’t really see much of the ending coming and it just blew me away. How he pushed rewind at the end to show us everything was stellar. The book is pristine, dare I say perfection, and ties up tautly its wafting plot, which obviously took an amazing amount of time to piece together in just the right way. I really didn’t want the book to end. It was such sophisticated reading. Luckily, we have another book to look forward to next year.

This book reminded me what REALLY good lasting writing and reading is; especially for fans of Hitchcock, as his dark affects and mild melds mirror this work in regards to his dark suspense elements and pacing. Jonathan has created his best work yet, and I believe, it’s evident of even more extraordinary work to come.

Overall, I was hypnotized, enamored, and moved by this dark mystery and I’ll be haunted by it, and its characters, for some time to come. Jonathan Moore is a complete original in a flooded world bookscape and I highly recommend you speeding this book to the top of your list. As I said at the start, it’s definitely the book to watch for 2016.

Praise~

“An electrifying read… I haven’t read anything so terrifying since Red Dragon.”
—Stephen King

“Patient, stylish and incredibly suspenseful”—Lee Child

“Magnificent, thoroughly unnerving…I dare you to look away.” —Justin Cronin

tpaThe Poison Artist, Synopsis~

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 26, 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (US); Orion (UK)

A gripping tale of obsession and deadly mystery, where the secrets of salvation and the most devastating desires are all written in blood

Dr. Caleb Maddox is a San Francisco toxicologist studying the chemical effects of pain. After a bruising breakup with his girlfriend, he’s out drinking whiskey when a hauntingly seductive woman appears by his side. Emmeline whispers to Caleb over absinthe, gets his blood on her fingers and then brushes his ear with her lips as she says goodbye. He must find her.

As his search begins, Caleb becomes entangled in a serial-murder investigation. The police have been fishing men from the bay, and the postmortems are inconclusive. One of the victims vanished from the bar the night Caleb met Emmeline. When questioned, Caleb can’t offer any information, nor does he tell them he’s been secretly helping the city’s medical examiner, an old friend, study the chemical evidence on the victims’ remains. The search for the killer soon entwines with Caleb’s hunt for Emmeline, and the closer he gets to each, the more dangerous his world becomes.

From the first pages up to the haunting, unforgettable denouement, The Poison Artist is a gripping thriller about obsession and damage, about a man unmoored by an unspeakable past and an irresistible woman who offers the ultimate escape.

Purchase~

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble

Jonathan Moore, Biography~

jmJonathan Moore is a Bram Stoker Award nominated author of dark thrillers. Redheads was his debut novel, followed by Close Reach. Currently available is The Poison Artist, with two more to come in this series (stand alone, yet featuring one similar character), called The Dark Room  and The Night Market.

Before graduating from law school in New Orleans, he lived in Taiwan for three years, guided whitewater raft trips on the Rio Grande, and worked as an investigator for a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C. He has also been an English teacher, a bar owner, a counselor at a wilderness camp for juvenile delinquents, and a textbook writer.

He lives with his wife in Hawaii and are expecting their first child.

Connect with Jonathan on Facebook or online at his website.

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Review: Lusitania R.E.X, Winner of M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction

LREX
Review~

I recently was asked to review Greg Taylor’s Lusitania R.E.X. as it won the 2015 M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. I was immediately intrigued as I know of the story, being not only a history nut but a sunken ship and deep sea nut, and yet also most recently from my son reading Erik Larson’s Dead Wake about the Lusitania, which I ended up picking up as well.

I was curious to see what Greg had done with his story. Greg’s novel relies heavily on his extensive research in that it is not so much dramatically written as much some completely made-up historical fiction can be (or as Larson’s book), but yet more of a true account that ends up proposing deduced answers to the sinking (as well as other unknowns of the time period) coupled in a setting of glitz, glamour, and money of the gilded age as well as the espionage and secrets of World War I. This makes it historical fiction, but in reality, it’s a book in which you can learn an extensive amount of history.

