Mystery Musings

I just finished reading the book CIRCE by Madeline Miller.  I love Greek myths, and I’ve always enjoyed the story of Odysseus.  On his journey home, Circe was one of the more fascinating characters he met.  And she’s a witch.  Now, anyone who’s read my blog very long knows I’m fond of good witches, too.  So this was a double win for me.  And Circe WAS a good witch.  His men deserved to be turned into pigs.

When I wrote urban fantasies, I used myths and witches in a lot of my stories.  But this book is literary, so Circe’s journey involves character growth more than adventures and battles.  And it explores what gives life meaning.  Circe is a nymph, so she’s immortal.  But the gods and goddesses she meets and who make up her family are shown mostly as petty.  There are a few exceptions, but they’re rare.  Most of them are full of pride, and they’re fickle.  They live forever, but their lives don’t mean much.

Circe is her mother’s firstborn, but her mother doesn’t consider her beautiful enough.  Neither does her father, so she’s the object of a lot of scorn.  Her sister, however, and then her brother are radiantly attractive, but mean.  Looks trump goodness of character every time in Helios’s halls.  Immortality doesn’t deepen wisdom or kindness.  It blunts it.  The gods purposely abuse mortals, because they know when frightened, humans worship them more, not less.  Thankfully, Circe sees this as the defect it is.

Circe tries to cope until she finally angers her father so much, she’s banned from his halls and sent to live on a small island.  This island becomes her sanctuary, where she learns to develop her spells and grows stronger day by day.  She learns lessons the hard way until she becomes a woman smart enough to defy the gods and get away with it.  It’s a pleasure reading how she becomes true to herself, even when the odds are against her.

My Florida daughter recommended this book to me, and I’m so glad she did.  The story made me wonder if imperfections are what make us grow to become the best we can be.  In stories, characters without flaws are boring.  Is that true in real life?  And as always, Greek gods are shown as vain and thoughtless.  A great combination for an interesting read.

I should never read Elizabeth George

Okay, everyone knows that writers need to read.  We learn.  We grow.  We re-energize.  We learn markets.  We internalize rhythms, techniques.  But there are some authors I should just stay away from.  And Elizabeth George is one of them.  I asked for a banquet of consequences for Christmas.  My sister bought it for me, but I was so swamped with manuscripts, I couldn’t get to it.  My good writing friend, Paula, read it and loved it.  We both appreciate Elizabeth George’s depth and language, her layers and nuances.  This last week, I finally got to start the book.  Poor me.

Elizabeth George makes me feel like I should sit in a corner and suck my thumb with a dunce hat on.  She makes me feel juvenile and inadequate, and I love her for it!  Every time I read her, she makes me want to strive harder, to show, not tell, to use small scenes to create big emotions.  She has a way of developing fully realized characters with strokes of dialogue, small gestures, telling details.  Sigh.  It’s a good thing she takes a long time between books, or else my ego might not survive.  She writes mysteries, but I consider her more of a literary writer.  The story’s characters outweigh the clues.  To be honest, I loved her early books, studied A Great Deliverance because I thought it was near-perfect, then had a rocky time for a few of her last books, but with this one, I’m back in reading Nirvana.

I feel the same way when I read a Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson novel.  Briggs writes urban fantasy–and who knew a writer could make that almost literary?  But for me, she pulls it off.  Yes, there are battles, struggles, and plenty of mythology.  But once again, Briggs’s use of language and her emphasis on characterization lift urban fantasy into literary status.  Everyone has their own likes/dislikes.  And I usually avoid literary with a vengeance, but when an author can combine the two–boy, am I impressed!

I hope your favorite authors never disappoint and always inspire you!  Happy Reading!  And as always, happy writing!

 

Which Genre Are You?

My patrician friends read weighty, literary tomes.  Or edgy, witty novels.  Or sophisticated skewers of society.  Years, maybe centuries ago, a friend and I went to a writers’ conference at a university.  We signed up for different panels and classes, but both of us had the same experience.  The guest writer started his lecture, asked the participants what they were working on, and informed each of us that writing for a genre was equivalent to writing trash.  Three years later, we returned to the same university for a conference, and genres had come up in the world.  One of the guest speakers wrote and sold lots of horror novels.  Another wrote mysteries.  A third wrote YA.  The publishing world had changed.  Really good writers, with masterful language skills, chose to write genre fiction.

Still, to this day, when I banter books with someone and that person is an afficiondo of literary novels while I’m discussing the latest urban fantasy, I feel outclassed.  I feel like the plebeian of the reading and writing world.   Literary might have fewer sales, but it has more clout.  It’s sort of like being a Woody Allen fan.  I love his movies, but I know better than to admit it to most of my friends.  They just shake their heads.  Even though I think anyone and everyone would fall in love with his latest, Midnight in Paris.

Anyway, the thing is, I read lots of classics in high school and college.  I still read the odd literary now and then.  But the truth is, I’m a genre junkie.  I asked for and read two anthologies of short stories by Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty one Christmas, and I read every single story in each book.  I loved the word choices, the rich imagery, the luscious language that just rolled off the tongue.  But give me one of Ellen Datlow’s anthologies any day, and I’d whiz through it faster.  I like plot.  I like tension.  Character studies are fine and all, but I want something to happen in my stories.  Both southern writers are brilliant, but I like genre better.

The nice thing about genre is that when I pick it up, I know what I’m going to get.  If I’m in the mood to add up clues and wrestle with the question “why?”– I buy a mystery.  If I want a kick-ass heroine, I’ll spring for urban fantasy.  If I’m into world building, I’ll crack open a fantasy.  It’s not that these can’t be written with strong characters and wondrous phrases, those are the authors I keep buying.  But there’s a meeting of expectations when I buy genre.  And I like that.

So what about you?  What’s your favorite genre and why?