An Interview with Erica Ruth Neubauer

By E.A. Aymar

Erica Ruth Neubauer has carved out a name for herself in crime fiction circles with her insightful, well-crafted reviews in publications like the Los Angeles Review of Books, Crimespree Magazine, the River Heights Book Review, Publishers Weekly, and others. She spent time in the military, as a police officer, and (most frighteningly) as a high school English teacher but, if you meet her, you’ll never guess she has this hard-bitten background. I got to know Erica at this year’s Printers Row, and learned firsthand why everyone talks so highly of her. She’s funny, knowledgeable without being irritating about it, and will happily drink with you at any time of the day.

Obviously, I had to interview her for a Publishing Panel.

You review crime fiction AND you know a ton of people in the crime fiction community. How do you avoid getting punched? Is it the military/police background?

Ask to see my cop face. Also, I’m very good at ducking.

What are some of your aggravations when it comes to contemporary crime fiction?

One of the things that aggravates me the most is when publishers start chasing a trend. You see one breakout novel, and then suddenly everything is in exactly the same vein for a year or so. That makes me crazy. I want to read good stories, unique ones, not the same story over and over.

In an LA Review of Books article that focused on books by Rachel Howzell Hall and M.P. Cooley, you wrote:

Both Lyons and Norton work in a male-dominated field, as do their authors. Regardless of how good she is, a woman working as a cop has to be tougher, smarter, and quicker than her male counterparts to be accepted in the squad room. 

Is this true with you as well, specifically in your work as a female reviewer in a traditionally male-dominated genre?

To be fair, I was a cop a long time ago. So I have no idea whether this is still true in police work, although in my personal experience it was certainly the case. And in the military as well, to some extent. Fortunately, as a reviewer in the crime fiction community, I haven’t found this to be the case at all, which is incredibly refreshing.

I do see some disdain from men in the community for some of the sub-genres that I have great affection for (typically written by women), but that is about the extent of the problems I’ve experienced personally.

Do you grow tired of the demands of reviewing? It seems exhausting.

Reading is how I relax and shut down, so it’s what I’d do in my spare time anyway. And mysteries/crime fiction are my passion, and what I would choose to read regardless. The only time I find it trying is when I’ve been assigned something that isn’t very good—then I find it to be a slog. But so far, reviewing hasn’t ruined reading for me.

Are you judging me right now? 

Yes. Always.

Do you prefer writing anonymous reviews (Publishers Weekly’s reviews are anonymous)?

I do prefer reviewing anonymously. I feel more freedom to be honest.

How many books do you read each year?

Last year I read 150 books, mostly within the genre or young adult. My goal was the same for this year, but after the election I found myself unable to concentrate on anything, and I’m incredibly behind on my goals. I’ll probably only hit 100 this year.

For people interested in reviewing, how did you get your start? Did you contact publications blindly, was it word-of-mouth, etc.?

I got my start through the generosity of Crimespree magazine. I met Jon and Ruth Jordan at the mystery book store that used to be here in Milwaukee, and they were kind enough to take a chance on me. From there I started reviewing for other publications, mostly by word-of-mouth or through other reviewers.

Do you have your own aspirations to write a book? If so, would it be fiction or nonfiction?

I actually have written a book, and it’s in the editing stage. I’m hoping to query early next year. It’s a historical mystery set in 1920’s Egypt, with a plucky female protagonist turned amateur sleuth. Everyone in the hotel has secrets—it’s a love letter to the Agatha Christie books I read in my youth.

Are there reviewers you regularly read? If so, who?

I trust the opinion of Kristopher Zgorski from BOLO Books and Katrina Niidas-Holm, who reviews for many of the same places that I do. She and I also run the review site The River Heights Book Review together. Both Kristopher and Katrina are excellent reviewers who have good taste in books. I usually agree with their recommendations—we have very similar reading tastes.

(Ed. Note: Click HERE to read our interview with Katrina Niidas-Holm and HERE for our interview with Kristopher Zgorski.)

Who are some contemporary writers you’d recommend to our readers?

I thought you’d never ask. Buckle up, buttercup.

First of all, Megan Abbott. If you’re not reading her, you should be. Both her early noir and her contemporaries are simply stunning. She has mastered the ability to make you care about surprising subjects and infuse them with a creeping sense of dread.

For historical mysteries, you can’t beat Laurie R. King (the Mary Russell series) and Lyndsay Faye. Faye’s book Jane Steele was my favorite book of last year, and I’m a big fan of her Gods of Gotham series. I also like what Sherry Thomas is doing with the female Sherlock Holmes series—the second is due out soon, A Conspiracy in Belgravia. She’s done a fun game of gender swap with the great detective. I’m also very taken with Deanna Raybourn’s new series that starts with A Curious Beginning, starring a sassy lepidopterist. (Look it up, Ed.)

In the thriller arena, Matthew Fitzsimmons writes thrillers that have great characters and are compelling. And Chris Holm—I couldn’t put his down. Neither could my mom—she burned right through The Killing Kind. Meg Gardner’s new series UNSUB was excellent as well—dark and riveting.

For funny you can’t beat Johnny Shaw, but his books go a lot deeper than just a laugh—they explore life on the border and the meaning of family and loyalty. Imperial Valley is his newest.

Catriona McPherson is putting out some really great stand alones in the psychological suspense arena. I think I’ve truly enjoyed every one of them. House Tree Person is her latest.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what Lou Berney does next. I thought The Long and Faraway Gone was a beautiful novel.

Police procedurals? I really enjoy Rachel Howzell Hall. I think that’s a strong series. And Trudy Nan Boyce has a series about a female cop in Atlanta that is one of the most authentic descriptions of life as a cop that I’ve read.

Private Investigators? I love the Junior Bender series from Tim Hallinan. A professional burglar who gets strong-armed into investigating for other crooks. I thought Kristen Lepionka had a really strong debut with The Last Place You Look.

Young Adult your thing? Maureen Jennings has a new one coming out in January, Truly, Devious, which is a lot of fun—set at a boarding school in Vermont. One of us is Lying by Karen McManus was great too. I figured out the ending, but I still enjoyed it. Stephanie Tromly’s series starting with Trouble is a Friend of Mine is really funny and great. I wish she would write faster.

I could go on forever. But I also understand that reading is subjective, so you might not love these as much as I do. *shrugs* We can agree to disagree.

In your photography portfolio, there’s a picture of you holding a giraffe’s tongue. I have a lot of questions about that, but I’ll whittle it down to two. What happened immediately after the picture? And what does a giraffe’s tongue feel like?

It does not feel as wet as you might imagine. As for what happened immediately after, I continued feeding that adorable giraffe more treats. I wasn’t quite able to smuggle him out.

E.A. Aymar’s latest novel is You’re As Good As Dead. He writes a monthly column for the Washington Independent Review of Books, and is the Managing Editor of The Thrill Begins (for the International Thriller Writers). He’s a co-editor and contributor to The Night of the Flood, a novel-in-stories coming in March 2018 from Down and Out Books. Aymar is also involved in a collaboration with DJ Alkimist, a NY and DC-based DJ, where his stories are set to her music. For more information about that project, visit www.eaalkimist.com.

To learn more about E.A. Aymar’s latest work, click on the cover below:

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