Monday, October 1, 2007

Barbara Fister

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian and the author of two mysteries, On Edge (2002) and In the Wind (coming out next spring).

Here are two exchanges from Julia Buckley's September 2007 interview with Fister:

Here's another library-oriented question: you're surrounded by books. What made you choose the mystery genre when you began to write for publication?

I've never wanted to write any other kind of fiction. I grew up with British golden age authors - my mother was a self-educated PhD in everything, largely because she was a voracious reader of mysteries. I got sidetracked by Russian literature, which became my college major, but rediscovered the genre when I read Dennis Lehane for the first time. He once said in an interview that crime fiction is where the social novel went, and I think it's true. Certainly, there's a lot of it that's purely entertainment, and there's nothing wrong with that, but there is also a lot of writing in the genre that engages serious issues with fine, exciting prose.

* * * * * *
What made you write On Edge? What's it about?

I got the idea for On Edge when driving through a nearby small town that was the site of a massive child abuse investigation in 1983-84, one that broke just weeks after the notorious McMartin Preschool case in California. For some odd reason, the country (indeed, the entire developed English-speaking world) was gripped for nearly a decade by the idea that our day care centers and small towns were home to secret Satanic cults that ritually abused children. One poll found about 70% of Americans believed at least some of these cases were true. A specialist in crimes against children at the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit studied over 300 such cases (including the one in the town near mine) and concluded none of them involved satanic ritual abuse - and that, in fact, investigations into genuine abuse were being hampered by this strange moral panic.

In the small town near me, nearly everyone was suspected of unspeakable acts; a police officer who objected to the conduct of the case was arrested along with his wife for being part of the secret ring of child abusers; eventually a trial was held in which a very confused five year old was put on the stand to testify against his parents using words he didn't even understand. It was heartbreaking and ended in a shambles, with two acquittals, dozens of dropped charges, and nobody official ever admitting they'd gotten it wrong.

So - I wondered what the long-term effects of that kind of communal trauma might be, and why fear becomes such a potent driving force in the formation of social issues. There's something so satisfying about having someone to blame for all those generalized anxieties you might have, though it's also very dangerous. On Edge uses the conventions of the thriller to explore that effect. And (I hope) tell an entertaining story, too.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue