Friday, February 12, 2016

The Key Word For Me Is "Avoid"

By Art Taylor

I've very much enjoyed reading my co-panelists' responses to this week's question: "Are there any genres you avoid reading? Why?" While several of the writers here talked about genres they don't read often, most of them still pointed to specific titles within those genres that they'd read and enjoyed. Meredith, for example, admits to not reading much fantasy or science fiction, but in the same paragraph celebrated both Madeleine L'Engle and Matt Haig (crossing genres in the latter). R.J. admits some similar preferences, but makes exceptions for Frank Herbert and J.R.R. Tolkein. Tracy focused less on genre than on specific elements of books (bleakness, serial killers, old ladies crawling across the ceiling), but even there cited her own exception to not reading stories about tortured protagonists. And Alan, as Meredith had in opening this conversation, put the emphasis on the fact that genre doesn't matter quite as much as whether a book is simply good (though he admitted to steering away generally from three genres).

For me, the key word in the question is "avoid"—a strong word—and I think it's easier to put the emphasis on the idea of what we prefer to read or, even more to the point, what we most regularly read. Because of my own work as a mystery writer and as a professor teaching classes in genre fiction, I mostly read crime fiction, and because there are simply only so many hours in a day, I don't have time read as widely in other genres as I might like to—so you're not likely to find me with science fiction or fantasy or romance or young adult or historical fiction or erotica or...well, I'm just sampling the genres that popped up in those previous posts. But do I have strong reasons to say I would go out of my way not to read one of those genres? And maybe another key word is "genre," of course—the idea of dodging not just  some topic (child abuse) or element (graphic violence) of a specific book or author but steering clear of an entire swath of books. I've had people tell me that they avoid mysteries for the very same reason that R.J. cited for not reading romance—for being "formulistic and populated by cardboard characters"—and I know those folks are missing out on a lot that the wide world of mystery fiction has to offer. And if I don't like folks making those kinds of broad judgements about my genre, how can I comfortably make similar judgements about another?

While I don't read as much science fiction or fantasy as I did when I was younger (loved some J.R.R. Tolkein myself), I've enjoyed and learned something about craft from reading William Gibson's Neuromancer and China MiĆ©ville's The City & The City and John Kessel's Corrupting Dr. Nice or The Baum Plan for Financial Independence. While most of the books I read are set in the present or recent past, I've delighted in the glimpses of other eras I've gotten from books like Peter Lovesey's Wobble to Death or Sarah Shaber's Louise's War or Louis Bayard's The Pale Blue Eye or The Black Tower (all crime fiction admittedly). And while I haven't generally read much juvenile and YA literature, I had the chance to read extensively in those areas when judging the Edgars for Best Juvenile a couple of years back—and what range and diversity and excellence there! And I've quoted before Julianna Baggott talking about how some of the most interesting work today is being done in the borderlands where genres meet and blend and mash—and let me give a second shout-out on that point to Corrupting Dr. Nice, which blends time travel and screwball comedy and cyberpunk and....

I recognize I'm mostly just echoing what's already been said this week—not the first time, of course! But maybe it's a point worth repeating: Though each of us have preferences and many of us likely read more regular in one genre or some genres than others, breaking out of routine sometimes can be not only enjoyable but also potentially eye-opening and even enriching. 

And on that note, I guess I should go in search of some erotica now, right? ;-)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thirty-One Genres

by Alan

Are there any genres you avoid reading? Why?

ice-cream-coneGenres are like flavors of ice cream. Lots of different varieties, and every flavor his its own rabid fans. It doesn’t mean that any flavor/genre is inferior to another. It just means that people like different things. And you don’t have to like just one flavor, either. I’ll eat just about any type of ice cream with the exception of peach, malted milk, and mash-ups that include bits of cheesecake (please, no hate emails from peach ice cream lovers, ’k?). Any fellow spumoni lovers out there?

When it comes to books, I like to read many genres (and subgenres), in both fiction and non-fiction: mystery, thriller, crime fiction, science fiction, horror, YA, novels in stories (Hi Art! Hi Steve!), cookbooks, narrative non-fiction, biographies, novels in cartoons, golf improvement books, and anything else that looks interesting.

Even though most of my novel reading falls into a handful of genres (crime, horror, science fiction, YA), if I think a book will be good, or if it comes recommended by someone whose taste I align with, or if I read a compelling review, or if the cover grabs me, or if it otherwise piques my interest just right, I’ll often give it a try, regardless of genre.

So which fiction genres are my peach, malted milk, and cherry cheesecake? Romance, historical fiction, and erotica. (And truthfully, with enough hot fudge sauce and sprinkles, I’ll even read those!)

Most of all I like to read GOOD BOOKS!

