Monday, July 31, 2023

Women in Mystery

 Annamaria on Monday

This discussion is inspired by an unpublished essay by my dear departed friend, Dr. Barbara Fass Leavy.  A little background: When she was a newly minted PhD on a tenure track at Queens University in NYC in the 1970s, her department head was concerned about a sharp decline in the number of students signing up for lit electives - bad for the size of the department's budget.  He announced they would offer a course on crime fiction and that Barbara would teach it.  She refused.  "'I am a scholar' I told him," she reported to me shortly after we met, decades later.  "I am not going to treat that trash as if it were literature."  As you can imagine, she lost that argument.

Once she delved into the genre, reading the best novels she could find, she completely reversed that thinking.  She even published on the subject, most notably a critical assessment of the works of Ruth Rendell.


By her definition, mystery novels were "works of literature in which a crime is committed and an investigation ensues."  I told her that by her description "Hamlet" and Crime and Punishment are crime fiction."

"Exactly," she said.

One of Barbara's interests was the position of women in society, and that topic often intersected with her interest in mysteries.  After--far far too soon--we lost Barbara, I was privileged to receive some of her unpublished papers. One of them begins:

"Women have always been important in the world of the mystery novel. Nancy Drew, girl detective, is celebrating her 60th anniversary and has been the subject of an entire conference at the University of Iowa."

This tells me that Barbara's essay dates back to 1990. It goes on, "...recently, the female private eye has commanded increasing attention, and woman's role in the police procedural genre was highlighted in a TV series on Public Broadcasting. Whether this feminist strain has produced something, genuinely "female," or whether a hard boiled female private eye is anything more then the flip side of a hard boiled male one is a matter of debate."

At that very same time that Barbara was analyzing the contribution of women to the genre and how they were portrayed in the stories, women crime writers were fed up with being treated as second class citizens.  They founded the organization Sisters in Crime.  Here is what their website says about their founding and progress.

"In 1986, twenty-six women crime writers, frustrated with the obstacles they faced in publishing, met at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Baltimore to plot a path toward being treated as the equals of male writers. They gathered again in May 1987 during the Edgar Awards Week in New York to formally establish the organization, Sisters in Crime (SinC). The group formed a steering committee and held the first membership meeting at Bouchercon in 1987, establishing a tradition that continues."

Data from the Edgar award website supports their contention.  In 1986, of the sixty-nine authors nominated for Edgars, only eleven were women, four of them in the Juvenile category.  One of those four nominees was the only woman to win an Edgar that year.  (By the way, Barbara's favorite subject - Ruth Rendell was nominated twice for Best Novel, but neither of her books won the prize.)

The data from this year's Edgar awards show that women are doing better nowadays, especially when it comes to nominations.  Twenty eight of the fifty-one nominees were women, and they won in five of the eleven categories.

These statistics seem to show real progress.  What do you think?

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Welcome to "Throwback Sunday at MIE"

The first post on Murder is Everywhere rolled out on November 11, 2009. Since then, 4500 posts written by some of the finest crime writers on the planet have appeared on a daily basis at this URL.  I think it's fair to call that a powerful demonstration by MIE's contributors of their commitment to maintaining a fresh dialog with fans and other lovers of the genre on matters far removed from self promotion of their work.

Of the 4500 posts virtually all were new material created specifically for MIE's readers. Though some have been reposted, the vast majority lived for but a day then floated off into the great ethernet library in the clouds.  

That doesn't seem right. There are so many interesting topics, incisive opinions, and downright funny tales hiding out in the MIE vault deserving of revival.  And so, we offer you Throwback Sundays as a place to stroll into the past.  It won't be every Sunday, but when it is we hope you'll enjoy the memory.

For our first Throwback, I thank Caro for her post Friday reminiscing on her experience taking over the Friday slot from Dan Waddell, one of MIE's founders.  Caro mused about what Dan might be doing now.  That got me to thinking about Dan's first post -- and how what he wrote about then, might yield a clue to what's kept him occupied over the ensuing years.  

So, fellow sleuths, here's Dan's initial post that went up on November 20, 2009 titled, "The Pram in the Hall."

Dan Waddell

"There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall."

Better writers than me have debunked Cyril Connolly’s famous quote and, as someone who’s trodden on some toys, barged his way past a few buggies and broken off mid-paragraph to change a nappy or two in his time, I’d agree he was talking the sort of pompous bunkum only dilettante intellectuals could conjure with a straight face. The constraints of parenthood actually helped me write. Childless, I could work any time, day or night; and the end result was that I often ended up working neither. When it was only an option to write in daylight as nights were given over to reading aloud about hungry caterpillars or trying to grab some much needed rest, my productivity grew. My life, at long last, had structure, even if a few other things were lost, such as sleep.

