Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Yes, Mysteries Have “Literary Worth.” Why Are We Even Discussing It?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: All genre lovers have had the moment. That moment. For me, it was when I was a guest at a Vermont literary festival. There was a reception the first evening for the presenters, and in cocktail party style, people were sharing what they worked at. Novel. Narrative nonfiction. Poet. Then it was my turn. "I write mysteries."

Readers, you would have thought I said I skin kittens. I didn't talk to a single other author the rest of the night.

There's not a great deal of critical respect out there for crime fiction. Science fiction and fantasy are even more suspect, and Romance? Fuggedaboutit! Elizabeth Held wants us to rethink this. You may know her from her her recommendation newsletter WHAT TO READ IF, One of Book Riots Best Book Newsletter (subscribe; it's free and you'll love it!) She got a little frustrated about the lack of thoughtful literary analysis around her favorite genre, and decided to take that on by starting a limited run Substack newsletter inviting some very smart people to write about aspects of books they adore. And who better to dig into than the most beloved, the most thoughtful, the most literary crime fiction author working today - Louise Penny? She's here today to tell us all about her new project, NOTES FROM THREE PINES.

 


At first glance Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books would seem like prime subjects for academic study. They’re wildly popular bestsellers, critically beloved and offer keen insights into how our world considers thorny topics related to religion, politics, crime, addiction and more.

 

And yet, a search on JSTOR, a digital library of academic journals, shows just a handful of articles examining Penny’s work.

 

Unfortunately, this has been the plight of the mystery writer since the days of Agatha Christy. As scholar Marty S. Knepper notes in her essay, “Contemporary Cozy Mysteries, Agatha Christie and the 1990s,” “Despite or perhaps because of her sales, Agatha Christie’s reputation during her lifetime suffered at the hands of journalists, scholars, and even mystery historians who frequently criticized her characterization, style, and literary worth.”

 

Christie never earned the respect she deserved in her day, with detractors calling her books artificial, banal and superficial. The same criticism is hurled at mystery fiction today, more than 100 years after her first book was published.

 

While mysteries might get more due than they did in Christie’s day, Knepper’s essay was included in a 2021 book that was the first to examine the cozy mystery — a wildly popular subgenre — from an academic perspective. And, yet, it’s clear to anyone who reads crime fiction — mysteries, noir or thrillers — that they have literary worth and should be treated as such.

 

Penny herself made a similar argument earlier this year at Malice Domestic, the annual convention of mystery writers and fans, while on a panel featuring the authors nominated for the 2022 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel.

 

The moderator asked the authors if they ever felt constrained by expectations of their genre. Penny responded, “I am very proud to write crime fiction and stand up and wave the flag… but at the same time, I’m tired of this dismissiveness around the genre. Good storytelling is good storytelling, whether you like it or not.” 


From my spot on the floor in the back of the room, I began to cheer. I devour genre fiction — romance and mysteries in particular — and am always surprised by the sort of flippant attitude some people have towards it.

 

One of my biggest pet peeves is the claim that genre fiction is somehow lesser because it’s formulaic, but to me that’s proof of an author’s skill. Making a story that’s been told hundreds of times — a murder mystery or a love story — feel fresh and new is a real skill that should be recognized and celebrated. As Penny said, good storytelling is good storytelling.

 

More broadly though, readers and scholars who skip mysteries because they don’t think they’re meaty or worth discussing are both wrong and missing out on some really excellent books. From where I’m sitting, some of the sharpest commentary from the literary world on topics ranging from race and religion to tech’s effect on our world are coming from crime writers. See works by  Kellye Garrett, David Heska WanbliWeiden, Jane Pek and Julia Spencer-Fleming for proof.

 

To challenge the outdated notion that mysteries can’t — or shouldn’t be — the subject of careful criticism and examination, a friend and I are launching Notes From Three Pines, a short-run essay collection celebrating and exploring all things Louise Penny and Inspector Gamache.

