It's my first week to take the wheel here at Jungle Red Writers! I'm hoping it'll turn out better than my first week driving back in the day (I hit a Buick in Carl's Drug's parking lot.) So without further ado, let's take 'er out for a spin.
I have a confession to make. I like February 15th better than February 14th. You can keep your flowers and your I (Heart) You teddy bears and your spring-loaded cards that play "Love Will Keep Us Together." I want chocolate half off. Seventy-five per cent off. Eighty, if you're willing to wait until a week after and risk getting nothing but Red Hots and Necco wafers. I load up on red and pink M&Ms and Hershey's Kisses. I promise myself I'll just have a few, for dessert, but at the end of the day, I'm sitting in my comfy chair with my feet up and a litter of pink and silver foil on the rug.
It struck me that reading is often the same way. How many times do you hear people referring to mysteries as fluff? Mind candy? A palate-cleanser? I see this all the time when I volunteer at my local library. The patron comes up the desk. She rather proudly lays down a book we shall call Extremely Sensitive and Incredibly Plotless. This book has been on the NYT Bestseller list for 46 weeks and has been reviewed in the New York Times, The Sunday NYTimes, The NYT Review of Books, The NYT Book Review Monday--and the author's apartment has been featured in the style section.
Then, sheepishly, she adds four mysteries to her pile. "I know it's just mindless entertainment," she apologizes. "But sometimes I just need something light."
What I want to say to her is, "Ma'am, it's not just mindless entertainment. I and my fellow mystery writers work incredibly hard, sometimes for years, to master the language and characterization and plotting that will have you sitting in your comfy chair until 2 am, devouring our books. It's okay to enjoy reading. It's a good thing to be swept away by a story and to laugh and weep along with the characters."
What I do say is, "I'm sure you'll enjoy these."
How about you, ladies? What do you say--or not say--when someone dismisses our genre as a guilty pleasure? (And does anyone else besides me buy out the candy section after St. Valentine's Day?)
JAN: If we're talking pure status, Julia, I'd WAY rather be seen on a plane reading books with titles like -- One was a Soldier -- or Come and Find Me -- Dead Head - or Murder, Murder and more Murder - than The Nannie Diaries (which was actually a really good book.) Mysteries have a hard edge, tough chick aura that Jersey girls like me aspire to. Whereas love stories - even literary, NYT bestselling, award winning, love stories always make me feel like a such a featherhead girl - even though I really do like them. But I think the bottom line is this: there's high end, well done mysteries, love stories, memoirs and literary books, and there's complete crap or total fluff mysteries, love stories, memoirs and yes, literary books, with the no plot, no-point prose that makes you wonder how on earth they got published.
And while I think I might give you a good run for your money in the bargain-hunting frugality contest, I confess that the day after Valentine's Day, I can't even look at chocolate! However, the day after Christmas, I have been known to restock my lights and wrapping paper.
HANK: Who was it that said to some mystery writer--are you ever going to write a REAL book? Listen, I'm sitting here tearing my hair out because I'm on page 385 (uh-oh) and I've got to get person A and person B to arrive in the same place at the same time and have a perfectly natural and logical reason for it to happen.
So although I am generally a pretty nice person, if someone were unwise enough, right about now, to make one crack about "mindless"--well let's just say they'd be the ones having a "%#*&%$% conflict in every sentence.
(I buy white tissue paper. Fabulous. Day after Christmas? They almost pay you to buy it...Happy First Blog day, dear Julia!)
DEB: I hate categories--cozy, fluffy, hard-boiled, literary. People having the idea there is only one kind of book they SHOULD read is like thinking you should choose between granola and Cheerios for every meal. I don't mean we shouldn't be discerning, but how can we be discerning if we don't sample things? And there are different types of books for different moods and situations. I bought two at the supermarket here in London the other day: the new Val McDermid paperback, Trick of the Dark, and a Katie Fforde. You all know Val McDermid's books, I'm sure, but for those US readers who aren't familiar with Fforde, she writes "fluff" romances. (Yes, the girl always gets the guy, but what's wrong with that? And they can be wickedly satirical--the heroine's horrid family in this book could have been right out of Austen.) The Fforde was the perfect book for a day feeling under-the-weather, the McDermid will be the perfect book for another occasion. I can't see that snobbery, literary or otherwise, is ever to anyone's benefit, and it deprives people of a lot of pleasure.
Happy First Blog Day, Julia, and here's to books of all sorts.
ROBERTA: My good friend Deborah Donnelly, who wrote the wedding planner mysteries, used to talk about how much pleasure it gave her to hear from a reader telling her that one of her books got her through the aftermath of surgery or a relative's illness or anything hard, really. I can admire beautiful writing but most of all I want characters and a story that pull me in--I don't care whether it's mystery or romance or bestseller...
Hank, 384 pages and still haven't reached the denouement--that's a whopper! can't wait for that one. Also can't wait for Julia's new book! And Hallie's! and Rhys's! And Rosemary's! I'm salivating...
RHYS: More than one person has said to me, "So will you ever try to write a real book?" And it's something I can't understand because to me the mystery is the ultimate study in human nature on the brink. Nothing else shatters the wholeness of the universe of a community or family like a murder. Mysteries are perfect opportunities for in depth character studies. And what's more our stories have a beginning,a middle and an end, which is more than one can say about many so called "literary novels."
Have you noticed that Barnes and Noble has shelves marked Fiction and Literature and others marked Mystery. But you know what, I don't care. I love my fans. I love my friends in the mystery world and I'm quite happy!
I think that went rather well! I got the blog back without breaking anything. To celebrate, I'm giving away 4 Advance Reader Editions of my upcoming book, One Was A Soldier. Tell us about your guilty pleasures--reading or otherwise--in the comments for a chance to win.