What I’ve Been Up To

July 22, 2012

Time to blow the dust off this blog, if only to indicate that yes, I am still alive. I just have been posting my thoughts mostly to other places lately.  Here’s a sampling:

Book reviews at Reviewing the Evidence and my Scandinavian Crime Fiction blog (though I have a towering stack of books awaiting reviewing equal to this list)

I interviewed David Weinerger for Library Journal.

I wrote a short feature about the Elsevier boycott for American Libraries.

I wrote a longer piece about the open access movement for Library IssuesAnd another thing for an issue of Anthropologies on Occupy and Open Access.

I’ve been writing weekly for Inside Higher Ed, under the header “Library Babel Fish.” IHE is a great place to mouth off about things. The commenting community there is unusually civil and smart. I also write once a month or so for Library Journal’s Peer to Peer Review. I had been doing it weekly, but writing two columns weekly used up all my ideas and then some.

So this is a lousy excuse for a blog post, but I was feeling both bad about neglecting it and unable to think of anything new to say.

Oh, I am working on some fiction, too, but writing very s l o w l y.  I did get a short story (first one I’ve ever attempted) in Writes of Spring edited by two of the best book people in the world, Pat and Gary of Once Upon a Crime.  They had a lovely party to celebrate the anthology and their store’s anniversary.

So that’s what I’ve been doing in my free time. I’ll be back to blow the dust off again one of these days.

photo courtesy of tavarua



I’m blogging on the inside …

July 22, 2010

… of Inside Higher Ed. With a fish, which some may recognize as the Cod of Ethics.

Library Babel Fish

hello, book!

May 10, 2010

Through the Cracks comes out officially tomorrow. I’m a little nervous. Much as I understand that each person reads a different book, and everyone’s tastes are different, waiting for reviews to appear can offer more nail-biting suspense than any thriller, though it’s not a particularly enjoyable kind of thrill; it feels more like waiting for the results of a medical test. Though people often liken the arrival of a new book to holding a newly-delivered baby, I don’t feel that way. It’s like a very long pregnancy, a birth, a few complications as you work with an editor to clean it up. Then it’s swept away to the hospital nursery for its final check-up and plopped back in your arms a year later.

Hello, baby. Oh, look at those sweet chapter headings. You have your father’s font. Now let’s see if everyone else in the world thinks you’re an ugly baby or not.

Meanwhile, I’ve been giving some thought to the baby’s older sibling. It’s not easy getting people to read a second book in a series unless they read the first (and let me tell you, a lot of people haven’t read the first.) My publisher wasn’t interested in releasing a paperback, and nobody wanted to do an audio version (and why would they? the production costs are enormous, and that makes the end product expensive; you have to have a fairly large guaranteed audience to make it worthwhile). So being a DIY kind of person, I  fiddled around with free software and made my own.

There is now a trade paperback version of In the Wind available through Lulu and selected independent booksellers. It’s not cheap–$14.00, plus a hefty shipping fee if you order from Lulu–but I didn’t want to do any harm to the independent booksellers who have supported me and do so much to promote books and reading. This is the price it takes to provide it to them with the discount that helps them pay their rent and light bill and not lose too much money at my end. I’ll happy if I break even. If I accidentally make a profit, it will go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Meanwhile, I got to learn a few things about cover and page design and how to make the layers in Paint.net to work.

I also recorded In the Wind in an amateur audio version. No, it’s not as polished as a professional audio book–I used open source software and recorded it in the spare bedroom. The cats were strangely fascinated by the whole thing, so you might hear an occasional meow in the background. But I have several friends who are blind, and wanted them to have a chance to read the book. You can listen online or download the .mp3 files, chapter by chapter. Thanks to my employer for hosting the files.

I really wanted to pull a Cory Doctorow and make a Creative Commons e-version freely available, but the publisher had secured electronic rights, as they do, and didn’t want to give those back. (It took months just to get the paperback rights reverted.) Strangely, though you can get the second book electronically, with a side of DRM, In the Wind is not available for e-reading. Hey, I’m just a librarian. Who am I to question the ways of publishers?