 

Notes From Three Pines is a cross between an essay anthology and fan zine. Our contributors are writing about everything from the joy of listening to the audiobooks to the role art plays in the series to the unique character that is Ruth Zardo. (I’m hoping that last one will include an extended meditation on Rosa the duck.)

 

We have two main goals with this project. First, we want to give fans like us a place to meet and discuss Penny’s books (if that sounds like you, I hope you’ll join us by subscribing). And, second, we want to apply the same sort of lens to the series it would have received if the books weren’t mysteries. As anyone who has read the Inspector Gamache books can attest, these are meaty novels, well worth discussion and analysis.

 

What about you? Are there books or series you think are unnecessarily dismissed?


 

92 comments:

  1. I’m probably not the best one to ask about this since I tend to ignore folks’ comments and just read whatever it is that I want to read. I’ve never quite understood the tendency of some folks to be dismissive of this [or any other] genre . . . a good book is a good book . . . .

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    1. Yes! A good book is a good book is a good book.

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    2. Agreed that a good book is a good book, Joan! Thank you. Diana

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  2. ELIZABETH: Congratulations on creating NOTES FROM THREE PINES! I live in Ottawa, Canada on the Ontario/Quebec border, so there are a lot of Louise's fans here (including me).

    Yeah, several snooty acquaintances looked down in disdain when I tell them that I mostly read mystery fiction. Their loss. I also read science fiction, and get the same reaction.

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    1. Thank you! I'm excited (and a little nervous).

      Imagine a life without mysteries — how boring.

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    2. GRACE: Agreed that it is their loss. Why do they need to feel superior to other people? It is not logical to me. Join the club since I love mysteries too. And Romance novels. And Children's novels. My father loved Science Fiction. He did not learn how to read until he was 14 years old and he took to sci fiction like a duck to water. He grew up listening to the Lone Ranger on the radio. For me, science fiction is a challenge to read. I always thought that people who can read Sci Fiction are very smart.

      Diana

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    3. I feel the same about scifi. All the more power to people who can read and write it.

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  3. I think those who are dismissive of fiction have never attempted it, and it is very silly to presume that something you have never had the ambition or courage to try is an inferior undertaking. I am in AWE of authors like Louise Penny who are able to imagine these characters in this detail, and to ask themselves all the right questions to develop a scintillating plot line around them. The intellect it takes to weave all the threads together without dropping any of them is admirable. To tell enough without telling too much, to keep the suspense going and the plot moving along without cheating the reader of depth - this is not only a craft, but an art. I am extremely grateful to storytellers. Honestly, I do not know where I would be without the medicine of a good story. Life is hard. Stories are the best.

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    1. Agreed it is such a skill to create characters and write fiction. I think it also takes a different set of skills to write non fiction and to draw the reader to the book. I read History at Uni and some of the history books were so dry and banal that I turned to historical fiction like Jean Plaidy to supplement my class reading. I know some people prefer non-fiction to fiction. I try to read more non fiction in November during non fiction November. Usually they are biographies or books about the environment.

      Diana

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  4. Thank you for being a champion of our genre, Elizabeth! It's so important. I was also there when Louise said that.

    With two dozen published cozies under my belt, I can attest that they are, in fact, NOT formulaic to write or read, at least not the good ones, and it really steams me when people say they are. My fellow cozy authors and I all work hard to subtly include real social issues, deeply drawn real people, and storytelling in the most elegant language we can find in the service of the story.

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    1. Trust me: us fans notice and appreciate the work!

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    2. Edith, thank you. I often hear that word "formulaic" and I am not sure exactly what that means because I always thought every author have their own "fingerprint" or "voice"? in their writing?

      Diana

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    3. I agree there are many well written cozies, including all your books. However, publishers in their search for profits have put out a lot of bad, very formulaic cozies. These have caused many readers to avoid reading anything labeled cozy. Most of the mysteries I read and enjoy are police procedurals, which are now labeled crime fiction and not mystery any longer.

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    4. I think like all genres, there are cozies I enjoy, and cozies I don't enjoy. I think there have been some really good ones from the last few years. Abby Collette's ice cream shop series comes to mind and Six Feet Deep Dish.

