Torn Books and Other Secrets by Alexandra Burt

Category: Author Post

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With all the bookstores, Kindles, and wireless downloads, it’s almost impossible to imagine books were hard to come by in the small town in Germany where I grew up. I devoured them all; the hardcovers with their pages stuck together, the bent paperbacks covered in dust, most of them tucked away in trunks and dark attic spaces. But sometimes my mother would go into town and return with a new book, still heavy with the scent of paper, ink, and glue. Those days were a blessing in disguise because that’s when the waiting began.

I’d watch my mother turn page by page, wanting her to finish the book, close its covers, letting out a sigh and handing me the book. I tried to pass that time with homework, chores, and friends, but she would never read quite fast enough. I barely knew the title of the book, hadn’t even read the back cover, but I didn’t care. The fact that she never commented on the plot or characters as she read made the books even more mysterious.

One day I was particularly impatient.

‘Hurry up,’ I said.

No answer.

‘Is it any good?’

Silence.

‘What’s it about?’

She looked up at me, stern, unwavering.

‘Are you going to be much longer? I really want to—‘

I could tell that she was torn between wanting to be left alone and understanding my dilemma and suddenly, without warning, she shut the book with her finger positioned bookmark-like where I had so rudely interrupted her, and tore its spine. Just like that she ripped the book in half. We both sat in silence for we adored books and treated them with kindness and her action seemed wrong to both of us in so many ways.

‘Here you go,’ she said and handed me the first half of the book.

I stared at the torn book, mesmerized, then I grabbed it and I sank into the next chair and began reading.

It turned into a ritual then and we repeated it with every book she bought and afterwards we’d place the torn books on a shelf, halfheartedly matching them.

But people began questioning us.

‘What’s with the torn books?’ they’d ask, imagining a feral child ripping them apart or a dog using them as chew toys. We just shrugged but eventually moved them to the attic where they would remain unquestioned. We somehow longed to keep this secret between us, maybe because we had other secrets we didn’t divulge and so keeping another one was second nature to us.

My mother passed of a sudden illness when I was in college. Eventually I moved to the U.S. and on a visit home I searched the attic for our torn books but they were nowhere to be found. I grabbed whatever books had remained and hauled them through Heathrow all the way to Texas.

Undisturbed they sat on a shelf for years before I realized they contained a few secrets of their own; flipping through Emile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, I discovered a four-leaf clover; a brittle Edelweiss blossom was pressed between the pages of Jacob Roth’s Job; and a typed and undated letter was tucked away in Jules Verne’s The Courier of the Czar in which my grandmother scolded my teenage mother for not putting her education first and spending all her time with ‘that boy.’

I wanted to believe she hid those things just for me to discover one day but I can’t be sure. The mysteries remain unsolved—did the four-leaf clover bestow any luck upon her? How did she manage to pluck a flower that can only be found climbing a steep Alpine rock face? Or did someone pick it for her? Who was the boy she was seeing? The letter was undated so it might have been my father, but I can’t be sure of that either.

The torn books have vanished and all that remains is a memory but I know with certainty that she wouldn’t mind that I shared the secret of the torn books with the world. She was generous that way.

Little Girl Gone is out now in eBook and paperback. For the latest from the author, be sure to follow her on Twitter @alexandraburt.

A certain kind of story #killerfest15

Category: Author Post

As a crime fiction writer I believe that the appeal of the genre lies in the fact that there is something out there for everyone; thriller, suspense, or mystery. From detective fiction and legal thrillers to courtroom dramas and hard-boiled noir, you get to pick and choose your poison. Crime fiction, more so than any other genre, reflects our culture in America and confronts the realities of life. It takes subjects of violence, poverty, gender, and race, and examines them within the framework of a story.

There’s a trend in the American crime fiction market, a trend that has taken over bookshelves all across the country. Crime fiction has taken to telling a certain kind of story, a story that seems to have evolved by surpassing the procedural and legal dramas, the sexy, tough murder mysteries, and hard-edged noirs of the past. If this emerging trend were a movie, I’d classify it as an independent film, crime-centered, with a strong female lead, and a psychologically complex story. Referring to the trend as chick noir, domestic noir, or domestic suspense is controversial and undoubtedly there’s more brewing than just stories about wives, husbands, or marriages.