However, had Cyril been a crime writer he may have had had a point. When my first child was born I wasn’t writing crime. Now, with my third newly arrived, I am. In fact, I’m halfway through my latest. I am trying to conjure up dark deeds, ominous atmospheres and a creeping sense of dread. Meanwhile, Child Three (as we’ll call him, as long as Tom Rob Smith doesn’t steal it for his next title) is doing the best he can to distract me. He likes to be held and I like to give my suffering wife a break. So half of my day is spent with him in my arms, staring into his eyes, innocent dark brown pools, humming lullabies, or rocking his pram so he can sleep. Then I trudge back to my office, muslin square still draped absent-mindedly over my shoulder, an unseen slick of baby puke down my back, and try to recreate the dark deeds etc. It isn’t proving easy. The outside world has ceased to exist (though not for long, I promise, or my contributions to this blog will look a little insular…), my characters are strangely content and people are more likely to be hugged to death than flayed alive and their raw flesh salted.

I would panic, but for one thing. Around the corner lie those books only parents know of; not least that bloody hungry caterpillar. After the 45th reading, misanthropy will reign and I get the feeling that my characters will grow less pleased with their lot and people will die. Horribly.


Dan - Friday

Saturday, July 29, 2023

My Take On What's Happening On Mykonos




I’m honored for a fifteenth time to have been asked to contribute an article to Mykonos Confidential, the classic summertime luxury magazine voice of the island’s storied past, and chronicler of its nonpareil hedonistic present. 


For this summer’s issue I was asked to write an article that presented me with the opportunity of expressing my views on the recent mass of critical attention Mykonos has received from the international press.


How could I pass up such an opportunity?


The text of my article, titled
An S&M Dilemma, is set out below, and appears on pages 48-49 of this link to the magazine.  It kicks off a series of other essays in a section titled, “The Talk: Memories, Opinions & Insights––Conversations, memoirs, visions for the next day of Mykonos.”


All exploring a place unlike any other.


Enjoy—or better yet, think.


An S&M Dilemma.


For many years now I’ve been honored by Mykonos Confidential with an annual invitation to write an article reflecting my thoughts on topics tossed my way by its Editor. It’s a fun challenge I’ve always looked forward to meeting. This year I found the topic particularly knotty (or naughty) because it asked me to focus on the concept “Mykonos: success story or Succession (inspired by the TV series!)”


What gave me pause was that I’d never watched an episode of Succession. Not because the American satirical comedy-drama TV series isn’t great work—for it is rated by some critics as among the best TV series of all time—but because it’s just that. I did not need another addictive series sucking away at my writing time. Nor was I up to conducting the research necessary to make informed mentions of Succession’s fictional plot lines and characters, let alone compare them to Mykonos’ real-life ones.


But, alas, being the decades-long lover of our island that I am, and in appreciation for all that Mykonos Confidential has done over the years to burnish the island’s image through good times and not-so-good times, I accepted. After all, there’s much to be learned from comparing impressions created solely through word of mouth, social media, and commercial hype with those formed by on the ground, first-hand, real-life experience. 


Which brings us to S&M.  Succession and Mykonos.


Let’s start with my clean slate view of Succession. Based upon what I’ve absorbed through simply living in a world driven by media hype and hucksterism, here’s what instinctively comes to mind when I hear mention of Succession: Ruthless Greed, Rampant Hedonism, Incessant Pretention, Unfettered Ambition, Widespread Corruption, Ubiquitous Temptation, Insidious Betrayal, Cold-hearted Revenge, Annoying Hypocrisy, and Ultimate Storybook Comeuppance. 


I’m not suggesting that my impressions are correct or complete, but simply offering what I perceive in admitted ignorance to be The Ten Commandments of the Succession universe.


Now on to Mykonos. I think it’s fair to say that being as familiar as I am with our island’s ways and history disqualifies me from offering up blank slate perceptions of the sort that may be held by those unfamiliar with what has brought Mykonos its undeniable widespread fame and financial success.


So, let’s approach this from a different perspective–with that of those of you familiar with both Mykonos and Succession. How do you compare/contrast the two, and what guidance do you draw from that exercise?  Take some time to honestly reflect upon the question, because no one is asking you to publicly declare your conclusions any more so than you would your vote. 


