Thursday, September 27, 2018

Challenges facing the contemporary crime-fiction writer, cont….

Rick’s excellent Sept. 18 post “Is it getting harder to write contemporary crime fiction?” has me thinking. He astutely examines the works of Rex Stout and Michael Connelly and wonders if one’s need to keep up with technological advancements dooms writers entering the genre.

Good question.

Part of why I love Robert B. Parker novels so thoroughly is that –– viewed through the lens of which Rick writes –– they are simple. Spenser knows himself, and he knows human nature. And, thus, he solves the crime. “It’s a way to live,” Spenser tells us in Ceremony. “The rest is just confusion.” Sounds like Hamlet, when he utters those wonderful words: To thine own self be true . . .Know yourself well enough, and you can know the world around you. Wonderful. Poignant.

But outdated?

Say it ain’t so.

After all, it’s Connelly himself, in his essay titled “The Mystery of Mystery Writing” (the Walden Book Report, September, 1998) who states:

“The mystery has evolved in recent decades to be as much an investigation of the investigator as an inquiry of the crime at hand. Investigators now look inward for the solutions and means of restoring order. In the content of their own character they find the clues. I think this only bodes well for the mystery novel. It is what keeps me interested in writing them.”

Sounds like a Parker fan to me. I’m not questioning Rick’s assertion here. The passage above is dated 1998, after all. I agree that –– given the authenticity of TV’s cop shows and streaming networks’ crime thrillers –– the writer is better off cursed with writer’s block than to be inaccurate. There is no longer room to fudge details. But we aren’t doomed. The package might have changed. It’s a little shinier, a little spiffier, more precise, and procedurally more authentic.

But the heart of the story –– that heart that Wolfe Nero and Spenser and Kinsey Millhone and even Poe’s Dupin gave us –– remain at the core of why we write, readers read, and even our Netflix binge-watching next generation love this genre: at the heart of the story is the character.

The genre has changed and grown and now demands a level of authenticity of which Poe could never have dreamed. That’s a challenge, but it’s also a sign of evolution.

There’s another challenge we face that concerns me more: The way young readers now experience, learn, and consume narratives will pose the largest challenge to one who wishes to write crime fiction full time.

As many of you know, I work and teach at a New England boarding school. (I’m probably the genre’s only dorm parent to 60 teens.) So I know the habits of the teenage species well. And, frankly, I’m worried about our futures. Speaking to SJ Rozan this week, I mentioned that any writer I know who writes full time right now has their hand in some form of script work, as if TV/film work pays for them to write novels. Maybe that’s the new business model.

Or maybe Shakespeare was just further ahead of his time than I realize. Perhaps the Globe Theatre was supporting his poetry enterprise.

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