Tuesday, June 18, 2024

wherefore art thou Ideal Reader

 Wherefore art thou Ideal Reader?

Tell us about your ideal reader. For whom do you write and why don’t they ever leave reviews or tell you how you’re doing?


I can’t answer why reviewers don’t leave reviews. I’m convinced that readers either think reviews don’t matter (THEY DO), or they feel that they can’t write one well. Which leaves me and my fellow authors at the mercy of those who do take the time to leave a few words, for which we are grateful. And then there are the trolls who find that one typo in 300 pages. Rather than their accepting that gremlins exist, they enjoy flogging us writers in public for crimes against language and civilization.


As for an Ideal Reader, I don’t know. I write to explore what I know and have experienced, and to learn what I don’t know about myself and the world around me. While I strive to tell a story and entertain readers, I write for myself. The reader eavesdrops on a private conversation in a public place, but if I had to imagine an Ideal Reader, he or she must:


·      Know history, geography, and culture(s); and

·      They have to think about what is said and not said on the page, meaning I don’t spoon-feed the reader. I don’t expect my readers to be passive.


I’m the author of three series. The Roma Series* bounces back and forth between the US and different parts of Italy, and the main character is Bianca, a driven and analytical forensic accountant with ‘issues.’ She is on the run from a clandestine US agency. The Company Files** is about the early days of the CIA. The Shane Cleary Mysteries series is set in 1970s Boston. All three series share the common theme of history. A crime is the pretense to every novel, but all my stories are about friendships, about love and trust.


The Company Files illustrates some of the serious blunders and growing pains of the intelligence agency. My Ideal Reader would wonder, if an agency could do ‘that’ then, imagine what it can do now. To me, the minds of Allen W. Dulles and Edward Bernays are far more sinister than Hannibal Lecter.


I love Italy, the language, and the country’s history. Unfortunately, for most Americans, their idea of what is ‘Italian’ is limited to the immigrant culture of southern Italy that came to the US between 1880 to 1920, so the Italy they encounter in my series might disorient them. What they’ll experience is based on a good knowledge of contemporary Italy and research.


There is the unfortunate stereotype that anything Italian must be mafia. In the six books that comprise my Roma Series, two of the books, a collection of five novellas in Five Before Rome and Turning to Stone, deal with the mafias, Sicilian and Neapolitan. The rest present variants of white-collar crime, be it money laundering, archaeological theft, or Big Pharma. In Threading the Needle, I introduce readers to the ‘Strategy of Tension,’ a concerted effort on the part of the US government and its allies to destabilize the only viable Communist party in western Europe through a series of assassinations and terrorist attacks. Postwar Italy was caught between the anvil that was the US and allies, and the hammer of the Soviet Union with its own brand of ‘Red Terrorism.’ My Ideal Reader would compare and contrast cultures, and how we deal with the darker side of international politics.  


Real events inspired the plots in the Shane Cleary Mysteries. The murder of a Harvard student in the Combat Zone (Hush Hush). Arson for-profit that entailed systemic corruption in Boston (Symphony Road). Figures in organized crime, while they populate the Shane novels, are tangential to the stories, but accurate to the era. Ditto for the Company Files because the CIA did work hand-in-glove with organized crime, when it suited the US government.


My Ideal Reader would question what he or she had been taught or told by their teachers and the media. In confronting a culture not their own, they interrogate their assumptions about geopolitics, about the ‘social contract’ between the individual and their government. As witnesses to history, they’ll see how far American society has come, and how far we have to go.


I use humor to offset some of the darkness, so my Ideal Reader must have a sense of humor. I happen to find humor the most difficult to write. There is romance in all three series. Violence occurs, often implied and never gratuitous. At every turn, my Reader will see that I respect diversity and don’t succumb to stereotypes. Women are prominent in each series, yet, for better or worse, they are true to societal norms, though they are fierce and independent. Queer characters are present in the Company Files and the Shane Cleary Mysteries.


My Ideal Readers would see that I confront thorny and relevant issues. In the Roma Series, readers don’t hear social issues discussed the way they are here in the US, but they’ll see a different face to the same problems. Immigrants and regional prejudices and stereotypes are issues in Italy. Northern Italy and southern Italy are two antagonists, each half distrustful of the other because of their histories. My reader would see that, despite that the Company Files series is set in the past sexuality, race, and antisemitism were alive and well. With Shane Cleary, a lot depends on the age of the reader. A reader in his fifties or sixties will see how cynical the 70s were because the idealism of the Sixties, whether it was the Kennedy brothers, Hippies, or activism on college campuses, died. They remember that Vietnam was our first defeat as a nation, and our role as the superpower was not secure. A younger reader may encounter history they never knew.


I’ve said numerous times in interviews that Americans don’t know their own history or it is highly selective, if not chauvinistic. My Ideal Reader is by default intellectually curious and takes a contrarian perspective to popular narratives. An Ideal Reader may agree with me that the real casualty to Cancel Culture is not the author’s failure to include DEI but the erasure of individual and collective histories.


*The Roma Series is out of print, rights reverted, but fate unknown.

**Level Best Books will reissue the Company Files


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