But that gives me an idea: you can always check In the Wind out from your local library.

reading challenges

February 28, 2010

I am challenged when it comes to reading instructions. While trying to include a review at Dorte’s 2010 global reading challenge, I managed to post a link to this blog, rather than to this review of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Last Rituals. Sorry, Mr. Linky. I think I have disqualified myself from the challenge.

public service announcements and reps x two

February 3, 2010

First, a funny video riffing off the side effects listed in pharmaceutical television ads. Nice job, Unbridled Books! I especially love the literary references to Tolstoi et al.

Second, reported in Shelf Awareness, NAIBA begs publishers to keep reps employed and connected to independent booksellers. This is a part of the process of bringing books to the public that isn’t much known to readers but has a profound effect on book culture. Reps are the link between the publisher and the bookstore shelves, and they are ethnographers of the communities they serve.

Restricting field reps to large stores will give publishers a skewed view of what is a very diverse world–independent bookselling. Sales reps take the time to know our stores, what our customers like, and what is on our shelves. They are the industry worker-bees, travelling the region, taking ideas and trends and pollinating other stores. We learn about other stores from them, what others are reading and loving; what is selling; marketing tips; event ideas; what the publisher is doing; and what authors have books coming out in the next season. They make fans for authors out of our frontline booksellers. They cut through the catalogs to make sure we carry what we’ll be able to sell, and their endorsements are why we buy what we might have ignored.

These reasons are why cuts in field sales reps devastate us. Have you really thought about what this stricture will mean to you? Fewer book sales. Without a doubt, we are not ordering as much through telemarketing. We are definitely not focusing on your backlist through tele-sales, and we definitely miss titles from the frontlist. We also don’t buy as much direct, which makes independent bookselling a less profitable business. The vicious cycle is that we buy less because we don’t have sales reps, and then you devalue our business because we aren’t buying as much as we used to.

Cory Doctorow has previously praised the sales force. Three cheers for reps (and three extra ones for Tom Leigh.)

Finally – squeeeeee! The first book review for Through the Cracks came out in Publisher’s Weekly. “Sociology professor Jill McKenzie hires PI Anni Koskinen to find the man who raped her in Chicago’s Lincoln Park 23 years earlier in Fister’s strong sequel to In the Wind (2008) . . . Koskinen connects with an array of well-drawn supporting characters, including other rape victims, the lead investigator on the McKenzie case, and the attorney who helped overturn Taylor’s conviction. Thoughtful attention to the complexities of police work and social justice lift this gritty mystery well above the norm. Koskinen’s empathy with both cops and victims as well as her fierce, brittle independence make her easy to root for.”

yo, public librarians (at least those who loan book club kits)

January 22, 2010

I was able to get some copies of In the Wind for cheap from my publisher and – not wanting to do any harm to the independent bookstores who have invested shelf space in my books – I thought I’d give them to libraries. Specifically, I’m having a drawing for libraries who offer book discussion kits. The libraries that win the drawing will get 8 copies with a discussion guide to any librarian who thinks it would fit their program. (It’s hardcover, so I’m thinking 8 is about all that people would want to hoist – ?) It has political themes as well as threads on families coping with mental illness and plot twists that should make it discussable; at least someone told me he hated the ending, which is usually promising for discussion. (His hasn’t been a universal reaction, but it doesn’t totally surprise me. I kind of hated it too, when I realized how it would end.)

If you’re wondering “errr, I don’t know, would we even want this?” – it did get pretty good reviews.  But I realize space and resources for cataloging/promoting this kind of kit are limited. So if it doesn’t seem a good fit for your library, no worries.

