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The Wrong Title

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Let’s put it this way:  a day always starts off a good one when it takes me this long to get around to the blog.

The blog is always what I do last, after I do the work somebody is going to pay me for, and when that work gets difficult and conflicted, I tend to give up on it before I get incredibly conflicted about the work and then can’t do anything with it for several days.

 But today things went well, and that included the fact that I dumped nearly 1200 words I’d been unhappy about since yesterday, when things did not go well.

I am, it seems, something of a weak sister about my production for the day.  Most of the younger writers I meet seem to be doing at least 1800 words, and many of  them seem to be doing 3000.  They post their totals on FB and bemoan the days when they do only 1200, which is what I do when I’m really rolling along.

This is not, as far as I can tell, a problem that’s arrived with age.  I was writing at about the same pace in 1984, when I first started writing Gregor.

On the other hand, this is also not an absolute.  One of the best books I ever wrote–Precious Blood, the second in the Gregor series–I wrote in 30 days flat, in a sort of white heat that would not quit.

That was even more remarkable than it sounds at the moment, because Matt was only a year old, and the word for Matt as a baby was: Awake.

White heat marathons, though, are unusual in my writing life.  With fiction, I seem to be the poster child for Slow and Steady Wins The Race.

But things have changed in all this, as I’ve gotten older.

One of those things is, oddly enough, that I have a lot less self confidence about my writing, and I’ve reached about zero self confidence about my ability to understand why books sell.

Things have changed so much in the last fifteen or twenty years that I no longer recognize the field.

What’s worse, I have no idea how long it’s been going on. 

When  I started out, I used to feel that mystery writers and mystery readers had a compact of sorts.  Mystery readers wanted certain kinds of things in their books.

For fair play traditionals, that meant a good puzzle plus writing that wasn’t jarringly ungrammatical or amateurish plus good characters who were both plausible and inherently interesting.

Do all those things and you wouldn’t necessarily be a best seller, but you’d do well enough and solidly year after year, and you’d even get a little respect.

Well, I do well enough and solidly, I suppose, and my reviews sometimes sound like hagiographies.  and I seem to have a small but solid core of readers who want everything I do.

But somehow, the whole thing seems wrong lately. 

Part of it is the emergence, in mystery fandom, of what I’ve always thought of as the “romance reader paradigm.”

Back in the early 1980s, I did some work on a romance line, and in the process went to a few romance conventions, and what always struck me at the time was just how completely awful romance readers were to the authors they said they enjoyed.

The attitude seemed to be: we made you, we can unmake you, you’d damned well better give us what we want.

It was as if the writers were the worst kinds of hacks, whose only function was to serve up the particulars on demand.

I remember thinking how much better off I was in  mysteries, where the fans tended to treat writers like…writers.

There are now plenty of mystery fans who treat mystery writers the way those romance fans at the conventions treated romance writers. 

Most of them don’t read Gregor, so I don’t actually come across them very often, but every once and a while one of them will pick up a book, and then the mail will start:

Politics has no business in fiction.  Novels shouldn’t mention politics at all.

What was all that stupid stuff about the guy cutting off his own leg to save his dog?  You don’t need stupid stuff like that.  Books are supposed to be fun!

I won’t even begin to go into the number of e mails I get demanding to know who I think I am  using all those big words.

I’m not saying all mystery fans are like that.  I get good mail as well as bad, and some of it even teaches me something.

But there seems to be more and more of this other stuff every year, and there is no doubt that the cozy-as-fluffy-train-wreck sort of story is selling like crazy.

Seriously, if you want to make money writing traditional mysteries these days, do what I suggested before:  tie your corpse upside down to the town church steeple with a dead pelican in his mouth, and don’t worry for a moment that you don’t have an explanation for it that makes any sense. Nobody will care.

Or, rather, lots of people will care–because they’ll love it.

One of the complaints I get now and then is that I don’t really know how to write a modern mystery book–nothing much happens in my stories.

Of course, by the end of any one of my novels you’ve go a minimum of two people dead and at least two others whose private lives have crashed and burned or sometimes even taken.

But you know, what the hell.

Unfortunately, the other end of the field doesn’t make me happy either.


Not high on the genre today.

Wondering if those corpses on steeples mean that romance fans followed romance writers when they changed fields–or if the genre is just plain dead.

Written by janeh

July 25th, 2013 at 9:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'The Wrong Title'

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  1. Well, what can I say? My whole life there have been lots of people faster, stronger and better looking–and some of them smarter and better read. If you’re writing at your own best mix of speed and quality, you can’t beat yourself up too badly that someone else has a faster pace. If you’re NOT working at your best mix, you have a problem even if you’re the fastest keyboard on the planet.
    I would also suggest that self-reported word counts are not subject to independent verification.

    State of the genre is a different matter. I think there is more of a “consumer mentality” over my lifetime, in the sense that people are less passive admirers of writers and artists than was earlier the case. They pay money, and they expect people to provide what they want for it. As for what they want–I’m baffled. I understand romance as Heyer, Loring, Turnbull and Crusie understand romance–but three of them are dead, and some of what I find on the romance shelves I don’t understand at all. I understand the mystery as practiced by Stout, Tey, Heyer and Papazoglou–but again, three of the four are dead, and there are things on the Mystery shelves I don’t understand at all. Don’t get me started on science fiction, let alone literary mainstream.

    But a well-written novel or short story is a work of art, and a work of art doesn’t need to justify itself by being like its contemporaries. After a while the good stuff will still be there, and only scholars will remember the hackwork contemporaries. Do the best you can in your own sight, and let the rest go hang.


    25 Jul 13 at 1:48 pm

  2. Or, in other immortal words:

    This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.
    Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!


    25 Jul 13 at 8:51 pm

  3. Mique, don’t go there. You’ll start quoting “If” soon.


    26 Jul 13 at 7:42 am

  4. :-)


    26 Jul 13 at 11:17 am

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