Aug 28, 2005

Finding the Magic

I love a mystery. From cozy to thriller a good book provides me with hours of entertainment. A great book is magical. The bad ones are disappointments. Every book is unique. It is an experience put on the page by one individual and interpreted by another. We are all a fan base of one. I hate the labels and yet they are needed. . With as many titles as are put out annually in our genre I cannot think of another way to wade through the thousands of offerings presented to me every year.

I consider myself a liberal when it comes to reading. I don’t dismiss any title because of a preconceived prejudice. "I don’t read British", "I read the books with recipes", "police procedurals are too much about the crime", "Oh, I tried him but there was too much violence for my taste" All statements I’ve heard from more than one source. Personally they make me shudder. However, I have no right to tell anyone what to read. Free time is precious and certainly everyone has a right to decide how to use theirs. I can and I do mourn for their loss. The James Lee Burke fan who never tries Ian Rankin. The Katherine Hall Page Fan who never tries Susan McBride. Any soft-boiled reader who misses Martha Grimes because Jury and Wiggins are police is only hurting them self. And that last statement…… if you’re reading mystery and the subject of violence is glossed over…… you’re reading a bad book.

That’s my background. I read 350 books a year. And now I’m going to weigh in on this year’s controversy. Gender preference.

Mr. Penzler drove me a little crazy earlier this year. He dismissed much of the mystery genre with a rather broad statement put forth in the New York Post. Patricia Sprinkle had an excellent rebuttal in the next Sisters in Crime Newsletter. I have to say a bookstore owner saying all women writers are hacks is, let me look for the right word here…. got it…… comical. Now my taste in mystery and Otto’s are not all that different. I love most of the authors he endorses. I just read more. And I pity him. Some of the books he’s missing because of gender preference are important. Some are pure fun, and many are unforgettable. He has every right to his opinion, and females have every right to boycott his store and his mystery line. But I’m not holding my breath on that front nor am I endorsing it. As I said Otto and I have similar tastes.

Women authors banding together and saying, "We shouldn’t be categorized as females and our work should be appreciated for its merits," is a good idea. Calling the sounding board “The Lipstick Chronicles” is ….. let me find the right word here…. comical. There have been some great pieces on that site. There’s also been a number of sweeping generalizations I find offensive. Male bashing and dismissing entire sub-genres is perpetuating the problem not making it better. There’s nothing new in women not getting any respect. It happens in every job. It happens in mine. Write a good book. Do a good job. That’s all it takes.

So now I’m going to celebrate some of my favorite authors. They happen to be female. They are to a name a joy to share the experience of reading with.

Without a doubt S.J. Rozan and Laura Lippman are two of the most important writers today. Rozan’s ABSENT FRIENDS and Lippman’s EVERY SECRET THING and TO THE POWER OF THE THREE are proof that the unique experience of a read can become communal. These two women played with the structure of the novel and presentation of character with an ability and craftsmanship that was brilliantly individual. The stories may not be for everyone but the talent of the scribes must be acknowledged. Both of these women also continue to write their series with a rate of growth few are capable of.

Val McDermid is a name in mystery that has to be read. She writes everything. Hard-boiled, Soft, P.I., Police Procedural, Amateur Sleuth. She’s written from every p.o.v. and here’s the most important part….. she writes everything well. No matter where your tastes lie within the vast genre of mystery there’s a McDermid book out there screaming for you to read it.

And here’s a list off the top of my head

Hard-boiled- Vicki Hendricks, Karin Slaughter, Carroll O’Connell, Denise Mina, Mo Hayder,

Amateur Sleuth- Barb D’Amato, Jan Burke, Nevada Barr, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Sue Dunlop, Sujata Massey, Libby Fischer Hellman, Nancy Pickard

Police Procedural- April Woo, Leslie Glass, Ruth Rendell, Paula Woods

P.I.- Sandra Scoppettone, Sara Paretsky, Linda Barnes, Marcia Muller

Lawyers- Lia Matera, Lisa Scottilone, Alafair Burke, Margaret Maron,

Lighter side- M.C. Beaton, Sarah Graves, Charlaine Harris, Joan Hess, Dianne Mott Davidson, Denise Swanson

There are new writers. Rochelle Kirch’s series does everything Kellerman tried to do with hers. Ruth Francisco is a name to follow. Judy Clemens has a unique series that I’m not going to miss. And it goes on and on. In this genre there is something for everyone and no matter what you like to read there are men and women who do it well. There are also men and women who do it badly. Cutting yourself off from a percentage of writers because of their gender is absurd. Deciding to put down a book because it isn’t your cup of tea is simple common sense. Two absolutes. This is a huge genre and finding a new author you think is special is one of life’s greatest joys. Respect your fellow readers when they do the same. That’s called manners.

Ruth

8 comments:

Sarah said...

What do all the women you list have in common? Talent and reach. They wrote good books, and hopefully, they'll be the ones to stick around.

David J. Montgomery said...

Ruth is right on. There has been too much of this lately -- writers from one corner of the genre putting down some other corner, apparently in the hopes that it will lift the prominence of their own. Guess again.

The crime genre already gets enough crap from outside. We don't need to fight amongst ourselves. We don't want to wind up with crippling internecine battles like has happened to romance and western writers.

Too many people seem worried that someone else is going to steal their attention. This isn't a competition. We need to stop trying to carve the pie into bigger slices for ourselves and concentrate instead on baking a bigger damn pie.

It won't help women authors to put down men, nor will it help cozies to insult thrillers (nor vice versa). In fact, it's just going to hurt. The quickest way to turn off the audience is to insult other writers, or other genres, or to come off as self-important and arrogant.

This lifeboat is big enough for everyone.

John Schramm said...

This is a great article.

350 books a year?

Whoa!

Can't wait to see you two!!!

Mary said...

I'm with John - 350 books a year is damn impressive Ruth.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

What really freaks me out is that she remebers them all..

I read an awful lot, but I'm closer to the 250 range.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

When you get back, Ruth, I think you might want to change the name Sandra Scottoline to Lisa Scottoline. And maybe you could change Scoppetone to Scoppettone?

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

Name Changes made,
Late night post always make for fun reading...

jon

Robert Eversz said...

Otto Penzler makes life so much more engaging for us all, if only because he so often says such outrageous things. Great riposte, Ms. J.