Every few months in the mystery world there’s a tizzy about this or that nomination list. Blogs buzz about bias. Listservs flare with perceived insults. Accusations fly. In a perverse, gossipy, way this intermittent brouhaha is kind of fun.
The latest flurry of fussing centers on the International Thriller Writers (ITW) list o’ nominees. It turns out there were no women on it. Through the end of last week, fingers pointed, nasty words lobbed to and fro, and calmer voices tried to reason.
Watching the drama play out on this blog and others, I realized our crime-fiction community has the potential for hundreds of these rifts. Frankly, I’m astounded that we’re not at each other’s throats all the time.
I wonder why?
What is this mystery community in which we read, write, market, schmooze, fight, discuss, earn money and live? I haven’t seen it defined in a publication yet. It’s taken for granted . . . like air.
Me? I include:
1. Active mystery readers – – – – People who organize/attend conventions; discuss crime fiction online or in book groups; or identify themselves as avid mystery readers
2. Mystery writers – – – – Traditionally published, self-published, unpublished but trying/dreaming of the day when their work is in the hands of readers
3. Mystery booksellers – – – – Those with physical storefronts or online presences
4. Mystery reviewers – – – – Those that specialize and understand the many hues in this broad genre; print and online
5. Mystery opinion makers – – – – People who print/produce mystery news (magazines, tabloids), popular mystery bloggers, trend spotters/setters
6. Mystery industry – – – – Editors, agents, specific publishers (big and small), marketers/pr folks
How big is this community? Thousands of people? Tens of thousands? I doubt any of us could accurately quantify it.
However, this isn’t a haphazard group; an active sense of purpose binds us together. We care about storytelling, about words and how they’re used. We care about reading and literacy. And, I think, all of us also care about justice — whether we believe it exists in the world or simply yearn for it.
The mystery community reminds me of an extended family consisting of several nuclear families: The Whodunits, the Thrillers, the Gumshoes, the Noirs . . . . Over here, is the cabal of tall, gorgeous blond cousins (you know who you are) whom everyone envies and adores. There, are the guys who always dress in black–the Bad Boys.
Every extended family has its attention-getters — the people who define the larger group for the outer world. Uncle Max is known for his loud, colorful pronouncements that boil everyone’s blood. Cousin Lila writes for one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers. Grandpa Joe is the nicest man anyone could ever meet — beloved by admirers in every country. Aunt Sophie has dedicated her life to ridding the world of social injustice.
Members in families fight, too. It’d be pathological if everyone got along ALL the time.
When I trained as a therapist in grad school, I was particularly intrigued by group behavior and dynamics. The mystery community — by anyone’s definition — is a big group. When faced with dozens of choices, people naturally look for smaller affinity groups for their daily comfort and communication. It’s natural.
Affinity is one thing. Trashing family members because they don’t agree with you is another. No one likes the blowhard — no matter how clever — who has to put people down in order to feel good about himself.
In the three years I’ve been an active member of the larger mystery community, I’ve noticed an increasing tendency towards an US vs. THEM mentality within our own ranks. It’s an acid-coated worm etching a poisonous trail of destruction through every layer of our cohesion.
Like members of an extended family, we come together for reunions — conventions — and have a blast. We keep in touch. My happiest moments at these events — and during the sallow months between them — are when we celebrate our diversity. I love it when we communicate across genres and push our narrow views and definitions of ourselves into wider perspectives.
I hope this recent urge to divide — to condemn THEM in order to feel good about US amid the smaller groups of our mystery community — is only an adolescent aberration.
It’ll break my heart if it becomes the norm.
I felt a bit down after writing that last sentence — and needed cheering up. You might, too. Meet Jake Shimabukuro, an outstanding ukulele player from Hawaii. I’ve provided a link to one of his short music videos.