Sunday, March 6, 2011

One more from the inbox

I wrote last month about getting emails from readers who don't care for the use of the F-word in my Annie Seymour series. While I don't want to keep dissing readers, I am very curious about something: Why, if you don't like a book, would you bother to write the author and tell her so? Why not just put the book down and forget about it? That's what I do. If I don't care for a book, why would I go through all the bother of actually finding the author online and then sending an email to say so?

Case in point: This morning I received the following from a reader:

I wanted to write and let you know that my husband and I were disappointed with the first two tattoo shop books we read. Well, I should say I read them, —— only read the first and part of the second. We both felt that the first time Brett goes to a strange place she's not supposed to be in to meet someone she's suspicious of is maybe okay, but the second time she does it she is Too Stupid to Live. —— threw the book across the room.

I'm hoping you have decided not to include this kind of stupid choice in the other books. I'll be looking for them at the library this time.

Now, this email is quite interesting in that the reader clearly did not like the book (her husband, identified here only as —— was a bit more adamant about his dislike), but the last sentence indicates she's still going to read the series. Could it be that she possibly thinks that writing me to tell me that I shouldn't make my character too stupid to live will affect the rest of the books? Does she think she's doing me a favor by advising me about this? Possibly, I suppose. But I hate to tell her that the other two books are already written, the third one is already published and the fourth is already typset and ready to go. So if Brett is too stupid to live in those, well, it's just a little too late for any advice.

I believe I can speak for all authors in that we do not write characters intending them to be too stupid to live. In fact, we try desperately to keep them from that. Problem is with amateur sleuth mysteries, the sleuth is not a professional, has no backup, usually no gun, and is expected by the reader to solve the mystery anyway. When you look at it that way, the whole concept of the amateur sleuth mystery is rather silly, because regular people really don't go out and solve crimes. Most of us don't even really know when a crime has been committed until it's been on the news and then the police are already out there trying to solve it. We do not see a news report and then decide, hey, I think I'm going to get involved in that and go out and see if I can beat the police at their own game. And despite what we read in mystery novels, most of us are not suspects in crimes. The police are not knocking at our door to try to discover our motives for killing anyone.

When I was a reporter, I covered only two murders in six years. The first was clear cut: a kid killed his father over a pack of cigarettes. There was no mystery. In the second, a love triangle ended up with a man shot dead in his car in the parking lot at a local watering hole. The guy who shot him waited for the police to show up to turn himself in. Again, clear cut. Although he did claim self defense (the other guy had a broken beer bottle), and it ended up in court. (As an aside, one of my best friends met his wife at the trial. They were both covering it for different newspapers.)

I think readers who pick up an amateur sleuth mystery and expect realism need to check their expectations at the door. I had one reviewer complain that Brett's brother who is a cop would never be assigned to a case in which his sister is involved. As if a tattoo artist would solve a crime. That's my point. Tattoo artists are not solving crimes. Neither are knitting store owners, apple orchard owners, home repair people, ghosts, psychics, book group participants, cats, dogs, and any of the other hobbyists or cupcake store owners you will see gracing the mystery section shelves at the bookstore. And if they did solve crimes, I'm afraid they will at some point be too stupid to live. Because they're not professionals and can't be expected to know what they're doing.

Do you read amateur sleuth mysteries? Do you suspend your disbelief or are you trying to live vicariously through these crime solvers and expect more from them?


Lou said...

I enjoy reading these types of books, Karen, because they provide a fun escape. No one expects Brett or Annie to become Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie. In many ways, it's fun to see the difficulties they get in, extract themselves from, and the lessons that they may (or may not) learn. it's all good, semi-clean (LOL) escapist fun.

Lisa D said...

I completely agree with Lou. I love reading your books because it is an escape. Also, love reading the amateur sleuth books because I can connect to the characters. Sometimes life can be so very stressful and reading a good amateur mystery provides such a release. I enjoy Brett and Annie's adventures and look forward to the next book in the series.

Aimee said...

Quite honestly, one of the reasons I love Brett (and other amateur sleuths) is that she sometimes does something stupid because she's trying to do the right thing. She's human. She asks questions she shouldn't. She goes to unsafe places alone. Not because she's stupid or don't have anything better to do but because she is compelled to right a wrong - in her own way.

K.C. Shaw said...

I think Brett is one of the smarter amateur sleuths out there. Sure she goes to places she shouldn't, but she's cautious and she doesn't typically mess with evidence. Some amateur sleuths (some of them even in series I enjoy) drive me crazy the way they casually 'investigate' crime scenes and walk off with evidence.

As long as the writer can give the character a good enough motive to do what they do, though, I can usually suspend my disbelief. I'm reading for fun, mostly following along with the clues to see if I can figure out the murderer and motive before they're revealed.

Alice Duncan said...

I'm with you. Why would a reader go out of his or her way to say how much s/he disliked your book? Doesn't s/he have anything better to do? Yeesh.

jenny milchman said...

I think there's a place for mistakes, and one of the things I love about amateur sleuth novels is that the sleuths seem to learn from their mistakes--from beginning to end, and from book to book in a series.

I guess this reader is a fan, even if her husband isn't, and she has a quibble or two. And hey, they probably wouldn't have bought *two* books so nothing lost... ;)

Patrick Brian Miller said...

Some people are much more animated by negative reactions than positive ones. Just for fun, name some characters after these two in a future book; no one has to know which one, but they will know! :)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Karen-Would you be interested in doing a piece for my blog series "How I Came to Write This Book?"
If so you can find me at