Barb, writing this in her hotel room at the New England Crime Bake where Wicked Edith Maxwell/Maddy Day is doing an amazing job as co-chair, along with Friend of the Wickeds, Michele Dorsey.
Post-Bouchercon (The international conference for people who love all types of crime fiction) author Laura Lippman started a thought-provoking thread on Twitter.
You can read the thread here, or at least I think you can. (I’m not that good with the Twitter machine.) https://twitter.com/LauraMLippman/status/1191433978118578176. But Lippman’s basic argument is this: In the traditional mystery novel (of which cozies are a sub-genre, as are PI novels, Lippman’s primary focus), we make the assumption that a satisfying resolution is to restore the status quo.
But what, Lippman asks, about the people for whom the status quo is not so great? What about the marginalized, the oppressed, the under-represented? Is restoring the status quo good enough for them? For us all?
Naturally this made me think about my work, and the work in my particular corner of the crime fiction universe, the cozy mystery. We always say, we all say, the stories are satisfying because justice is done, situations are resolved, questions are answered. This makes the books very unlike the messy business of real human life where justice and resolution are often elusive goals and many mysteries remain forever. Our books are for people who need to step away from their real lives from time to time, especially at times when real life has become too real.
At first I thought, if the world sucks at the outset of the book, and when the story is done and the crime is solved the world still sucks, isn’t that noir?
But of course that’s a glib answer.
Then I thought, the worlds portrayed in cozy mysteries are already idealized worlds. I always think of cozy towns as fantasies. So restoring the status quo in these towns by definition restores a more perfect society. And by more perfect, I mean more just, not more white and more wealthy, though looking across the genre, particularly at the established authors writing long-term series, one might assume that.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit this is something I think about. Particularly with my Mrs. Darrowfield series. Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody is my homage to Jane Marple, the sleuth I loved in adolescence, who is arguably the most responsible for my love of amateur sleuth fiction. I’ve moved Jane to the U.S. and the twenty-first century. I’ve made her divorced not a spinster, and given her a long, successful corporate career in which to observe the vagaries of human behavior, instead of the village of St. Mary Mead. I also posit that old isn’t so old anymore.
But like her inspiration, my Jane is a comfortable, privileged white woman. Of course being an old woman comes with its own set of challenges, but unlike many, Jane has the resources to meet most of them.
Sometimes I do wonder, why am I writing these books? More to the point, why am I writing them now?
You write the books you have standing to write. And do I ever have standing when it comes to writing about comfortable, privileged old white women.
I think what Lippman is saying in the full thread is that we need to make room, particularly in the traditional mystery genres, for new voices–voices that maybe don’t think the status quo is worth restoring. Lippman writes about how women are infusing new life in PI fiction. Cozy mysteries have always been a pink collar ghetto, which comes with its own set of challenges, but we sure could use new perspectives and casts of characters whose stories haven’t been told. We’ve made progress in the last decade, but it’s baby steps. We can do a lot more.
As for the rest of us old white women writing traditional mysteries, maybe if we thought in terms of fixing instead of restoring, fighting instead of discovering, it would breathe new life into our stories, too.
Readers: What do you think? What stories do you yearn for that aren’t being told?