Re: RARA-AVIS: banned books

From: James R. Winter (
Date: 05 May 2005

Here's what I blogged tonight about it. Things like this are why my blood pressure runs at stroke levels.

Hopefully, I don't sound like I'm dropping names here when I mention Charles Ardai. I did meet him in NYC when I went to the Ken Bruen signing, and I'm probably not the only person on this group who spent time with him. So I think many of you will agree with my conclusions.

Jim Winter

A debate rages on the Dorothy L list not only whether Domenic Stansberry's The Confession should have been considered for an Edgar (let alone won), but if it should be banned as well.

Tony Fenelly says she was the lone dissenting vote against Stansberry's novel about a man strangling women because the killer gets away with it. Somehow, she's come to the conclusion that Stansberry is glorifying murdering women and ponders whether the book would have won if the protag had slaughtered blacks or gays or children. She says the book should be banned.

I haven't read the book, but thanks to Fenelly's hysteria, I ordered it off Amazon. All she did was prompt me to order a Hardcase book, something I hadn't gotten around to yet with a huge TBR list. (Hey! Amazon! Where are my Vicki Hendricks books?) The book comes highly recommended the folks on Rara-Avis. I seriously doubt the Rara-Avians would tout a book that glorified violence against women. In fact, my impression was that the protag was a monster on the order of Dave Zeltserman's Johnny Lane or any Jim Thompson character you like.

Furthermore, I happen to be acquainted with Charles Ardai, the book's editor. Now while Charles and I aren't bosom buddies and pen pals, I did spend quite a bit of time with him on my visit to New York and can safely say that Charles Ardai is not a mysoginistic reprobate, the type of person who might publish a book the way Fenelly describes it. So while I don't know Stansberry, I do know Charles, and quite frankly, I'm embarrassed for him having to go through this (until the numbers come in for sales resulting from this boondoggle.) Charles would not publish it if he thought it was as disgusting as it's described. Sorry, but I ain't buying it.

Now, if Ms. Fenelly had simply written a review and described her revulsion to the book, I would most definitely have respected that. I may even reach the same conclusion: Stansberry wrote a sick book. If I do, I will tell you here what I think. [Note to RA: Or even if I liked it. Opinions are like assholes. However, I'll skip showing you the latter.]

But I will never demand that it be banned. It's that point where I'm thoroughly disgusted with Ms. Fenelly. A writer of crime fiction should be ashamed to make such a statement, especially in the hysterical climate we're in right now. Words cannot describe my anger that a member of an awards committee for the MWA would say something like that. She's certainly free to do so, but free speech, while protected by law, is not without consequences. While it's a hard, inescapable fact that you are not free from being offended, it is also a fact that you are not free from hearing dissenting opinions. My dissent is listed right, and probably not in my most professional manner. So what? It's my blog, and I'm pissed.

But let's speak of professionalism, shall we? One of the ideals that was pitched to me before joining the MWA was professionalism. Ms. Fenelly is on an awards committee. It is considered both professional and mature not to comment on an awards process. This is true of any professional organization that honors its members or those in the field it represents. Of course, there's dissent on these committees.

However, when a judge goes on a rant about how his or her opinion was discounted, professionalism evaporates. Someone said Fenelly was courageous to speak up. That wasn't courage. That was sour grapes and a reason I sometimes wonder why I paid $95 to join the MWA in the first place. If it were not for the professionals, both those I know personally, and those I know by reputation, showing us neophytes how it's done, I probably wouldn't stay in the organization. I don't need this from a group that's supposed to be supporting and promoting crime fiction authors. I've got AM radio in my car for that kind of tripe.

It makes me angry the scared sheep mindset of this country has infested the very organizations I've come to admire because of their members and their achievements. Let's hope this is the exception and not the rule.

[Thanks to La Weinman for the heads up and Lee Goldberg for additional info.]

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