Sunday, February 06, 2011

Weekend Writer: Fighting the Hard Fight

I joined Sisters in Crime several years before my novel was written because their efforts to promote the work of women mystery writers are important. The tendency of the literary world to look down on genre fiction, and women writers in particular, is not new. Part of that is snobbery. There are many genre books that are better written and more literary than reviewers realize. Part of it is sexism. Blind studies have proven that when the gender of the writer isn't known, women rank much higher than when the readers know they are reading a woman's manuscript. Knowing the thinking behind ignoring excellent books by talented women writers doesn't change the fact that no reviews, and bad reviews, hurt.

It is a difficult, often thankless job, to write. Many of us are struggling to get reviews, to have our work noticed, and to carve out a place for ourselves in the writing world. Most of us are working a day job, and juggling our writing and promoting with hectic lives.

For all my hard working Sisters in Crime, I am posting the following review. I found it comforting to know  that long before Sisters in Crime, there were women working to make mystery fiction one of the best selling forms of fiction on the market. They suffered through the bad reviews and continued to work. Thirteen books into her writing career, mystery writing foremother Anna Katherine Green was still fighting the hard fight.
In February of 1895 the following blistering review of Anna Katherine Green's novel "The Doctor, his Wife, and the Clock" appeared in Yale Literary Magazine.  I am including it in my writing blog as a reminder of the need for writers, particularly women writers, to develop a thick skin and keep turning out great books.

The works of Anna Katherine Green are always sought by a large number of readers who care little about how their literary dishes are served up as long as the dishes themselves are good. Anna Katherine Green is perhaps the best story teller in her line--a line which is almost unnecessary to say is neither literary nor intellectual. To make a long railroad journey seem shorter, or to while away a few stray half hours, her books do very well. If one does not get wildly excited over them, one does not at least throw them aside unfinished.

Her latest soar into the realms of literature is called "The Doctor, his Wife, and the Clock." The title is decidedly the most interesting portion of the book, and it certainly stimulates curiosity. The story is vastly inferior to "The Leavenworth Case" and is not equal in continuity or interest to the thirteen other books which have come from her pen. Its redeeming quality is its brevity, for, while one can see into the mystery and beyond very early in the story one is tempted to finish it because it is not long.

Anna Katherine Green never draws characters; she merely introduces a host of people in order that her readers may guess who is the murderer. (Of course there is invariably a murder in her stories.) To anyone who has contracted the very bad habit of persistently perusing her works it must be a constant source of wonder that he himself is alive, for murders must seem an every day and perfectly natural occurrence to him. Of the people in "The Doctor, his Wife and the Clock," the clock has more to do with the story than any of the human beings, and is decidedly more entertaining than the majority of them. The doctor is tiresome, his wife is possible still more tiresome, and the detective was evidently born a fool and apparently never got over it.

The denouement of the story is clever and is well related: it is an oasis in a desert. It is not, strictly speaking a denouement, for the rest of the book was without doubt written around this incident. It goes without staying that the story is wildly absurdly improbable, and this is the reason why it fails of its object, which was presumably to be pathetic. The volume is one of the "Autonym Library Series," heretofore so excellent.

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