Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Women Crime Writers of the 1940s & 1950s. An Interview with editor Sarah Weinman

Sarah is the news editor for Publisher's Marketplace, and the editor of the short story anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. She is also editor of the just released Library of America two volume set  Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 1950s and one of today's top mystery fiction critics.

Welcome Sarah. Thanks for talking with me today.

1) Tell us about the birth of Women Crime Writers. And how did you convince the Library of America that this remarkable collection belonged on bookshelves?

To tell you the truth they didn't need much convincing! A mutual professional acquaintance put me in touch with Max Rudin, publisher of the Library of America, not long before TROUBLED DAUGHTERS, TWISTED WIVES was published a couple of years ago. We had a meeting and it emerged they had been thinking of doing such a set for some years now, what with the success of their original late-90s CRIME NOVELS OF THE 1930s/40s/50s 2-volume set edited by Robert Polito. One meeting led to the next and by the end of 2013 I was in board to edit what became WOMEN CRIME WRITERS.

2) Many of the novels that appear in this anthology were best sellers in their day, both in print and in movie versions. How did they slip from our memory in the first place?

Writers fall out of fashion or circulation for any number of reasons: changing tastes, changing fortunes, and having a next-generation champion at just the right time. In the 1980s, Barry Gifford, through Vintage Black Lizard, revived many reputations of those who toiled in the trenches of Fawcett Gold Medal and other paperback original publishers of the 1950s and 1960s, and those guys -- David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Peter Rabe, to name a few -- got written up and celebrated. But in parallel was this whole generation of women writing for hardcover publishers and garnering critical acclaim and yet, by not writing stories that fit the Black Lizard mold, they didn't make it in the revival. But now psychological suspense is all the rage, and it's important to recognize those who came before the Gillian Flynns and Paula Hawkins and Laura Lippmans of the world.

3) You've done more than anyone in the mystery field to identify and promote the sub-genre now known as Domestic Suspense. What exactly is Domestic Suspense? And is it a unifying theme in this collection?

I define "domestic suspense" as works written between the onset of World War II and the dawn of second-wave feminism, that delve into the dark side of human behavior that threatens to come out with the dinner dishes, the laundry, or taking care of a child. They are about ordinary, everyday life, and that’s what makes these novels of domestic suspense so frightening. The nerves they hit are really fault lines.

4) Some of the choices you made in Women Crime Writers may have seemed inevitable (for example, The Horizontal Man and Beast In View both won Edgars). But how did you decide what else to include?

The eight volumes were a consensus choice between myself and the Library of America editors, i.e publisher Max Rudin and editor-in-chief Geoffrey O'Brien. We all made lists and read widely but we started with some fairly obvious choices: LAURA by Vera Caspary, IN A LONELY PLACE by Dorothy B. Hughes, THE BLANK WALL by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. That Charlotte Armstrong and Margaret Millar would be included were also obvious, but finding the right book of theirs took a little time. Eustis I read during the selection process and its influence and critical importance was clear. Dolores Hitchens I also loved but FOOL'S GOLD was not as well known as her later novel SLEEP WITH SLANDER -- published too late for the collection in 1960 -- and a little more difficult to come by. The Highsmith was the final choice, and THE BLUNDERER is a key linchpin because you see all the seeds of what would become THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY and other later, important works of hers.

5) The website you created to introduce Women Crime Writers (http://womencrime.loa.org) is packed with essays, information and fascinating trivia about the anthology and the writers. Did you organize it yourself?

Again, the companion website was a total collaborative effort. I solicited the appreciations and wrote an introductory essay, while the LoA team assembled that amazing timeline of ancillary works, images of first edition covers, film posters, and more, and then some. It was months in the making and I'm so pleased at how it turned out, into a real destination that readers can get lost in for hours at a time, for repeat visits.

6) What's next? Is there a possibility we might someday see an anthology of International Women Crime Writers of Domestic Suspense?

I am the type of person who has multiple projects on the go and sees where the chips fall. But as to your anthology idea, it's a good one, and certainly in my wheelhouse.

Thanks again for allowing my readers to re-discover these remarkable women. Good luck with the tour.

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