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The 1995 murder that may have influenced one of the year’s biggest books, Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing

Your book club probably already read Where the Crawdads Sing. Laura Miller from Slate looks at how a long-ago murder in Africa influenced Delia Owens’ first novel. Support our news coverage by subscribing to our Kindle Nation Daily Digest. Joining is free right now!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is the sort of book that you’ve either never heard of or have already read for your book club. The bestselling hardcover title of 2019, Crawdads has sold more than 1 million copies—jaw-dropping for any first novel, much less one by an author who just turned 70, living on a remote homestead in northern Idaho. Publishers Weekly has called its success the “feel-good publishing story of the year.” (Spoilers for the novel follow throughout this piece.) If you’re one of the people who’ve read the book, you probably know a little of Owens’ romantic backstory, like the huge boost her debut got when Reese Witherspoon, the Oprah of our time, selected it for her book club. Or the fact that while Crawdads is Owens’ first novel, it’s not her first book. And then there’s the 22 years she spent in Africa with her husband, Mark, living close to the land and working in wildlife conservation. Delia and Mark wrote about those experiences in three memoirs. But what most of Crawdads’ fans don’t know is that Delia and Mark Owens have been advised never to return to one of the African nations where they once lived and worked, Zambia, because they are wanted for questioning in a murder that took place there decades ago. That murder, whose victim remains unidentified, was filmed and broadcast on national television in the U.S.

To be clear, Delia Owens herself is not suspected of involvement in the murder of a poacher filmed by an ABC camera crew in 1995, while the news program Turning Point was producing a segment on the Owenses’ conservation work in Zambia. But her stepson, Christopher, and her husband have been implicated by some witnesses. This murky incident from Delia’s past is hardly a secret. In fact, in 2010 it was the subject of “The Hunted,” an 18,000-word story written by Jeffrey Goldberg and published in the New Yorker. You can find a link to that story, along with a one-line reference to a “controversial killing of a poacher in Zambia,” in Owens’ Wikipedia entry. However, the Wikipedia entry for Owens comes as only the fourth result when you Google her name, and a lazy or unseasoned internet user might stop reading after browsing the official bios that outrank it. Apparently many such users are members of the press. In numerous interviews, Owens giggles about how her publishers “keep sending me champagne” or recounts how she was inspired by her observations of animals that “live in very strong female social groups.” (No such group appears in Where the Crawdads Sing.) But when it comes to the remarkable fact that, in the company of a charismatic but volcanic man, she apparently lived through a modern-day version of Heart of Darkness? Not a peep.

Goldberg—who spent months researching “The Hunted,” traveling to South Africa, Idaho, and Maine in addition to making three trips to the Luangwa area in Zambia, and interviewing over 100 sources—is bemused by how effectively Owens and her publisher have managed to overshadow perhaps the most fascinating, if troubling, episode in her life. “A number of people started emailing me about this book,” he told me in an email, “readers who made the connection between the Delia Owens of Crawdads and the Delia Owens of the New Yorker investigation. So I got a copy of Crawdads and I have to say I found it strange and uncomfortable to be reading the story of a Southern loner, a noble naturalist, who gets away with what is described as a righteously motivated murder in the remote wild.”

Several sources Goldberg spoke with, including the cameraman who filmed the shooting of the poacher, have stated that Christopher Owens—Mark Owens’ son and Delia Owens’ stepson—was the first member of a scouting party to shoot the man. (Two other scouts followed suit.) Others have claimed that Mark Owens covered up the killing by carrying the body, which was never recovered, up in his helicopter and dropping it in a lake. Whoever pulled the trigger that day, what seems indisputable from “The Hunted” is that, over the course of years, Mark Owens, in his zeal to save endangered elephants and other wildlife, became carried away by his own power, turning into a modern-day version of Joseph Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz—and that while Delia Owens objected, at times, to what was happening, she was either unable or unwilling to stop him or quit him. And despite being set in a different place and time, her bestselling novel contains striking echoes of those volatile years in the wilderness.

Mark and Delia Owens first arrived in Zambia in 1986 after getting kicked out of Botswana, where they had made themselves unwelcome by criticizing the government’s conservation policies. The young couple sought out a preserve in Zambia’s North Luangwa wilderness, an area whose indigenous inhabitants had been expelled by the nation’s former British rulers. They were drawn to the region’s isolation and then dismayed to discover that poachers were devastating the local elephant population. Some of the animals were killed by people who had lived in the surrounding area for generations and whose ancestors had long hunted its large mammals for meat, but the greatest threat came from poachers feeding a booming international ivory market.

These well-armed poachers overmatched the ragtag band of park service scouts charged with protecting the elephants. The Owenses raised money from European and American donors to better pay and equip the scouts; in exchange, they were named “honorary game rangers” by the Zambian government. According to many sources Goldberg spoke with in Zambia, Mark Owens became the de facto commander of the scouts, harrying poaching parties with firecrackers shot from a Cessna and later, from a helicopter, menacing them with a machine gun. Under his command, scouts raided villages and roughed up residents in search of suspects and poached loot. In one (highly contested) letter, Mark Owens informed a safari leader that his scouts had killed two poachers and “are just getting warmed up.” (Mark and Delia Owens deny most of these claims, alleging various conspiracies against them by those who resented their success and fame or who had a corrupt financial interest in the poaching trade.) “They thought they were kings,” the recipient of this letter said of the Owenses. “He made himself the law, and his law was that he could do anything he wanted.”

Delia Owens sometimes objected to the risks her husband took in combating the poachers, and in their co-authored 1992 memoir, The Eye of the Elephant, she describes at one point separating from him and building her own camp four miles away. Eventually, the couple reconciled. After the ABC story aired and Zambian authorities became alarmed at the idea of a foreign national overseeing a shoot-to-kill policy in one of their preserves, the Owenses traveled to the U.S. for a visit and never returned. According to Goldberg, “The American Embassy warned the Owenses not to enter Zambia until the controversy was resolved,” but as of 2010, the case was still open. “There’s no statute of limitations on murder,” an investigator told Goldberg. Mark Owens confirmed to me through his attorney that there have been no further developments in the case and noted that no charges were ever filed. His attorney also confirmed that the pair never returned to Zambia. I was unable to reach Christopher Owens.

Read full post on Slate

Hot off her starring role in the Women’s World Cup, Megan Rapinoe has inked a two-book deal with Penguin

Megan Rapinoe signs with Penguin for adult and middle grade books on social justice according to Rachel Deahl at Publishers Weekly.

Rapinoe, who stole the spotlight on and off the field at the recent Women’s World Cup, co-captains the women’s national team, where she largely plays as a winger. Winning both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball at the World Cup—for being, respectively, the competition’s top scorer and best player—Rapinoe put in a dominant performance. Arguably, though, her public spat with President Trump thrust her onto a bigger stage.

After saying during the tournament that she would decline any invitation to the White House if the U.S. team won, Rapinoe became a target for Trump on Twitter. The moment allowed Rapinoe to espouse some of the social justice issues she has championed throughout her career, from women’s rights to gay rights to equal pay for women.

To that end, the adult book, Penguin said, will be “a perfect vehicle for a honest, thoughtful, unapologetic, idealistic discussion of women, social justice, role models, gay issues, nationalism, and even a little soccer.”

The middle grade title, to be released by Razorbill after the adult title, will, Penguin said, explore “social justice and change and the power young people have within their own communities and the world at large.”

Neither book has a title. The adult book is slated for fall 2020.

Read full post on Publishers Weekly

Why do we buy books and not read them? Author Karen Olsson on the ghosts on her shelves and her Kindle

Why Don’t I Read All My Books? Author Karen Olsson tries to answer this question. Support our news coverage by subscribing to our Kindle Nation Daily Digest. Joining is free right now!

