Our guest blogger today is Patricia Skalka, author of the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series. The fifth book in the series, Death by the Bay, was published this month.
Of the five books in the Dave Cubiak Door County mysteries, Death by the Bay is the most personal.
In the first four volumes, both the characters and the plots were born in my imagination. The concept for Death by the Bay evolved from a true story that my mother told me when I was ten or twelve. She grew up on a small family farm in central Wisconsin in a community of Polish immigrants. Few spoke English and most had large families. One neighboring couple stood out because they had only one child, a daughter with a disability. One day, an itinerant doctor, or someone posing as such, told the couple that he could help their child. The specifics became blurred over time, but in one version, he talked of a special school where children like their daughter could learn to live independently. I remember my mother saying that he offered to provide free medical care, treatments that would alleviate her condition and even “cure” her.
The stranger was educated, persuasive. The desperate couple believed him. Thinking they were acting in the best interests of their precious only child, they allowed him to leave with her. They never saw her again.
I was horrified. I could not believe that such evil existed in the world. But there was more. Months later, the same predator or one of similar ilk came to my grandparents’ farm. His target was my mother’s younger sister, Rose, who’d been afflicted with polio and as a result was unable to speak or walk properly. Aware of what had happened to the neighboring family, my grandmother picked up a broom and chased the man out the door.
Before I became a novelist, I was a nonfiction writer. My stories about human drama, women’s issues, and medical advancements appeared in many print and online publications. The story I always wanted to write was the story of the couple whose daughter was stolen under false pretenses. But there was no paper trail, no way to research or document the events.
So, I did the only thing I could: I fictionalized the story. This tragic tale I heard decades ago became the seed for Death by the Bay. Though I shifted the locale, altered the circumstances, and developed a contemporary plot line, the basis of the story remains unchanged. Death by the Bay is a tale of the powerful preying on the weak, a tale of the educated taking advantage of the unknowing. It is a story that, unfortunately, continues to repeat itself in various ways throughout the world today.
Today we have a piece written by Patricia Skalka, author of the Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries. The third book in this series, Death in Cold Water has recently been released in paperback.
In real life, people and relationships continually shift and change. They do the same in fiction. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises I encounter in writing the Dave Cubiak Door County mysteries comes from seeing how the characters evolve from one book to the next. Death in Cold Water, the third book in the ongoing saga, finds protagonist Dave Cubiak firmly ensconced as the heroic sheriff even as he continues to struggle with the issues of grief and loss that propelled his move to Door County. But he is no longer the same character he was in Death Stalks Door County, the book that kicks off the series. Over time, and the course of three volumes, he transitions from a forlorn, drunk recluse into a man who slowly learns to trust both himself and others and one who learns to love again.
In describing the heroic detective figure, Raymond Chandler once famously said “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero.” Chandler’s description does not fit the flawed and tragic protagonist we first meet. He is mean (punishing himself for the deaths of his wife and daughter); he is tarnished (having drunk himself out of his job as a Chicago cop); and he is afraid (fearful of life, of making more mistakes); he is not a hero (initially he stubbornly refuses to help solve the mysterious murders plaguing the county). After his moral compass swings back into place, all changes. Cubiak’s plight endures him to readers who empathize with his failings and see themselves reflected in his struggles.
Although I create the stories and control the words that fall upon the page, more often than not I feel like a bystander, one who records events as they occur and documents the shifts in relationships between my fictional characters. I always imagined that Dave Cubiak and the erudite physician Evelyn Bathard would be friends, but I never planned for Bathard to become a father figure to the sheriff. Yet that is exactly what happens. The process begins in the second book and intensifies in Death in Cold Water.
Meanwhile, Mike Rowe makes his entrance in book two as a minor character. His role is expedient. Cubiak needs access to a fast boat, so I introduce a hot-shot young deputy who owns the high-powered Speedy Sister. I cast Rowe as a minor figure but then the muse takes over and in Death in Cold Water, the deputy plays a pivotal role. Even more interesting, at the same time, almost magically, Cubiak emerges as something of a father figure to the younger man.
Did I mention love? In book two, both international photographer Cate Wagner and local vet Natalie Klein appear as romantic interests. In Death in Cold Water, one of the two wins Cubiak’s heart. But I’m not telling which. The answer is one of the series surprises.
