Friday, February 07, 2014

A Fan of Crime Fiction Reacts and A Few Writer Opportunities

Manuel Ramos

Crime Fiction Tongue-In-Cheek?

Isabel Allende's latest novel is Ripper (HarperCollins). The publisher says that "Isabel Allende—the New York Times bestselling author whose books, including Maya’s Notebook, Island Beneath the Sea, and Zorro, have sold more than 57 million copies around the world—demonstrates her remarkable literary versatility with Ripper, an atmospheric, fast-paced mystery involving a brilliant teenage sleuth who must unmask a serial killer in San Francisco." I haven't read the book so this isn't a review. What I want to comment on is a remarkable interview Ms. Allende gave to NPR that was broadcast on January 29, 2014. To begin, here are a few quotes from the interview (you can listen to the entire broadcast at this link): 

Arun Rath (interviewer):  What led you to a thriller?

Allende:  It wasn't my idea. In 2011, I announced that I was going to retire, and my agent panicked. So she says: No, no, no. You have to write a book with your husband. My husband is a writer of crime novels. His name is William Gordon. And so I had to accommodate to his style because that what's he writes.

Rath:   Were there any, you know, the conventions of this form that you found especially difficult to adapt to or anything that you just had to rework to fit yourself?

Allende: Well, the book is tongue in cheek. It's very ironic. And I'm not a fan of mysteries. So to prepare for this experience of writing a mystery, I started reading the most successful ones in the market in 2012. And that was the Scandinavians - Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo and that kind of people. And I realized that I cannot write that kind of book. It's too gruesome, too violent, too dark. There's no redemption there. And the characters are just awful, bad people - very entertaining, but really bad people. So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke. It's tongue in cheek. My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a young 16-year-old nerd. My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer and so forth.

I should point out that the book has received fairly good reviews and it looks like Ms. Allende's foray into the mystery field will be a success. The New York Times, Booklist, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal gave the book thumbs up.

But, not all is calm in these new waters. The NPR review, run the same day as the interview, was anything but glowing, although, overall, it was a positive review. The reviewer, Amal El-Mohtar, concludes that the book has two major missteps, and finishes with these words that most likely won't show up on the jacket of future editions: "My first reading of Allende feels somewhat like having been introduced to a celebrated ballerina in a bowling alley; she may not be landing strikes with each throw, but her grace and control while doing so speak volumes about her other skills." In other words, crime fiction may not be Allende's forte, and, in fact, the reviewer says that he could have enjoyed the novel without the crime -- "I would go so far as to say the crime plot was unnecessary to the novel's effect; I would happily have read a book that was purely focused on the interlocking lives of these characters and their respective arcs."

What is most perplexing, in my view, is her statement that she's not a fan of mystery novels. The obvious question is, "Why write a mystery if you don't like mysteries?"  Her answer appears to be that she wrote the book because, in her words, her agent panicked when the author announced her retirement. Allende admits that Ripper is a tongue-in-cheek joke, a response to her agent's panic. My cynicism may be on overload, but this all sounds a bit condescending.

Additionally, Allende paints the mystery genre with a very broad but ultimately bristle-less brush. She didn't like the Scandinavian authors, even though they were the "most successful," and she realized that she can't be as dark or gritty as these authors, so she apparently believes she has invented a new approach to crime fiction. Her sleuth is a young nerd; no promiscuous beauty, handsome detective, or policeman hero. And with those statements, Ms. Allende shows just how uninformed she is about the genre her agent picked for her to stave off the dreaded retirement. Crime fiction doesn't need me to defend it, but I will say that with all of its subcategories and diversity of authors and settings, this genre is a vast collection of writing that includes important and socially-aware literature, as well as the best in escapism and bold storytelling. Today's detectives come in all shapes, nationalities, and colors, from teen-aged nerds to Chicana curanderas to Alaskan ex-cons. If you need a reading list, drop me a line and I'll give you a dozen writers with unconventional, realistic and unique protagonists, nothing "tongue-in-cheek" about any of them.

I'm biased, I know. I write and read crime fiction. I like mysteries -- even the dark and violent stories that may not offer redemption. I appreciate the genre for what it is, and resent it when someone praises a mystery novel because it has "transcended the genre" or "crossed-over into the mainstream."  These are back-handed compliments that most of the mystery writers I know also resent. 

But maybe I should be grateful that a mainstream superstar has indulged her whimsy and thereby introduced her many readers to crime fiction? 


In any event, my few words here don't amount to a hill of beans, as someone once said. Ms. Allende's new book will become a bestseller, her comments about the mystery genre soon will rest peacefully in the NPR archives, and one day she may actually retire. And I'll keep writing and reading crime fiction, and continue to be a fan of mysteries.