If that’s not a genre, it should be.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

No Thanks, I'll Pass

 By Tracy Kiely

If I wander into a bookstore (which, by the way, is harder and harder to do these days, but that’s another post) and I come across a book about a serial killer who is targeting small children, large children, women, men, or animals, I will keep walking. So, basically I will pass on most books about serial killers.
I also am not a big fan of tortured protagonists with horribly bleak lives. (However, I loved Girl on the Train, so clearly I am not to be trusted with my decrees.)
I might as well admit it; I like to put myself in a happy bubble. I’ve always been this way. I used to get stomach cramps when Mr. Snuffleupagus visited Big Bird on Sesame Street and no one believed him! My mother would find me in tears, shouting at the TV, “But Snuffy is REAL!” We watched Mr. Rogers after that. But then he sat on the toilet and sang, “Don’t Worry, You’re Too Big To Go Down the Drain,” and I thought, “WTH? That’s a thing? Why am I just hearing about this?” After that, we didn’t watch a lot of TV.

He's right there, dammit!

I have tried to push myself out of the bubble, but the results were not optimal. In college, I read Red Dragon. Not only did I not sleep for a week, but I also refused to let our dog out of my sight. (Spoiler Alert: the killer went after the family pets first to avoid extra hassle on the big night he terrorized and killed the family.)

Seriously. What the hell was I thinking?
 I’m the same with movies. Don’t even get me started on The Exorcist, especially The Exorcist III. Good wins because Good (portrayed by George C. Scott) happened to have a gun handy at the time?  What kind of faith message is that? I don’t recall anything in the Bible about angels packing heat, but then again I’m Catholic. Catholics don’t really read the Bible. We tend to read the Bulletin.

This scene right here? Still freaks me out.

I’m a sucker for glossy portrayals of an era when there were butlers and lady’s maids and elaborate picnic lunches on the lawn. Nine times out of ten they are completely unrealistic depictions, but then so aren’t amateur sleuths solving multiple homicides in between popping in and out of French windows and playing lawn tennis.

Well, hello Gorgeous!

Anyway, please don’t judge me, but I simply don’t have the mental strength to read about utter chaos and cruelty and injustice. I have three children, who are lovely creatures, but they provide all the chaos and sibling cruelty and injustice that I can handle.  In addition, they are all sadly afflicted with Idontseeititis.  This means that in their wake is a never-ending trail of clutter and chaos. They regard the task of putting away their dishes as a grown up version of Pin The Tail On The Donkey. They get the dishes close to the dishwasher, but no one every really nails it.
In short, I like books that I can fall into without that panicky feeling of “Holy Crap! Get me the hell out of here!” I have that right now every time I walk into our kitchen.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Not everything catches my fancy

Are there any genres you avoid reading? Why?

By R.J. Harlick

As an avid reader I like to think I have eclectic tastes and will read anything as long as it is well written and a good story. Maybe when I was younger it was the case, but today I’m afraid I stick pretty much to the kind of book I’ve enjoyed in the past, like mysteries, the occasional epic historical, literary fiction and general fiction.

Although I am a great fan of Star Wars and Star Trek, I’ve likely seen every movie and every episode in all their many flavours, I don’t read Sci-Fi. Apart from Frank Herbert’s Dune series, I’ve never been able to immerse myself into their futuristic worlds. While Sci-Fi films will engage me, the books don’t.

The same goes for Fantasy. I liked the Harry Potter movies, but was never able to get into the books. The first Harry Potter book lost my interest part way through, so I never tried another one. But the books have captured the imagination of a generation and made them into big Fantasy fans. I realize this every time I do a book signing and ask an under thirty if they like reading mysteries. Invariably the answer is no, adding Fantasy is their addiction, which does make me wonder who will be reading mysteries twenty years from now.  

But I’ve forgotten about J.R.R. Tolkien, the master conjuror of the fantasy world. I devoured all three books in the Lord of the Rings trilogy plus The Hobbit. But as much as I loved them, it wasn’t enough to entice me to read other Fantasy novels.

I think the reason SciFi and Fantasy books have failed to capture my interest is because their worlds and everything in them are totally fictitious and alien to me. I find I enjoy a book the most when I can relate to something in it and can learn from it. I’m afraid I have little interest in learning about a ‘what if’ world that is entirely a product of a writer’s imagination and bears no relation to the world I live in.

Before I close I mustn’t forget Romance. I love a good romance and have read many of the classics that are more or less romances, such as Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind and the like. But I can’t say that I have ever picked up a modern Romance book. I suppose it’s because I think they, for the most part, are formulistic and populated by cardboard characters. But if any of you can recommend some good ones, as good as the old masters, I’m willing to be persuaded to try one.

