February 13 – 19: “Do you encourage your family and community to read more?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW Members Winter Austin, Christopher Mari, Paul D. Marks, Lisa Black and Frank Zafiro. The question on everyone’s mind is, “as an author, do you encourage your family and community to read more?”


Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning noir mystery-thriller White Heat. His story Howling at the Moon (EQMM 11/14) was short-listed for both the 2015 Anthony and Macavity Awards, and came in #7 in Ellery Queen’s Reader’s Poll Award. Midwest Review calls Vortex, Paul’s noir novella, “…a nonstop staccato action noir.” Deserted Cities of the Heart appears in Akashic’s St. Louis Noir. And Ghosts of Bunker Hill is in the December, 2016 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.


Christopher Mari was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and educated at Fordham University. His award-winning writing has appeared in America, Citizen Culture, Current Biography and U.S. Catholic, among other magazines. The Beachhead, his new novel, will be published in March 2017. Ocean of Storms, the sci-fi thriller he wrote with Jeremy K. Brown, was published in 2016.


Winter Austin perpetually answers the question: “were you born in the winter?” with a flat “nope.” Having recently changed her address back near her hometown, Winter has stepped into the chaotic world of a full-time wife, mom, author, and employee. With her ability to verbally spin a vivid and detailed story, Winter has translated that into writing deadly romantic thrillers. Combining her love of all things rural, agricultural, and military, she’s turned her small town life upside down.


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. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the New York Times Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.


Frank Zafiro is a retired police officer, and an author. He writes primarily crime fiction of the realistic, gritty variety, ranging from ensemble procedurals to private investigator mysteries. In addition to writing, he is a fan of good film and television, an avid hockey fan, and a tortured guitarist. And yes, a voracious reader. He lives in Redmond, Oregon with his wife, Kristi.



  1. I always encourage anyone I can to read. And it scares me how little many people seem to read these days. (And I hope this response isn’t too long).

    One of the things that really bothered me when we were looking for our first house, before the onset of e-readers, was the lack of books in most of the houses. Scary! Another thing that concerns me is the age of audience members at many book events. There’s a lot of gray hair, not many younger people. I think this should concern authors. The big question of course is what to do about it.

    Some people say young people read more than ever today, Facebook & other social media, game storylines and the like, but that’s like reading the ingredients on the back of a cereal box. When I’m talking about reading and I think what the question refers to is reading fiction and “real” non-fiction.

    As to what to do about it, I think kids should be encouraged to start reading while young and if they have a good teacher or parents who have enthusiasm for it they will hopefully be hooked for life. The problem is there’s so many competing media these days and they seem much more exciting to kids. Reading is exciting, but the perception is that it’s not as exciting as the loud noises in movies and video games. But reading can be made to seem exciting too with the right input.

    Plus, these days there’s alternatives to reading a paper book. There’s audio books and reading on your phone, Kindle, etc. Which might be more exciting for today’s kids.

    When kids watch a movie they want the hero to win, they sit on the edge of their seat and root for the good guy (well, maybe the bad guy sometimes too). But if they can be encouraged to dive into books they’ll find the same adventures there with even more depth to them. And it won’t be over in only two hours or however long a video game plays. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games might be gateway “drugs” to the wider world of reading.

    But one major thing I think we (ITW, MWA, Sisters in Crime, et al) can do is to reach out to schools. Send speakers to schools who can instill in kids the excitement of reading and the written word. And who better to do that than mystery and thriller writers? A friend’s agent asked me to go to an elementary school one time and talk about writing. The kids ate it up. They just need a little encouragement, so let’s give it to them.


  2. I’m never without a book. Ever.

    If reading qualifies as any sort of addition, then yep, I’m an addict. Books are just something I can’t live without—and I wouldn’t want a life in which I had to live without them. I love the feel of them, the smell of them, the sense of accomplishment I get as my bookmark makes its way through them, the way I can mark them up and make them even more my own.

    And I’m the worst kind of addict because I’m always trying to push my addiction onto other people—most especially friends and family. I sometimes wonder what people think of me when I ramble on about some book I absolutely and completely believe they should read. Right now. At this second. Are they just nodding at me because they know just how addicted I am? Or are they really interested in me being as passionate as I am about some title?

    I’m never sure. Addiction blinds you. You never really know what you look like to someone else.

    Sometimes I’m actually cool about it. That’s when I’ll just send an easygoing email to some people I know, telling them that they should read a certain book for X or Y reasons. Other times I’m really not so good. In those moments I’ll shove copies of new or perennial favorites into someone’s hands with an urgent “read it and tell me what you think” before they’re out my door. And a few times I’ve actually just bought and mailed books to friends without their knowing, simply because I was sure they’d love those titles.

    If people I know are reluctant readers, I, as a former reluctant reader, try to find them books along the lines of the ones that pulled me into my addiction. If they’re very particular readers, I try to show them books that are a little outside their comfort zones, to expand their horizons. I’m sneaky. I not only want more addicts; I want them as addicted as I am.

