Friday, June 21, 2013

It's Not the Who, It's The What

By Sue Ann Jaffarian

I have a confession: I seldom read cozies. You know, those light hearted, sweet mysteries spawned by Agatha Christie's legacy.  It's not that I don't like them, and there are many excellent ones out there, but they are too much like my own mystery series and I'm afraid of my voice being tainted by another author's voice. And since I write a couple of books a year, I seldom have down time in which to squeeze in some of those books for fun.

I write humorous, light mysteries. My Ghost of Granny Apples mysteries are true cozies in that there is no sex or violence on the page. My Odelia Grey series is a bit edgier with some sex and violence and adult themes.  In the mystery world, Odelia is usually labeled "soft boiled." Neither are graphic or hard hitting. It would be very easy for ideas and themes to leach into my spongy brain as I read similar work.  It’s the same reason I never read ghost mysteries or vampire books. While I did read a few ghost novels prior to penning the Granny Apples series, they were very few and very different from the idea I had for my own series. I still have never read a vampire novel. Never. I am a virgin in that regard save for my own fang-based books. 

Considering how few "cozies" I've actually read, it's a mystery to me that I manage to write them and write them well. But there you have it.

Also, in my personal reading I generally prefer harder mysteries and general fiction. And although I often read intense fiction, I despise gratuitous violence and sex. If I feel an author has slipped it in purely for shock or market value and not to move along the story, it can ruin the book for me. In my opinion, it’s a cheap shot. A hack habit. I don’t mind it if it’s a necessary part of character development and plot.

Another confession: I am always miffed when I’m buying a book or speaking to another author and they caution me saying, “You won’t like it. It’s hard and edgy.”  This happens to me all the time and even as recently as a few weeks ago.  

Well #*%@ the fiction police.  (How’s that for a cozy answer?)

What gives you the freaking right to decide what I will like or not like based solely on what I write? Or what you think I write, because I doubt you’ve read my books based on your smug and condescending attitude.  

Fellow authors, if you say something like that to me I guarantee I will not purchase and read your book, and not because I’m some senior delicate flower who writes lighter fiction.

Okay, rant over. We are now returned to our regularly scheduled program.


Chris said...

The flip-side for folks like me is, it's assumed we don't like light stuff. That drives me crazy. If Westlake can write Dortmunder AND Parker, why the heck can't I read at least that widely?

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Exactly, Chris! A well-written book is a well-written book.

Catriona McPherson said...

Ha-ha! The fiction police! I had an encounter at Bouchercon with a member of their outreach service who said "What do you write? Is it dark?". I said no. He said "Huh, well it's not for me then. But you should read mine." And pulled a business card out of his pocket.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Catriona, I have had similar things to happen to me. One guy actually shoved his promo material for his first book in my hand after telling me he "wouldn't be caught dead reading" what I write. While he watched, I tore his material up and threw it away.

Robin Spano said...

Oh yes. Rant on. And $%&@ those judgmental non-reciprocating self-promoters.

(Though I did go through an apologetic phase with my own work when it landed in the hands of a LOT of readers all at once who didn't like 300 reviews on Barnes & Noble complaining about swearing and sexual innuendo. For a while after that I would warn people before they read, but now I'm back to my regularly scheduled irreverence.)

Reece said...

Thanks, Sue Ann! Nothing like a bracing rant on a Friday morning! I also don't get why so many readers and writers seem to pledge allegiance to a particular sub-genre. I think it's more fun to mix it up a little.

Catriona McPherson said...

It always cracks me up when people don't mind murder but object to sex.

BWKniser said...

Sue Ann--
Thanks for adding "soft boiled" to my lexicon of writing-related terms. Your post also takes up an interesting topic: the assumptions made about writers, based on what we write. Of course, who can blame others for coming to conclusions, based on what a writer devotes her/his creative energies to? Still, it's depressing.
Back to "soft boiled." I have not known how to characterize my new mystery THE ANYTHING GOES GIRL, just out this wee as a Kindle ebook. No, it's not a cosy, no, it's not detective fiction, exactly. I think I now do know, thanks to you. Murder, yes. A little sex, yes--but no pulverized aortas spewing gouts of blood, easy on the dismemberment angle, etc.
Thanks again. I see myself making valuable use of "soft boiled."