All posts by tantormedia

Q+A With Marion Winik, Author of The Big Book of the Dead

Tantor Media sat down with the University of Baltimore professor, Marion Winik, and author of The Big Book of the Dead and winner of the 2019 Towson Prize for Literature. Among her nine other books are First Comes Love and Highs in the Low Fifties. Her award-winning Bohemian Rhapsody column appears monthly at Baltimore Fishbowl, and her essays have been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Sun, and elsewhere. A board member of the National Book Critics Circle, she writes book reviews for People, Newsday, The Washington Post, and Kirkus Reviews; she hosts The Weekly Reader podcast at WYPR. She was a commentator on NPR for fifteen years; her honors include an NEA Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction.

Tantor Media (TM): First off, you’ve done a wonderful job narrating. You had a lot of confidence and humor while you were reading despite the subject matter. Were there any essays that were particularly difficult to record?

Marion Winik (MW): Thank you! It was such a pleasure to record the book – like living my whole life over again in 5 hours, each character sort of materializing and then fading, like a parade of ghosts. The only audience was the engineer, a twenty-something musician who reminded me of my sons; I was energized by his attention and reactions.

I have read almost all of them aloud many times before and I was surprised at how much they still affect me. The Carpenter and The Skater, my brother-in-law and my first husband, both of whom died very young of AIDS, in particular, hit me hard. The last line of The Carpenter, “I miss him more, not less, as time goes by” came as much from my heart as from the page.

TM:  For a memoir, it seems like you have taken on the role of narrator, making only small appearances in the lives of those who appear in your book. Each essay focuses on a specific character and their death, and some characters appeared briefly, playing a very small role in your life. How did you decide to arrange your memoir in a way where you assume a minor role?

MW: I’ve written about five of books of memoir and personal essay where I am center stage – my character, my choices, my mistakes. There are many things about that fierce spotlight that are challenging. So actually, it was a relief to be off to the side. When I was first writing the pieces, all the way back in 2007, I didn’t quite realize that whomever I was writing about —  whether it was my father, my son’s second-grade teacher, an old boyfriend, or even a cat – I was also writing about myself. By the time there were 125 of the little essays (each is no more than 400 words), I saw that they could be assembled to tell the story of my life – in terms of the people lost from it. So the book starts with characters from my childhood in New Jersey, goes through people I met during my 20 years in Texas, moves on to rural Pennsylvania and finally to where I am now, Baltimore.

As a writing teacher, I’ve had the chance to notice that you can sometimes learn more about a person by what they say about other people than what they say about themselves, which is always a bit fraught. I’d think that dynamic might be operating here.

TM: Despite your book showcasing death, there isn’t a whole lot of time spent on the dying process or grieving; rather, you pinpointed meaningful moments in each person’s life. Was this an intentional choice, or did your work start out as something different?

MW: The book is not really about death – it’s about people, and it’s about life. But in some cases, the way the person died felt like a big part of the story. That’s particularly true of the young people in the book – The Virgin, The Graduate, The Boy With the Wrong Story, The Very Tiny Baby. The Innocents, which is about victims of school shootings. For the older subjects, the death is often more of a footnote to the life. Still, in each case, I try to give the sense of how it fits into the story. “The only consolations of Alzheimer’s, and they are small indeed, is that it doesn’t hurt much and that once the full nightmare is underway, you are long gone.” “She certainly did not believe a clot in her lung could bring her down, that smoking for sixty-five years would actually cause lung cancer, or that lung cancer was definitely fatal.” “He was fifty-six, just like my own father who died the same way: the heart in the dark of the night that loses its place.”

TM: Are there any people you wanted to include in The Big Book of the Dead that didn’t make an appearance? If so, is there a reason why they weren’t included?

MW: I relied heavily on information from surviving family and friends to fill in details about the subjects, and luckily no one turned me down when I asked them for help. As you know, there are a few famous people in the book. Towards the end of the writing process, I was thinking of writing one about Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade that would talk about their suicides – how suddenly a subject no one ever talks about was being discussed at every dinner table. But I found I didn’t have the personal connection to either one of them that I would need to strike the right tone. Not like, say, Prince, who may not have known he was in my life, but definitely was. David Bowie, Philip Roth, Keith Haring – same.

TM: Who did you write about first? Whose life or death compelled you to start writing your series of books about the dead?

MW: The first one was The Jeweler, a guy I briefly dated in Austin in my twenties. How it came about was that I was sitting in on a writing workshop given by another teacher. She read the students a poem called “Tenderness” by Stephen Dunn, and asked them to write about someone for whom they felt the same blend of regret and nostalgia that is captured in the poem. The Jeweler came immediately into my mind… and then I realized I had dozens of people I felt this way about. I wrote a list right then and there that eventually became the first table of contents.