Patricia Skalka is the author of Death Stalks Door County, Death at Gills Rock, and Death Rides the Ferry, the fourth book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery series. She is president of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime and divides her time between Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin. A former staff writer at Reader’s Digest, she presents writing workshops throughout the United States.
“An intricate, intriguing plot in which Door County Sheriff Dave Cubiak can stop a ruthless killer only by finding the link between a spate of murders and a forty-year-old mystery.”—Michael Stanley, author of the Detective Kubu series
“Skalka is equally skilled at evoking the beloved Door County landscape and revealing the complexities of the human heart, as Sheriff Cubiak’s latest case evokes personal demons. This thought-provoking mystery, set in a beautiful but treacherous environment, is sure to please.”—Kathleen Ernst, author of The Light Keeper’s Legacy
“Original, engaging, and direly needed. Lazzara, one of the leading scholars writing on human rights, memory, and trauma in Chile and Argentina, looks at the many ethical positions civilians have latched onto to save face in the decades since the Pinochet dictatorship.”—Greg Dawes, author of Verses Against the Darkness
“Provocative, conceptually powerful, and fluidly expressed, Lazzara’s book forces a reckoning with the active, ample ways Chileans violently transformed politics, the economy, and the social fabric to lasting effect and amid ongoing denial. The arguments and implications extend well beyond Chile to our own politics and societies.”—Katherine Hite, author of Politics and the Art of Commemoration
“Unshrouds folklore’s manipulation by Nazi leaders, and thank goodness for that, even if it is uncomfortable to confront. Dow has unearthed, and deftly explained, an incredible storehouse of material from Himmler’s cultural commissions, probably the largest organized field collecting project in history. The lessons he astutely draws are critical for understanding the Nazi era and are relevant to today’s cultural politics. A great achievement.”—Simon J. Bronner, author of Explaining Traditions
“Dow analyzes the motives of the protagonists of Himmler’s Cultural Commissions, and his treatment of the ideological preconditions for the field investigations is compelling. A major contribution to our understanding of Nazism.”—Konrad Köstlin, University of Vienna
• Grammy Nominee
• Winner, Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Best Historical Research in Folk or World Music
“A stunning work of curation and scholarship. . . . Whether you’re a music-maker or just a listener, reader, and thinker, there’s a surprise on every track and every page.”—Huffington Post
“A treasure. . . . Leary’s deep knowledge of the subject matter is demonstrated by thought-provoking facts placing the dance tunes, ballads, lyrics songs, hymns, political anthems, and more in historical context.”—Library Journal
We are pleased to announce six new books to be published in May.
May 9, 2017 WHISPERS OF CRUEL WRONGS The Correspondence of Louisa Jacobs and Her Circle, 1879-1911 Edited by Mary Maillard
Louisa Jacobs was the daughter of Harriet Jacobs, author of the famous autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. That work included a heartbreaking account of Harriet parting with six-year-old Louisa, taken away to the North by her white father. Now, rediscovered letters reveal the lives of Louisa and her circle and shed light on Harriet’s old age.
