I’ve always supported women crime writers, and I’ve always read them. From the women who wrote the children’s mysteries for Scholastic (Mary C. Jane and Phyllis A. Whitney, to name two) through the Agatha Christie canon (which essentially includes every subgenre of mystery to come, from serial killers to cozies to spy novels to romantic suspense to Gothic to locked rooms to private eyes to amateur sleuths to unreliable narrators–you get the picture. An argument can be made that And Then There Were None was the original Friday the 13th; a group of people stranded somewhere being targeted by a killer, who goes through them all systematically), moving on eventually to Victoria Holt and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy Eden and Mary Stewart, who in turn were followed by Grafton, Paretsky, and Muller…terrific stories and series and stand alones by such terrific writers as Nancy Pickard, Lia Matera, S. J. Rozan, Laura Lippman…the list of women crime writers I love is insanely lengthy, and there isn’t any way that I could possibly, successfully, sit down and make a list of them all without forgetting so many, many others who don’t deserve to be forgotten or left off.
Women are currently some of the top writers in our field–Megan Abbott, Alison Gaylin, Lori Rader-Day, Jamie Mason, Lisa Unger, Catriona McPherson, Wendy Corsi Staub, Carol Goodman, Gillian Flynn, Lori Roy, Alafair Burke…again, the list could go on forever and I would always manage to forget someone. There’s not, after all, enough time for me to ever read everything I want to read, and there’s fantastic new work being published all the time. And I am finding new to me writers all the time, that I greatly enjoy.
The reason I am even bringing this up is twofold; recently, there was an article in The Writer that acted like women crime writers essentially don’t exist (I don’t think, ultimately, the piece was mean-spirited or this was actually deliberate; the problem was the author of the piece used the angle that there were no women being written accurately, with nuance, in crime fiction today; she simply failed to qualify her thesis by adding by men. Had she done this, her piece–about how Lee Child and Paul Doiron have evolved and are now writing complex, believable women characters–probably would have been applauded rather than the subject of some outrage), and then, yesterday, Sisters in Crime president Sherry Harris wrote a blistering response to the almost non-stop mockage the cozy mysteries–which are kind of the backbone of our genre–are almost always subject to from the non-cozy writers in our genre.
I personally have never understood why some writers are so condescending and rude about any genre, to be honest. Romance novels aren’t for me, really, but I certainly am not contemptuous of romance novels, or the genre as a whole. Writing, and getting published, and maintaining a career as a writer, is fucking hard; I would daresay that writing romance novels would be incredibly difficult. There are the constraints of the formula and the required HEA (happily ever after) ending; you try to make a formula fresh and new and interesting to readers who read dozens of novels a year and are looking for something fresh, that will move them, will keep them reading, and leave them wanting more of your work.
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
I hear cozies dismissed and not taken seriously all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. And I don’t understand it. Sure, there are terrible cozies. There are also terrible noirs, terrible private eye novels, terrible police procedurals, terrible psychological thrillers, etc.; not every book in every style of mystery–or writing, for that matter–is good, and not every one is bad. And cozies are, quite frankly, incredibly hard to write. They have to be light, they have to be funny (and no matter how easy it looks–writing funny is fucking hard), and there have to be a lot of suspects and clues and red herrings and so forth. Cozies are also often stories about communities–whether it’s the people who work at a spice shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market (Leslie Budewitz) or the extended friends-and-family of the Langslow clan in Caerphilly, Virginia (Donna Andrews) or those who live in an art deco Fort Lauderdale apartment complex that used to be a motel (Elaine Viets)–and again, this is incredibly difficult to do, let alone do every goddamned year, managing to keep the stories and characters fresh and new, as well as juggling the need for a plot against the need to include the regular cast members the readers have come to love over the years.
For example, there are characters in the Scotty universe that have kind of dropped away as the years and the series have progressed; every time I write a new Scotty I think, I really need to include David in here somehow and yet it never seems to work. (David was Scotty’s best friend in the first three books; a character I genuinely liked and loved writing about…but in the after-Katrina books, having to juggle Scotty’s two partners and his family grew ever more difficult and David just kind of fell to the wayside.)
I always say that cozies aren’t given the respect they deserve for the same reason romance novels aren’t, either; they are seen as books by women about women for women, and therefore couldn’t possibly be as important as the testosterone driven he-man crime novels men write. Even the non-cozy crime novels written by women don’t get the same respect as those by men–its the reason why Sisters in Crime exists, the Malice Domestic conference, and the Agatha Awards.
And let’s face it. Scotty might be a licensed private eye, but his adventures are more cozy than hard-boiled.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.