Saturday, August 8, 2009

What Pulls Us to the Genre We Write?

I love mysteries. I always have. I started out with those Encyclopedia Brown books in first grade. I thought it was so clever the way Encyclopedia solved one case by realizing the reflection in a spoon is upside down.

Then I moved on to Nancy Drew. Nancy was it for a long time. She was determined, smart, had great titian hair (a word I had to look up in the dictionary in second grade), and even had a neat boyfriend, Ned (who wisely didn't discourage Nancy from crime-fighting.) The books had just the right level of spookiness and danger. Sometimes I had trouble going to sleep, but that was mostly because I wanted to go on reading and find out what happened next. I read all of the books in the series--many more than once.

After Nancy came Trixie Belden. Trixie was different. She sometimes got in trouble with her parents, and even with her much-older brother, Brian. They were more of the "meddlesome kid" variety of detective (sort of like the Scooby Doo kids.) These books had strong characterizations, cool plots, but maybe weren't quite as spooky as Nancy. Well, there was one in particular that gave me chills, but I'm talking generalities here.

Once I found Agatha Christie, I was hooked. I had to read all of her books immediately. Hercule Poirot and his odd idiosyncrasies was my favorite, but Miss Marple came in as a close second. Some of her books scared me to death. I really couldn't sleep after several of them, and it wasn't just because I wanted to go on reading. It was because Mrs. Christie had totally freaked me out. I remember one, not even one of her well-known books, where we discovered at the end that the narrator was the killer...he was psychotic. Arghhhhh!! I was up for hours. And loved it.

Since then, I've had many favorite mystery series. Mysteries remain my favorite genre for one major reason: escapism. By identifying with the sleuth/detective/police, I can be plunged into danger in the pages of a book and escape by the skin of my teeth. It's terrific stress relief. All of your tension can be tied up in this one place....and you know that somehow everything will work out in the end.

By the time I wrote my first mystery, I felt I’d read enough through the years to know what makes a good mystery. I didn’t feel like I had as much of a handle on other genres, which is why I didn’t take a stab at them.

I felt most at home writing mysteries. I think familiarity with a genre gives us confidence when writing it.