Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Do Chicanas Read/Write Mystery Fiction? Do You?

Michael Sedano

Lucha Corpi’s essay in Friday’s La Bloga asks interesting questions about why Chicana writers and readers avoid mystery fiction. And this seems to be unique to Chicana readers and Chicana writers, since half the card-carrying mystery writers in the United States are women.

In Corpi’s experience Chicanas express a generalized disdain for the value and importance of mystery novels. “That kind of novel”, says writer Sandra Cisneros, she doesn’t read—much less write. And explaining why Corpi remained, for seventeen years, the singular Chicana among mystery writers, “no los han tomado el gusto”, says social critic Norma Alarcón. Yet, Chicanas approach Corpi at her readings to confess their desire to be a mystery writer like Corpi.

It’s never too late to start. I wonder if one reason Chicanas express a distaste for mystery fiction might be the vast gulf between the world of novels and the reader’s. I know certain readers would not welcome the horrible murder of an infant as their initial experience reading a Chicana detective novel. Yet a reader—particularly a baby boomer--might appreciate following V.I. Warshawsky’s rough-and-tumble career to her bumbling middle age, where she’s two steps too slow and losing it mentally. Corpi’s own Gloria Damaso character, feeling her years, has taken on a pair of associates to relieve the load (it’s good to see Gloria’s coming back in Corpi’s next publication).

One answer, then is to recommend the right titles to those late-blooming mystery reader friends. Get them started on a classic then they'll start digging in on their own and one day be ready for infanticide and Corpi's Eulogy for a Brown Angel.

Be systematic. Start with Lucha Corpi’s list and expand it to make up your own list of the best Chicana Chicano mystery titles. Prioritize it with certain friends in mind. Which title will you give to your mom? How about your habitual reader pal? Your book group?

Be serendipitous. One fellow I know is a human resources director. He keeps a supply of Chicana Chicano mystery titles (and children’s titles he spots on La Bloga) in his office. When a worker expresses a desire to move up in the company, the HR guy gives the kid a pep talk and a book. He’s identified several candidates for advancement as a result, and Lucha Corpi has several new readers in southeast LA.

Clearly, Chicanas do not publish mystery fiction. Adding Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s outstanding Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders to Lucha Corpi’s five titles, including her upcoming Death At Solstice, Chicanas have published those six. But do Chicanas read mystery fiction? Do you?

Please take a moment to share a comment about reading Chicana detective fiction, or mysteries in general, to expand on Lucha Corpi’s list of Chicana Chicano Latina Latino mystery fiction. Joining the discussion is easy: click on the word "comment" below.


The real mystery is where does the time go? Here we are, the 1st of May already. Summer around the corner! See you next week.


Desiree said...

I thrive on mystery fiction, I love it to death. I read them when I'm happy, sad, lonely, miserable, jubilant. I write them when I want to read a good book. I have had THREE agents, each representing a different mystery mss, my latest shopped around my two recent novels. None made a sale. Recently I have queried small presses. My most recent rejection
said: Great stuff, you've got it down, could you tone down the Mexican business?
Would that this were an exageration.

Anonymous said...

My Chicana Book Club read Alicia's Desert Blood last year and it's remained on my top favorite books since. Another mystery type book written by a fellow Chicano is Lords: Part One, by N.L. Belardes and it's another favorite. Lords is a little bit more intense, both books are loosely based on true events. I recomment both highly!

Anonymous said...

You're halfway there if you've had agents interested in different MSS.

Congratulations; some of us haven't made it that far, even after many more years.

Keep it up.
If you're already that good, maybe somebody out there in Blogalandia can give an assist.


Anonymous said...

Having taught Corpi's work as part of Chicano Lit, I can tell you that while student readers enjoyed the pacing, they did want more from the writing. Some mysteries don't hold up well on a sentence-level to other novels, collections, etc. One exception: Michael Nava. He's a craftsman, for sure.

Desiree said...

Thanks, Rudy G :)

cindylu said...

Nope, I don't read mystery fiction nor do I read it. I've had Desert Blood on my bookshelf for a while, but haven't gotten to it yet.

Anonymous said...

I think some do read mystery fiction by Chicanos or Chicanos. In time, it will grow in popularity. But, when I first got Alicia's book I was actually hoping for a nonfiction book on the Juarez situation and was disappointed that it was not that. Then, I recently ordered The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women by Diana Washington Valdez. It wowed me and it is nonfiction. Forget a club, I think it will develop a cult following. I'm in.

Lisa Alvarado said...

I'm just beginning to get into Chicano detective fic...I have to say, in general, the more hard-boiled the better. Am a HUGE fan of Andrew Vaachs' stuff and James Ellroy.

And desiree, keep the faith. It sometimes takes years...and many rejections, but with the agent who really gets you, and your own perseverance, you'll make it.

Anonymous said...

I found some great fiction book reviews. You can also see those reviews in Fiction book reviews

Marta said...

I've always read crime fiction and mysteries, just as I've always read sci-fi, fantasy, literary fiction, and other books. What evidence is there at Chicanas don't read crime and mystery?

As for writing...I think Chicanas, who are struggling to get a foot in the door, often write what is expected of them. Editorial Consultant Marcela Landres has said that, prior to Alisa Valdes Rodriguez, novels by Latinas fell into two categories: the project novel or the peasant novel.

In the project novel, a Latina from the mean streets overcomes danger and goes to college. In the peasant novel, a peasant girl faces dangers dangers, usually from a man, and overcomes them.

My suspicion is that Latinas are rewarded for writing these project/peasant books because they confirm preconceptions. I can't tell you the number of times I've had to deal with people who expect me to write magical realism.

Rebel Girl said...

I don't read many mysteries, but I do like my Paco Ignacio Taibo II.