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  5. Elizabeth, I was on that panel with Louise and right before she said that, I gave a spirited defense of a genre that gets dismissed even within our own crime writing community - the cozy mystery. It’s so frustrating to see a lack of respect for a sub genre that has its roots in the work of Dame Agatha herself. During a recent discussion, someone posited that cozies can be seen as feminist fiction because they so often feature smart, independent women who run businesses. I love that.

    Thanks so much for banging the drum for all crime fiction. I love Louise’s books and can’t wait to check out your newsletter!

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    1. Yes! Thank you Ellen. I'm working on an essay (hoping to find a home for it!) about how cozy mysteries take the traditionally domestic/feminine (cooking, sewing, quilting) and make it literally life saving.

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    2. Ellen, thank you for saying that. I never understood why the cozy mystery genre gets dismissed. However I have a theory. I think it has more to do with $$$$$$. I know that Dame Agatha Christie earned a lot of money from her novels. It seems to me that it is the macho men type thrillers that earn the most money? I will have to check the NYT Bestseller lists again.

      The thing is that I often love books that are not "popular". Often I fall in love with a series that is then discontinued by the publisher. I cannot stand graphic violence in novels. I know that there are some who love that in novels. Not me. And I love that term "feminist fiction".

      Hope to see you at the next Malice!

      Diana

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    3. Elizabeth, please let us know about your new essay! I want to read that essay! Diana

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    4. Jennifer Crusie, who wrote contemporary romances crossed with mystery/capers/action-adventure, has a PhD in feminist criticism and 19th century literature. She's pointed out many times in essays that writing primarily done BY women FOR women is always devalued by the critical gatekeepers of the time. Novels themselves were once dismissed as silly time-wasters for fluffy-headed females.

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    5. Jenny Cruisie, my all time favourite romance writer. Complex stories with complex characters. And satisfying HEAs.

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    6. Perhaps instead of defending the cozy title, a new genre name for many of the better cozies. The feminist issue is a societal issue we are not going to solve any time soon. No one would dare call books written by Julia Spenser Fleming cozies. Perception is everything in any industry and the universal perception of the general reading public are that cozies are trite and are not very good writing. I don’t think any form of defense is going to change that perception!

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    7. I'm such a Jennifer Crusie fan girl.

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  6. What a great idea. A friend recently told me she survived pandemic isolation by reading her way through Louise Penny's books.

    I've had many conversations with members of "literary books clubs". My response? How dreary. You need a good mystery to liven up the mix.

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    1. A trip to Three Pines has a way of making you feel less alone.

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  7. I guess I was a dismisser of the mystery genre when I was younger. My parents, both librarians, read mysteries, but I couldn't see the attraction. I had read many Agatha Christies as a teenager, but felt I had grown out of them. I worked a job where I dealt with crime every day, why would I want more of it? I mostly enjoyed historical fiction (believe me, there is a LOT of crime in historical fiction!) Then one year a friend, who is also a big reader, gave me a present of about 14 mysteries for my birthday. I can't remember all of them, but there was a Dick Francis, Sarah Caudwell's Thus Was Adonis Murdered, a G.K. Chesterton, Frances Fyfield, Tony Hillerman. I was hooked, and had a lot of catching up to do.

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  8. Before I was published, I went to a full day seminar on publishing put on by the Writers Union of Canada. There was a successful traditionally published author and a successful self-published author presenting. And I still remember the t.p.a. rolling her eyes and saying, "of course, if you write genre fiction..." as if she was saying, "of course, if you have the plague..." A true "literary" snob, but as Ginger Rogers would say, "we do everything Fred does, only backwards and in high heels." In other words, we write a story and then we have to load it up with clubs! As for the project, I know a librarian and her book club who are avid Penny fans. Shall pass your post on to her. And as past Chair of Crime Writers of Canada, I had the honour of presenting her with the Grand Master Award this past spring, which is a biannual award to a Canadian author who has achieved international success. I wish you every success.

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    1. Thank you so much Judy! I love this "we write a story and then we have to load it up with clubs!"