Only two more weeks before I’ll be flying off to Phoenix to Left Coast Crime. I tell you I can’t wait for the heat. The snow and cold is beginning to get a tad dreary. On the Wednesday night, February 24th, I along with other Canadian authors, including fellow blogger, Cathy Ace, will be participating in the International Fiction Night at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore from 7:00 to 8:00. My panel, Big Fish in a Small Pond, takes place on the Thursday from 1:30 pm to 2:30. I’ll also be participating in the Speed Dating event early Thursday morning. It’ll be fabulous to see some of you there.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Beam me out of here

Are there any genres you avoid reading? Why?

When asked about what I like to read, I usually say "everything." I read as widely as I can. Non-fiction, historic, poetry, short stories, women's fiction, literary fiction--and of course mysteries and thrillers. Good writing is good writing, no matter what the genre. And I'm really just interested in great stories and ideas--no matter what form they take.

But I have to admit, for the record, that I don't read much science fiction and fantasy. That isn't to say that I don't read any ever. As a teenager I devoured everything that Madeline L'Engle wrote starting with A Wrinkle in Time. And I've read several books that exist in some kind of dystopian future and manage to straddle science fiction and literary fiction. I'm extremely impressed when books manage to straddle two genres without breaking a sweat--like Matt Haig's brilliant The Humans (a science fiction mystery).

If there are any science fiction and fantasy fans out there, let me know what I'm missing and if there are any books I need to put on my TBR list.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Lonely Nightstand

What reading material is currently on your nightstand?

by Paul D. Marks

I have to admit that my nightstand is currently unfulfilled, having no stacks of books on it. But that’s mostly because my wife wants me to keep it clear and neat. So I’ve been trying to do that. Of course that’s about the only part of the house that is clear and neat and uncluttered (well semi-uncluttered). And I have to admit that 99% of the clutter is mine. I’m the packrat.

So what’s cluttering up the house? Well, books of course. Tons of books and no more shelf space.
We even have shelves in the garage and we’re still out of space. I still prefer paper books to e-books, though I read both. But just on the space issue I’m leaning towards buying more e-books. But then how would guests know how erudite I am if they can’t see all those books...even though not all have been read. Though most have.

I also collect toys and Beatles stuff and some other rock ‘n’ roll gear. Then there’s all the old papers and old drafts of stories and all the stuff you have to keep for the IRS. It adds up, let me tell you.

On top of that, we just emptied out our storage facility, so the garage I normally park in is now filled with boxes that we swore we would go through quickly so I could get my car back in there pronto. Well, it’s been a month and we’ve yet to go through those boxes for the most part. Y’know, stuff happens and you just can’t get to it. But we did find a couple cool things: a sign off the MGM backlot that I borrowed from a train station set and a newel post from a house in LA’s Bunker Hill, which was flattened for redevelopment in the late 60s. Bunker Hill was LA’s first wealthy neighborhood but went downhill after World War I. But there were many gorgeous Victorian homes there. Some got moved and some got destroyed. But before it all went to hell a friend and I went through some of the houses and I took the newel post as a souvenir. It’s going to become the logo for what I hope will be a long-running series of short stories and maybe even a novel or two about the characters from the first story, Ghosts of Bunker Hill, which will be published in Ellery Queen, though I’m not sure when it will appear. And I’m lucky to have these things, as in a previous move my mean, cruel, wicked wife (I’m kidding, okay – she puts up with me, she’s a saint) made me get rid of a lot of backlot souvenirs and other things, including my Famous Brick off the Andy Hardy set. Yes. She made me throw my brick away. It looked like any other brick, but it was famous and in many, many movies. And now it’s gone, lost in the dustbin of history, along with a bunch of other things she made me toss.

But I guess I’ve gotten off-topic here. So what’s on my metaphorical nightstand since I can’t put books on my physical one? Well, currently I’m reading The Stranger by Harlan Coben. I’m almost done with that. And I have a yen to re-read some classic mysteries. Maybe some Chandler or Ross MacDonald. Maybe some Jim Thompson or David Goodis. I always like going back to those. And I re-read Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn every few years. They’re the reading equivalent of comfort food for me. Maybe these are on my mind since I mentioned most of them in my last post here. I’ve also been thinking about re-reading Bonfire of the Vanities. I’m not sure why, but it just got stuck in my head. I haven’t read The Girl on the Train yet, so that’s a possibility. So what I might do is read an oldie but a goodie and then move on to newer things because there’s a wealth of riches out there for the taking. And maybe some books from people I know, but since I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings if I don’t have their book on my list, I’m not mentioning who. I’m not that brave.

One more thing, congratulations to Art and Catriona on their Agatha Award nominations!


