NEA Survey Prompts Well-known Authors to Write Special Mystery Anthology

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Special contest contained within the pages of a collection of short stories intended to appeal to readers with limited time as well as those who like to solve puzzles!

Nine American and Canadian authors recently learned of the results of a survey entitled Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, funded and prepared by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and reacted with well-founded horror. The “report documents a national crisis,” stated NEA Chairman Diana Gioia during a news conference at the New York Public Library in June of last year. “The decline in reading among every segment of the adult population reflects a general collapse in advanced literacy.”

The authors were members of a group of writers who correspond about their books and the industry. They saw in the survey an opportunity to write a book that would appeal to people who spend their few free hours in front of video games, or watching television and movies.

"America can no longer take active and engaged literacy for granted." These words, spoken by Diana Gioia, resonated with the authors, who represent all of the geographic regions of America. An idea was born: to create a book of "secrets," short mystery stories which might be fact, or might be fiction. But reading the book is only part of the game, because as each story unfolds, the reader becomes part of the story — a sleuth trying to uncover any real-life mysteries inside. At the back of every volume will be an entry form that readers may fill out with their choices for "fact or fiction." Entries with the correct selections will be gathered and a random winner will be selected. The winner of the contest will have the opportunity to do quite a bit more reading. The prize is one autographed copy of a book written by each of the combined authors, 9 books total, plus a free copy of the next collection of stories, planned for 2006!

The success of reality television shows which hinge on viewers knowing a secret that the participants don’t should have a positive impact on book sales. The authors convinced the publisher, OxCart Press, to release the book on April 1st, in conjunction with a number of national and international "literacy awareness" events throughout the world. April 2nd is International Children’s Book Day; the National Adult Literacy Agency annual meeting takes place in Dublin, Ireland on April 9th. April 10-16 is National Library Week in America, and the 11th-17th is Young People’s Poetry Week. Finally, World Book and Copyright Day is on April 23rd, and the entire month of April is National Poetry Month.

The book was spearheaded by New York author Diane J. Newton, whose newest thriller, Paradigm, (Aventine Press, February 2005, ISBN 1593302452) was reviewed as a "page turner" and follows her other award-winning mystery/suspense novels. She has contributed an eerie tale of wartime murder and romance. Also within the pages of the collection of stories are mysteries by well-known Canadian horror/dark fantasy writer A.P. Fuchs, whose new release Magic Man (Coscom Entertainment, January 2005, ISBN 097348487X) garnered rare praise from Paul Grant, editor of The Corpse Magazine: "This is a fascinating and immersive read. I heartily recommend this to anyone who loves their fiction dark and horrifying!" Louisiana author and former member of the Texas House of Representatives Hill Kemp won wide acclaim for his novel Capitol Offense, a tale of murder and mayhem in the Texas legislature (Best of East Texas Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1878096702). California author C.W. Gortner’s novel The Secret Lion (Heliographica Press, 2004, ISBN 1933037350) is critically acclaimed by the Historical Novel Society and the Copperfield Review. The Texas award-winning writing team of C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp contributed a pair of cautionary tales of secrets gone too far. Their latest novel, Hunter's Moon, (Tor Books, 2004, ISBN 0765349132) already an award winner, is also a nominee in contemporary paranormal for the prestigious Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award, following an Evvy Award for their first novel. Tennessee author Carlene Reed is an editor of humor and fiction for online community Ritro and her first book is a compilation of her own short stories, entitled Coffee Table Tales (PageFree Publishing, ISBN 1-589612-19-1.) Florida author Larry Pontius contributed a tale of mutual secrets and a day gone horribly wrong. His speculative fiction novel, Waking Walt, (iUniverse, ISBN 0-595-25425-X) won the 2003 Royal Palm Award from the Florida Writer’s Association, and was the 2005 Book of the Year from Jada Press. Illinois’ Kathleen Strelow, author of Whiplash (iUniverse, 2003, ISBN 0595276881) provided a story which will resonate with many readers — that of a lost love and secret child. Is it fact? Or fiction? Only the authors know for sure.

The stories should appeal to a wide audience base, especially those with limited time. This feature of the anthology is wise on the part of the authors, as literary reading has declined equally among whites, African Americans and Hispanics, and among all age groups due to time constraints. According to the book’s dedication, "In this age of web-based information and entertainment, we are deluged with information. Often, we lead such busy lives we barely find time to reflect on the greater world around us. As human beings, we are far more than our jobs, our possessions, our incomes. We share common experiences and feelings; we are both unique and astonishingly alike. Books remind us of this."

Only time will tell if this book will appeal enough to readers to tear them away from games and movies, but everybody loves a secret . . .

Secrets: Fact or Fiction

OxCart Press

ISBN 0-9737282-5-6

Trade Paperback

155 pages, $10.95

April 1, 2005

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Diane J. Newton