Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Respect for the reader

I am not a master of mysteries. With each book, I learn more about plotting, characterization, spinning out the strands that will keep readers involved. But I love mysteries, and I am grateful for the interest and support of the readers who have encouraged and maybe even enjoyed my fledgling efforts.

That's why I was so ticked off when I opened Entertainment Weekly and read the following from Dennis Lehane, talking about mysteries: ''I was never comfortable with them anyway. I'd be writing these friggin' whodunits,'' he laughs, getting excited, ''and I could care less. I wanna tell everybody on page 2, he killed so-and-so, he done it! If you look at my books in that regard — and I'll be 100 percent honest about my flaws — you can see how I was whipping out the kitchen sink just to obscure s---, like the identity of the serial killer or whatever, and that's why the books got so labyrinthian in the last 100 pages.''

Lehane, for those who don't know, just published a non-mystery, an E.L. Doctorow-style historical epic called "The Given Day." I'm happy for him. But to launch his new venture, he has stirred up the whole genre war issue (are mysteries literature?, etc.) and it has given me a headache. I understand trying to drum up attention, but this simply shows a lack of respect for the reader (never mind the genre). I've never been a fan of Lehane, and after reading this I'm even less inclined to try his so-called "serious" fiction. If you don't love the genre – and respect the readers – you shouldn't have been writing mysteries. Shame on you, Dennis.

8 comments:

Mack said...

With an attitude like that Lehane can forget about me reading any of his books. It makes me appreciate posts like this one on Declan Burke's blog even more.
http://tinyurl.com/5oah45

Clea Simon said...

Thanks for the link.

That does make me want to go on about the bias against cozies (character-driven mysteries are perceived as softer/more feminine/less serious than plot-driven ones). But glad to see other folks are discussing the issue.

Marlyn said...

I thought Lehane's new book sounded interesting, but after reading that, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to bother with it.

Mack said...

I think it is silly to be biased against a genre (or is it sub-genre). Not like, sure. Dismissive, no.

Personally, I try to read across the spectrum though I lean toward hard-boiled. I just finished the Adrian McKinty Dead trilogy but I also enjoy your Theda Krakow novels quite a bit.

Do you consider the Theda Krakow series cozies? I wouldn't put them there myself.

nbm said...

With all due respect (always a fatal preliminary), I think you're reading "genre wars" into this. He's saying something about his own attitude, which was divided against itself -- don't you find that psychologically interesting? I do. He isn't saying that no one is allowed to write whodunnits or that they're worthless. (At least not in the bit you've excerpted.)

Mack said...

nbm,

I didn't interpret the excerpt as disrespecting the entire crime fiction genre and its readers. When an author says "..I was whipping out the kitchen sink just to obscure s---, like the identity of the serial killer or whatever, and that's why the books got so labyrinthian in the last 100 pages" that doesn't show a lot of respect by that particular author toward his readers. His attitude is interesting since he worked on The Wire which is pretty hardcore crime.

As far as cozies being taken less seriously, I'll leave that topic to Clea since it is one she feels strongly about and she is closer to the subject. For myself, I wish there was a lot more critical evaluation of crime fiction and all of its sub-genres.

Clea Simon said...

NBM = I didn't think he was dissing mysteries in general, although his comments are reviving the genre wars among critics and bloggers. What bothered me is that he is now saying that he didn't like the books or the style he was writing as he wrote it -- which, to me, shows a lack of respect for his readers.

And thank you, Mack. I had originally thought of my Theda mysteries in the original Agatha Christie sense (amateur sleuth, contained community, not much blood). But I'm happy with them being called "traditional," too. Basically, I just try to write the kind of books I like to read and can write (I like to read some pretty hard stuff, too, but can't seem to write it - Denise Mina, Robert WIlson, etc.)

Clea Simon said...

And, thanks again, Mack: a defense/discussion of cozies is probably overdue. I'll work one up...