Saturday, August 25, 2012

Kathryn Miller Haines

Kathryn Miller Haines is an actor, mystery writer, and award-winning playwright. Her debut YA novel, The Girl Is Murder, received an Edgar Award nomination and a starred review from School Library Journal as well as from Booklist, who called the book a "smart offering that gives both mysteries and historical fiction a good name." The sequel, The Girl is Trouble, was released last month.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Haines what she was reading.  Her reply:
I’ve been on a non-fiction kick lately. Both of these books are, in their own ways, true historical crime, which is my weakness as a reader. Neither is the standard recounting of a historical murder, rather more what the horrible price of hubris can be.

I just finished Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, his non-fiction examination of life in Berlin during Hitler’s rise from the point of view of our ill-equipped Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, and his daughter Martha. Given my obsession with World War II (I’ve written two mystery series during that time period) and my love of Larson (I think Devil in the White City is such an extraordinary book) this was a natural match for me. While Hitler is the evil at the center of the book, what’s almost more discomforting than reading about what life in Berlin was like for the citizenry under his hold, is the naiveté with which the American public and its government was viewing his rise to power and how we turned a blind eye to the early signs of his madness, violence, and desire for greater domination. There’s no greater symbol for this deliberate ignorance than in Martha Dodd, a young woman (with a voracious sexual appetite) who defends the Nazis over and over again in her correspondence, perhaps because she’s romantically involved with so many of them (including the married head of the SS). The bumbling Ambassador Dodd, in contrast to his daughter, seems profoundly aware of the evil afoot and the great tragedy at the center of the narrative is how no one seems to listen to him back in the U.S. government. When war finally happens there’s no solace for him in knowing he was right all along. Instead, he dies just when the world is most fractured, never knowing that the “good guys” win.

I’m currently flying through Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case, Debbie Nathan’s detailed accounting of how the tale of the multiple personality case was largely fabricated by three women: the psychiatrist, her patient, and the woman who authored the bestselling “non-fiction” book. Nathan was able to write the book after the Sybil archives held at John Jay College of Criminal College were finally unsealed following the deaths of the major players in the case. After reading about the atrocities committed by the Nazis, it’s a sad reminder that what passed for psychiatry in the first half of this century was in many ways equally barbarous. The psychiatrist at the center of the tale, Dr. Connie Wilbur, is so determined to prove herself in a male-dominated profession that she’ll go to any lengths, including over medicating and regularly providing electro-shock therapy to her emotionally fragile patient, the real Sybil. And Sybil allows herself to be dominated, giving her doctor what she desperately wants, including inventing personalities to prove her diagnoses. Worst of all is Flora Schreiber, the writer desperate for fame who finds sign after sign that the story is fabricated yet because of the lure of money and fame, still agrees to write Sybil’s story and adds further fabrications in the name of creating a more interesting book, damaging many lives and legacies in her thinly veiled account in the process.
Visit Kathryn Miller Haines's website and blog.

Writers Read: Kathryn Miller Haines (August 2011).

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Kathryn Miller Haines & Mr. Rizzo and Sadie.

--Marshal Zeringue