    I should also say here that I love the public library system—and not only because it provides authors like me the opportunity to give book talks. The library system is a real refuge, a second home, a place where I’m glad to find my fellow addicts, young and old. It’s also a place where growing up I came to discover not just myself but a wider world. I often feel like I will never give enough back to it. And in those moments I’ll gather up volumes off my shelves—good books that I likely won’t read again—and donate them. Thankfully my library is happy to accept them. Otherwise I might go door to door giving out books.

    I also love the way kids love books to the point of being absolutely blind and deaf to any and all adults around them. I have three young kids and I’m always amazed at the way they and their friends paw through piles of books. The addict in me says: get ‘em hooked early!

    Books might be addictive, but they’re also good friends. The best ones miraculously give something necessary to you at just the right moments in your life. And when a book gives you that necessary something, you want to give that same beloved book to someone you know and love, hoping that they in turn will also gain something, not just for themselves but for the both of you. A bond. A recognition.

    “Only connect,” E.M. Forster famously wrote. And that’s what reading does. It better connects us to ourselves, to our communities, to the world at large. Not to get all misty-eyed about it, but reading shows us that people have more in common than we often imagine. It shows us that there’s a universality to the human condition that makes all stories not only possible, but necessary. A big part of being human is just the need to tell and to experience good stories.

    1. What you consider an addiction for me is a compulsion. I’m a compulsive reader, in that I actually can’t help reading when I see printed material near me, whether it’s a book or a magazine. I’m always in the middle of some book, but mostly I feel as though I NEED to be reading something at all times. I can’t watch TV without reading matter in my hands or beside me. As soon as there’s a commercial, I hit Mute and get back to my reading. One reason I love watching sports is because I can read during the game. It often calms me during the most tense moments and fills the time between pitches or during those interminable, annoying timeouts. Then there’s traveling on the train or bus. If I have nothing to read, I feel like my skin is crawling! Come to think of it, that DOES sound like an addiction. Well, addiction and compulsion are sort of two sides of the same coin, I guess.

  3. Absolutely. In fact, I’m usually the one gifting books to my kids, my nephew, and nieces, and any family members I know that are constant readers. For a short time I worked in the local school system, and helped kids with reading problems. Books I don’t plan to keep I donate to libraries in desperate need of new reading material for their patrons. And for several years now, I present a writing workshop at a local young writers conference that I myself attended when I was younger. Without fail, each year I’m asked from the students attending what books I would suggest for new reading material.

  4. I absolutely encourage my family and friends to read–in a gentle, non-obnoxious way of course! For years I have tried to ‘help’ my nephews and nieces by giving them copies of books I loved when I was their age. My mom and sisters are easy since they all read voraciously anyway so I can pass on mysteries and they will be happy to get them. However this has very clearly illustrated ‘different strokes for different folks’ as I have often passed on books I had been completely gaga over to my sister only to hear her pronounce ‘meh’ or, on occasion, ‘ew.’

    With other family members I cherry-pick selections. A cyberthriller for my nephew, one of Michael Haskins’ Key West thriller for the couple who often join us on that island, Megan Abbott’s incredible “Dare Me” for my ex-cheerleader niece. It took her several years to read it, but eventually she did.

    I also try to promote library services. I have tried to turn on countless acquaintances to the beauty of OverDrive and Hoopla and OneClickDigital, downloading ebooks and especially e-audiobooks to my smartphone. They have been invaluably convenient for researching my own books as well as getting me through many tedious bouts of housecleaning, exercising, and classifying fingerprints.

    As I regaled my co-workers with tales of this wonderland, however, I added that one needed to have a library card. An older co-worker, my ‘work mom,’ mused aloud that she hadn’t had a library card in thirty years. Before I even realized the words were leaving my mouth I snapped, “That is nothing to be proud of, young lady!”

    Sometimes I get overenthusiastic.

  5. Absolutely! I’ll never forget the surprise, and ultimately at twinge of sadness, I always felt while doing a book signing at one of those stores that has music and movies as well when I’d ask person coming past my lonely little author table, “Do you like crime fiction?” and their answer was…”I don’t read.”

    I don’t want that for anyone but definitely not my family and friends. So I tell people I know about books I’ve read that I thought were particularly good or that they might like. I frequently ask, “What have you read lately?” When they share, I ask if they liked it, and why. All in all, it starts a nice conversation surrounding the topic of reading, which I think is crucial to a person’s livelihood. Sure, it impacts mine as an author, but more importantly, being a good reader is critical to being successful in so many areas of life. If you can encourage anyone, of any age, to learn to enjoy (and celebrate) reading, the end result is always good.

    For those that aren’t big readers, I’ll sometimes tie in a TV show or a movie to entice them, as long as the comparison is a valid one. It’s my belief that once someone learns to love to read…this world, and many others, are theirs forever.

