Mystery Box Authors Q&A

9781455512355Selected by Brad Meltzer, THE MYSTERY BOX is an exceptional new collection of short stories from some of our favorite writers. We have copies of THE MYSTERY BOX to give away this week with FridayReads, and some of the contributors were good enough to answer a few questions for us…

Brad Meltzer

What are you reading now?

SAGA by Brian K. Vaughan.

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

I shove good crime comics down the throat of anyone who will listen. Try Criminal by Ed Brubaker. Trust me.

Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

We all have mystery boxes in our lives. And not just ones with severed heads in them.

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

You’ll see in our upcoming Decoded book, out in October (free plug!), which counts down the top ten conspiracies in history.

Joe Finder

What are you reading now?

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. I had to find out what would make my daughter cry so uncontrollably. I’ve since been told that all the cool people have read this book, so there you go. It’s pretty great.

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

It varies, but always close to the top of the list are Marathon Man by William Goldman, The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett, and The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.

Why did “the mystery box” made such a great theme?

The box is the perfect metaphor for a story of any kind; it’s something you put things into and pull things out of, something you can bury, something you can use to hide things. It stores whatever you want it to. It holds secrets. Just ask Pandora.

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

Now that Whitey Bulger’s been found, it would have to be the location of the art stolen from the Gardner Museum. Twenty-three years ago, two guys — not master criminals, just two guys — walked into the Gardner Museum and walked out with 13 paintings that are irreplaceable, that are so valuable you can’t even put a dollar amount on them. And they seem to have disappeared into thin air. The FBI recently said they think they know, generally, who those guys were – but what happened to the paintings? We’re talking Rembrandts here, a Degas, one of the world’s only confirmed Vermeers — how do you hide those for 23 years? Somebody has them. They might not even know exactly what they are. I’d like to see those returned to the museum in my lifetime.

That, or Jimmy Hoffa’s body.

Charles Todd

What are you reading now?

Caroline: I just finished Deborah Crombie’s THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS. Fantastic read. And I’ve just opened Peter Robinson’s WATCHING THE DARK. (I was lucky enough to get an advance copy.)

Charles: I just finished rereading GRANT TAKES COMMAND, by Bruce Catton. And I’ve started THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS, and Caroline is dying to know what I think about it.

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

Caroline: There’s never just one. Let’s see. In the last six months, I’ve recommended Hank Phillippi Ryan’s THE OTHER WOMAN, Michael Stanley’s KUBU Series, Deborah Crombie’s last two, any Reacher novel, Val McDermid’s THE VANISHING POINT, John Curran’s THE MAKING OF MURDER, Parnell Hall’s Puzzle Lady series, and probably a dozen more. I love reading and when there’s a book I find really satisfying I pass it on.

Charles: We never seem to have enough time to read. If either of us finds something we enjoy, we swap. So all of the above, and add David McCullough’s PARIS. If it keeps us up at night, we’ll tell anyone who will listen.

Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

Caroline and Charles: It’s what mystery is all about. Go back to Pandora who let loose suffering in the world when she opened that forbidden box. A box could hold a bit of the True Cross, a nugget from the Lost Dutchman mine—or a hidden will. It could hold Truth or the secret of life or the bullet that killed Lincoln. Or it could hold nothing but disappointment. As a theme it’s brilliant because it is also limited only by the imagination. We can’t wait to see what the other authors did with it.

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

Caroline: There must be several hundred on that bucket list! But if I had to choose one, it might be the Nazca Lines in Peru, those you can only recognize as shapes from the air—on the ground they’re just lines drawn in the desert. Who put them there? How did they know what they were drawing, if they couldn’t see them from above? What was their purpose? And whose idea was it? But like the Pyramids and Stonehenge and the Yeti, they keep their secrets well.

Charles: I’d really like to see the question of who Jack the Ripper was answered for absolutely positively certain. He got away with it, and I don’t think he should have.

Joseph Goodrich

What are you reading now?

I just started Ken Follet’s NIGHT OVER WATER. He’s been chosen as this year’s Grand Master, along with Margret Maron, and it seemed like the right time to reacquaint myself with his work.

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

Partisanship is one of the pleasures of the mystery world. Depending on the tastes of the reader in question, I often recommend: Derek Marlowe (A DANDY IN ASPIC and NIGHTSHADE), Bill S. Ballinger (PORTRAIT IN SMOKE and THE TOOTH AND THE NAIL), Lucille Fletcher (AND PRESUMED DEAD and MIRROR IMAGE) and John Franklin Bardin (THE DEADLY PERCHERON and THE LAST OF PHILIP BANTER).

Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

The difference between appearance (the box) and reality (what it contains) is a classic source of conflict.

