Fan mail is wonderful. Besides stroking your ego or perhaps creating a dialogue about what you’re writing, this correspondence provides you with demographics to do your own market study.
Over the past two years, I’ve noticed that most of my fan letters–with a few exceptions (Colorado, Virginia, New Mexico, and North Carolina)–are from the blue states. California, of course, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and so on. So now when I’m asked who reads my books, I quip, "The blue states."
Now this doesn’t necessarily relate to party politics. I’ve heard Walter Mosley himself say that his fiction has been embraced by conservatives and progressives alike. Even when there’s a strong underlying political message, the reader brings his or her interpretation to the table, which can completely twist the author’s intended ideology around. And since we write mysteries, our readers’ attention are foremost on the micro, not the macro.
But beyond politics, there might be something going on with regional cultures and what people like to read. Of course, since I write about Japanese Americans, it’s no surprise that a bulk of letters come from the Pacific Coast. But I’ve lived nine months in Wichita, Kansas, so I realize that you can’t paint states with static colors. Demographics change.
As much as the Midwest has preconceived notions of those crazy L.A.ers, West Coast urbanites have even worse stereotypes about America’s Heartland and South. When I left to go on my writing fellowship in Kansas, I was presented with a gallon container of soy sauce and a carton of Top Ramen by my L.A. friends and collegues. Attention Angelenos–they do have soy sauce and Top Ramen in Kansas! And more than eight Asian markets in Wichita in the mid-1990s (probably more in 2006). And a Japanese restaurant called Mama-san’s.
Wichita Public Library had a fabulous collection of works, both books and videos (probably CDs now). That’s where I checked out AMERICAN KNEES by Shawn Wong and Paul Beatty’s THE WHITE BOY SHUFFLE. And where I borrowed the collected works of Woody Allen as well as director Wayne Wang’s early work, CHAN IS MISSING.
Yet with shifting racial demographics touching every American community, whether it likes it or not, there are undeniable reading preferences. And as I mentioned earlier, based or e-mails and reviews, my books appeal more to the blue states.
There are authors who are not that easily categorized, such as Midwest noirists Scott Phillips, Sean Doolittle, and Victor Gischler. It would seem that their work might even play better in the blue than the red, where many of the books are set. Earlene Fowler, who writes a popular quilt series and a L.A. Times bestselling standalone, THE SADDLEMAKER’S WIFE, lives in California, but I bet her books sell up a storm in the Midwest and South.
But labels are limiting, and in spite of the demographic response for my books, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to do outreach in the red states. I’ve been somewhat successful in Arizona and had a great time in Mayhem in the Midlands in Omaha, Nebraska, two years ago. I hope to someday travel to do events in Florida. I have a very good friend in Nashville (yes, J.T., I do know another Nashvillian!) who keeps doing research about the Japan societies in her area so that my husband and I will make the trip to the Music City. I know that these events will be powerful because we will be attracting people who march to a different beat than their neighbors. And undoubtedly to have ultimate success as a writer, you need to touch every segment of society, both red and blue.
So, I wanted to ask y’all this question: are your books more red or blue state? Or do you think that this demographic analysis carries no weight and can be thrown in the bushes?
Maps are courtesy of Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman, available at their website. The bottom map is a population cartogram, more representative of the population in each state.
CUTTING THE RED RIBBON: Starting with today’s entry, I’ll be starting a new regular feature, WEDNESDAY’S WORD, which will introduce you, dear reader, to a new Japanese, or Nihongo, word each week found in one of the Mas Arai mystery books. I’ll be compiling the words once a month in the glossary page on my website.
WEDNESDAY’S WORD: atarimae (SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, page 8)
Take a good look at the word–see something that you recognize? How about "ATARI," like in video games? Atari means "hit," "success," or "gotcha." Mae, pronounced mah-’e, means "before." Together, atarimae means "naturally," "a matter of course," or "of course."
GUEST BLOGGER QUIZ: On Wednesday, June 28, a guest blogger will take over here and to add to the suspense, I wanted to pose a "Jeopardy" type question: Our guest blogger has been on the front cover of one of her/his mystery books and came close to gracing the cover of a bestselling mystery writer’s. Who is this cover gal/boy? And what are the names of the two books in question? Go ahead and post your guesses in our comment section (one guess per person, please!) The first one to answer correctly will gain the undying respect of the Murderati crowd and we all–well, at least I’ll make sure Evil E does–will bow at your feet next Wednesday when the blogger’s identity will be revealed. Evil E, do your calisthenics!