In a time when publishers are merging or closing, it’s inspiring that an independent publisher is still going strong after two decades.
May 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of Poisoned Pen Press, which was founded—and is still owned—by publisher Robert Rosenwald and his wife, executive editor Barbara Peters.
Poisoned Pen Press’ 20 years of publishing translates to more than 1,000 titles, with authors coming from throughout the United States, as well as a few other countries. The Poisoned Pen Press team consists of 10 people, including Rosenwald and Peters.
In addition to being nominated for many awards, Poisoned Pen Press also has won several awards, including:
The Hercule Poirot Award in 2016, for outstanding contribution to the Malice Domestic genre by individuals other than writers, presented during the Malice Domestic conference;
The Ellery Queen Award in 2010, by the Mystery Writers of America, for outstanding achievement in the mystery publishing industry, presented during the annual Edgar Awards;
The Oklahoma Book Award in 2009, for Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn D. Wall; and
The Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, from the Bouchercon Crime and Mystery Conference.
“It has been such a remarkable ride,” said Rosenwald. “When we started Poisoned Pen Press in 1997 we hoped to get a few out-of-print books back into print. Now, 20 years later, we've published nearly a hundred living authors and have a backlist approaching a thousand titles.”
Rosenwald added, “We've been a home for many writers who had neither the platform nor the profile to get them into one of the big five publishing houses, but who write great books and deserve to be read.”
As of March 2017, Poisoned Pen Press has been located above the Poisoned Pen Bookstore, in the Old Town Art District of Scottsdale, Arizona. The bookstore was opened by Rosenwald and Peters in 1989 and is known for its large schedule of author and literary events and its global outreach through webcasts and worldwide shipping.
Poisoned Pen Press was begun as a separate corporation dedicated to publishing excellence in mystery.
In 1996, the Poisoned Pen bookstore hosted a crime conference called AZ Murder Goes... Classic. The conference featured current crime writers talking about classic crime writers. After the conference the authors, who had all presented papers at the conference, asked what the bookstore would do with them.
“Thus was born Poisoned Pen Press. The first book we published was the compilation of those papers presented at the conference. It ended up being nominated for an Edgar for best critical/biographical,” said Rosenwald.
“It's glorious to have reached our 20th year as an independent publisher, self-capitalized, debt free, and able to choose books to publish because we are crazy about them,” said Peters, executive editor of Poisoned Pen Press.
“I'm very proud of our authors and of the Poisoned Pen Press staff, which inevitably has evolved over the years. With a great team and list in place we're experimenting with a line of paperback originals as well as working to bring the work of our authors to a wider range of readers, plus publishing the sterling work of the British Library Crime Classics program here in the United States,” Peters added.
Poisoned Pen Press has tended “to focus on traditional mysteries, where the investigation and solution of the crime is the driving force of the story,” said Rosenwald.
But the focus has been changing, according to Rosenwald. “We have been flexing some different muscles recently, with quirkier titles such as Killing Adonis and The Coaster, and this month's Too Lucky to Live, from debut author Annie Hogsett, with encouraging results—but the mainstay of our product line is traditional mystery.
“Within these guidelines, however, we publish an impressive variety of sub-genres, from historical to police procedural to amateur sleuth to cozy—we hit just about every classification, in fact. We truly feel we have something for every mystery reader,” he added.
The Poisoned Pen Press anniversary party was attended by about 50 readers and authors who spoke about their writing lives.
Frederick Ramsay, Donis Casey, James Sallis, and Meg Dobson each spoke about their short stories that are included in the recently published Bound by Mystery original anthology. Other authors present included Annie Hogsett, Tom Kies, Tammy Kaehler, and Dana Stabenow.
Sallis mentioned that he started his career writing short stories, and actually prefers the form to novel writing, but complained that "they pay you with two copies of the magazine. What can you do with that?" So he switched to writing novels.
Poisoned Pen Press should be going strong for years to come. Rosenwald and Peters continue to be excited as publishers and owners of their nationally known bookstore.
“And, most important, we still love it, are challenged by it every day, and can't imagine retiring,” added Rosenwald.
Photos: Top: Tammy Kaehler, author of Kiss the Bricks, being interviewed by Robert Rosenwald and Barbara Peters; bottom photo, Thomas Kies, debut author of Random Road, with Peters.
Photos by Elaine Dudzinski
Mystery Scene continues its ongoing series with authors discussing their works. This time, Christopher Mari and Jeremy K. Brown discuss their novel Ocean of Storms.
Set in the near future, Ocean of Storms begins when political tensions between the United States and China are at an all-time high. Then a catastrophic explosion on the moon cleaves a vast gash in the lunar surface. As a result, the Earth’s electrical infrastructure is obliterated. This forces the feuding nations to cooperate on a high-risk mission.
Now a diverse, highly skilled ensemble of astronauts—and a pair of maverick archaeologists plucked from the Peruvian jungle—will work together.
An epic adventure, Ocean of Storms spans space and time.
Christopher Mari and Jeremy K. Brown discuss tension and point of view:
When we were writing our sci-fi thriller, Ocean of Storms, one of the biggest issues we faced was how to amp up the tension while at the same time releasing clues through the novel as to the nature of the mystery our protagonists face. The solution we came up with was to use multiple points of view (POVs) in which each character was to have a piece of the puzzle.
It’s a tricky thing to write multiple points of view, made harder still by the fact that two authors were writing one novel. That said, it was also a gift to have a co-author, since each of us served double duty as the other’s editor to make sure we were writing a coherent story with coherent characters in a single narrative voice.
In order to insure that we didn’t trip up—either by giving too much away or by forgetting to give key pieces of information at just the right moments—we had to create a sort of “novel bible,” in which we had outlined all of the characters’ personalities and traits, as well as their backgrounds and their motivations.
This same novel bible also had a fairly detailed outline of the plot, so that we knew when certain things would happen and what aspects of the mystery would be revealed in which chapters.
We also did considerable research and took copious notes on true-life aspects of our story: NASA history, the physics behind putting astronauts on the moon, archeological facts, political background on US-China relations—even references to other sci-fi adventures we loved and wanted to echo.
In the end, the novel that ultimately resulted from these notes was not the book that we had outlined: characters changed, motivations shifted, action was tightened, plot details were switched up or deleted entirely. Nothing surprising there; that’s the nature of writing. But what we never changed was what had been there at the beginning, that this was going to be a story told from many points of view as a way to increase the tension throughout the novel and to heighten the mystery.
And the way we did that was by always knowing exactly who knew what at whatever point, and exactly what their motivations were for either giving a piece of information or withholding it.
To us, the only way to tell this story was in such a manner, in which everyone, working together and by each adding a puzzle piece to the game, would be able to solve the mystery. Not to get too philosophical, but writing a thriller with a mystery at its core seems to us not that very different from living everyday life.
All of us all know something, and maybe then only partially, and only by sharing information and by working together can we solve the truly tough problems.
About the authors:
Christopher Mari was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and was educated at Fordham University. He has edited books on a wide variety of topics, including three on space exploration. His next novel, The Beachhead, will be published by 47North in 2017. He lives with his family in Queens, New York.
Jeremy K. Brown has written several biographies for young readers, including books on Stevie Wonder and Ursula K. Le Guin. He has also contributed articles to numerous magazines and newspapers. Brown published his first novel, Calling Off Christmas, in 2011 and is currently at work on another novel. He lives in New York with his wife and sons.
Photos: Top, Christopher Mari; photo by Ana Maria Estela
Bottom, Jeremy K. Brown; photo courtesy Jeremey K.Brown