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

I can’t think of any offhand. A mystery solved—what happened to Judge Crater, for instance—is a mystery diminished. I’m happy not knowing; it allows for speculation. (Speaking of Judge Crater, there’s another book I recommend: Peter Quinn’s THE MAN WHO NEVER RETURNED.)

CE Lawrence

What are you reading now?

Four Screenplays by Syd Fields, The Story Solution by Erik Edson, and the memoirs of the 19th century Edinburgh detective James McLevy. (I read a lot of non-fiction.)

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

Robert McKee, Story. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann, The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, and anything by Sebastian Junger. And of course all the works of the other authors in this anthology.

Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

It was both intriguing and kind of wide open – there were so many possibilities. And the image of a box suggests secrecy. I interpreted the theme pretty liberally – I was kind of surprised when they accepted my story, to tell you the truth.

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

Definitely aliens!! Ever since childhood I’ve longed to meet people from other planets. Oh, wait, I already have – I spend my summers in Woodstock.

Jan Burke

What are you reading now?

I’m working my way back through the Canon, with Leslie S. Klinger’s New Annotated Sherlock Holmes at hand. Currently, I’m reading “The Gloria Scott.” And lots of research books.

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

In no particular order, Charlotte Armstrong, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dashiell Hammett, Josephine Tey. Among contemporary authors, I make a great many recommendations,but I’m bound to miss naming someone here. As for new writers — read Tim O’Mara’s Sacrifice Fly.

In another genre, John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is the excellent start of a fine science fiction series, and I love Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden Universe.

Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

Brad Meltzer chose well. From the time of the Greeks, great stories have been written about mysterious boxes and those who dared to open them — as well as the consequences of bringing their contents to light. Boxes hold secrets and seem to beg for the attention of the curious. My own curiosity is high — I’m excited to see what my fellow writers did with the challenge.

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

Big, big philosophical mystery? Writing this on the day after the Boston Marathon, I find myself wondering if can we live together on the planet without destroying it and each other.

I would love to know what really happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke. This group of English colonists disappeared sometime between 1587 and 1590 in present-day North Carolina, and included Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the Americas.

And I hope that very soon, someone discovers what became of the remains of Lupita Cantu, a woman who went missing from San Antonio in 1990, and whose body was found in a neighboring county not long after she disappeared. Unfortunately, her remains were not then connected to her disappearance. Only through a DNA test in 2011 did the family learn that this wife and mother had been murdered 21 years earlier. The next shock was that her remains were not in the pauper’s grave where she was thought to have been buried as a Jane Doe, and have still not been located. So I’m hoping authorities continue to make efforts and find some answers for her family soon.

Libby Hellmann

What are you reading now?

DEFENDING JACOB… and about to start Jodi Picoult’s THE STORYTELLER

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

Funny you should ask…
Female Crime authors: (still alive and writing)

  • Sara Paretsky
  • Tess Gerritsen
  • Karen Slaughter
  • Gillian Flynn
  • Mo Hayder
  • Val McDermott

Male Crime Authors: (same)

  • Michael Connelly
  • Thomas Cook
  • Robert Crais
  • Thomas Perry
  • Dennis Leanne
  • Daniel Silva

Non US Authors: (in addition to Mo and Val)

  • Peter Robinson
  • William Boyd
  • Ann Cleeves
  • Philip Kerr
  • Jo Nesbo
Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

Who can resist a secret? Having one, telling one, reacting to one

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

Why did Lee Harvey Oswald let himself get framed? And what intelligence agency did he work for? Who was Sirhan Sirhan really, and why doesn’t anyone talk about him?

Susan Hubbard

What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading the mystery short story anthology NEW JERSEY NOIR (how can I resist stories about my home state?) and Kent Haruf’s wonderful BENEDICTION.

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

The book I’ve been recommending to anyone who will listen is Louise Erdrich’s THE ROUND HOUSE, a novel about love and loyalty with a crime at its heart.

Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

The theme of this anthology allowed writers to experiment with literal “locked room” and “secret box” stories as well as the metaphorical “what lies within.” My story, “Mad Blood” explores the source of evil and the outcome of simmering rage.

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

I’m fascinated by “perfect” families run amok, so I’d love to know what really happened to JonBenet Ramsey and whether Jeffrey McDonald is truly guilty of killing his wife and kids. In addition, the inspiration for my anthology story, “Mad Blood,” came from a news article in the metro section of The New York Times, which told how men awaiting trial on Riker’s Island often incriminate themselves in conversations made on the payphones in the jail despite large signs warning them that their calls are being recorded. One man, arrested for domestic violence, made the horrifying admission, “I only poked her a little bit, but there was mad blood everywhere.” I meted out harsh justice for this man in my story, but I’m curious to know what happened to him in real life. In case you’re interested, here’s a link to the original news story.