“A rich and fascinating portrait of Philadelphia’s and Washington D.C.’s black elite after the Civil War. Even as the letters depict the increasingly troubled political status and economic fortunes of the correspondents, they offer rare glimpses into private homes and inner emotions.”—Carla L. Peterson,author of Black Gotham Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography William L. Andrews, Series Editor
May 16, 2017 TO OFFER COMPASSION A History of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion
Doris Andrea Dirks and Patricia A. Relf
“Conservative Christianity has become synonymous with opposition to abortion, but before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized it in the U.S., clergy organized to protect pregnant women and direct them to safe abortions. Dirks and Relf explore this extraordinary and little-known history through detailed first-person interviews and extensive research with Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy who, between 1967 and 1973, created a pregnancy counseling service and national underground network to provide women with options for adoption, parenting assistance, and pregnancy termination. . . . Critically important social history that too many in today’s abortion wars have never known or chosen to forget.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
May 23, 2017 SPIRIT CHILDREN Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana Aaron R. Denham
“A brilliant, sensitive, and moving book about the heartbreaking phenomenon of infanticide. This is a book to be taken seriously by hospital personnel, public health policymakers, NGO workers, and anyone interested in the fate of the world’s most vulnerable young children.”—Alma Gottlieb, coauthor of A World of Babies
“A skillful ethnography of the spirit child phenomenon in northern Ghana—children who fail to thrive, are feared to harm their families, and therefore should be ‘sent back.’ This insightful, theoretically rich analysis offers a nuanced ecological, economic, and cultural explanation of maternal attachment.”—John M. Janzen, author of The Quest for Therapy in Lower Zaire
May 23, 2017 THE LAND REMEMBERS The Story of a Farm and Its People 9th Edition
With an introduction by Curt Meine
“Ben Logan is strikingly successful in recalling his own boyhood world, a lonely ridge farm in southwestern Wisconsin. . . . He reviews his growing-up years in the 1920s and ’30s less with nostalgia than with a naturalist’s eye for detail, wary of the distortions of memory and sentiment.”—Christian Science Monitor
“A book to be cherished and remembered.”—Publishers Weekly
May 30, 2017 PINERY BOYS Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era
Edited by Franz Rickaby with Gretchen Dykstra and James P. Leary
As the heyday of the lumber camps faded, a young scholar named Franz Rickaby set out to find songs from shanty boys, river drivers, and sawmill hands in the Upper Midwest. Pinery Boys now incorporates, commemorates, contextualizes, and complements Rickaby’s 1926 book. It includes annotations throughout by folklore scholar James P. Leary and an engaging biography by Rickaby’s granddaughter Gretchen Dykstra. Central to this edition are the fifty-one songs that Rickaby originally published, plus fourteen additional songs selected to represent the
varied collecting Rickaby did beyond the lumber camps.
“[Rickaby] was the first to put the singing lumberjack into an adequate record and was of pioneering stuff. … His book renders the big woods, not with bizarre hokum and studied claptrap … but with the fidelity of an unimpeachable witness.”—Carl Sandburg
May 23, 2017 The second book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series DEATH AT GILLS ROCK
“In her atmospheric, tightly written sequel, Skalka vividly captures the beauty of a remote Wisconsin peninsula that will attract readers of regional mysteries. Also recommended for fans of William Kent Krueger, Nevada Barr, and Mary Logue.” —Library Journal, starred review
“Three World War II heroes about to be honored by the Coast Guard are all found dead, apparent victims of carbon monoxide poisoning while playing cards at a cabin. . . . The second installment of this first-rate series (Death Stalks Door County, 2014) provides plenty of challenges for both the detective and the reader.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Skalka captures the . . . small-town atmosphere vividly, and her intricate plot and well-developed characters will appeal to fans of William Kent Krueger.”—Booklist
Patricia Skalka, author of Death in Cold Water, the third installment of the Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries, speaks about her experience writing a mystery novel, interviewing the FBI, and why Cubiak is so relatable.
Death in Cold Water is the third book of your Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries. When you started writing, did you envision that you’d do a series? Not at all. In fact, the prospect of writing a series seemed quite overwhelming and far beyond the scope of anything I could imagine. I started Death Stalks Door County, the first book, with the intention that it would be a stand-alone mystery. One and done, as they say. But as the book developed, additional story lines materialized. And by the time I had completed a solid draft, I felt so close to my characters that I didn’t want to walk away from them. I saw them as real people whose lives extended into the future. By then it seemed only natural to use the first book as a stepping stone into a series.
Without revealing any secrets, what can you tell us about Death in Cold Water? There are two story lines in the book. The first involves the disappearance of a prominent Door County philanthropist who has strong ties to the Green Bay Packers. His presumed kidnapping leads to FBI agents joining the story. The second plot revolves around human bones that wash up on a beach north of Baileys Harbor. My lead character, Sheriff Dave Cubiak, uncovers the story behind them.
Is there a common motif in your books? In each of the three books I’ve written and in the fourth that’s in progress, the crime that occurs in present time is linked to past events. By this, I mean stories that span several decades and involve the kind of old secrets and misdeeds that become lost in the mist of memory and slowly ferment beneath the surface of daily life. I like to present my protagonist with complex puzzles that involve several potential and often conflicting motives and a panoply of suspects. In solving crimes, he must shift through layers of often conflicting clues and circumstances and delve deep into people’s lives before he arrives at the truth.
One of two range lights at Baileys Harbor active from 1869 to 1969. The lanterns were originally fueled by lard or whale oil, later by kerosene and acetylene gas until converted to electricity.
Is Dave Cubiak, your protagonist, based on a real person? Dave Cubiak is a figment of my imagination drawn from bits and pieces of many of the people whose paths have crossed mine over the years. His aspirations might be drawn from one individual; his story of loss from another; his physical appearance based on yet someone else. Mostly he was an idea that slowly assumed a personality and physical presence as the concept for the first book evolved. To solve the mystery and carry the reader along as clues were discovered, I needed the fresh eyes and objectivity that only an outsider could bring. When readers met Cubiak in my first mystery, Death Stalks Door County, he was a former Chicago homicide detective turned park ranger. He’s a reluctant protagonist who slowly grows into his role of hero.
I created Cubiak as the kind of sheriff I would want to arrive on the scene if I were ever the victim of a crime or in need of help. At a recent event, one reader said he thinks of Cubiak as “a man who does the right thing.” I think that really sums up Dave Cubiak.
Where do you find your inspiration for the books you write? Mysteries generally evolve from one of three elements: setting, characters, or plot. Death in Cold Water grew directly from the plot. I knew that I wanted to write a story about a kidnapping. The next step was deciding on the victim, the motive behind the crime, and the culprits, and then weaving the three together in a coherent story.
Death at Gills Rock, the second volume in the series, emerged from the characters and my desire to write a book involving veterans from World War II. I’d read newspaper articles and seen many reports on the vanishing population of veterans and knew I had to do something soon. One day, I was talking to one of my Door County neighbors about the idea and she mentioned that the Coast Guard contingent from Sturgeon Bay had served in the Aleutian Islands during the war. That was all I needed to get started.
A Door County sunrise.
The idea for Death Stalks Door County, the first book, grew directly from the setting. After spending a perfect afternoon on the beach, I found myself in the same spot on an inky black night. The contrast between day and night made me think of the disparity between light and dark, and good and evil, which led to imagining a story in which sinister forces were at work beneath a veneer of perfection. From this, I came up with the plot line and characters for my first mystery.
How much, if any, research do you do for your mysteries? Whenever I come up against something about which I know little or nothing, I do research. I don’t let a lack of knowledge about a subject stand in my way of writing about it. But I don’t fabricate facts either. Writing only what you know is fine if you’re already someone with boundless knowledge! I believe in writing about that which I am willing to learn, and I always encourage aspiring writers not to be inhibited by a lack of knowledge about a given subject as long as they are willing to do the research.
Death in Cold Water involves the FBI, and prior to writing the book all I knew about the agency was what I picked up from news articles and TV shows. I had much to learn about the FBI’s involvement in kidnapping cases and started by gathering as much information as I could from the bureau’s website and from various books and magazine articles. Once I had a sense of the story, I went through the plot and tried to imagine where and how the FBI would figure in. With this general overview pretty well laid out, I was ready to talk with real-life agents.
What was it like interviewing the FBI? Overall, I’d say it was rather intimidating. Where to start? The bureau has offices in more than fifty major cities across the county, and since my story was set in Wisconsin, I assumed I should approach the Milwaukee office first. I sent an email to the Public Information Office there, explaining who I was and what I was doing and was told that all media inquiries have to go through Washington. That gave me pause. But after a few days of procrastinating, I sent essentially the same email to the PIO at headquarters. This time, I was asked to submit the type of questions I wanted answered.
That gave me further pause. I had dozens of specific questions, but I finally came up with five or six general queries and submitted the list. Within days, I had an appointment with two agents in the Chicago office.
The author reflected in the window of her cottage.
Here were the guidelines: I could ask anything I wanted but wasn’t allowed to bring in any electronic devices. This meant no cell phones, recorders, or cameras. I entered the grounds through a small gate house where I was assigned a locker for my cell phone, which I’d forgotten to leave in the car. Once I was cleared, I walked the fifty or so feet to the main building carrying only my purse, a notepad, and a pen.
I met with two agents for more than two hours, taking notes by hand all the time we talked. They were extremely helpful, and both really liked the ending I wrote! I wasn’t allowed to mention either of the agents by name in the acknowledgements.