TM: What would you like listeners to come away with after finishing The Big Book of the Dead?

MW: A desire to read my other books? Ha. Perhaps a renewed appreciation of our short time on earth. Maybe the urge to make something or write something in memory of their own lost loved one, to bring them back in the way the characters in the book are. Think of it as a writing prompt.


Questions created by Marissa Woble

For more information about Marion Winik visit:

June Audiobook Giveaway—The Ables

Read by Eric Michael Summerer

The Ables is a fast-paced, captivating debut novel from Jeremy Scott, a bold new voice in fantasy and science fiction, and already a widely popular storyteller as co-creator and narrator of CinemaSins, a YouTube channel that has amassed more than 3.8 million subscribers in under two years.

“Smart, thought-provoking, and unique… readers won’t want to put this eye-opening, explosive story down.” ―School Library Journal

How to Win This MP3-CD Audiobook

  1. Send an email to
  2. Put the word “Ables” in the subject line.

Entries must be received by  June 30, 2019. Open to US only.


Thank you to all that entered!

May Audiobook Giveaway—Queen of the Mountaineers

Read by Elizabeth Wiley

Author and journalist Cathryn J. Prince brings Fanny Bullock Workman to life, deftly showing how she negotiated the male-dominated world of alpine clubs and adventure societies as nimbly as she negotiated the deep crevasses and icy granite walls of the Himalayas.

Queen of the Mountaineers will inform scholars and delight mountaineers and armchair travelers with its rich and detailed descriptions of local people, global customs, and the dangers of traveling abroad at the turn of the twentieth century.” —Foreword Reviews

How to Win This MP3-CD Audiobook

  1. Send an email to
  2. Put the word “Mountain” in the subject line.

Entries must be received by  May 31, 2019. Open to US only.


Congratulations to Debra Cantaluppi, Tantor winner of last month’s giveaway of Apocalypse Any Day Now. Thank you to all that entered!

April Audiobook Giveaway—Apocalypse Any Day Now

Read by Eric Michael Summerer

In Apocalypse Any Day Now, journalist Tea Krulos travels the country to try to puzzle out America’s obsession with the end of days.

“This chatty, fast-paced volume will entertain those who enjoy reading about unusual subcultures.”—Publishers Weekly

How to Win This MP3-CD Audiobook

  1. Send an email to
  2. Put the word “Apocalypse” in the subject line.

Entries must be received by  April 30, 2019. Open to US only.


Congratulations to Kim Bennett, Tantor winner of last month’s giveaway of
Fallen Mountains. Thank you to all that entered!

March Audiobook Giveaway— Fallen Mountains

Read by James Patrick Cronin

When Transom Shultz goes missing shortly after returning to his sleepy hometown of Fallen Mountains, Pennsylvania, his secrets are not the only secrets that threaten to emerge.

“In Fallen Mountains, Kimi Cunningham Grant has painted an intense and engaging portrait . . . an absorbing mystery as well as a gracefully layered story of death and loss in a small town, with a haunting conclusion that will linger with the reader long after they turn that last page.” -Allen Eskens, USA Today bestselling author

How to Win This MP3-CD Audiobook

  1. Send an email to
  2. Put the word “Mountains” in the subject line.

Entries must be received by  March 31, 2019. Open to US only.


Congratulations to Molly Wilsbacher, Tantor winner of last month’s giveaway of
The Outsider. Thank you to all that entered!


Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

Read by Emma Lysy

Reviewed by Emily Cahill

This one is not for the faint of heart, folks. If you are looking for a dark, gothic, twisted listen allow Emma Lysy’s voice to lull you in. Newcomer Jeanette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun is the most original book you will listen to all year.

When Catherine Helstone’s brother Laon goes missing on a mission to convert the fae inhabitants of Arcadia to Christianity, she seeks permission to follow after him and ascertain his safety. What she finds instead is a land full of serpentine twists where very little seems real—even herself. The sun, the moon, the house she lives in, are all part of a great manufactured world that she explores in the company of Ariel Davenport’s changeling and a gnome-like butler Mr. Benjamin while waiting for news of her brother.

Ng’s Arcadia is such a beautiful world—filled with a swinging pendulum of a sun and wicker whales that dive and swim through the earth as if through water—that you may think for a moment that is the great benefit of this tale, a jolly trip down the gorgeously imagined Arcadian lanes. It’s not. The point is to ravage your—er, Cathy’s soul.

Full of Christian mythology and classic fae tropes, Arcadia is a land that will seem familiar at first until you realize you—like Cathy—are utterly lost. In true Gothic form, Cathy discovers a sinister plot in the moonlit, deserted rooms of the grand house she is imprisoned in. And the truths she discovers are enough to shatter both her and the listener vicariously.

