Friday, August 22, 2014

Odd Man Out?

By Art Taylor

I can't say that I disagree with any of the responses already given by my colleagues here to this week's question: "Why do you think the crime writing community is so mutually supportive?" Those are fine and fitting observations overall.

But I might take slight issue with that second part of the prompt: "Other groups of writers aren't always like this."

The mystery community surely is welcoming, supportive, and full of a lot of fun folks, as I tried to express (and may not have expressed very well) when I accepted the Agatha Award back in May at Malice Domestic. I'm not quite sure how my words came out that night, but I intended to say that despite my being a very slow writer, the mystery community—and particularly those folks at Malice—had certainly been swift to welcome me and even embrace me, as I'd seen that same community do time and again with so many others over the years. It's a positive, affirming, and unforgettable feeling, to be sure, and the core of the reason I enjoy so much going to MWA meetings, to Malice, and to Bouchercon—and why I look forward both to seeing a lot of friendly faces and to making some new friends too in Long Beach this year!

But that said, I'm not sure that the mystery community is entirely alone in some of this enthusiasm. I remember Lee Smith years ago making the same assertion about Southern writers (compared to writers from other regions)—using the metaphor of a Sunday dinner table, as I recall, with the established writers welcoming the new ones to come pull up a seat, there's plenty of pie to go around. Or was it barbecue?  Either way, the point was that those authors from... well, wherever else surely weren't as supportive as we were, right?

A few years later, one of my first years working with the Fall for the Book festival, I helped to set up a panel of science fiction writers—and when they were gathered together, I found that they all knew and admired and had read one another's work. And even outside of the genre, that's not unusual at Fall for the Book, where writers cross paths, compare notes, compliment books they've read by other authors or jot down titles to look up next.

And as I've said before, I learned a tremendous amount from the feedback, support and generous criticism of my peers in the MFA program at Mason—a very literary-minded crowd, not often given over to genre writing—and I continue to rely on that feedback even now for almost every story I write.

That's not to say that all authors are this way. I've run across my fair share who snipe, compare, and complain (I won't name names—at least not in print here!), writers whose egos ultimately stand in the way of easy conversation much less long-term camaraderie. But that's surely the minority.

And certainly, as Meredith pointed out in the first post this week, there can be a snobbery toward other genres—not just from the so-called literary types toward us genre folks but (you know it's true) from the genre folks toward the literary types as well. And it's not just snobbery at work but just the byproduct of those interests that certain people, certain groups share. Much as I enjoyed sitting with those science fiction writers while they chatted and laughed and talked, I wasn't able to add much—not excluded by them, not hardly, but certainly not feeling that I could follow and contribute to the conversation, to that small community, in the same way that I can easily sit down and talk murder, mayhem, and more with my friends in our circles.

Writing this quickly while on deadline for some other things (and with both Fall for the Book and the new semester looming). Sorry if it seems rushed or rambling!


Meredith Cole said...

Great points, Art! I hope writers in the other communities are supportive as well! Not sure what mystery writers would do without all the support...

Susan C Shea said...

I suppose it could be that genre writers share a collective chip on the shoulder, but I've been at too many white wine parties with literary writers who are busy trashing other literary writers to think it's all imagination. The only less-than-collegial conversations I've heard at crime fiction gatherings have been about Amazon vs. traditional publishers, and James Patterson. Maybe we don't drink enough white wine!