    1. I think you nail something crucial here, Mr. Zafiro. Reading is most definitely crucial to a person’s livelihood, whatever job they choose. Thanks so much for pointing that out.

      There have always been distractions to reading pretty much since public education allowed reading to become widespread (radio, movies, television, video games, now social media, etc.) so the question is how to make reading something that’s both pleasurable and ultimately profitable (both intellectually and financially) to more people. Which takes us back to education and getting kids, as young as possible, to read and read regularly. Part of that is modeling behavior at home–not always having the TV on, not always being on our phones–and part of that is working to ensure that the way reading is taught to kids is not a chore.

      I remember my mother meeting once with my second-grade teacher. She was worried that I wasn’t reading the “right” things. All I read then were comic books. And the teacher told my mom, “Look, I don’t care if he’s reading the back of a cereal box, so long as he’s reading! The more he reads, the more he’ll want to read and the more broadly he’ll read.”

      So I think part of our job as authors is also to be reading advocates. A lot of folks here have said they’re involved with their local libraries and schools. I think we all have to do that and more.

      All this said, I have high hopes for the future of reading. I live in NYC and see people reading everyday on the subway, everything from newspapers and magazines, to their phones and tablets, to paper books. The desire is out there. The key is to make reading central to people’s lives and not something done occasionally or when we don’t have anything else to occupy us.

      1. Your observations in your final paragraph in particular give me some hope.

        The worst part about the “I don’t read” comment from some of the patrons of the book/music/movie/game store was the apparent pride they exhibited when proclaiming the fact.

        Of course, I’ve never ran into that in a books-only store!

  6. I believe people are hungry for stories just as much as ever, if not more. And the written word is still the easiest (in some ways), most portable, most durable way to tell a story, and that’s not going to go away.

      1. So right! Maybe the medium will evolve or be augmented by other formats, but the desire to read good stories won’t ever go away.

        So here’s my question. If you had to hand over five page-turners to Mr. “I Don’t Read,” what would you give him?

        Here’s my contributions, off the top of my head:

        1) Horror: King, clearly, either Misery or The Stand.
        2) Crime: James M. Cain, definitely, either The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity.
        3) Sci-Fi: either Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (for obvious reasons!) or Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven.
        4) American Literature: either Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea or Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
        5) European Literature: either Bronte’s Jane Eyre or Flaubert’s Madam Bovary.

        Okay, I cheated and didn’t narrow it down to five…

        1. Great Question!

          1) Horror: King’s 11/22/1963 or Dark Tower would be my choice, but that might count as Sci-Fi as well. Another option? Blake Crouch’s DARK MATTER.
          2) Crime: Lawrence Block’s Scudder if s/he’s a cerebral person, Richard Stark’s Parker series if s/he’s more action oriented. Conversely, Connelly’s Bosch and Steve Hamilton’s McKnight series would work, too.
          3) Sci-Fi: See #1, or Frank Herbert’s Dune.
          4) American Lit: Is Steinbeck too obvious a choice?
          5) European Lit: Not my strongest suit, but how about Wuthering Heights? S/he can put the Kate Bush tune on repeat while reading…

          Okay, I cheated a lot.

  7. Oh man–how did I forget Steinbeck?! Grapes of Wrath alone. Or East of Eden. Unputdownable. Same as with 11/22/63. One of the best time-travel books ever. Right up there with Jack Finney’s phenomenal Time and Again. Mr. “I Don’t Read” couldn’t resist any of the books on your list!

  8. 1) Horror: The Haunting of Hill House
    2) Crime: In Cold Blood
    3) Sci-Fi: The Martian Chronicles
    4) American Lit: For Whom The Bell Tolls
    5) European Lit: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

  9. And before I forget, in the spirit of inspiring people to read more, I wanted to give a shout-out to one of my favorite places on Earth: the book village of Hobart, in the Northern Catskills of New York State. A little town with beautiful mountain views and six–count ’em–six bookstores:


    If you’re ever in the neighborhood, very worth checking out.

  10. Talking about Mr. I Don’t Read, my sister-in-law teaches high school and she recently encountered a slightly different angle. She had a student who wasn’t a reader but wanted to be one. The problem was that he said he couldn’t find anything that held his attention. So Wendy suggested Christopher Moore’s BLOOD SUCKING FIEND, hoping that the humor and the off-beat approach would capture his attention.

    He got back to her right away, excited about the book. “I read two whole chapters in the bathroom last night!”

    Although Wen would have been happier if the exclamation point came after “chapters” instead of “night”, the fact that the kid was excited and was asking questions about events in the book made up for it.

    She’s a pretty cool teacher from what I’ve seen. When he asked what was up with the money in the protagonist’s pocket, she just replied, “I don’t know. What do you think is up with that?” Makes the reader even more intrigued and engaged.

    So…a little success story from Central Oregon.

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