Putting political correctness and past positions aside, what do you feel in your heart when the subject of Mykonos comes up today? What opinions come to mind at that moment, and how do they differ from those you held in earlier times, back when we all were admittedly younger and undoubtedly driven by different passions and priorities. Do the many changes you have witnessed to the island alarm you, entice you, or not matter to you?


Assuming you have been honest with yourself–something we all need to work on at times–I think we’d agree that things are very different now from “back in the day.” But change is inevitable in our world, and what takes our measure as human beings is how we integrate those changes into our communities in a fair and reasonable manner for all concerned. That is far from a simple task, but an inescapable one for any entity intent on continuing to thrive.


If at this point you’re expecting me to set out The Ten Commandments of Mykonos, I’m sorry to say I’m all out of tablets.  Besides, considering how rapidly things occur around here, I’d likely end up spending more time chiseling away in marble than basking in our Aegean Sea and sun.


In deference to my suntanning efforts, let’s skip to the ultimate question only you can answer for yourself: Does life today on Mykonos resemble a reality-show version of fictional Succession?


And if the answer is yes, should those responsible for making it so receive a BAFTA, Emmy, Golden Globe … or something else?




Jeff’s Upcoming Events:



Friday, July 28, 2023

The Day Before I Came....

The Day Before I Came is nearly a very good ABBA song. I mean the song is perfect, it's the title that's a bit off. A weird thing happened though - I was scrolling through the blog history, trying to work out when I started. And where I started. The 'why' has still to be answered by many.

And, as I said above, weirdly, my first click was on the year... on the week....the very week when Dan handed over to me. Some of you might not know Dan. Lovely bloke, but (again weirdly) has not been heard of since he got me this gig. Maybe he's nervy of what you lot would do to him for landing me on you if you ever caught him.

Well, I thought it might be nice for me to reprint that last blog he did, and next week I'll track him down and put him on my fictional window seat and see how he's doing now.  I think he might be writing, doing his kids' homework and trying to play cricket!

And it's a good chance to look at our faces as the readers see us. We all seem to be tagged on at the end, and we refused to budge, as we could be in the bar at Bouchercon,,,,,


Here's what Dan said....from a space and time far, far away.... Well it's at ne'erday 2013, and a little bitter sweet to read.....

To the Seeing Again

Well, I managed to revover from my bug in time for Christmas, which allowed me to eat, drink and make merry - and now I feel as ill as I did before the festive period, but this time because of self-indulgence. I have a few days of austerity and (relative) self-denial, and then it's time to celebrate the New Year.

As a teenager I remember standing in the kitchen of my girlfriend's house, while her father and their neighbour toasted the New Year. Both men agreed the preceding one had been tough, for different reasons, and wished for better fortune ahead. But it was to be their last New Years Eve. Both of them died, years before their time. It was a salutary lesson for my younger self: I vowed not to attach too much significance to changes in dates, bemoan what had gone or hope for the better. Best to take it as it comes, and I've pretty much adhered to that.

However, this year is different. 2012 has been an tough year, for several reasons. 2013 could be even worse, of course, so I'm not hoping for anything better, just raising a glass and hoping the door hits 2012 on the arse on its way out. I have a few exciting plans lined up for 2013, but first I'm taking a bit of a break from things to try and recover some energy and equilibrium.

Which means, I'm sad to say, that this will be my last blog here for a bit. During the past few months it has become increasingly difficult for me to find the time to give it the attention it deserves, and as a result I've been rehashing old posts and ideas. So I'm taking a sabbatical. I plan on returning at some stage in some capacity, even if it's simply as a guest, and of course I'll be visiting daily to read everyone's instalments, and crack some inane jokes below the line. This is a wonderful blog (thanks to our sage and effervescent leader Leighton) and I feel honoured and privileged to have shared webspace with so many fantastic writers and all the warm, witty and generous people who have visited regularly and irregularly for the past three years. Thanks also for all your comments - I hope you've learned a little bit more about This Septic Isle and London in particular through my blatherings.

I'm also delighted to say that my Friday replacement is none other than Caro Ramsay. Caro and I once shared a publisher, and I've met her several times (and on one occasion she upbraided me about using the phrase 'truculent Scot', as if there was any other kind...). She is funny, insightful and a hugely talented writer. She is also, as I indicated, Scottish, and proud of it too, so expect to learn alot about Caledonia and its folk, and a few sideswipes at us uptight, condescending Sassenachs. She'll be great fun and she'll be here next week.

Until the next time.

Dan - Friday