BOOK & BLOG
November 13, 2005
Book of the Week:
This week, I m skipping the Book part, because my blog turned out to be so long but I hope you wont think it long-winded.
Readers may not know it, but there are lots of prejudices in the Wide World o Writing. If you think all writers form a homogeneous club of privilege, Im here to tell you different. Granted, Im citing extreme cases, but youll get the picture.
Maybe I see more of this since the Sookie books cross three genres. Or maybe Im more aware of it since the Aurora Teagarden books, my first series, were definitely classified as cozy. For those of you not familiar with mystery terminology, a cozy is a mystery that doesnt contain graphic bloodshed or graphic sex, and usually features an amateur detective. You wont find a cozy serial killer novel on your shelves very often, for example; and mysteries that contain recipes or knitting patterns or pet owners are usually firmly in the cozy corner.
The prejudice I first noticed was that hardboiled writers had a deep fund of contempt for cozy writers. Now, this was a good twenty years ago and I believe things have changed for the better since then, but it surely griped me when I discovered I was considered a lesser writer because I wrote books about a librarian instead of a private eye or a police lieutenant. Surely, hard-boiled books are no more realistic than cozy books. I never could believe it when the heroes checked out of the hospital when they were suffering from severe concussion or a gunshot wound, because the hero, and only the hero, could solve the case in the next twelve hours. Does it take less skill to write about a librarian who is horrified and amazed when she finds a corpse? And of course, youll have gathered by this time that this was mostly a male-versus-female controversy.
The next prejudice I noticed was the one mystery writers harbored for romance writers. It was based on the same unrealistic premise. All romance writers write from a formula, the thinking went, so their books can be churned out like butter sticks. Like mysteries arent written from a formula? Like there arent conventions and rules to which mystery writers have to adhere?
When I began attending science fiction conventions, I discovered that science fiction writers considered mystery readers to be quite conservative. They wont read anything but mysteries, I heard, more than once. They wont try anything else. You cant sell science fiction to mystery readers, and they wont tolerate anything outside their comfort zone in their mystery reading, either.
As a person who writes across the three genres, I hear a lot on both sides of these prejudices. Ive had a chance to observe at all three conventions, talk to readers of all three types, and here are my unscientific conclusions.
Theres a little truth in all the prejudices. Theres a lot of baloney.
In the past, cozy (I actually prefer the term conventional) mysteries required less research, on the whole. A hardboiled writer could claim hes spent weeks driving around with the Houston police force to learn how to write his books, learned how to fire several guns, learned all the pertinent laws, been inside a jail to see how prisoners were books, etc., etc. Most cozy writers couldnt match that claim (not that it made much of a difference, in my opinion.) But thats changed. The cozy field doesnt include many stay-at-home accidental sleuths any more, and the amount of research necessary to make the amateur detective credible has steadily risen. There are male cozy writers, and female hard-boiled (there always have been a few, but the proportion has increased).
--As a sidebar, I have to say that I think this is mostly due to the efforts of Sisters in Crime, of which Im a proud member.
As the cozy mystery has changed, so have romances. Sure, there are plenty written to a formula. But is that so bad? Evidently, a lot of readers like it, and theyre reading because of it. Anything that has people turning to a book instead of to television is a good thing. Like any other genre, some books in the field are great writing, period just great writing that follows its own set of rules.
As for mystery readers being hidebound . . . yeah, some of them are. They wont read science fiction because they like to stick to the boundaries of the world that they know. Thats no different from any other reading preference, and doesnt necessarily indicate the mystery reader has less imagination or is less liberal than a science fiction reader. Ive met many, many mystery readers who read science fiction and/or romance.
All this having been said, its true that the conventions thrown by the various genres are wildly different. But theyre all fun. At romance conventions, the panelists show up on time, well dressed, and businesslike. The moderator has contacted the panelists months ahead of time. At mystery conventions, the panelists almost always show up, dressed fairly well, and ready to show how witty they are. The moderator has at least talked to the panelists ahead of time, and quite often has sent them questions a week or two before the appointed time. At science fiction conventions, sometimes the panelists show up, and sometimes there is a moderator, but just as often this simply doesnt happen.
There are lots of other differences as well, but Ill leave them to you to discover.
Whats the bottom line on this long, long blog? Well, I guess the bottom line is that there are delights to be discovered in any genre, and its ridiculous to let prejudices get in the way of enjoying good writing. We should celebrate our differences, not point at them as insurmountable obstacles.
Sometimes, even obvious things need to be said.
® 2010 Charlaine Harris