I own a book called Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures, itself a small object with a haunting image on the cover: a tiny 19th-century portrait of a dead teenage girl. The book came out in 2000, to accompany an exhibition of miniatures at Yale University Art Gallery, and I bought it not long afterward, though I can’t remember precisely when or why. Although I’m sure I meant to read the book, now it seems to me entirely foreseeable that I would not, in the 19 years since then, have so much as skimmed a chapter of Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures, because it is just the sort of book that I would order and then eagerly leaf through when it arrives and then stick on the shelf and never read.

Doesn’t every bibliophile do this, buy books and fail to read them? Actually no—or so I learned halfway through those 19 years of owning Love and Loss, when I started dating the person I would eventually marry. This man reads every book he acquires. If a friend writes a book, he gets to it as soon as he can; if his father randomly sends him a biography of some musician, he’ll read that; I myself am hesitant to ever give him a book, knowing that it represents an obligation that I would never feel in his place, namely to read the thing from start to finish.

For such a compulsive—er, scrupulous—person, the bookshelves trace a straightforward history of his reading life, one kind of intellectual biography. Meanwhile, living with him, I’ve become conscious of the alternative biography my books represent, a history of stray intentions, youthful aspirations, old interests that have run their course but not quite expired, since there’s always that chance I might decide to learn at last about portrait miniatures, or neuroscience, or the Battle of the Alamo. (Part of the problem is that I’m someone who would genuinely like to know more about those subjects but who reads mostly in bed, at night, and by then I’m less interested in new information than in a bedtime story.) While I’ve amassed plenty of unread novels, it’s the neglected nonfiction volumes, with their weighty titles and untouched pages, that stand out and reflect back at me the younger selves who purchased them.

The most conspicuous of those younger selves is the recent college graduate who moved from the east coast to Texas, where I still live. I was fascinated by this state, fell in love with its outsize characters and narratives. I read a lot about Texas but inevitably bit off more than I could chew. The obsession had its limits. My shelves are still crowded with unread Texas history: I wolfed down Robert Caro’s biographies of Lyndon Johnson but never cracked Robert Dallek’s; I read the first half of Great River, Paul Horgan’s massive book about the Rio Grande, but not the second; and I have spent more than 20 years now meaning to read David Montejano’s Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas 1836-1986. (These books, by the way, all used to cohabit a Texas-themed shelf—until my spouse imposed strict alphabetical order.)


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A group of House Republicans wants Amazon to reverse its ban on selling gay conversion “therapy” books

A group of House Republicans is urging its members to pressure Amazon to resume selling a set of controversial gay conversion therapy books, after the platform announced this month it would no longer carry works by the “father of conversion therapy.” Daniel Newhauserwith Vice News looks into why.  Support our news coverage by subscribing to our Kindle Nation Daily Digest. Joining is free right now!

The Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus that includes more than 70% of all GOP House members, issued a handout during a private meeting in the Capitol Wednesday asking members to “contact Amazon with concerns” about what they referred to as “Amazon censorship.”

Amazon removed books by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a clinical psychologist who is credited with originating gay conversion therapy, a debunked — and in some cases illegal — pseudoscientific method of trying to turn gay people straight.

Nonetheless, the Republicans want to lobby to get his books — such as “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality” and “Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality” — back in circulation.

“In recent days, Amazon has banned the sale of several books addressing unwanted same-sex attraction,” according to the handout, obtained by VICE News. “Catholic psychologist, author and therapist Dr. Joseph Nicolosi (deceased) penned multiple books to assist men struggling with unwanted homosexual attractions, feelings and lifestyles.

“These books were available on Amazon until an LGBT activist repeatedly petitioned Amazon to remove the ‘homophobic books’ from the company’s website. Amazon removed Dr. Nicolosi’s books and those of several other authors on similar topics,” the document continues. “It is not clear that any of the banned books have violated an Amazon policy, but rather that the company is choosing to censor speech.”