The books in your series move through time. Why is that? Cubiak is in a very bad place when we first meet him. He is burdened with grief over the deaths of his wife and daughter and overwhelmed with guilt because they died in an accident he feels he could have prevented. He is morose and withdrawn. Following in the footsteps of his alcoholic father, he also uses vodka to numb his feelings. He is a man apart and not very likable. I didn’t want to leave him there, and the only realistic way I could see to help him find some peace was to move him—and the stories—through time.
I envision the series covering a period of twenty years or so. Cubiak as well as the other central characters will grow older, as we do. Life circumstances will keep changing and they’ll face new issues and concerns. I thought this would be both an interesting and challenging way to structure the books.
Is there an overall arc to the series? Each book follows its own story arc but the series has an overarching story line which put simply is Cubiak’s personal journey of redemption. As I said earlier, he begins the series as a man tormented by grief and guilt, and in each book he learns a little more about how to live with the loss he has endured. His pain evolves over time but it will never really go away, and he has to grapple with the challenge of reconciling that which he cannot change. My goal is to help Cubiak reach a point where he can fully embrace both loss and life, no small challenge for anyone.
How do readers relate to Cubiak’s journey? I have been surprised and touched by how my readers relate to Cubiak. Women seem to want to take care of him; men say they like him because he’s “real.” People affected by loss are especially sympathetic to his plight. Many have told me that they appreciate the depth and ongoing nature of Cubiak’s struggle. They feel that my books speak to the truth of grief which is too often treated superficially. One reader experienced in helping others cope with post-traumatic stress said he thought Cubiak’s story was a story of hope for people dealing with traumatic loss.
Dave Cubiak, who started out rather unlikable, has developed something of a fan club. Readers ask about him; they express concern for his emotional well-being; they send emails asking when the next Dave Cubiak story will be out. For an author, there can be no greater compliment.
Watch Patricia Skalka in an interview by Chicago Public Television:
Patricia Skalka is the author of Death Stalks Door County and Death at Gills Rock, the first two volumes in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery series. A former writer for Reader’s Digest, she presents writing workshops throughout the United States and divides her time between Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin.
The third book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series
“Patricia Skalka has pulled off the near impossible—a tale of grisly murder filled with moments of breathtaking beauty. Sheriff Dave Cubiak is the kind of decent protagonist too seldom seen in modern mystery novels, a hero well worth rooting for. And the icing on the cake is the stunning backdrop of Door County, Wisconsin. Another fine novel in a series that is sure to satisfy even the most demanding reader.”—William Kent Krueger, author of Windigo Island
“Skalka has created magic with this excellent police procedural. She confronts Sheriff Dave Cubiak with a kidnapping, snakes, and even a bag of nearly drowned kittens, deftly brought together in crisp, evocative prose. A great read!”—Libby Fischer Hellman, author of Jump Cut
Publication date: October 11 AGENTS OF TERROR Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police Alexander Vatlin
Edited, translated, and with an introduction by Seth Bernstein
“Although the literature on the Great Terror has improved markedly over the past twenty-five years, only a handful of case studies consider how the purges took place at the grassroots level. Thankfully, Alexander Vatlin’s pathbreaking work has now become available to English-speaking audiences. One can only hope that Agents of Terror will inspire more research on the purge’s perpetrators and victims as well as on the broader sociology of this brutal period.”—David Brandenberger, author of Propaganda State in Crisis
“Groundbreaking. In the first detailed description of Stalin’s mass terror, Vatlin unfolds the day-to-day working of the Soviet political police who carried out orders to select, arrest, interrogate, and often murder their fellow citizens. An absorbing, heartrending account.”—David Shearer, author of Policing Stalin’s Socialism
“Merges fact and fiction to create a historically accurate picture of the struggles faced by LGBT people in the 1950s and ’60s; the closeting that was required for professional advancement; and the ways the Cold War pitted pure science against research to benefit the defense industry. A stirring and deeply felt story.”—Kirkus Reviews
“This is gripping historical fiction about queer life at the height of the Cold War and the civil rights movement, and its grounding in fact really makes it sing. Like the scientists whose papers she edits, Lucybelle Bledsoe is passionate about the truth. Whether it’s the climate history of the planet as illuminated by cores of polar ice or the pursuit of an authentic emotional life in the miasma of McCarthyism, she operates with piercing honesty.”—Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home