RT Lawton

What are you reading now?

Just finished reading David Edgerley Gates’ novel Black Traffic, based on his Cold War experience as military intelligence in Berlin. Am now reading short stories in the June issues of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

Mostly, I recommend almost anything written by Elmore Leonard. I also like John Le Carre’s Smiley series, the first three books in George Martin’s Game of Thrones and some of Charles McCarry’s novels such as The Tears of Autumn.

Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

The Mystery Box theme sparked an idea for me to write something outside of what I normally write and in a different voice.

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

Where the heck is Jimmie Hoffa?

Catherine Mambretti

What are you reading now?

Most recently I read a book I’m tempted to call life-changing, Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (2006 edition). Frankl, a psychoanalyst, survived Auschwitz and found the meaning of life in the experience. In Man’s Search for Meaning he explains how nihilism overwhelmed Western culture in the 20th century, precipitating an existential crisis from which we have yet to emerge. For Frankl, life’s meaning can be found in a mere handful of simple truths.

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

For mystery lovers I recommend B. M. Gill, the pseudonym of Margaret Trimble, Edgar Award nominee and Golden Dagger Award winner. For readers looking for a courtroom drama I recommend Gill’s The Twelfth Juror (1984), in which a juror solves the crime during the trial. Having served on a criminal jury myself, I found its depiction of the jury experience spot-on.

Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

The tentative title and theme of The Mystery Box was “What Lies Within?” It was this theme that inspired “The Very Private Detectress,” my story about the world’s first female detective, Kate Warne. Nothing is known about this woman’s origins, other than what Allan Pinkerton of Chicago’s Pinkerton Detective Agency wrote about her. According to Pinkerton, in 1856 Kate Warne showed up on the agency’s doorstep and asked Pinkerton for a job as a detective. She offered no qualifications, gave him no references, and told him nothing about herself except that she was from New York and wished to be addressed as “Mrs.” I’ve always wondered what secrets Kate had locked “within” her heart on that day in 1856.

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

Who sent the 2001 anthrax-tainted letters that killed 5 people and infected 17 others?

A few days after 9/11, the National Enquirer’s headquarters in Florida received the first of these letters. Media and investigators at first speculated the letter-writer had acquired the anthrax powder they contained from anthrax-infected soil. No connection was made to terrorism until contaminated threatening letters were sent to politicians in D.C. and news media in New York. Even though the letters included references to the 9/11 attack, authorities believed the crime to be the work of a lone, domestic terrorist. During this period I subscribed to a forensic linguistics mailing list, among whose members was the famous FBI profiler, James R. Fitzgerald. Academics on the mailing list pointed out to him many linguistic clues to the authorship of the letters, including evidence the letters were authored by one person but handwritten by another. The FBI’s “Amerithrax Investigation” remains active, and I still want to know if the letters really were authored by one person and handwritten by another—and if so why?

Mary Anne Kelly

What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ BLOOD NEVER DIES and Jo Bannister’s DEADLY VIRTUES. Charlotte Link’s THE OTHER CHILD waits for me on the shelf.

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

Most frequently I recommend Harriet Lane’s ALYS, ALWAYS, Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series and Michael Robotham’s SUSPECT.

Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

THE MYSTERY BOX made such a great theme, because the term itself is interesting; something boundless and incalculable combined with what is explicit and boundary definite. And then it evokes one’s own dark and magical childhood memories…

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

The real life mystery I wish to be solved in my lifetime is the mystery of time- which insists on going faster the longer it stays. But seriously, I wish for the mystery of cancer’s cure to be solved.

Laura Lippman

What are you reading now?

I’m reading The Middlesteins. And if I’m going to be really honest, I’m also re-reading a lot of 1950s YA. I just finished going through the copy edit on my latest book and I need a comfort read.

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

Quite a few, but Ann Hood is one that I love to champion, not that she needs me to champion her. And her lost sweater inspired my story in THE MYSTERY BOX, so I owe her.

Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

It was wide open. I can’t wait to see what everyone else did with it.

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

I’d like to know why we’re often our own worst enemies.

James O. Born

What are you reading now?

Roma by Steven Saylor

Which book(s) or author(s) do you recommend most frequently?

Brad Meltzer (Not trying to suck up) and Michael Connelly. Echo Park is my favorite crime novel.

Why did “the mystery box” make such a great theme?

Brad sold me on it could be anything at all. Metaphorical box, real box, hidden feeling. It was wide open.

What real-life mystery would you wish to be solved in your lifetime?

Is there a link between a physical or medical condition and extreme violent acts. Why do two kids from similar backgrounds go in such horribly different directions. Even Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower mass murderer wanted to have his brain examined to see why he was compelled to kill.