Picky Readers, Flying without a Net, and “Thanksgivingishness”
by Jess Lourey
Yay! I’m back at Paperback Swap, or as I like to call it, “The Humane Society for Books.” Thank you for reading, for being a part of this community, and for giving me five minutes of your time (ten, if you’re a slow reader, and if it’s wonderful if you are. It means that reading might not be quick for you, but it’s important, and important always trumps quick.)
When the amazing Cheryl tapped me to write this Thanksgiving post (and to add “thanksgivingishness” to it—her word), I was spending a lot of time thinking about what constitutes a good book. I got my start in the mystery world, and you won’t find better people or more compelling stories anywhere. That said, mysteries (and romances, fantasy, westerns, and some sci fi) all get a bad rap. They are categorized as genre fiction. In other words formulaic, write-by-numbers fluff. I’m not sure who exactly started that rumor, or who perpetuates it, but it’s settled into our collective subconscious. Many genre fiction writers are defensive about this. I may be one of them.
I’d like to think this need to prove something had nothing to do with me tackling a middle grade fantasy a year ago, or a magical realism novel this past fall, but I know better. Sure, the stories were driving me, but on some level, I wanted to legitimize myself. But you know what? As I embark on the eighth round of revisions on my magical realism manuscript, I realize that a good book is a good book, no matter the genre. The story is the key. The genre is merely the vehicle that takes it where it’s going.
This awareness made me realize that I don’t have to cater to picky readers (or writers, editors, agents, or publishers), those who only read romance, or only read literary fiction or nonfiction, or who only read any single type of book because they’ve mistaken the vehicle for the key. I can’t tell you how freeing this was for me, which brought me to a major career shift: I am now flying without a net. Specifically, I’ve decided to redefine myself as a writer. I’m no longer a mystery writer who does middle grade, or magical realism. I’m simply a story teller. In service of this new vision, I’ve also fired my agent, who couldn’t support my career shift in the way I needed her to.
That means I am now dangling over the edge, no net in sight: no genre to call home, no agent. Can I tell you how uncomfortable this is? Probably not, because you don’t know how Type A I am. I make lists. I know what I’m going to wear tomorrow. I plan time to plan. Letting go of my safety nets terrifies me. I’ve lost sleep about it. But also, on a deep, deep level, I’m grateful for where I’m at. This uncomfortable space is where the growth comes from, and the big, glorious changes. And for this opportunity to leave the comfort of the familiar for the excitement and promise of the unknown, I feel nothing but a deep and abiding thanksgivingishness.
Please keep reading, and support the stories, no matter what kinda car they drive up in. Happy holidays!
Jess Lourey is the author of the Lefty-nominated Murder-by-Month mysteries set in Battle Lake, Minnesota, and featuring amateur sleuth, Mira James. In multiple starred reviews, Booklist says of the series, “”It’s not easy to make people laugh while they’re on the edge of their seats, but Lourey pulls it off! Get started on this Lefty-nominated mystery series if you haven’t already!” Jess has been teaching writing and sociology at the college level since 1998.
When not raising her wonderful kids, teaching, or writing, you can find her gardening, traveling, and navigating the niceties and meanities of small-town life. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and The Loft, and serves on the national board of Mystery Writers of America.
Her latest, January Thaw, hits shelves January 8, 2014:
When Mira James moved to a small town in Minnesota, she thought she left muggings behind her . . . until she’s jumped by two men in an alley. A third man saves her, but for all his trouble he’s found frozen under an ice-covered lake.
Meanwhile, Mira’s job as a private eye in training has her tracking down the family that built the Prospect House, home of the town’s new museum. Discovering a letter that dates back to 1865, Mira finds herself embroiled in a cold case of treachery and a hot case of drug trafficking that puts the whole town in danger.
“…wry…delightfully eccentric. Readers of small-town mysteries will be charmed.”