Saturday, April 30, 2011

Entry "Drugs" for New Mystery Readers

Scott D. Parker

There's been talk around here recently about preaching to the choir. That is, we mystery bloggers and readers, we talk amongst ourselves, we get passionate about books and authors, we attend conventions, and all sorts of other things. When I read The Sherlockian by Graham Moore, one of the co-stars comments on the nature of the Baker Street Irregulars and their particular kind of fandom. As a member of the Star Wars Generation, I have no room to point fingers.

Are we normal? Are we out of the mainstream?

This question arose for me this week when one of my favorite American Idol contestants, Casey Abrams, was voted off. For those who don't know or care (which was me the previous nine seasons), Abrams is a very talented multi-instrumentalist who has been compared to Norah Jones by one of the judges. The mainstream public would rarely buy a jazz album, but, somehow, Jones's debut rocked the charts. It's one of those moments when I think "Now, other people can hear the type of music I like." I knew Abrams was not going to win this particular contest because he's just not mainstream enough. However, when you heard the judges and other industry people talk about him, it made you realize that people in the music business know their type of talent when they see it. To them, it makes no difference if America "gets it" or not.

As I said, I knew Abrams was never going to win American Idol (personally, I'm pulling for hard rocker James Durbin), but I was thrilled to see him go as far as he did and show the viewers his style of music. If a few more people out there decide to browse the jazz or blues section of the iTunes music store, Abrams has done a good deed.

We mystery folk silo ourselves within our own particular kingdom. We bestow awards that enhance the nature of what we do. I like that and believe it is necessary for the sustainability of the mystery genre. We each have our favorite author and easily share it with other mystery readers. But, chances are, we may not share that book with a friend who is more mainstream, a friend who browses for mystery novels at the grocery store. I think you know which authors I'm referring to: Patterson, Coben, Connelly, Cornwell, Roberts/Robb.

Now, I wrote those names from my memory and there some in this readership that don't like some of these authors because they are mainstream. Fair enough, but I'll counter with a simple question: why? Why is it bad that Patterson churns out thrillers like nobody else? Why is it bad that J.D. Robb does her things but (based on the one I've read) doesn't get the SF part right? Is it just a good story? And isn't that enough?

How many times have you recommended The Da Vinci Code to someone? I thoroughly enjoyed the ride that book gave me. The writer part of me tore it apart, but, then, I'm a writer and that's the curse/gift I have. It' still a good book.

Here's the thing the SF/Fantasy community does alot: make a list of entry-level books. The SFF community knows that a reader just showing interest in science fiction isn't going to pick up Dune, The Lord of the Rings, or just about anything by Stephen Baxter. They are going to start with their favorite Star Trek book, follow it up with a classic by Asimov or Bradbury, and then, and only then, suggest something mind-blowing like China Mieville or Paolo Bacigalupi. You see, the SF devotee eases a newbie into the genre until the hook is set.

How might you do that for the mystery genre?

Quote of the Week: "No matter how good you may think you are at something the only true path to honestly calling yourself a professional is time, patience, and an unwavering knowledge and precision within your craft. It doesnít matter how many toys you have around to manipulate your images." -- John Carey (from a blog post entitled "When Less is More is More Than Less" (via Minimal Mac)

In this day and age, we have so much stuff. And we writers sometimes thing we need a lot of stuff to create our stories. It's something I've struggled with, and this quote, while ostensibly relating to Mr. Carey's photography, applies to us writers, too.

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