I’ve always been curious and interested in the time period around 1890-1920s so this fit right in to my interests with the controversy, the last names with the high price tags like Vanderbuilt and Rockefeller, and as well matched up with my penchant for international espionage. Since the ship was struck by a torpedo there is much of the war wrapped up in this novel as Greg searches for the truth.

As I noted, he’s done an astronomical amount of research, including interviewing people such as the 11th Duke of Marlbourough, Alfred G. Vanderbuilt III. He’s taken his research and used his imagination to re-create the people and the places of the times in a way that has us curious and intrigued. (If you go to his website, you can view many photos of the people of this time period and the Lusitania). I loved reading about all the different people he presented in the novel.

I felt transported to another era through his descriptions and characters. Though I would have maybe liked the prose to be a bit more tightened, or even a tad more descriptive, he did a wonderful job setting the stage and not only trying to answer important questions in history, but as well, entertaining me.

I really loved the “Proven and Unproven” section in the back of the author’s limited edition which took each character (real or fictional) and told us things about them he found or is known and if they were proven or unproven. For fictional characters, he told us how he came up with them or something about why he had them in the book.

This book is definitely recommended for lovers of historical fiction that is based on true stories, especially those of this era of World War I, or for fanatics that like stories such as the Titanic. It’s a novel filled with a pot of international relations and players, politics, and high society with the suspense of something like Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October. Highly recommended for special collector shelves or serious historical readers.

Lusitania R.E.X., Synopsis~

LREX.jpgLUSITANIA R.E.X is a historical fiction account of the sinking of the Lusitania replete with spies and secret societies, super weapons, monarchs, millionaires and martyrs. After being struck by a single torpedo on May 7th 1915, the Lusitania sank in only eighteen minutes. Passengers such as Alfred Vanderbilt, one of the wealthiest men in the world, ignored warnings from the German embassy, confident the fastest ship in the world could outrun enemy submarines.
Since the time of her sinking, the Lusitania has been wrapped in mystery and intrigue. Experts continue to debate the cause of the second explosion that sealed her fate after the torpedo struck. Imperial Germany immediately claimed she was loaded with explosives destined for the front. Why did the Admiralty withdraw her escort ship? Who were the three German stowaways arrested shortly after sailing? Why did Alfred Vanderbilt give away his lifebelt?

LUSITANIA R.E.X weaves fiction around the known facts to create a plausible explanation of some of the mysteries surrounding her sinking. The book describes how modern, mechanized war with its zeppelin raids and poison gas brought to an end the gilded age of Newport, Edwardian England and Imperial Germany and Russia. The story unfolds on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in settings that range from gilded palaces and the Lusitania to the blood-soaked trenches of Ypres.

Lusitania R.E.X won the 2015 M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction presented at the banquet of the Historical Novel Society in Denver, Colorado, USA, and it is a finalist for the People’s Book Prize, to be announced in April 2016.
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Greg Taylor, Biography~
My passion for history and research leads me to investigate a topic thoroughly before I even begin to identify the characters and consider how their motivations and personalities will forge the plot and themes of my historical fiction. For LUSITANIA R.E.X, for example, I spent a year reading everything I could about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. Then I covered my dining table with scribbled historical events, people, places, conspiracies and rumours. Combined with potential plots and subplots, I arranged and rearranged these scraps of paper for weeks until they coalesced into an outline of the book I wanted to write.

auth-1My research led me to develop first-hand personal relationships with the descendants of some of the characters in LUSITANIA R.E.X, including the 11th Duke of Marlborough and Alfred G. Vanderbilt III. I was drawn to the story of the Lusitania because I was fascinated by the cataclysm of elegant Edwardian society with the brutal warfare its industrial prosperity made possible.

After growing up in Colorado, I received a B.A. in history from Williams College in Massachusetts and an M.B.A. from the Yale School of Management, where I lived one block from the Tomb of Skull and Bones. London has been my home since 2000 and I have divided my investment banking and asset management career between New York and London.

Find out more online at Greg’s website.

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