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  9. As if you could skin cats Julia! I'd believe that you gave them too many treats.

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    1. Busted. When my son visited for the first time since Christmas, he said, "Looks like Neko is putting on weight, Mom!"

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  10. Kudos to you and good luck with the project.

    I have always unabashedly read crime fiction. It's not surprising that I grew up to write it. I think there's a lot of social commentary in those pages - crammed in between the action. I was in the audience when Louise made her comments and I wholeheartedly agree.

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    1. Liz, I agree that there is social commentary in these pages. Diana

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  11. Somehow I managed to take an English elective called Detective & Mystery Stories in high school. It has been so long ago I don’t remember the titles or authors we read and discussed, but it was definitely one of my favorite classes ever.

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    1. There are definitely mystery courses out there, including in higher ed, Brenda. I think we're semi-respectable, like Jerry Lewis movies in France.

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  12. I am so happy you are here, Elizabeth, and that you are banging the drum for literary crime fiction, as I will always refer to it from now on. My young nephew, on his way to Oxford, don't you know, stopped to visit for a couple of days and needed a book to read. When he saw what I was reading, he dismissed it with "formulaic, aren't they?" I could have spit at him. Then there was my neighbor, who said she liked to read all kinds of things. I told her she could borrow a book, so she spent some time looking. "Don't you read anything but murder books?" Hmph! I happen to like my murder books and I do read lots of other things, but maybe I only keep the ones I like best and if it turns out they are all murder books, so be it. I truly wish now I had said to her "but they are very well written murder books!"

    I have subscribed, so thank you!

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    1. Thank you so much for subscribing! I hope you enjoy it.

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  13. I don't get literary (or any, really) snobs. Read what you like and don't disparage others who read different kinds of books. At least we're all reading, right? How much worse would it be to not read at all?? (Answer: so much worse, it's not worth discussing!)

    Everyone in my book club gets a turn to choose what we read next, and there are two or three members who either choose science fiction or dystopian reality. These are not my personal favorites, but I read them most of the time, and have found interesting and thought-provoking parts of many. I wouldn't have read them without the other member's choosing them, but the discussion usually makes it worth the time. I hope that when I choose a mystery for the group the other members get as much out of my choices. And that they have learned more about that genre as a result.

    Thanks for linking Louise's talk, by the way. I really enjoyed listening to it this morning!

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    1. Glad you liked it, Karen! Obviously, I couldn't get Louise's talk at Malice, but I liked what she had to say here.

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    2. Karen in Ohio: Agreed ! "Read what you like". I never understood literary snobs. When I was a young child, I was the "star student" and it was always embarrassing because some teachers would praise how smart I was. The truth was that I was always a reader, thanks to the Catholic school and my early introduction to the Sunday comics via my parents. I was blessed that I was always allowed to read what I wanted to read. Your book club sounds like a wonderful bunch of readers!

      Diana

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  14. Elizabeth, I was a literature major and can tell you that there is value in every well written book. I know that I am not alone in learning a lot of history when reading historical novels, mysteries and romances included. I learn about tech when I read mysteries where tech is central. Science Fiction and Fantasy provide me with alternative ways of viewing the world. I do NOT apologize for my choices of reading material. If a cozy lifts my spirits, who dares criticize me for choosing to have my mood lifted especially during this crazy time. I'm signing up for your newsletter!

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    1. "If a cozy lifts my spirits, who dares criticize me for choosing to have my mood lifted especially during this crazy time." AMEN.

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  15. Elizabeth (or do you prefer Liz?), welcome to JRW!!! Your post this morning really resonated with me because I had a similar experience. When I was about to graduate from University, I really wanted to write a thesis paper (for my Bachelors in History) about the history aspect of Romance Novels (I was thinking of Barbara Cartland though now I know it should have been Georgette Heyer but that is another story). I also loved the Jean Plaidy novels because the historical fiction helped me get through the dry boring parts of my heavy reading for my history classes.

    Well, my "intellectual" Thesis adviser was very dismissive of Romance Novels. She insisted that I read novels like the Sir Walter Scott novels, which I thought of as children's novels. It is ironic that my TA did NOT pick a woman author, considering that she was supposed to be a Feminist. I am sorry to say that I did not do well on the thesis because I could not find all of the books. Now I have a collection of books by Sir Walter Scott, thanks to a library sale years after I graduated from University.

    It is too easy to be dismissive of "genre" or whatever. My philosophy is that there is always a book that is the right fit for someone, whatever the genre is. My childhood friend is Not a Big Reader. However, she Loves novels like Stephen King novels, which is not my cup of tea, but she loves his writing. And she loved the yellow novel with a photo of Frida Kalho on the cover.

    And I love Louise Penny mysteries, which is a bit outside my genre (I love gentler cozy mysteries in general). I love her writing. And yes, I want to subscribe as soon as I finish writing this comment. I wanted to send in my comment as early as possible.

    When I met a lady at a social event, she mentioned that she writes books. I was interested since I love to read books. I asked her what she writes. She mentioned that she writes travel books. And yes, I told her that was wonderful. I want to read her travel books. I am still looking for her books online, though.

    It is not kind to insult someone who writes a book, even if the book may not be in your genre.

    My great aunt Ada, who is an intellectual, loves literary novels. She tactfully calls mystery novels like the Martha Grimes novels about Inspector Richard Jury "bubble gum for the brain". She would never insult someone about their reading preferences. She was self educated. She went to night school and became a paralegal. She was one of the smartest people I have met. She married my grandfather's baby brother. She was from the same generation as my grandmother.

    Speaking of literature, I am embarrassed to say that the only literature that I enjoyed was Shakespeare growing up. My Mom was a high school English teacher and taught Shakespeare. She would take her class to the Renaissance Faire every summer and I went with them. I loved children's classics like Winnie the Pooh. In high school, we were expected to read literature like the Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, amongst other novels. I'm trying to recall if any of the required readings were novels by women. I remember reading cheesy novels like Sweet Valley High until they killed off my favorite character, then I stopped.

    Regarding literature, I finally started to read literature like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters when I became 50 years old! I read a bit of Pride and Prejudice in my 30s when I was dating a man who loved literature.

    Sorry this was such a long comment!

    On another note, I will have a guest post here on Jungle Reds this week :-)

    Diana

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    1. Diana: I'm looking forward to reading your guest post here. How exciting!

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    2. Thank you for your thoughtful comment! My take is that there is no book that's for everyone but there is a book for everyone.

      Looking forward to your post!

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    3. Amanda: Thank you for your kind words. Julia recommended that I read your guest posts because I asked about guest posts. I wanted some idea of what this blog was looking for from guest posts. I got some good ideas of which slant (?) to put to my writing. I think you are in for a treat. I feel honoured to have a guest post here.

      Julia: Thank you! I hope that readers will enjoy my guest post.

      Elizabeth (Liz?) Agreed that there is a book for everyone. I think that you are in for a treat when you read my guest post!

      Diana

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    4. Diana: How lovely to know that you've read my posts with the perspective of your own writing in mind. I am excited to read yours!

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  16. I have so many stories about this. In my first, ever, book reading event, a man asked me, "Do you write mysteries because you think you're not good enough to write mainstream fiction?" Luckily, I had thought about the question. My reply? "I think at the heart of every good novel there is a mystery. My mystery may be more overt, but it doesn't mean there isn't good writing."

    Another example: I was privileged to be asked to speak with three other authors (all "mainstream") at a fund-raising event. Two of the authors were unknown and extremely pleased with themselves. They couldn't be bothered to even look at me, much less have a conversation. But the third was Ayelet Waldman, Michael Chabon's wife, a famous author in her own right. She could not have been warmer, chatting with me as if I was her equal in the writing world. The sad thing is that I was very grateful because there is so much snobbery in the mainstream world.

