Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Name of the Prose

Business - Overheard at Bouchercon in Florida last month: "I don't write series *or* standalones; I write books." Do you love/hate/mind/notice/use/ignore the publishers' and booksellers' classifications of your work?

by Catriona

When I first met my good friend Eileen Rendahl (aka Lillian Bell, Kristi Abbott, and Eileen Carr) eight years ago, we were mutually intimidated. She hated me before she even clapped eyes on me because I was European and she thought I'd be toffee-nosed (she might not have used that exact phrase) and I was dumbstruck by the answer she gave to my first question.

"What do you write?" I asked.
"Urban fantasy, romantic suspense and chick lit," she replied, revealing that not only did she write in three genres but she knew what they were.

My elevator pitch for my first book was "It's about some people". 

We're over it now.
I always knew I was writing crime fiction and was happy proud to be included in the venerable list of Scottish crimewriters: Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, William McIlvanney, Val McDermid  . . . My little country punches far above its weight. It took a while to be able to call myself a mystery author with the same confidence, but now I'm completely bilingual.

Inside the genre, things were always less certain. If someone unconnected to publishing asks you what you write, I think it's better to name some names and set yourself among them than to bamboozle with sub-sub-sub genre titles. So I'll say "Do you like Dorothy L Sayers? You might like Dandy Gilver." Or "Do you like Janet Evanovich? You might like Lexy Campbell."

But if someone from the publishing and writing world asks what you write, it's a bit daft not to know and it's a wee bit precious to make out that your work defies classification, isn't it? I'd be nervous of claiming wild originality for anything I wrote in case there was a well-known and identical book that I'd somehow not heard of.  Like that time I wrote a time-travel love story and thought surely no one . . . then Audrey Niffenegger published The Time Traveller's Wife. (I've still not read it because I'm still sulking.)

If I was the boss of all this - and I'm not; I'm barely the boss of me - I'd say Dandy Gilver was in the tradition of the presposterous 1930s detective genre. That should be a real category.

And I'd say Lexy Campbell and the Last Ditch were crime capers. I much prefer that title to "humourous mysteries" because "humourous mysteries" is such a humourless expression.

When it comes to the standalones I can't improve on what I do call them, when forced to. "They're those crime suspense domestic noir psychological thriller things. You know the ones I mean." And guess what. People usually do.

my new mystery, coming later this month

My new crime novel, also coming later this month


Terry said...

So great to see a light-hearted approach (God forbid I'd call it humorous) to this subject.

Eileen said...

It's been 8 years? Man, it's gone by fast. I'm so glad you weren't the least bit toffee-nosed (I figured out what that meant through context so there was only a second of me looking at my screen with my head cocked at an angle). Can't wait for Go to My Grave!

Cathy Ace said...

"...crime suspense domestic noir psychological thriller things..." yep, that's a REAL thing! (Commenting as a reader.) And thanks for writing them :-)

Becky said...

My other concern with saying I write humorous mysteries is that it’s a tad presumptuous. I mean, what if they’re not funny? Won’t I look stupid...

Sarah Glenn said...

We have an author that's publishing a story with our micropress. "Presposterous 1930s detective genre" would suit it perfectly. See. you created a new genre and people are already flocking to it!