“Only the inventive Floyd Skloot could come up with—and gorgeously pull off—an experiment like The Phantom of Thomas Hardy. With the intensity of a fevered dream, he seeks his own self-integration after brain trauma while digging around, assembling, and imagining the history of the elusive Hardy. Blending memoir, reportage, literary analysis, and historical fiction (who does that?) Skloot dazzles with the depth of his research, and enchants with his signature vivid, precise, and thoroughly delicious prose.”—Jeanne Marie Laskas, author of Concussion
“This strikingly original book crosses the boundaries of genre in daring ways, as we observe a fictional self in pursuit of a phantom, another self, the soul of a great author. This is a work of memoir, fantasy, literary biography, spiritual questing—and more. As ever, Skloot draws on deep reserves of intellectual and emotional energy. A remarkable achievement.”—Jay Parini, author of The Last Station
“Up-to-date and fully documented, this alphabetical guide to more than two thousand names of Wisconsin’s counties, towns, cities, and villages will be the definitive resource on Wisconsin place names for years to come. Readers—whether locals, travelers, or scholars—will enjoy learning about the unique history of the state as reflected in its place names.”—Luanne von Schneidemesser, senior editor, Dictionary of American Regional English
“The introduction is laced with apt examples of naming patterns and sources. It explains pseudo-Indian names and corrects many fanciful but false popular accounts of name origins. And, Callary includes a helpful pronunciation guide for anyone confronted with Mazomanie, Menomonie, and Muscoda for the first time.”—James P. Leary, editor of Wisconsin Folklore
Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden are the authors of the Nora Barnes and Toby Sandler mystery series published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Death on a Starry Night, the third in the series, follows Murder in Lascaux and The Body in Bodega Bay. We talked with them about the new book and their process of writing novels together.
Nora and Toby solved their first mystery on vacation in southwest France and their second at their home in northern California. Why did you send them back to France?
Mike: It was Vincent Van Gogh who lured us back! We read Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s new biography of the artist, which argues that Vincent didn’t commit suicide. Instead, they claim he was murdered.
Betsy: That made a great premise for a mystery. Who killed Van Gogh? Who kept the secret, and why? Since Vincent painted his most famous works and met his death in France, that’s where the trail led. We were happy to return there for our research—it’s where we started writing together. Our first book was a memoir about buying a summer home in the Dordogne (A Castle in the Backyard: The Dream of a House in France).
Why did you set the action in St. Paul-de-Vence, above the Riviera?
Mike: We’re always looking for colorful settings, but this one had special resonance for me. The summer after my junior year abroad in Paris, I got a job as a singing waiter in St. Paul-de-Vence, a beautiful walled village in Provence. I fell in love with the place and didn’t want to come home. My dream was to stay and become a writer, maybe write a novel set in the village. Well, my parents talked me out of it, and like a good son, I came home and finished college. It took a half-century to get a second bite of the apple, but this was it. As they say, it’s never too late.
Betsy: St. Paul isn’t far from Van Gogh’s territory, though Vincent never painted there. We created a link by setting the action at a fictional scholarly conference about Van Gogh held at the Maeght Foundation, an actual museum and research institute on the outskirts of the village.
What is it about Van Gogh’s death that remains a mystery?
Vincent Van Gogh
Mike: He died of a gunshot wound, but beyond that, little is certain. Even at the time, there were questions about his death. What happened to the gun that was used? The police never found it. What’s more, they never found his easel and the other materials he was carrying with him on the day of the shooting, including the painting he was working on—they all disappeared. What became of them? Was someone else at the scene? If Vincent intended to kill himself, why did he shoot himself in the side rather than in the head, and why did he seek help afterwards? Why didn’t he leave a suicide note? There are enough gaps in what we know about the shooting to call for speculation.
Does your plot parallel the account of Vincent’s death given by Naifeh and Smith in their biography?
Betsy: No. We think they build a weak case against the person they name as a suspect, and there are better explanations, one of which we dramatize. Our novel has two narrators. The first is a contemporary of Van Gogh who gives his account of how the artist died. The second narrator is our character Nora. The art history conference she’s attending starts with the murder of the keynote speaker. Nora and Toby set out to unmask the killer. The two plot lines cross and come together in the conclusion. Working out the connections was fun and also a challenge.
How do the two of you write novels together without causing a divorce?
