Sunday, April 13, 2014

OOPS! The Wrong Things to Say to Mystery Readers

So Isobel Allende caused a bit of a stir earlier this year by aiming slighting words at mysteries as she was promoting her first foray into the genre—sort of. I’m not going to get into the whole controversy, but despite a bookseller sending back her autographed copies to the publisher and the reported outrage of mystery readers and writers, Ripper seems to be selling quite well. Of course if you’re going to raise a controversy regarding books, it’s a good idea to do it on National Public Radio since their audience is filled with people who buy books.

I’ve found that many writers can get themselves into trouble as they move from writing to talking, especially when they free associate about mysteries. At a Bouchercon years ago, a writer on a panel announced herself as winner of some book award for her first mystery. The panel went on pleasantly enough. It was the Q&A where it all went wrong. Someone in the audience asked the new award winner what advice she would have for aspiring mystery writers.

“Well, she offered, “can I just say I don’t read mysteries; I don’t like them. Somebody giving out awards decided my book was a mystery. So I got invited to this conference.”

The audience was quiet. And may I say I do not remember what the panel title was, but she repeated the phrase I’ve grown to loathe: “I don’t know why I’m on this panel.”

I wanted to rise from my seat and yell: “You’re on the panel so you can promote your book, but you’ve just blown that opportunity by telling a room full of people who have paid significant money to hear mysteries discussed that you don’t like the genre. Nice work!”

Reginald Hill, whom I still miss, was once on a panel with John Banville/ Benjamin Black. John Banville, the literary novelist, talked about how much easier he had it as Benjamin Black, mystery writer. “Banville produces 200 words a day; Black, 2000.”

Hill responded, “Yes, when I get up in the morning I say to my wife, 'What should I do today? Write a Booker prize winning literary novel or a best selling mystery?’”

Mystery writers write some of the best novels around today; there just happens to be a dead body at some point in the plot.

If you doubt me, try Reginald Hill’s Death’s Jest Book.

© 2014 Stephanie Patterson


  1. Hard to believe that woman actually said that in a public panel!!! But, people often shoot themselves in the mouth!!! tjs

  2. Good grief. Who would ever ask her to "panel" again. Funny and sad. Thanks for the heads up on Hill's book, Stephanie. Enjoyed your post here today.