I’m the guest author on the terrific Sue Ann Jaffarian’s Fan Club Page on Facebook this week – and who blogged here for a long time. Hope you’ll drop by there: 

Also, at Bouchercon a few months ago, I read my Anthony and Macavity-nominated story “Howling at the Moon” for Ellery Queen magazine. And that just went up on the net. So if you’re dying to hear me read, check it out. I don’t think Tom Hanks has to worry about his position as the top actor in Hollywood. 

And if you’re not sick of me already, I was interviewed by Pam Stack at Authors on the Air last Wednesday, Feb 3rd . Hope you might want to listen to that podcast: 

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

On my bedside table today . . .

Too easy!

My brain is currently cut into four pie wedges: work in progress; structural edits (Dandy Gilver and A Most Misleading Habit); page proofs (Quiet Neighbors); Sisters in Crime publishing summit on diversity in the mystery community. And The Great British Bake Off. And Left Coast Crime. And Malice. And the Edgars. And life.

So it's lovely to get a point-and-press question here at Casa Criminal today.

On my bedside table, from bottom to top are:
  • The Girl in The Spider's Web - the posthumous Stieg Larsson that I failed to read at Christmas.
  • John Irving's Avenue of Mysteries - which Santa brought me. Santa really mucked up my Christmas reading plans, actually.
  • Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins (Santa's ruins)
  • Tracy Kidder's Among Schoolchildren. Now this is embarrassing. I bought this and Kidder's  Hometown because I had so much enjoyed the Broadway play August: Osage County. By Tracy Letts.
  • The slim blue volume is Mr Frick's Palace, a guidebook about the Frick Collection in New York that acts on me like meditation.
  • Pablu Neruda's The Captain's Verses. I keep one volume of poetry by my bed to read and read until it's in my veins forever. Shakespeare's Sonnets was there for four years.
  • Ann Cleeves' Harbour Street - which is what I'm actually reading right now, because I'm interviewing her at Left Coast in a few weeks. Poor me, eh? What a slog!
  • Lori Roy's Let Me Die in his Footsteps - Lori is my SinC co-board-member and she's written three books. The first one won an Edgar, the second was a finalist and now the third is on the shortlist too.
  • Malcolm MacKay's The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter - which I bought in celebration of the Edgar announcements a couple of weeks back. We Scots are punching well above our weight at this year's awards: there's this, Val McDermid, Denise Mina and *coughsmodestlybutbragsanyway* me.
  • Triss Stein's Brooklyn Graves  - which I've just finished last night, in preparation for moderating Triss (along with Terry Shames, Carla Buckley and Nancy West) at Left Coast. Favouritism? Why, no. Carla's The Good Goodbye and Nancy's Smart But Dead are waiting for me at The Avid Reader and I've already read every word Terry has ever written.
  • And a disc-set of A.S.Byatt's The Children's Book for when those four wedges turn into a pie-fight at 3am.
Happy reading, everyone.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Jones the Voice" or "King the Fingers"? by Cathy Ace

What reading material is currently on your nightstand?

By way of full disclosure, I have no books on my nightstand. I never do, because I never read in my bed or bedroom. I know that’s where a lot of reading happens, but not for me. Why? By the time I hit the sack around 1am or 2am after my night-shift writing time, my husband and dogs are fast asleep, so no reading for me.

Also, since I had a new book published this week, and I’m at the stressful final-polishing-before-it-goes-to-my-agent stage of a manuscript, I haven’t the mental capacity to read a book by another author at this point . . . I think my head would explode! But on Friday I’ll email the manuscript, and I’ll be flying to Vegas (it’s Superbowl weekend and Vegas is my preferred place to watch the last game of the season before I sink into withdrawal from general NFL-ness) so I’m looking forward to reading one of two Christmas gifts. Each Christmas my husband and I buy each other a book – we don’t plan it that way, but we always do. As you can see, I have a choice: Tom Jones’s autobiography “Over the Top and Back” (yes, I’ve already looked at all the photos, and they have whetted my appetite); Stephen King’s “Joyland” (yes, I feel bad that I haven’t read it yet!). Tough choice!

Both books will make the trip, both will return home with us. Maybe largely unread – it all depends how Vegas-y our weekend becomes. The good thing is I know I’ll get to read them both, soon – and I still have the chance to decide which to read first.WOOT!
Cathy's second WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery, THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER, was released in Canada and the USA on February 1st. Library Journal reckons it will "...delight M.C. Beaton and Jeanne M. Dams readers..." and Kirkus said of the four softly-boiled PIs "The diverse sleuths are charming." You can find out more about Cathy Ace, her WISE Women and Cait Morgan Mysteries, and even sign up for her bimonthly newsletter, at her website: