Black and White and Read

“Are you going to be Asian or white?” my older daughter asked her sister.

We were in the kitchen. The kids were working on homework, and I was meal planning. My ears pricked, and I stopped what I was doing to listen.

This conversation between my daughters took place some years ago as my younger child was preparing to attend middle school. We were looking at a couple of different schools, one of which, a large public school, had a particular reputation of closed racial groups–Black, white, Asian–with little interaction among the camps. I thought how strange that one could actually choose one’s racial affiliation. (My kids are Korean and Caucasian.) On the other hand, I felt uneasy that my daughters felt the need to limit themselves racially at school.

I am reminded of that memoir Life on the Color Line: the True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black by Gregory Howard Williams. Williams, who had been told his people were Italian, lived as a middle-class white boy in Virginia. But upon his parents’ separation, he was informed his father was Black and was sent to live with his father’s family in a poor, segregated community. For me, one of the most poignant moments of that book was when Williams entered the gymnasium on the first day of school. White students sat on one side, and Black students on the other, separated by law. He stood there for a moment and then took a seat on the Black side.

I wasn’t going to write about this subject of race. I never planned to. Nor did I feel entitled to (my ancestors hailed from the northernmost regions of Europe, any farther north and they would have toppled into the Baltic Sea). But recent events in Charlottesville and even more recent comments by the president regarding athletes, free speech, and the national anthem compel us all to speak up against racial inequality.

In an article for USA Today, Alia E. Dastigir states the Southern Poverty Law Center “documented an uptick of hate and bias incidents after the presidential election, tracking 1,094 in the first month alone. The organization also says the number of hate groups in the U.S. increased for a second year in a row in 2016. In April, the ADL reported anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. rose 86% in the first quarter of 2017.

It’s all more than a little bit daunting.

Hate is clearly on the rise. Hate now has permission to raise its ugly head and bray venomous messages against non-Christians, non-heterosexuals, and non-whites. What to do?

On her Facebook page, author Darcey Rosenblatt referenced an article “11 Things White People Can Do To Be Real Anti-racist Allies” by Kali Holloway. I read all of them. I plan to attend more peaceful rallies like the uplifting Hands Around Lake Merritt and the Oakland Women’s March (suggestion # 11 by Sarah Sahim), but it was item # 6 by Arthur Chu that struck a chord with me. He said:

Read a book.

Chu says, “asking your black friend or Asian friend what books they’d recommend will probably be received a lot better than asking them to explain race to you right then and there.”

Now that I can do. And I can not only read a book (more than one) by a Writer of Color, I can talk about said book, and I can review that book. So that’s my plan so far. The first book I purchased for my new plan is titled, appropriately, Behold the Dreamers by Mbolo Mbue.

It seems a little thing, reading a book. Yet I know some of Hitler’s earliest actions were to confiscate printing presses and ban books. And guess what? This also happens to be Banned Books Week!

So there you go.

R.I.P. XII Challenge

What time is it? R.I.P. time!

I must admit, though, R.I.P. XII caught me by surprise this year.  In many ways, this has been a dispiriting year for many, so perhaps that played a role in my tardiness when it comes to my favorite time of year and the spooky books I love to curl up with when the days lengthen and darken.

At any rate, better late than never to year twelve of the beloved autumn reading challenge in which you:

enjoy books that could be classified as:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
Every September 1 through October 31 for the last 11 years Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has hosted the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, affectionately known as the R.I.P. Challenge. This year, Carl has entrusted the event and its traditions to Heather at My Capricious Life and Andi at Estella’s Revenge.
As always, there are multiple levels at which you can participate. I am opting for Peril the First, which means I will read four books. I may also do Peril on the Screen–that sort of depends on whether I find a good ghost movie I have not yet seen. A challenge, for sure.
Here are the four perilous books I have selected for R.I.P. XII in the order I expect to read them:

Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson

Quiet Neighbors

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo

13 Reasons Why by Jay Archer

Thirteen Reasons Why

The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert

The Secret Of Crickley Hall
I hope you’ll join me for R.I.P. XII this year. It’s easy and fun (and you only have to read one book or watch one movie). Click here to sign up, and let’s get reading!

Hunting Hour

Hunting Hour by Margaret Mizushima

Are you an incurable devotee of K-9 mysteries? Have you already devoured (and loved) Suspect and The Promise by Robert Crais and Blood on the Tracks by Barbara Nickless? Then you can do no better than to add Hunting Hour to your reading list.

Hunting Hour features the lovable, and doggedly persistent Robo, a German Shepherd officer. You will love him as much as you love Maggie and Clyde–those larger-than-life dogs that leap off the page onto your lap and into your heart. When I interviewed the author, she told me Robo is named after a real canine hero. What a wonderful tribute that is! Mizushima has spent many hours working with and caring for dogs, and her knowledge shines through in the pages of this mystery. One great strength of this novel is the author’s meticulous layering of police procedure and canine training without slowing the pace of the story.

Hunting Hour can be read as a standalone. I had no trouble following the tangle of emotions Robo’s handler Mattie Cobb feels for single dad Cole Walker, but I think it might be best to begin with the first book of the series, Killing Trail, to see how the characters evolve. For instance, Hunting Hour opens with a tense conversation between Mattie and her therapist that touches on an earlier trauma–no doubt revealed in a preceding book.

It is during this therapy session that Mattie and Robo respond to a call about a missing junior high student. Sadly, the missing girl’s body is soon discovered on Smoker’s Hill. As Mattie and fellow police officers search for clues, another girl goes missing. And this time it is someone close to Mattie and Robo’s hearts.

Motives and opportunities abound in this K-9 mystery, and while I guessed the identity of the miscreant halfway through the novel, that did not lessen my enjoyment or racing heartbeat as Hunting Hour reached its exciting climax.