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    1. Terry, Ayelet Waldman wrote a cozy mystery series! IIRC, it features a stay-at-home mom who solves crime between naptime and playdates. She has written before about how dismissed she felt when she was a SAHM surrounded by literary elites and film-world creative types. Not dissimilar to the reception crime fiction gets in the broader critical context...

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    2. I've heard of best-selling romance writers being asked "when are you going to write a real novel?"

      I'll have to check out Ayelet's books. I've read some of her stuff, but not her cozies.

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    3. Terry, I was blessed to meet Ayelet (Love her name!) at her book event for her stay at home mystery novel. She talks very fast and listening to her /trying to read her lips with my cochlear implants were quite a challenge! Agreed with you that she is a lovely person. Before the pandemic, I used to see her and Michael at the local coffee place and they were like regular people.

      Wondering about that man at your first book reading event...how old was that man? Older than you and perhaps thought he knew more because he wwas older than you? And what is "mainstream fiction"???? By mainstream, does that mean these are books that schoolchildren read for their English classes??

      Julia, I remember Ayelet's mysteries and I bought them whenever I saw them in the bookstore. And what on earth are "literary elites"??? Old White Men?

      EHeld, sounds like these inquisitors would have agreed with my History TA who did not approve of my choices for my Thesis disseration. What on earth do they mean by "real novel"??? I know of one best selling romance author who always writes "light", meaning that I can read fast and finish within hours. I call these books my "crying" books because I ALWAYS CRY every time I read her novels. I think this author also has a hearing loss?

      Diana

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  17. The books I love take me on a journey of discovery: other places, other voices, other times, alternate realities. The talent and hard work of the author leads me into the story, takes me on this journey, leaves me in a different place when I'm finished. Sometimes I think about a book long after I've read it. Genre doesn't enter into the experience. And isn't that why great literature endures? I read Shakespeare and laugh or cry. Dickens moved me to tears. The mystery community is filled with great writers--many of them right here on JRW on the front and back blog.

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    1. Yes! You can learn so much from all kinds of fiction.

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    2. Agreed that books are a journey of discovery! Diana

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  18. I read for story and for character; the details of the plot are secondary. What I mean is that whether it's a mystery with a murder or a love story with animals or a family saga with history thrown into the mix, I'll read it -- gladly -- if the writing is good and the story gripping. The "genre" one-upmanshipping that goes on is dreary and life is too short to give it attention.

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  19. Julia, I've had that moment at literary festivals more than once! So galling! Elizabeth, I love your idea for Notes from Three Pines and have subscribed. I hate the term "formulaic" and always replace it with "structure." Mysteries provide a structure for a story, and within that structure, the writer can explore literally anything. And while "literary" writers can wander at will, the writer of mysteries must tell a gripping story while seamlessly (we hope) incorporating the bones of the mystery plot. That makes the craft more demanding, not less!

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    1. You've hit the nail on the head here, Debs. Having that structure does make your craft more demanding. And, structure is absolutely the right word, as formulaic implies just copying a pattern and filling in the blanks. In truth, mystery writers take that structure and make it their own.

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    2. Debs, I love that word "structure". Thank you! Formula makes me think of Chemistry class.

      Diana

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  20. LOL. What a delightful post! I remember when my brother took a course on Stephen King at university and I was so jealous as mine didn't offer it. Genre for the win!

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    1. Jenn, I totally get that. When Isabel Allende taught at my Uni, there was a conflict and I could not take her class. I got my second chance when I enrolled in the Book Passage Mystery Writing workshop in California some years ago!

      Diana

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  21. Genre fiction can be just as important in theme and message as literary works. In fact, by divorcing the story from "real life" you can sneak in a lot more without "preaching." The writers I love are top notch storytellers with rich characters, settings, and plots. I prefer genre fiction to literary navel gazing and hand wringing drama any day. I do read literary and nonfiction, but the majority of the time I reach for mystery, scifi and fantasy, or historical to both escape from the real world and learn about it.

