People talk about the world of books, but I’d like to suggest there are a whole lot of separate worlds within that generalization. For you mystery addicts, there are several kinds of mysteries—traditional (traces back to Agatha Christie and beyond), cozies (are they a subset of traditional or are they becoming their own thing?), suspense and thriller (where is the line between those two?), vampire, paranormal and probably ten others I haven’t mentioned. Neither readers nor authors can satisfactorily define any of these, and it’s up to readers to find books they like and authors to write what their instincts—or their heart—tell them. As they say, you can’t tell a book by the cover.
But there’s another division within the world of mystery that puzzles me. I belong to Sisters in Crime, an organization founded way back in the ‘80s to protest the treatment of women authors of mystery fiction. We’ve come a long way, baby, but the group is vital and draws attention to the superb writing of many women, including founding mother Sara Paretsky. Because I monitor for SinC once a week, I’m familiar with many of the names. I also belong to Guppies, a subgroup whose name stands either for Going to be Published or The Great Unpublished. Membership in SinC is required to belong to Guppies, which is a warm, supportive, and informative group, much less structured than SinC. Many of us who are published hang around because of the friendship and congratulations and, sometimes, sheer silliness. Since I’m on the steering committee, I know many of the names of this 500+ member group too. And, wonder of wonders, there are women mystery writers who belong to neither group.
There’s the Dorothy L listserv, named after Dorothy L. Sayers and run out of Kent State University, which has an active popular culture program. It’s sort of an elite list, where friends bond, titles are reviewed, recommended, news shared—usually professional but sometimes private. I consider myself a fringe member—I have timidly contributed a few times but have not really become friends with any of the regulars and never seen a mention of my work. Still, I read it to be informed. Dorothy L. comes out twice a day.
I also subscribe to an online daily newsletter, “Shelf Awareness.” They do a version for booksellers and three times a week a version for readers. I skim both, paying particular mention to the mystery/suspense titles mentioned with brief reviews. It’s rare that I see an author’s name that I recognize from all my other affiliations.
All this means I receive about 300 emails a day. And you wonder that I don’t write the great American novel? But what puzzles me is the lack of overlap in these various lists. I sometimes wonder if there’s a caste system, where Shelf Awareness speaks only to Dorothy L (or the New York Times Book Review) and so on down the line. It’s a mystery to me.