Deserving of praise is Emma Lysy, the narrator who brings to life Laon’s husky despair, Cathy’s righteous narration, and Ariel’s chirping London accent. In a world full of the abnormal, Lysy’s voice is a dependable anchor of the real. She remains the reliable narrator directly opposed to the increasingly unreliable literary one. Her variation in British accents is so convincing you might be shocked to learn she grew in the American Midwest. But the fact that she has narrated over 100 audiobooks should be no surprise—she clearly knows what she is doing.

And likewise Ng, whose background in studying history and theology is evident in her scrupulously rendered historical atmosphere. Even as you want to look away from the degradation of her main characters, you only get further enveloped in their dark tale. No doubt Jeannette Ng’s next work will be equally full of evocative prose. And though another trip into her imagination will likely be just as hellacious as the first.

February Audiobook Giveaway—The Outsider

Read by Kevin T. Collins

The first story in a new series set in Roswell, New Mexico, traces the uncertain romance between popular high-school senior Liz Ortecho and handsome but shy loner, Max Evans, who harbors the secret that he is an alien.




How to Win This MP3-CD Audiobook

  1. Send an email to
  2. Put the word “Roswell” in the subject line.

Entries must be received by  February 28, 2019. Open to US only.


Congratulations to Martha Leverett, Tantor winner of last month’s giveaway of
They Won’t Be Hurt. Thank you to all that entered!



Indie Titles to Read This Year

Happy New Year, everyone!

It’s a time for lofty goals and the sharing of aspirational (inspirational? conspiratorial?) memes on Instagram. And, of course, telling yourself that THIS is the year that you’re going to actually stick to that exercise plan, or take that awesome trip you’ve been fantasizing over for years. Speaking of which, this month I’m profiling a book written by a couple who quit their jobs to visit every American national park. Next up is the first in a series of ghost stories that feature scares mixed with some humor. Finally, in honor of the Superbowl, both for those of you who love football and those of you who only pretend to do so to eat delicious snacks at Superbowl party festivities, I’m also including a slow burn football romance. So, grab one of these excellent audiobooks for your New Year gym routine, or just sit back with it and relax – relaxing is a great New Year’s resolution too!


Matt and Karen Smith – Dear Bob and Sue (Travel memoir)

Matt and Karen Smith had spent 28 years working and raising children, and in 2010 decided to quit their jobs and visit every national park in the USA. On the way, they chronicled their journey in the form of letters sent to their friends, Bob and Sue, whose earlier trips to national parks had inspired the Smiths’ interest. The authors are upfront about the fact that this is not a guide to “how to visit all the national parks,” but rather a series of humorous and quirky observations of their experiences. Even so, many reviewers have noted that Dear Bob and Sue can act as an interesting and, at times, irreverent introduction to American National Parks. As a bonus, it also provides a helpful guide to finding good beer and pizza near each park! At its heart, one of the most charming aspects of this book is the relatable, and at time, hilarious, insight into the authors’ relationship. This audiobook will make an entertaining and inspiring listen as you plan your own dream vacation!


Wendy Wang – Haunting Charlie (Witches of Palmetto Point, book 1) (Suspense)

Wendy Wang is a flexible author who started out self-publishing in the fantasy genre but recently made the switch to paranormal mystery with her successful Witches of Palmetto Point series. In Haunting Charlie, we are introduced to Charlie Payne, who is recently divorced and working at a call center. She just wants to be normal and to be a good mom to her son. Unfortunately for her, she’s also a witch. And she sees dead people. When she meets Susan, who is trying to turn a run-down, ghost-infested mansion into a bed and breakfast, she agrees to help. Can she learn to harness her powers and triumph over the dangerous spirits haunting the house? Amy Melissa Bentley narrates this suspenseful paranormal mystery to great effect. Try all four audiobooks in this series!


Mariana Zapata – The Wall of Winnipeg and Me (Contemporary/Sports Romance)

Mariana Zapata is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who writes contemporary romance. The Wall of Winnipeg and Me was chosen in 2016 as a Goodreads Choice Award nominee, a feat she repeated in 2017 with Wait For It. This football-themed sports romance follows Vanessa, a personal assistant to one of the biggest (both figuratively and literally) professional football players, Aiden Graves. It was always supposed to be a temporary gig, allowing her to get her finances in order so she could pursue her true dream of being a designer. When she finally quits, she thinks Aiden will barely notice, and she’ll move on with her life. Then he shows up at her door, asking her to do him a BIG (possibly illegal) favor.

This is a beautifully-written slow burn, read delightfully by Callie Dalton, with over 3,500 reviews on Audible. Listeners have loved the snarky humor, the complexity of the characters, and the realism of the romantic relationship as it develops. Check it out today!