Betsy: We do a lot of talking first about ideas for settings, plots, and characters. Then Mike writes a chapter-by-chapter outline, and we tinker with that until we are in agreement. Then we take turns writing scenes. When I’m finished with a scene, I turn it over to Mike and he edits it. And vice-versa. We go back and forth until we’re satisfied that we’ve done the story justice and the voice of the novel is consistent. When two writers decide to re-write each other on a daily basis, you might say they’re asking for trouble.
Mike: So we made a rule that says we’ll accept the other’s edits without a fight. We call it our mutual non-aggression pact. If one of us says “it goes,” it does. By and large, the process works for us. We’re still married, and we’re still writing together.
Are you working on a fourth Nora and Toby mystery?
Betsy: We are! We can’t say much yet, except that our sleuths will go to Ireland.
We are excited to announce six books forthcoming this month!
THE BLUE HOUR Jennifer Whitaker
Winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry
Selected by Denise Duhamel
Fairy tales both familiar and obscure create a threshold, and the The Blue Hour pulls us over it. With precise language and rich detail, these poems unflinchingly create an eerie world marked by abuse, asking readers not just to bear witness but to try to understand how we make meaning in the face of the meaningless violence.
THE BOOK OF HULGA Rita Mae Reese
Winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry
Selected by Denise Duhamel
The Book of Hulga speculates—with humor, tenderness, and a brutal precision—on a character that Flannery O’Connor envisioned but did not live long enough to write: “the angular intellectual proud woman approaching God inch by inch with ground teeth.” These striking poems look to the same sources that O’Connor sought out, from Gerard Manley Hopkins to Edgar Allan Poe to Simone Weil. Original illustrations by Julie Franki further illuminate Reese’s imaginative verse biography of a modern-day hillbilly saint.
REASON AFTER ITS ECLIPSE On Late Critical Theory Martin Jay
Martin Jay tackles a question as old as Plato and still pressing today: what is reason, and what roles does and should it have in human endeavor? Applying the tools of intellectual history, Reason after Its Eclipse examines the overlapping, but not fully compatible, meanings that have accrued to the term “reason” over two millennia, homing in on moments of crisis, critique, and defense of reason.
FEEDING MANILA IN PEACE AND WAR, 1850–1945
Daniel F. Doeppers
Policymakers and scholars have come to realize that getting food, water, and services to the millions who live in the world’s few dozen megacities is one of the twenty-first century’s most formidable challenges. As these populations continue to grow, apocalyptic scenarios—sprawling slums plagued by hunger, disease, and social disarray—become increasingly plausible. In Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850–1945, Daniel F. Doeppers traces nearly a century in the life of Manila, one of the world’s largest cities, to show how it grew and what sustained it.
SEVEN YEARS OF GRACE The Inspired Mission of Achsa W. Sprague Sara Rath
Distributed for the Vermont Historical Society
Seven Years of Grace is a dramatized account of the life of Achsa Sprague (1827–1862), who in the decade preceding the American Civil War lectured to audiences of thousands on Spiritualism, the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, and prison reform. She presented herself as a medium, lecturing and singing hymns in a state of trance. Alone on stage, she drew acclaim and admiration but also jeers, ridicule, and condemnation. A skeptic in Oswego, New York, asked, “Why is it that all the world should run nightly mad to hear her in a pretended trance?” A Milwaukee newspaper proclaimed her words “profound twaddle from beginning to end.” Yet Achsa’s crowds continued to grow in size and enthusiasm. Grounded in the extensive collection of Achsa Sprague’s papers at the Vermont Historical Society, Seven Years of Grace is both a fascinating tale and a revealing window into the past.
DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTY Patricia Skalka
The first book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series, now in paperback
Six deaths. A grief-stricken investigator. Betrayal. Why?
“Can a big-city cop solve a series of murders whose only witnesses may be the hemlocks? An atmospheric debut.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Murder seems unseemly in Door County, a peninsula covered in forests, lined by beaches, and filled with summer cabins and tourist resorts. That’s the hook for murder-thriller Death Stalks Door County, the first in a series involving ranger Dave Cubiak, a former Chicago homicide detective.”—Milwaukee Shepherd Express
Today kicks off the fourth annual University Press Week organized by the American Association of University Presses. The University of Wisconsin Press and more than forty other presses are participating in the AAUP’s annual blog tour during the week. This tour highlights the value of university presses and the contributions they make to scholarship and our society. This year’s theme is Surprising! so the blogs will highlight some of the surprising things university presses publish. Check the tour every day for new posts!
