Sunday, September 25, 2016

Challenge Accepted!

by Julie Tollefson

Years ago, when I decided I wanted to try to run a 5K, I chose one that sounded fun: The Fat Boy 5K in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The name sounded less serious than, say, an Iron Man competition, and the promise of chocolate milk and beer at the finish line attracted even plodders like me. The race was fun. My time was dreadful. But a fast time wasn’t the point. The point was to challenge myself to do something out of the ordinary (for me), enjoy the experience, and perhaps even become a better person because of it. 

My newest challenge to myself will be way easier and infinitely more enjoyable. Inspired by Sisters in Crime’s recent Report for Change: The 2016 SinC Publishing Summit Report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Mystery Community, I’m adding variety to my reading diet and I’m using the report’s Appendix A as a guide.

Appendix A, known as Frankie’s List, is a terrific resource for identifying mystery writers from diverse groups: African American writers, Asian American/Asian writers, Hispanic/Latino/a writers, South Asian American/South Asian/South Asian British writers, Native American writers, and LGBT writers.

I decided to start my new reading journey with The Red Queen Dies by the list’s namesake, Frankie Bailey, criminal justice scholar and former national president (we call them goddesses) of Sisters in Crime. (Read about how Frankie’s List came to be on the Sisters in Crime website.)

The Red Queen is a terrific tale, a traditional police procedural set in the near future (2019—the novel came out in 2013) with fun sci-fi vibes throughout and themes related to Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz running through the storyline. The title comes from the last of the serial killer’s victims, a stage actress who starred as Alice as a child and then the Red Queen as an adult.

Some scenes have a graphic novel-like quality to them. The pictures that formed in my head as I read one passage—in which a trouble-making citizen journalist declares that everyone, particularly women, should be afraid to go out at night—were straight from the classic Dark Knight comic books of several decades ago. Shadowy streets. Danger lurking around every corner. Good versus evil, with evil seemingly having a slight edge.

The story also touches on important present-day issues. Racial unease and resentment simmer. The country’s first woman president holds office but her term has met with difficulties. Miniature cameras record cops’ encounters with citizens and suspects.

The Red Queen is a rich, layered story populated by rich, nuanced characters and is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

I’d say stage one of my new reading journey is a success, and I didn’t even break a sweat.


  1. I heard Frankie Bailey speak at B'con and look forward to reading her books.

  2. Thanks, Julie, for this blog. The first time I gave my manuscript to beta readers, the comment I got back from one reader was that my characters were all alike--no diversity. I set out to change that, which resulted in some wonderful characters that I wouldn't have created otherwise. We live in a diverse world and the worlds that we create should be just as diverse.

  3. Frankie Bailey was one of the panelist on a panel I moderated at Malice this year. It was a weird panel because its topic was police procedurals. None of the panelists wrote them (including yours truly), but we had a great time improvising and I think the audience enjoyed the panel quite well.

  4. Congratulations on the Fat Man - what a fun sounding run.

    Frankie's book sounds as if it could be the story of much going on today. Like you, I'm actively seeking more diversity in my reading.

  5. I've enjoyed all Frankie Y. Bailey's books including The Red Queen dies. I've talked to her
    at Malice and B'Con. She's a classy lady. I also attended the panel Jim and Frankie were on
    and it was a good one.

    Because my books take place in a fictional small town in N.E. Ohio, which for the most part
    are almost all white, I chose to add some diversity to my books; a black family and a gay couple. My readers seem to like the family and the couple who run Willie's Auto Repair and Doughnut Shoppe. At least I haven't heard any negative comments and mostly positive ones.

  6. Thanks for the reminders that diversity is important.

    I write from the point of view of characters I "feel." There are lots of things I have never experienced, and sometimes I'm afraid I will never be able to put myself sufficiently in the shoes of a person who did, so I can't use those people as major characters, although I can sometimes have them in the story in an other-than-protagonist role.

    I've read enough stories where an author thinks he/she can sympathetically and acurrately articulate the experience of someone of another background, but it comes out condescending and embarrassing, that I try to be careful.

    Those of us who are old enough, do you remember the uproar over Famous All Over Town? I thought Daniel Lewis James, writing as Danny Santiago, did a great job with it, and it was years before the truth of his ethnicity came out, but many readers felt betrayed. (Lewis also wrote under the name Daniel Hyatt after he was blacklisted due to the House committee on un-American activities involvement.)

    In the end, we are all human, but we have had such different backgrounds, and have such different understandings of things, that this is a tricky area.

    I love reading books by people who have had very different experiences than mine, so the list is very welcome.

  7. It is always good to expand one's reading universe.

  8. Thanks for all your comments, everyone - sorry I've been away from the computer all day and haven't been able to respond.

    Kait - the race was hilarious...and they gave ham and sausage as prizes!