Full disclosure: this is part of my Cunning Plan to coax a few more readers out there to sample the first Anni Koskinen book before Through the Cracks, the sequel to In the Wind, comes out this spring. This is the Gateway Drug theory of reading. Also, it’s to give back to public libraries, which have been feeding my habit for decades. (Mrs. Wiebel, it’s all your fault that I’m a book junkie! Bless you.)

If you are interested, send me an e-mail (to bfister @ hickorytech . net – with the spaces removed) with a contact name and your library mailing address. I’ll be pulling a couple of names from a hat by the end of the month. It’s always a good feeling to find books a new home.

UPDATE: I sent individual books to ten libraries and kits to two – map here:

things found on the Internet when I should have been working, no. 4

January 10, 2010

Vintage advertising, by topic and by decade at Vintage Ad Browser (which has an equally tempting  Cover Browser sister site). Here are some book-related ads.




my very own boomerang

July 25, 2009

Thanks, Bernadette. This is the nicest award I’ve ever gotten because I love its anti-authoritarian rules:

  • Enjoy the award. If you don’t want to put it on your blog, don’t. Just get the warm, fuzzy feeling that I’m sending your way!
  • You don’t have to reveal any deep, dark secrets about yourself or answer any sort of questions. You’ve already earned it!
  • You don’t have to link back to me.
  • You don’t have to give it to anyone else.

I am enjoying it.  And I will pass it along (no strings attached) to some of the blogs that I tap into constantly

  • Chucking it back at Bernadette’s Reactions to Reading (I love the idea of Maureen O’Donnell of Garenthill taking over the definition of “chick lit” – lord, how I’d love to see that happen)
  • Peter Rozovsky’s Detectives Beyond Borders, though I’m sure he already has at least one boomerang
  • Dorte’s bilingual DJSKrimiblog – here’s another Australian Frisbee for your collection
  • On Fiction – a fascinating look at reading through the lens of psychology

. . . not to mention a bazillion more, which is why I’m so bad at getting things done. How on earth does Maxine / Petrona do it? I am in awe.

kiitos is in order. . .

June 25, 2009

Pardon a bit of navel-gazing, but I am tickled that Nemo, a Finnish publisher, wants to take a gamble on translating In the Wind for a Finnish audience. This is thanks to a Finnish reader somehow getting a copy of it, enjoying it, and bringing it to the publisher’s attention. Thanks to him, to Ann-Christine Danielsson, and to Nina Karjalainen, the publisher for taking a leap of faith. I’m extra happy because –

  • Finland rocks. Helsinki is a wonderful liveable city with neo-classical, art nouveau, and very modern architecture. They have a gorgeous public library in Tampere that amazed me many years ago because they served delicious ice cream. Back then, that would have been heresy in the US. Now we’re catching on to the idea that food and books do go together. They now have a Moomin museum in the basement. Moomins are another reason I love Finland.

  • The Finnish language is amazing. I love the way it looks and sounds. (That’s why I gave my main character a Finnish name; it sounded good. Shallow, I know.) I think it would difficult to learn, though. Here’s how Nemo presents one of their translated authors: “Marcia Muller on syntynyt Detroitissa Michiganissa vuonna 1944. Opiskeltuaan kirjallisuutta ja tiedotusoppia Muller muutti San Franciscoon. Hän työskenteli lehtimiehenä ja haastattelijana kirjoittaen yksityiskohtaisia kuvauksia ihmisistä ja heidän elinympäristöistään. Romaanihenkilönsä McConen tapaan Muller harrastaa lentämistä. Hän on kirjoittanut 27 rikosromaania ja toimittanut miehensä, rikoskirjailija Bill Pronzinin, kanssa rikosnovelliantologioita.” Isn’t that fabulous?
  • Finns read a lot. I told a friend, a professor of Scandinavian Studies, about this and he said, “that’s great! Finns read more than anyone.” Gotta love a country where reading is so popular.
  • Scandinavian crime fiction is the best in the world. The. Best. Just look at who’s up for the CWA International Dagger this year. I rest my case. So incredibly cool to be able to share a bit of shelf space with the best of the best.