The handout was issued a day after representatives from Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple were grilled about antitrust issues in a House committee hearing. Separately, the effort to pressure Amazon would open a new front in Republicans’ years-long fight with tech companies, which they claim censor conservative viewpoints.

When the Amazon decision was first reported, the company confirmed to news outlets the books were removed because they violate Amazon’s content guidelines. Conservative media outlets heavily covered the decision as another instance of censorship.

The Republican Study Committee memo recommended that members read a story from the Federalist, which charged that Amazon is being hypocritical because it still sells books by Adolph Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Benito Mussolini, Timothy McVeigh and David Duke.

See full post on Vice News

The CW’s upcoming Nancy Drew series isn’t your grandma’s detective story

The CW’s Nancy Drew won’t directly adapt any books, but it will be horny according to Jordan Crucchiol from Vulture. Support our news coverage by subscribing to our Kindle Nation Daily Digest. Joining is free right now!

The opening minutes of the CW’s new Nancy Drew series feature kissing and implied sex between two of its young, attractive leads, and it closes the same way. In other words: It’s a pure hit of exactly what you’re tuning into the CW for these days, complete with a not-natural but still-believable redhead (Kennedy McMann) in the starring role. At San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday, the producers and core cast of Nancy Drew shared a sneak preview at their upcoming series premiere, which debuts on October 9, and hung out for some question-and-answer time afterward to talk about their adaptation of the iconic literary mystery series.

It was clear from the first trailer released this spring that new Nancy Drew was going to take a lot of cues from the Riverdale playbook, but just how similar will the tone of the two shows be? Well, when we say, “Drama series set in a fecund small town that looks nestled in the evergreen rainforests of the Pacific Northwest and seems like it could always be a crisp 64 degrees outside, and it revolves around a bunch of late-teenaged characters who end up solving mysteries and hanging out a lot at a local diner,” which show would you guess we’re describing? And what if we told you that same small town lives under the pall of a teen’s tragic death-by-water, and the lead character’s dad is played by a signature 1990s hottie? There are even wry voiceovers! We won’t spoil any of the actual plot details in Nancy Drew episode one, but suffice it to say, if you love dark and sexy Riverdale but find yourself longing for the presence of a keen girl detective, Nancy Drew is your new strange addiction. (And Freddie Prinze Jr. is the new ’90s hottie in residence.)

So now that you know the vibe, what about the mysteries on offer? When asked if the CW series would be directly tackling any of the storylines from famous Nancy Drew books, the producers gave a swift and certain “no.” So don’t expect a “Secret of the Old Clock” episode to show up down the line. These new Nancy tales will be “inverted” and “reinvented” for modern times, say the writers, with the primary nods to Drew canon coming in the form of Easter eggs — like a red pajama set that CW Nancy wears harkening back to a book cover in the series.

This isn’t your grandmother’s or even your mother’s Nancy Drew series, but it is a slightly soapy-looking mystery show set in a town that’s “a vortex for supernatural events.” So get ready, gumshoes. Your new binge bait awaits.

Read full post on Vulture

Popular thriller master Dean Koontz and his thick, luscious hair have signed a multibook deal with Amazon Publishing

Dean Koontz inks multibook deal with Amazon Publishing. Rachel Deahl with Publishers Weekly has the big announcement. Support our news coverage by subscribing to our Kindle Nation Daily Digest. Joining is free right now!

Bestselling author Dean Koontz signed a five-book deal with Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. The agreement also includes a collection of six short thrillers for the company’s Amazon Original Stories unit (which releases only digital and audio content). The deal follows a string of agreement Amazon Publishing has struck with bestselling authors recently; in 2018 alone, Thomas & Mercer inked multibook, seven-figure deals with Barry Eisler, T.R. Ragan and Robert Dugoni. Other top authors to come on board include Slyvia Day and Patricia Cornwell.