Mystery fiction from the University of Wisconsin Press is both a hit and a fit
James DeVita is Wisconsin’s preeminent stage actor, acclaimed this year by the Wall Street Journal as “the best classical actor in the United States today.” But DeVita jokes that he’s really a writer with an acting habit. A successful playwright and author of much-praised YA novels, DeVita published his first novel for adults this year, a gritty crime thriller set in Chicago and Wisconsin. The twist? A WINSOME MURDERstars a hard-bitten detective who finds insights in Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays.
“An engaging mystery that’s a feast of literary allusions. . . . [Detective James] Mangan’s ‘verbal quirks,’ snatches of prose or poetry that pop into his head and help him solve cases, make him an unusually distinctive sleuth.” —Publishers Weekly
This combination of regional settings and brainy themes epitomizes the successful range of mystery fiction that UWP has been publishing in recent years. DeVita hopes to spin his debut mystery into a series (in between acting stints at the Milwaukee Rep, American Players Theatre, and touring performances). Several other UWP authors are already on a roll with their own mystery series.
Michael Hinden and Betsy Draine
Summers spent in the Dordogne region of France inspired Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden, professors emeriti of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to start their Nora Barnes and Toby Sandler Series. Like their sleuths, Draine and Hinden are a married couple who enjoy travel, art, and fine food and wine. After writing two nonfiction books about Dordogne, they collaborated on MURDER IN LASCAUX, sending their detective duo into the famous cave filled with Cro-Magnon paintings as well as into French castles, chateaus, and restaurants.
“A whodunit that nicely balances a breezily light travelogue with urgency and suspense. Readers will hope this is the first of a series,” wrote Publishers Weekly.
Readers’ hopes were answered with a second book in the series, THE BODY IN BODEGA BAY, in which art historian Nora and antiques dealer Toby are at home in California, sorting out a criminal tangle of Russian art and Alfred Hitchcock memorabilia. And in Spring 2016, Nora and Toby will be back in the south of France with DEATH ON A STARRY NIGHT. French art, fine wine, romance, and murder mingle as academics squabble over how Vincent Van Gogh died.
Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destination is the setting for Patricia Skalka’s Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries. Door County is the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” a scenic peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan. Skalka, a former writer for Reader’s Digest and a native of Chicago, has mapped out plots for seven Dave Cubiak mysteries, inspired by time spent at her Door cottage over the years.
In DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTY, Skalka introduced Dave Cubiak, a morose homicide detective hoping to find solace in a new job as a park ranger. But there is no peace for Cubiak, as six deaths mar the holiday mood of summer vacationers. She followed up quickly with DEATH AT GILLS ROCK, in which newly elected Sheriff Cubiak follows an old trail of lies and betrayal.
“In her atmospheric, tightly written sequel, Skalka vividly captures the beauty of a remote Wisconsin peninsula that will attract readers of regional mysteries. Also recommended for fans of William Kent Krueger, Nevada Barr, and Mary Logue.”—Library Journal, *starred review
ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY LIE is the eighth installment in Lev Raphael’s series featuring English professor (and part-time sleuth) Nick Hoffman, set in a Michigan college town. Raphael draws on his experience as an Edith Wharton scholar, a prominent gay writer, and the son of Holocaust survivors to fashion a stunning and suspenseful tale of slander, prejudice, harassment, moral courage and cowardice, and the militarization of local police.
“It’s a terrifying thought: the idea that someone can accuse you of a crime, and a SWAT team shows up at your door and drags you away. . . . Raphael makes it quite clear that no one is immune.”—Mystery Scene
Popular Wisconsin writer Jerry Apps has produced six novels set in fictional Ames County, Wisconsin, some with mystery themes. His bestseller has been IN A PICKLE, in which the heavy-handed tactics of the H. H. Harlow Pickle Company are wreaking havoc with small farmers’ way of life.
“Apps utterly wins us over. . . . [He} invests the novel with the kind of realism, precise detail, and local color that only someone who had lived the story could do.”—Booklist