Now, back to our usual ranting and raving . . .

Carnival of the Criminal Minds, No. the Last

February 15, 2009

This is the 32nd Carnival – a traveling celebration of crime fiction blogging that has been going on since the fall of 2007. They say all good things must come to an end. (I don’t know why – dark chocolate should never come to an end.) But it seems time to strike the big top, break down the roller coaster, and shut off the lights. It’s getting harder to find new hosts, I hate to keep imposing on the same contributors, and a truly wonderful substitute has come along that . . . well, I’ll tell you about that later.(This is how crafty writers build suspense.)

After its launch at Karen Chisholm’s blog, part of the wondrous AustCrimeFiction site  in 2007, it has made its way around the world a couple of times. As you can see from the map, we’ve been all over. And that was largely my goal – to discover interesting bloggers who could introduce us to even more bloggers who could expand our mysterious universe.


Okay, we didn’t really travel to Mongolia, but Michael Walters did show us around remotest Manchester. And I don’t really live in Scandinavia, though we do eat lutefisk in Minnesota. Does that count?

Every carnival has been different. Some have focused on film or on dead guys, others on specific settings such as the Australian Outback, or on cataloging various holidays. They’ve ranged from the deeply strange, to a veritable freak show. What would we have done without Mekon who has a brain the size of a (very green) planet or without Tillie of Palace Amusements?

I’ll always treasure the classic posts that Bernd preserved in his museum, and the rousing call to arms (or keyboards, anyway) when Declan Burke pondered the purpose of blogging and the role that thoughful commentary can play in demanding the best from a genre that gets short shrift from the mainstream press.I can’t resist quoting him at length because, well, it may be all fun and games, but really – isn’t this what we’re all striving for?

I am not saying that crime / mystery fiction should strive to be taken seriously by the literary establishment. They do what they do, and good luck to them; my personal reading habits involve quite a lot of what would be considered literary fiction, and I have no beef with what they do or how they do it. By the same token, and speaking only for myself, the last thing I need or want is a pat on the head from the literary establishment. What I AM saying is that the critical work on crime fiction needs to develop of and through its own metier, that the Johnsons of the crime / mystery community require their Boswells, and that I believe heart and soul that crime / mystery fiction needs and deserves the kind of widespread, top-to-bottom critical work that would in turn inspire the writers to strive towards ever-higher standards of work. . . . here’s the thing – crime / mystery fiction is the most popular genre on the planet, it is inarguably the most relevant and important fiction out there, and that’s why I believe it deserves more. It deserves more from me, certainly, than reviews that run along the lines of, “This is a great book because I liked it and I liked it because it’s a great book.” It deserves the kind of dynamic, rigorous, extensive and constantly evolving critical work that the interweb is perfectly placed to provide, and it deserves to be critiqued, justified and praised not by the kind of commentator who will suggest that a particular novel has (koff) ‘transcended the genre’, but by those who understand that good crime / mystery fiction is simultaneously scourge and balm, panacea and drug, a fiction for the world we live in that is also its truth.

It’s not that there isn’t plenty to talk about. Blogs are full of interviews and book reviews and facinating challenges and interesting cover art. And if blogs aren’t enough for you, Mack offers a tour of the crime scene in Second Life. There’s no shortage of material. But here’s the thing – a 24/7 carnival has set up shop, a veritable Coney Island of the Criminal Minds. Just toddle over to FriendFeed and join the Crime and Mystery Fiction room. There you’ll find a constant stream of links, with chances to be part of an ongoing conversation with crime fiction critics and fans from all over. And it seems much more spontaneous and less of an imposition than the Carnival. I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s had its day.

Meanwhile, thanks to all the contributors who have hosted the carnival, many of you more than once.You get to go home with all the stuffed animals and more cotton candy than you can eat.

See you all around the Interwebs. And maybe we’ll bump into each other at FriendFeed.

photo courtesy of j.reed