RARA-AVIS: The State of Hard-boiled

From: Frederick Zackel ( fzackel@wcnet.org)
Date: 12 Apr 2001

Two articles about the publishing industry popped up just hours apart and together paint a interesting picture for hard-boiled writers getting published at this time. Some tidbits.

From The Far East Economic Review: http://www.feer.com/_0104_12/p064current.html

The Crying Game By Suh-kyung Yoon/HONG KONG

     With their tear-filled tales of personal struggle,
     Asian women writers are hot publishing properties.
     But are they just pandering to Western prejudices?

True, an Asian memoir has never been a book-club selection, but the book club has hammered home to publishers the importance of women readers, who account for almost 80% of all book purchases.

Like their covers, most autobiographies published by Asian women in English are relentlessly tragic. Unlike Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt's memoir of growing up poor in Ireland, humour is rare. Women tend to be depicted as victims of a patriarchal society that binds their feet, rapes them, marries them off to wife-beaters or throws them into labour camps. Even Madame Mao, one of the most powerful figures during China's Cultural Revolution, is reduced to an Oprah guest--a long-suffering wife who loses her mind trying to get her husband's love and attention--in a fictional memoir by Anchee Min published last year called Becoming Madame Mao.

From Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/articles/20010409_95141.asp

The Guys, theGals -- Who's on First? Lucinda Dyer Do male authors and heroes outsell their female counterparts, or vice versa -- or is it a draw?

When Bantam executive editor Kate Miciak put together her first mystery list some 15 years ago, she remembers management being "baffled" at the fact that it was composed almost entirely of women--including Sue Grafton's "B" Is for Burglar and the debut of Elizabeth George. A feminist plot? Miciak was simply more interested in the psychology of crime than in the action, something she didn't find in many manuscripts from men.

As for sales, allow Rue Morgue publisher Tom Enid to debunk the myth that the numbers were always dominated by the good old boys. "Most of the boys had a hell of a time making a living. Only a few writers from the '30s and
'40s made it big--Hammett, Chandler, John D. Macdonald. Christie outsold them all."

Freed at Mysterious Press believes that the hard-boiled PI may have a real future with younger readers looking for a tougher mystery.

But not everyone sees a vacant seat at the bar for the hard-drinking PI.
"There's a place, but it doesn't seem to be for us," says Morrow/Avon senior editor Jennifer Fisher. "There are always going to be the Sam Spade-type characters, but the question is whether they can sustain serious sales that build over time. Our publishing program doesn't seem to lend itself to really doing well with that sort of mystery."

Dutton's Tart believes that men are holding their own, citing the continuing success of Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane as well as the attention that George Pelecanos and Dutton's Michael Garrity have been receiving. That said, he also notes that female writers seem to be taking the lead, a trend he sees as a reflection of the readership of mysteries.

"Having for years missed the opportunity to sell books with strong female characters," says "Drood Review" editor Huang, "publishers have now overcompensated, throwing all their energy and resources into publishing these women. Women deserve their success, but too many of even the best male writers aren't getting a chance to reach their audience."

And of course there is more when you click on those two sites.

Thank you for the bandwidth. Frederick Zackel

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