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    1. Diana, well said! And I wonder how do you define "literary works"?? I love to read. Diana

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  22. Obviously you were in my head last night as I was falling asleep! I was thinking of the various authors who are my favourites – Louise Penny is my all-time favourite. I will return to her story and why.
    I love Elizabeth George – her novels not only explore the mystery, but the evolving lives of the people in them. Read What Came Before He Shot Her for an interesting study of murder, social systems, and bad luck/timing. Follow Lindsey as he falls in love, lives through grief, changes his life, all with the help and tolerance sort-of from the people around him. All of the characters have a life of their own, but are intertwined.
    Deborah Crombie – I love the lives of her characters. I love what happens to them, and how they approach the mystery and their lives together. I love that families are strange, and lovely, and just happen. I love that things are not always happy every after.
    Julia Spencer-Flemming – who would have thought that there is a whole story around the changing life of an episcopalian minister who once was a helicopter pilot. The relationships show the effects of PTSD, the learning to live in a world where what to be is not always the norm, how old values of church ladies need to be respected, and of course all the people she and Russ are involved with. I love that threads can carry over so that they are not always resolved right away.
    There are so many others, but Louise Penny is my all-time favourite. I lived in small farmland Ontario, and I swear all her characters were amalgams of the people I knew. I knew a Ruth – without the duck, but with the gruff compassion. I love that she portrays so well the life in Canada in today’s society. In her book set in Quebec City, she portrayed so well the disparity between the French and the English. My husband grew up in Quebec where Montcalm was a hero, and I grew up in Nova Scotia where Wolfe could do no wrong. To me as a Canadian, she brought this dichotomy to life. What is best about her books is that she doesn’t forget. For example - spoiler alert: In one book, one of her main characters is the guilty party. What??? He comes back to the community after a stint in jail, and there is a definite chillness where once was none. Many books later, this rift is still healing.
    For any of these authors and many more, the mystery is the secondary part. They are just excellent story tellers and people who can see the world with an excellent eye.
    Thank you for enriching my life.

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    1. Agree! You and I have similar taste. I thought What Came Before He Shot Her was absolutely brilliant. Elizabeth George took a lot of heat from some readers for "having her shot," but it unleashed brilliance in her series.

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    2. I loved What Came Before He Shot Her. I thought it was an interesting and honest look about how racism and poverty persist, despite the good intentions of the social work crowd. Some of my friends couldn't finish it, because it was so dark. I never quite forgave George for Helen's death though. I agree with you that these authors are excellent story tellers and give much food for thought wrapped in the package of a mystery.

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    3. Margo, I am a big fan of Louise Penny. A family member married a man who used to live in rural Canada and he introduced us to Louise Penny. I devoured her novels from the beginning and I had a long list of her books to read before I caught up! I was blessed to meet her at my first Bouchercon in Toronto!

      Diana

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  23. One thing you can say for us genre/crime fiction writers... on the whole we don't take ourselves too seriously. And we're happy to welcome other authors into the fold... and support them (it's what Jungle Red is all about)... floating lots of boats. There's plenty of room to succeed when the goal isn't a Pulitzer.

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    1. Hallie, such good words…thanks Jungle Reds for floating the boats of so many.

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    2. Curses Blogger…Elisabeth here on floating the boats.

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    3. Hallie, thank you! I am beyond grateful for the wonderful welcome and support amongst the mystery / crime fiction authors.

      Diana

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  24. Elisabeth here. During the pandemic I recommended Louise Penny and Three Pines to a former neighbor and suggested that she begin with Still Life. When she was about half way through, she complained that she could not figure out whodunnit. “No!” I “shouted back” in a text, there is no easy solve. “Read Penny’s books like NOVELS! “ Don’t know if she shifted or not.

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    1. Elisabeth, was your former neighbor a police detective in real life?