I received a copy of Hunting Hour from Netgalley.

Author Spotlight with Margaret Mizushima

Please join me in welcoming Margaret Mizushima!

I’m excited to spotlight Margaret Mizushima, the author of the Timber Creek mysteries featuring Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo. Together they keep the peace in Timber Creek, Colorado. Today we’re discussing the upcoming novel Hunting Hour to be released August 8th.

Welcome, Margaret!

Thank you, Deb. I’m happy to be here! I appreciate you hosting me and highlighting Hunting Hour.

DA: You’ve clearly spent a lot of time around dogs. Robo has an engaging personality (dogonality?) all his own. Is Robo based on any particular dog you’ve known and loved?

MM: Yes and no. A real dog inspired my Robo character, but I wasn’t fortunate enough to get to know him personally (dogonally?). I met his trainer and handler, Beth Gaede, after he died. She let me shadow her while she did search and rescue training and evidence detection training with other dogs near my hometown. Afterwards, we sat and she told me tales of her late partner’s prowess, a dog that excelled like none she’d ever had the pleasure of training before or since. I asked if I could borrow his name for the series, and she seemed pleased to agree for me to honor him this way. Beth still acts as a consultant for the books. Robo’s traits are a compilation of many dogs that I’ve known and loved as well as German shepherds I’ve observed during patrol/protection dog trainings and police dog trials.

DA: Wow, what a special dog. And so cool that your Robo is named after a real live hero!

As the book opens, Mattie is working through some serious trust issues. When her therapist urges her to picture someone she can depend on, Mattie names Stella, whom she describes as “a cross between a mother hen and Godzilla.” Do you have plans for the ongoing relationship between Stella and Mattie?

MM: Yes, I plan for Stella to be around for the series. I love her. She’s got a hard, brassy shell with marshmallow cream inside. She and Mattie have a lot they can teach each other.

DA: Readers who enjoy learning about canines will gain insight into behavior and genetics. (I recently regaled a friend with trivia concerning a bloodhound’s scent receptors that I read about in Hunting Hour. She was impressed.) As a writer, do you find it difficult to balance educating your readers without the dreaded info dump?

MM: I used to be queen of the info dumps—my editors help me a lot with that. I strive to keep the action going in the series, so my goal is to piece in the research a bit at a time.

DA: Well, I can personally attest to the continuing action in Hunting Hour.

Mystery writer Louise Penny was recently interviewed on Sunday Morning. When asked about constructing a male character she could follow over the course of a series, she said to Martha Teichner, “I decided I would create a man I would marry.” Single parent Cole Walker seems eminently marriageable. Did you design him with the same criteria in mind?

MM: I saw that wonderful interview! Louise Penny is such a prolific and excellent storyteller! For my series, I wanted a male character who demonstrated room for improvement but who still had oodles of potential and a great heart. Since my husband is a veterinarian, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to observe a vet at work and understand the vet’s life from the inside out, so I decided that Cole Walker would be a vet, too. In the first book of the series, Killing Trail, Cole’s wife has left him due to his workaholic nature. (There’s more to it than that, but that’s highlighted in Hunting Hour.) Cole has a steep learning curve as he tries to learn how to be a single parent to his two daughters while keeping up with his busy veterinary practice. In book two, Stalking Ground, a love interest sparks between Mattie and Cole. Mattie deserves a strong and good man in her life, and Cole has potential to fit the bill. But both have been burned by the opposite sex (in drastically different ways), so they’re taking it slow. I sure hope they can work things out, because they seem perfect for each other to me! J

DA: Yes, it was a great interview! I learned many things about Louise Penny’s process as a writer and how she approaches research.

During your research process, have you done ride-alongs with K-9 police teams? A canine behaviorist I know sometimes plays a villain during police training sessions. In spite of her background, she finds it pretty terrifying when 90 pounds of German Shepherd rushes at her. Have you observed something similar?

MM: I’m so lucky that my veterinarian husband has K-9 trainers and officers for clients. I’ve spent many hours shadowing and observing training sessions. I’ve watched bite-suit and bite-sleeve work in training and police dog competitions. I’ve also watched narcotics detection training and evidence detection training as well, and my husband and I trained two of our own dogs in search and rescue. I’ve been married to my veterinarian for 35 years, and during that time, we’ve shared our home and lives with many, many dogs of various breeds.

DA: Thirty-five years of marriage and a working partnership. Congratulations!

What are you reading now? Do you read other K-9 mysteries…those by Robert Crais or Barbara Nickless, for instance?

MM: Right now I’m reading My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni. Robert Crais is one of my favorite authors, and I read his books as soon as I can after their release. I have Barbara’s book, Blood on the Tracks, on my lengthy and ever-growing TBR list. I also love outdoor settings in mysteries and enjoy two other Colorado authors, Mark Stevens and his Allison Coil mystery series and Scott Graham and his national parks mysteries. I’ve read everything by Margaret Coel, and I also like to read Dana Stabenow and her mysteries set in Alaska. Then there are two other favorites, Tana French and Elly Griffiths, who do a great job with setting. I could go on and on! I love to read.

DA: I’m with you there. I’m an incurable reading addict myself. I think My Sister’s Grave is on my TBR somewhere. Maybe I’d better move it to a more prominent position.

I’m so glad you could pop over for a chat today, Margaret. Readers, be sure to check out Margaret Mizushima (bio and contact information below) and her newest addition to the Timber Creek series, Hunting Hour, available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series, which includes Killing Trail (2015), an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award nominee; Stalking Ground (2016), a Colorado Book Award and International Book Award finalist; and Hunting Hour (2017), an RT Book Reviews Top Pick. She lives in Colorado where she assists her husband with their veterinary practice and Angus cattle herd. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.