Cover envy!!! … I just LOVE Lisa Black’s cover for UNPUNISHED. Isn’t it amazing?
Okay, over it … but truly, this is an evocative, mysterious cover that certainly makes me want to grab a copy!
I’m thrilled to have Lisa back again this year blogging about her latest novel. Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Which pretty much means she knows a lot about her genre. 🙂 Lisa is a New York Times bestselling authors, and her books have been translated into six languages. Plus, one of her books has been optioned for a possible film or television series. Congrats!
I’m glad Lisa could return to MSW to share more about how UNPUNISHED came to be …
JOURNALISM IN AMERICA
My current offering to the world of literature, Unpunished, deals with a series of murders at a major newspaper office. I chose this setting more or less on a whim, because I felt that it would give me plenty of possible conflicts—someone wants a story written, someone doesn’t want a story written, someone doesn’t like the way a story was written, or perhaps it had nothing to do with a story at all. The whim turned out to be spot-on—holy cow, I had no idea how spot it would be on. It seems we can no longer agree on what a story even is. Reporting isn’t simply fact-finding any more. After all, a piece can move from ‘objective reporting’ to ‘agenda promotion’ solely by which facts one chooses to find.
Or as a newspaper reporter explains to forensic scientist Maggie Gardiner:
“Newspapers, as we know them, really haven’t been around that long, mostly just since the end of the Civil War when printers discovered the cash cow known as advertising.
“But reporters more or less repeated what they were told—which is the way it has to be, most of the time, because no one has the time or the resources to double check everything—and especially with the world wars, it was a matter of patriotism. When we have a common enemy you’re not going to make a big deal about a county commissioner taking a bribe because it’s important that we all stick together. And that attitude has its place. But in 1971 that attitude changed forever when New York Times published the Pentagon Papers. You know what those were?”
Maggie scoffed, audibly. “Of course. Daniel Ellsberg’s copies of the Vietnam task force study.”
“Yes. Everyone remembers that as a scandal and a turning point in public perceptions about Vietnam and the beginning of Nixon’s end. Nowadays any paper that’s not crazy about the current administration wouldn’t hesitate to publish them, but at the time it was a sea change in how the press related to the government. For the first time the media said, we’re not trying to be sensationalistic and this isn’t all about selling papers, but this is important, and the people need to know it. Period. They had stopped accepting White House press releases as fact, and that cat never really went back into that bag. They weren’t trumpeting it like the propaganda that passes for broadcast news today, but they steadily published. The government went to the Supreme Court to get the Times to stop, the Supreme Court said stop, and the Times stopped. But then the Washington Post started publishing them, until the Supreme Court said they had to stop. The Post stopped. Fifteen other papers began to publish them. Walter Cronkite interviewed Ellsberg on CBS News. No matter what the administration did, it couldn’t be stopped.”
He paused, the wonder of that glorious, and gloriously responsible behavior still causing him awe, even so many years later.
But the glow didn’t last long.
“And now here we are, maybe having come full circle. News, as an entity, has gone back to being the utterly biased, paid-for-by-sponsor pack of screed it started out as in the 1700s because it can’t turn a profit any other way. It did for nearly a hundred years, but Craigslist and eBay and Twitter have gutted the only thing about a paper that brought in more than it cost.”
The news, no pun intended, seems pretty dire. Especially when bodies begin to turn up next to the printing press and Maggie and her sort-of partner, homicide detective Jack Renner, need to find out why.
But the true-life background of the plot may be much more frightening than any fiction I could write.
Lisa, thank you so much for being here today!
Here’s the nitty gritty of UNPUNISHED — you can find more information on Lisa’s webpage:
It begins with the kind of bizarre death that makes headlines—literally. A copy editor at the Cleveland Herald is found hanging above the grinding wheels of the newspaper assembly line. Forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner has her suspicions about this apparent suicide inside the tsunami of tensions that is the news industry today—and when the evidence suggests murder, Maggie has no choice but to place her trust in the one person she doesn’t trust at all….
Jack Renner is a killer with a conscience, a vigilante with his own code of honor. He has only one problem: Maggie knows his secret. She insists he enforce the law, not subvert it. But when more newspaper employees are slain, Jack may be the only person who can help Maggie unmask the killer–even if Jack is still checking names off his own private list.