      Diana

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  25. I feel so naive. I knew there was snobbery about people reading so-called literary fiction towards other forms of fiction, like romance and mystery and sci-fi, but I didn't realize that authors of literary fiction were so dismissive of other authors who wrote other genres. That authors would snub other others is a form of discrimination pure and simple. That those same better-than-thou authors probably write about themes of acceptance and finding your best self, well, it can't get more appalling than that. Of course, I've seen similar discrimination against those authors who write young adult or children's books, like it's so much easier to do that when it's not. I still read young adult and children's books, as they can be completely soul enriching. Anyone who has read Whirligig by Paul Fleischman or Elsewhere by Gabriel Zevin knows the deep messages those books contain. So it is with mystery/crime books. The issues that mystery books deal with in the "structure" of their stories is nothing short of amazing. Read Allen Esken's book Nothing More Dangerous and tell me that it isn't one of the most compelling books you've read about racism, and it accomplishes that while a mystery unfolds. When I reviewed Allen's book, I stated that it now sits on my shelf next to To Kill a Mockingbird, and that Nothing More Dangerous should be studied in schools. Mystery addresses the essence of people as much or more than any other fiction. Debs mentioned the skill it takes to do all of this within a structure, and she is so on target. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy some literary fiction, too (I was an English major), but if you've ever read literary fiction that has rambled on in some kind of stream of consciousness that seemed to lead nowhere, then you really appreciate the structure that doesn't allow that in mystery/crime writing.

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    1. Good writing and storytelling — no matter the genre — takes skill!

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    2. Truth!!! Diana

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  26. I hope the genre writers are laughing all the way to the bank like Liberace. You see the same thing in TV. My brother's mother-in-law used to boast that she didn't watch TV. Her daughter got her a VH tape player, and she was making us watch old PBS nature shows, the Hallmark specials that used to be on network TV, and things like that. Hello! We already saw them for free. All forms of art can have value or be garbage, and that might change for different people. Also, cozy mysteries have recipes!

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    1. Sally from PA, this reminds me of when I met this person who insisted that she never ever watches Public TV then I caught her watching public tv. LOL. I was laughing and laughing because I caught her red handed!

      Diana

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  27. SOOOO late today! Elizabeth, standing ovation, and subscribing like crazy. I wish there was a way to emphatically subscribe. This is always a jaw dropping "conversation" to me, and always seems laden with personal backstory and bias. Someone once told me he didn't read books by women. I thought for YEARs about what I could have /should have said. In the end, I asked him about it, and turned out he thought books by women would all have cats and tea. At that point, I mentioned several names, and knew it was time to give up. Thank you for this! ANd yes, it's a STORY, for gosh sake.

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    1. There's all sorts of research showing men just don't read books by women, while women read books by men. Very odd.

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  28. Hank, was this fellow trying to flirt with you? Diana

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  29. Brava! Good writing is good writing, no matter what the genre, and each reader chooses what she/he likes. Early in my teaching years, a colleague harangued against young readers "wasting their time" on anything that wasn't a classic. I quietly continued encouraging my students to select their own leisure reading, and some of them brought me some wonderful material, like WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS and THE CHILDREN'S STORY. We had enough required books without prescribing their choices out of the classroom.
    I loved hearing the wise and witty lecture, almost as nice as being there. <3

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    1. storyteller Mary, thank you! My mom taught high school English for many years. She always encouraged her students to read whatever they wanted to. She thought it was important to encourage students to become readers. She would teach the required books plus offer a wide variety of books for students to chose for their reading. Other English teachers had a strict limited list of books that their students could read. I remember when my mom and I were in aerobics and a friend in class was telling us about how another English teacher at the same high school where my mom taught had this limited list of books that his students could read. We all laughed about it.

      Thank you,
      Diana

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  30. It's unfortunate how we have these people who are so quick to judge something they don't fully understand. I wish we were more understanding as a species sometimes, the world would be a better place. "NOTES FROM THREE PINES" sounds very interesting, I shall check it out :D

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    1. Unfortunately, that often happens in all walks of life. It is too easy to judge others instead of taking the time to get to know the person.

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  31. Three cheers for Julia's post! I had a recent conversation where a person said, "So you write just to give yourself a little part-time hobby." Later, they told me they don't read. And, there's our answer.

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    1. Judy I Murray: This reminds me of when Danielle Steel remarked that she was surprised (if I recall correctly) that men read her Romance novels.

      Diana

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