April 21 – 27: “Do you enjoy reading books out of season?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Reading a Christmas story in July? Who does that? This week ITW Members Mark Alpert, Colin Campbell, Paige Dearth, Tim Waggoner and Nancy J. Cohen discuss reading books our of season.


Montecito Heights (2)Ex-policeman. Ex-soldier. International tennis player. And full-time crime novelist. Colin Campbell is a retired police officer in West Yorkshire, having tackled crime in one of the UK’s busiest cities for 30 years. He is the author of UK crime novels, Blue Knight White Cross and Northern Ex, and US thrillers Jamaica Plain and Montecito Heights featuring rogue Yorkshire cop Jim Grant. He counts Lee Child and Matt Hilton among his fans.


When Smiles Fade by Paige DearthPaige Dearth was a victim of child rape and spent her early years yearning desperately for a better life. Living through the fear and isolation that marked her youth, she found a way of coping with the trauma of her past and the angst that scarred her present: she developed the ability to dream up stories grounded in reality that would prove cathartic for her and provide her with a creative outlet. Paige’s novels are a fine balance between what lives on in her imagination and the evil that lurks in the real world.


the way of all fleshShirley Jackson Award-nominated author Tim Waggoner has published over thirty novels and three short story collections of dark fiction. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair Community College and in Seton Hill University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program.




HangingbyaHairNancy J. Cohen writes the Bad Hair Day mystery series featuring hairdresser Marla Shore. Several of these titles have made the IMBA bestseller list. Nancy is also the author of Writing the Cozy Mystery, a valuable instructional guide for writers on how to write a winning whodunit. A featured speaker at conferences, libraries, and community events, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. 


The Furies by Mark AlpertMark Alpert is author of The Furies, a new thriller from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. A contributing editor at Scientific American, he specializes in weaving real science into his novels. His earlier thrillers — Final Theory, The Omega Theory and Extinction — have been published in twenty-three languages. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children and is a proud member of Scientific American’s softball team, the Big Bangers.




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  1. On this one I come down firmly on the side of, NO. At least when it comes to Christmas stories. I don’t even watch Die Hard unless it’s December. Anything to do with Santa Claus and elves and snowbound Christmas trees has pretty much got to be read/watched during the festive season. Everything else. Go for it. A good story is a good story no matter when you read it. The conditions surrounding you while you relax with a book are not visual cues for the story itself. You can even read Fifty Shades Of Grey fully clothed. It doesn’t matter. Stories set in the heat of the sun are fine being read in winter. Sometimes it’s a good thing. After all we read to escape into another world. But Christmas? Unless somebody writes about what Santa does in the off-season, sorry. December it has to be.

  2. It doesn’t matter to me when I read a story in terms of holidays. Since I live in South Florida, reading about winter scenes during our hot and humid summers would be a welcome diversion. But I can read them anytime. Ditto for holiday stories. I’ll read one centering around a specific holiday at any time during the year, but I don’t seek out these types of stories. Sure, it’s more fun reading a Halloween tale in October, but it’s not necessary for me to enjoy a story in season. I’m more interested in the story premise than the time of year.

    I’ve used holidays in some of my own books. Dead Roots takes my hairstylist sleuth and her fiancé to a haunted Florida resort over Thanksgiving weekend. So I like to promote this work during October and November. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter when you read it or my other stories. For myself, I’ll read a good book whenever it takes place.

  3. I sure do enjoy reading books out of season. I feel the same for books out of the holiday season, as I do the four seasons of the year.

    I can remember when I read Misery by Stephen King. I was lying on Megan’s Bay in Saint Thomas, the warm sun and feather silk breeze gently stroked my skin. There I was enjoying my experience of Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes in the cold of the winter. One blizzard was followed by another, the frigid air penetrating your bones as King describes the scenes. The harsh contrast of being on the beach and reading about the ice, snow and cold amplified my feeling of being there with the protagonist.

    As for books revolving around holiday seasons, I usually start off reading books written around a holiday season with a nostalgic feeling. As the reader, I can instantly relate to the protagonist simply based on how I feel and my own experience with a particular holiday. For example, when I read a story that revolves around Christmas I feel safe and a sense of belonging because it reminds me of my grandmother. So, I’m immediately transported to a sentimental state of mind making me more vulnerable to the twists and turns that may come with a dramatic or tragic story.

    I’m fascinated with a good story, no matter what time of year, period. Regardless of the season or what I might be doing at the time, as long as I am invested in the protagonist and lost between the pages, I’ll read it. It’s kind of like eating ice cream in the bitter cold of winter…just because it’s freezing outside doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it, I just throw an extra blanket over myself while I indulge.

  4. I don’t. Every Advent my older son and I read the Christmas Carol, even when he was in Afghanistan and Iraq; it just has to be Christmas time or it feels out of place. Now even though the Ghost of Christmas Present said that Christmas isn’t to be celebrated just one day a year, but all three-sixty-five, I would argue that I only put up my lights up after Thanksgiving and take them down by January sixth because it’s the season. My neighbors, however, choose to keep theirs up a-a-a-a-a-all year round.

  5. In general, I prefer to read seasonal stories out of season. I find that reading them in-season tends to pull me out of the story. Having reminders in the real world of what season it is — decorations, music, seasonal commercials, holiday activities, etc. — keeps my mind tethered to the real world too much, making it more difficult for me to immerse myself fully in the imaginative experience of reading fiction. Also, I prefer to experience the author’s take on a particular season without having real-world reminders getting in the way of the author’s vision. If an author is taking a very cynical view of a holiday, and I’m surrounded by positive expressions of the same holiday, the author’s intended effect is diluted. I find movie and literary references in fiction pull me out of a story in similar ways. Whenever I read a horror story and some character says, “This is like something out of a Stephen King novel!” or when I read a mystery and some character mentions how even Sherlock Holmes would have a hrd time cracking this case, it yanks me out of the story — and it sets up a comparison in my mind between the author’s work and the literary giant he or she is referencing. . . a comparison in which the author inevitably suffers.

  6. When I was a kid I loved the month of October because of all the Halloween movie marathons on TV. I’d park my butt in front of the tube every afternoon and watch one scary movie after another, including some really old, obscure films. I remember one movie in particular, although I don’t recall its title: a small town is plagued by invisible monsters that attack people by latching to their necks and sucking out their brains and spinal cords. The movie’s heroes discover that the monsters were spawned by radiation emanating from the town’s nuclear power plant. At some point the creatures become visible, and they look just like disembodied nervous systems. It was great fun.

    Nowadays, though, you can watch an unlimited number of horror movies and TV shows any time of the year. Just this week, in fact, one of the television networks is introducing a new series called Salem, presumably about the Salem witch trials. I wholeheartedly approve of this trend, because my demand for horror and suspense is a year-round obsession. Luckily, Stephen King is as prolific as ever; last summer I enjoyed Joyland, last fall I devoured Doctor Sleep, and now I’m eagerly awaiting Mr. Mercedes, which is scheduled to be published in June. I’ve also become a big fan of his son, Joe Hill, whose novel NOS4A2 is a work of genius.

    My own novels are science thrillers, but I decided to dip into horror and fantasy while writing my latest book, The Furies. It’s about an ancient clan of witches who were massacred by the thousands during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The survivors fled to the wilderness of the Great Lakes and lived in seclusion for the next four hundred years, guarding their secrets. Writing the novel took me back to the days when I sat in front of the television set and immersed myself in the terror of nuclear radiation and brain-eating monsters. When something feels this good, why ration the delight? Why not enjoy it all year long?

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