Grace Doyle, Thomas & Mercer’s editorial director, acquired North American rights to the five standalone titles, while Amazon Original Stories’ editorial director Julia Sommerfeld took world English rights to the collection. Richard Pine and Kimberly Witherspoon at Inkwell Management, along with Richard Heller at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, represented Koontz.

The first standalone under the deal, Devoted, is scheduled for spring 2020, Amazon said in a release, while the thriller short story collection, Nameless, will be available on November 12.

Koontz has published with Amazon before, having done audio titles with the Amazon-owned Brilliance Audio and short piece for Amazon Original stories. His most recent book from a Big 5 publisher, The Night Window, was released by Bantam in May. Speaking to that decision, Koontz said that Amazon “presented a marketing and publicity plan smarter and more ambitious than anything I’d ever seen before.” He added: “The times are changing, and it’s invigorating to be where change is understood and embraced.”

His agents at Inkwell, Pine and Witherspoon, added that, while Koontz has been incredibly successful–they noted that he has sold over 500 million copies–more is possible. They said in the release: “Dean is at the peak of his storytelling powers and Amazon has committed to a highly ambitious and creative publishing plan that’s certain to delight his existing fans and create millions of new ones.”

Read full post on Publishers Weekly

5 Creepy (Fictional) Couples Who Will Send Shivers Down Your Spine

Murder, manipulation, and nightmarish “romance”: Kaira Rouda from CrimeReads on seven of the most disturbed couples in literature. (Support our news coverage by subscribing to our Kindle Nation Daily Digest. Joining is free right now!)

Here are 5 literary couples whose relationships are deeply disturbing in the most fascinating ways possible:

Revolutionary Road by [Yates, Richard]Revolutionary Road

by Richard Yates

Kindle price: $9.99

In the hopeful 1950s, Frank and April Wheeler appear to be a model couple: bright, beautiful, talented, with two young children and a starter home in the suburbs. Perhaps they married too young and started a family too early. Maybe Frank’s job is dull. And April never saw herself as a housewife. Yet they have always lived on the assumption that greatness is only just around the corner. But now that certainty is about to crumble.With heartbreaking compassion and remorseless clarity, Richard Yates shows how Frank and April mortgage their spiritual birthright, betraying not only each other, but their best selves.

My Lovely Wife by [Downing, Samantha]My Lovely Wife

by Samantha Downing

Kindle price: $12.99

Dexter meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith in this wildly compulsive debut thriller about a couple whose fifteen-year marriage has finally gotten too interesting…

Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.

We look like a normal couple. We’re your neighbors, the parents of your kid’s friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with.

We all have our secrets to keeping a marriage alive.

Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.

Wuthering Heights by [Emily Brontë]Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

Kindle price: 45 cents

Emily Brontë’s only novel was published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, tells the tale of the all-encompassing and passionate, yet thwarted, love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and how this unresolved passion eventually destroys them and many around them.

Now considered a classic of English literature, “Wuthering Heights” met with mixed reviews by critics when it first appeared, with many horrified by the stark depictions of mental and physical cruelty. Though Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” was originally considered the best of the Brontë sisters’ works, many subsequent critics of “Wuthering Heights” argued that its originality and achievement made it superior.

The Windup Girl by [Bacigalupi, Paolo]The Windup Girl

by Paolo Bacigalupi

Kindle price: $9.11

Recipient of the Sturgeon Award, Paolo Bacigalupi’s writing has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and the environmental journal High Country News. His non-fiction essays have appeared in Salon.com and High Country News, and have been syndicated into numerous western newspapers.

Gone Girl: A Novel by [Flynn, Gillian]Gone Girl: A Novel

by Gillian Flynn

Kindle price: $9.99

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read

The #1 New York Times Bestseller

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

Read full post on CrimeReads