Women have been writing crime fiction for decades; from Bunny Lake is Missing by Merriam Modell (1957) and the revival of Femmes Fatales: Women Writing Pulp in 2003, from Gone Girl in 2012, to The Girl on the Train in 2014. There’s Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, an anthology of tales reaching from the 1940s to the 1970s, called “One of the most significant anthologies of crime fiction, ever . . .” by the Los Angeles Review of Books. From Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith, to Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell, and the recent allure of female Scandinavian crime fiction writers, they all have something in common; as women they are bound to express issues of female concern and touch on challenges within ourselves, which are far greater that those imposed by society.

There is a surge in female-focused crime fiction, suspense, and thriller novels, and the power of those stories seems to lie in revealing unknown sides of ourselves to readers while exposing the depth of the psychological pressures and difficulties faced by women today. There are innovative narratives with thrilling plots and well-developed characters through which crime fiction authors criticize the cultural norms women experience throughout their lives.

The genre has evolved by surpassing the procedural and legal dramas of the past, the sexy, tough murder mysteries, and hard-edged noirs by playing with society’s assumptions about how women should behave. The subsequent stories contain rather shocking plots, unsuspected twists, and all the while they are pushing expectations to extremes. There are women in deceitful marriages, two-faced husbands, and women as alcoholic divorcees, but all the while there is something else; the fact that narrators may or may not tell the truth.

And let’s be honest, there’s a lot to be said about an unreliable narrator who plants an idea in the readers’ head and quickly turns that idea into a flicker of fear, a sickening belief that something has gone terribly awry… but you’re just not sure what it is, and even if you did, even if you manage a glimpse behind the façade, is the narrator really telling the truth?

We ended up with stories that neither neglected plot nor skimped on character development but produce a perfect union. And how does such union not a winner make?

I guess one could say that there’s a new girl in town. She’s caught up in a crime, she’s unpredictable, and moody. She’s deeply flawed – which makes us love her even more – and her psyche is in tatters. And she’s not to be believed. She’s the new girl in town and she’s telling captivating stories beyond genre, beyond maverick detectives, gunfights, and car chases.

She’s here to stay and since she’s unpredictable, who is to know where she’ll take us? If there is one thing I’ve learned, there’s no limit to the creativity, imagination, and ingenuity of those who write crime fiction. I plan to expect the unexpected because I’ve heard one can never go wrong that way.

Blog by Alexandra Burt, whose debut novel, Little Girl Gone, will be published by Avon Books in September 2015.

Q&A with author Alexandra Burt #killerfest15

Category: Author Post

Your name: Alexandra Burt

Tell us about yourself: I was born in Germany but moved to Texas over twenty years ago. While pursuing literary translations, I decided to tell my own stories. I live in Texas with my husband, my daughter, and my two Labradors.

Tell us about your latest book: Remember Mia (forthcoming in the U.S. in July) is the story of a mother in the grips of post-partum depression. One morning she finds her daughter’s crib empty. She begins a desperate search but eventually she becomes the number one suspect.

I am also working on my second novel, Fly into Darkness, a story about a woman who finds an unidentified girl in the woods, and no one seems to be missing her. She gets caught up in solving the mystery not realizing she’s uncovering her own elusive past.

When did you start writing? Six years ago.

Where do you write? At my desk.

Which other authors do you admire? Ursula Hegi. Joyce Carol Oates.

Book you wished you’d written? The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane by Laird Koenig

Greatest fictional criminal: The Talented Mr. Ripley. The only killer I ever rooted for.

Greatest crime or criminal from the real world: Casey Anthony

Greatest fictional detective: Rustin “Rust” Cohle from the American television series True Detective. A haunted, solitary man, he believes that life is a meaningless disease and that hope is merely self-delusion.

What scares you? Destruction of the planet.

Are you ever disturbed by your own imagination? I am disturbed by the fact that others consider my imagination to be dark and disturbing. Don’t they know that when it’s dark, they can see the stars?

3 crime books you would recommend to EVERYONE

Do you listen to music when you write? No. One thing at a time.

Are you on social media? Facebook. Twitter. Tumblr.

How can fans connect with you? Alexandraburt.com. Facebook. Twitter. Tumblr.