Here's a book award for those of you who write about "environmental consciousness, environmental justice, migrations, adaptation, integration and inter-generational and cross-cultural dialogue."  Go here for the entry form.
Americas Latino Book Awards 2013

  • Extended Entry Deadline: April 22nd, 2014
  • Don’t miss your opportunity to enter! Apply On-line now!
  • Three judges for five categories of published Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Children’s Literature and unpublished Fiction and Nonfiction.
  • A shortlist of thirty finalist books, six in each category, will be announced on November 18, 2013.
  • One winner in each category will be announced on May 3rd, 2014, during the Americas Latino Festival 2014 Fundraiser Fest at Macky Concert Hall, University of Colorado.
  • Winners will each receive a prize of $2,000.
  • Winners in the unpublished fiction and non-fiction categories will be published by MVPublishers, the publishing arm of the Americas for Conservation and the Arts for release during the Americas Latino Festival in 2015.

  • Full-length books of fiction, nonfiction and children’s youth chapter books (ages 7-9 years old), and poems published between January 1, 2011 and November 1, 2013
  • Unpublished books of fiction and nonfiction
  • Written in English or Spanish
  • Written by living author
  • Submissions should reflect the themes of the Americas Latino Festival: environmental consciousness, environmental justice, migrations, adaptation, integration and inter-generational and cross-cultural dialogue. Works that deepen our connection to the natural world; serve as a call to action; or broaden our vision of how people and their activities, regardless of race or ethnicity, impact the environment or highlight our interdependence to the natural world are strongly encouraged.

All publishers submitting books for ALBA must agree to:
  • Books will not be returned
  • One copy of submitted published books will be donated to either the Boulder Public Library or the Denver Public Library in honor of the Americas for Conservation and the Arts collection.
  • Each title must be accompanied by the entry form and payment.


Stories on Stage Memoir Contest

"God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December."

                                                -James M. Barrie

Stories on Stage is holding a writing contest for our memoir show Me, Myself and I which will be performed on April 5th in Boulder and April 6th in Denver.

We are seeking submissions of stories based on your own experiences. The winning story will be read as part of the show by one of our professional actors alongside memoirs by Hilary Mantel, Mary Karr and local author Robert McBrearty.

The winner will receive 2 FREE tickets to any performance of Me, Myself and I AND a $50 Check!

Submission Deadline: 5pm on March 12, 2014

Please send stories to:

Word Limit: Each writer may submit one story of up to 1,200 words.

Formatting: Arial font, 14 pt. font size, line spacing at 1.5 Lines, indent paragraphs

Performance Info:
Saturday, April 5 at 7:30pm, the Dairy Center for the Arts (2590 Walnut Street, Boulder)

Sunday, April 6 at 1:30pm & 6:30pm, Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Center (721 Santa Fe Drive, Denver)

By submitting your story, you allow Stories on Stage the right to read it on April 5 and 6, 2014 for three performances of Me, Myself and I. Stories on Stage will not retain any rights after the show.


Colorado Authors' League Scholarships
CAL Scholarship

Beginning in 2002-03, the Colorado Authors' League, the state's premier organization of professional, independent writers, began offering a $1,000 scholarship to an aspiring Colorado writer.

The Colorado Authors' League created the annual scholarship as part of its commitment to encourage, support and nurture Colorado writers.

The Colorado Authors' League Scholarship is open to applicants who:
are Colorado residents;
are enrolled full-time (12-hours minimum) in an accredited public or private Colorado institution of higher education, which includes a university, four-year college, community or junior college, or career/technical college;
have successfully completed at least 12 hours of undergraduate study;
have a minimum GPA of 2.5 or better;
demonstrate financial need.

Additionally, applicants must write an essay of up to 1,000 words on the topic: "How Writing will Benefit My Profession." Essays will be judged for excellence of writing, creativity and grammar.

Applications must be postmarked by April 1. Winners will be notified by May 1.

Click HERE for the CAL Scholarship Application.

Incorporated on January 14, 1932 to foster the art and craft of authorship, the Colorado Authors' League (CAL) is the state's premier organization of professional, independent writers united to further members' success. It is the oldest writers organization in Colorado and among the oldest in the western United States. Today, CAL includes more than 230 specialists, whose work embraces every branch of fiction and non-fiction writing.


That's it for this week - keep on reading, even if it's a joke.



Linda Rodriguez said...

Excellent post, Manuel!

At least, with JK Rowling, she read and liked mysteries and that was why she wrote in that field. I do get tired of people like Allende (and I'm a fan of her writing) who decide to venture into crime fiction because it will be "easier" and when they vocally don't read or like it. Puh-leez! If her agent was so panicked about her retirement and she felt she needed to do something to assuage her, why not write another of her own books?

Manuel Ramos said...

Thanks, Linda. Allende could do herself a favor by reading your books. You would be on my list if she ever asked for it.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Ah, what a sweet talker you are! Mil gracias! She could also read yours and Lucha Corpi's and... but I'll stop there for now. :-)