By Jay Stringer
These days I aim to be a ray of positive sunshine. I learn from Beau's example. Build people up. Share the things you like. Carry around a murderous mannequin. But the old demons are in there, still wanting to come out and growl. So I better put them to good use.
Here today is a list of crime fiction talking points I don't give a shit about. Things that seem to crop up on the regular on the socials, and burn a hole in the conversations. I'm going to make this an airing of the grievances thing. What talking points do you no longer give a shit about? What should we cleanse from the timeline?
1. "Transcending the genre."
Straight in with the curve here. You think I'm going to say how sick I am with reviewers or haughty writers saying a book transcends the genre. Nope. I'm saying I don't give a shit when people use that phrase. Who cares? Really? Do you? Really?
Are we that fragile in our own confidence and our own genre that someone using a trite old phrase can send us into a tailspin of twitter outrage?
Here's the thing. Reviews have tropes. Same as crime fiction. Sometimes we subvert the tropes, sometimes we play to them, sometimes we ignore them. But they're there. And reviews are the same. Reviewers are taking time out of their day to tell the world about books. And they usually only have a small word count to play with. Sometimes you have someone knocked unconscious as a way out of a stalling chapter, sometimes a reviewer needs to reach for an established old phrase. No big whoop.
But also, its often meant as praise. They're saying the book is good. They're saying the book is literature. And....aren't we all, really, aiming to write literature? If you see someone else being said to transcend the genre as a slight on you, then I suggest the problem is not with the reviewer.
I know why I got into crime fiction. I know why I stay in crime fiction. And I know what my strengths and weaknesses are as a writer. And nothing a reviewer says about somebody else's book is going to change any of that.
2. "Social Fiction."
There's a scene in the movie Seven Psychopaths when Colin Farrell's screenwriter is called on his poor handling of female characters. He pauses, thinks it over, and says that what he's really trying to say is that it's a difficult world for women. It is, the other person agrees, but most of the women they know can still string a sentence together.
Here's the thing. I'm exceptionally guilty of throwing the 'social fiction' tag around. Go back over a decade to when this here website started, and I was loud and leading the charge. Crime fiction is social fiction. Crime fiction reveals truth. Crime fiction shows us how the world is.
Yeah, yeah yeah.
I mean...I still believe that. But I think the writers who are genuinely doing all of that don't go round shouting about how they're doing it. As the genre finally opens up to new and diverse voices, we're starting to see more and more truths.
But I'm am so fucking done with a parade of middle-aged leather-jacketed white men using the "social fiction" phrase as a get-out-of-jail-free card when they're called on being sexist, racist, homophobic, or just plain nasty. You're telling on yourself. You're not writing the world the way it is, you're writing the world the way you see it.
3. Noir vs Cozy.
WE ARE AT WAR, PEOPLE. The cozies hate the noirs. And the Noirs hate the cozies. And the cozies are making nice with the historicals to bring them onside. IT'S WAR.
Except...none of that is real. Cozy writers don't hate noir writers. And, in my experience, most cozy writers can actually drink noir writers under the table. There's no issue there, no grudge, no problem. We ARE ALL FUCKING CRIME WRITERS. The only people keeping this going are noir writers, who seem to need to exist in some permanent state of "nobody likes us and we don't care" in order to validate their self-worth.
And....combining points 3 and 1.....
5. "NOBODY LIKES US."
You don't have to go far at a crime fiction convention or festival to find someone complaining that crime fiction is looked down on. That the literary world are all snobs about our genre. That we just can't get a break, just can't be taken seriously. Often, and most amusingly, this complaint will come from someone who regularly sells over fifty thousand copies a year, gets five-to-six figure deals, and has possibly even paid off a mortgage with the proceeds of crime fiction.
Just stop it, will you?
Genre fiction in general is what keeps the publishing industry afloat, and crime fiction is often -in whatever form the popular version of it takes at any given moment- filling out a number of spaces in the bestseller lists. Stop pretending like there is some huge thing pushing down on you.
There are people who have genuine hurdles to overcome in order to even get a seat at the table. People who have systemic issues holding them down. People who can't even keep a seat at the crime fiction table for more than one or two book deals. And to hear your complaints that "people just don't like my genre" while all of that is going on is, frankly, insulting.
Truth time: The highest contract I received was for 12,000 dollars, and that was for two books. And I don't say this to complain. I was very happy to receive 6,000 for a book, and I had many friends at the time who were on fractions of that. But to hear people who are on multiples of my 6Kx2 -and more importantly, know they will remain on that with future contracts for books they haven't written yet- complaining that they don't get taken seriously is simply ridiculous. Look, if you want the praise that gets heaped on literary books, often with lower advances and lower sales, then go write a literary book. If you pick a lane, don't complain about not being in the other lane.
Why do we need to play these games? Why do we need to play these games while there are so many people having to fight to even get in to our genre?