Written by Elizabeth Sylvia

January Audiobook Giveaway—They Won’t Be Hurt

Read by Daniel Thomas May

The lights are on at the Singleton vacation home on Lopez Island, Washington, illuminating the horror within. Scott Singleton, former NFL star turned television evangelist, lies dead. The bodies of his wife and four of their five children are found on the second floor, bound, gagged, and stabbed repeatedly. The oldest daughter was shot downstairs. And the police’s main suspect—the property caretaker—has disappeared.

“Terrifying and fast-paced, They Won’t Be Hurt is any parent’s worst nightmare. Kevin O’Brien (UnspeakableKilling Spree) has written a thriller that ratchets the tension high. Fans of Karin Slaughter or David Baldacci are sure to find it irresistible.” —SHELF AWARENESS 

How to Win This MP3-CD Audiobook

  1. Send an email to
  2. Put the word “Hurt” in the subject line.

Entries must be received by  January 31, 2019. Open to US only.


Congratulations to Dolores Feagin, Tantor winner of last month’s giveaway of
The Only One. Thank you to all that entered!



Indie Titles You’ll Love This Month

Ah, the holiday season. Twinkle lights glow from houses and shop windows, temperatures plummet, and the flavor of the month has FINALLY shifted from Pumpkin Spice to Gingerbread. For many of us, December is a month to stress about finding the perfect gifts for loved ones and friends and to fantasize about what we might want to receive in return. To save you from the zoo that is the shopping mall this time of year, or the Wild West of online shopping (how do you narrow down ANYTHING online when all you have to go on for your friend is that they “like nice things”?!), I have three suggestions for awesome audiobooks by self-published authors that would make excellent gifts. One is even holiday-themed. So, you can choose your favorite genre, AND feel good about yourself for supporting an independent author. Happy Holidays!


(Witchless in Seattle, book 5) (Holidays, Cozy Mystery)

Dakota Cassidy is an incredibly prolific and popular writer who specializes in paranormal cozy mysteries. While some of her over fifty books have been published through traditional houses, she has self-published many others, including How the Witch Stole Christmas. This is the fifth book in the Witchless in Seattle series, starring ex-witch and amateur sleuth Stevie Cartwright. Christmas is Stevie’s favorite time of year, and she goes all out to celebrate it – even entering a neighborhood decoration contest. Disaster strikes when she discovers her carefully-planned decorations have been tampered with, a dead body turns up nearby, and her familiar, Belfry, is missing. Can she solve the mystery and save herself from her arch-nemesis? This is a wonderful audiobook to curl up with in a comfy chair, alongside a mug of hot chocolate. With marshmallows, of course.

Listeners love the wacky humor of Cassidy’s Witchless in Seattle series. Reviewers have heaped praise on the wonderful narration of Hollie Jackson, particularly her ability to bring characters to life consistently throughout the series. If you love How the Witch Stole Christmas, be sure to check out the entire Witchless in Seattle series!

Martha D. Peterson – The Widow Spy: My CIA Journey from the Jungles of Laos to Prison in Moscow (Memoir)


When her children were teenagers, Martha Peterson sat them down and told them the unbelievable truth: their mother was a spy for the CIA. Over the course of a visit to the CIA headquarters, Peterson slowly revealed her story: that she had been married before she’d met the children’s father, and that her first husband had died serving the CIA. Peterson’s memoir begins with her life in Laos with this first husband and continues as she begins a 30-year career with the CIA after he dies. As the first female agent to be sent to Russia, she was the case handler of a CIA asset called TRIGON, with whom she communicated via a system of dead drops. Peterson’s story documents the danger she faced while working on Soviet soil for the American government, including her capture by the KGB and subsequent imprisonment and interrogation.

This fascinating listen provides an unfiltered view into CIA life at the height of the Cold War, chronicling the risks to a spy’s personal safety, the difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated field, and the strain of leading a double life. Peterson’s story has been told in news articles, TV specials, and museum exhibits, and now you can hear it in her own words.

Deana Farrady – Unfriended (Romantic Comedy)

Deana Farrady (a pen name for an author who also writes under the name Karen Harley) is proud to be from the Middle of Nowhere, USA. She loves to write about hot, geeky heroes falling for smart heroines. Unfriended is her first book on audio and features witty, fast-paced banter between the romantic leads, combined with lots of geeky shout-outs and sly nods to the academic community. Asher is the guy with the golden touch – he’s acing college, has a successful business, and an awesome best friend, Charis. But below the surface, things are much more complicated than they seem. Asher has always carried a torch for his tomboyish best buddy, and when he learns Charis is getting married, he has to take drastic steps to convince her that maybe their relationship isn’t so platonic after all. Listeners have loved hearing the hilarious banter come to life, voiced by Alexander Cendese and Stephanie Wyles.