Wednesday 24 June 2015

Teens and murder mysteries - do they mix?

The question today is: should I let my 15-year-old teenage niece read the murder mysteries I have written? She's just been given a Kindle for her birthday and is keen to download my books.

But are they appropriate? Is she too young?

Often classified as 'cozies', my crime novels actually have a little bit of offensive language in them (see blog below if you're wondering why) but other than that they really are quite cozy for adult crime novels. There's no sex of any kind, much to some reader's dismay, and the crime is relatively whitewashed. There's no major blood and gore, no sinister serial killers or, at least, the type that would keep you up at night (and by that I mean in a bad way), and no scalpel-happy pathologists slicing into corpses. They're just plot-driven puzzles, really, with a dead body at their core.

And yet I hesitate...

Before I explain why, allow me to go into a little background first.

My mystery history 
Like many crime writers, I grew up on a steady diet of mystery novels, from Enid Blyton's The Famous Five to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. From an early age I binge-read every mystery book I could get my greedy paws on. And I sourced my books from far and wide—from the sandy shelves of my local library (just metres from a sparkling beach that just couldn't compete) to the depths of neighbours' bookshelves. Even my friends' parents' bedside tables were not safe when I was sleeping over.

As a tweenie, I read my share of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, but my particular favourite was The Three Investigators, a lesser-known series featuring three gutsy boys who solved a range of crimes, mostly involving stolen jewels or missing pirate treasure. Arrrgh! And they did it from an exotic-sounding bunker in one of the boy's junk yards. (In retrospect, the bunker must have been a dump, and a stinky, leaky one at that. But why let reality get in the way?)

From diamond heists, I graduated to murder mysteries, as I guess most mystery-lovers do. I mean, what more pressing mystery is there than 'Who killed someone or other?' But no children's authors were writing murder mysteries of any kind. Of course they weren't. This was the 1970s, after all. And so I discovered Agatha Christie and never really looked back.

I'm looking back now and I don't believe I was any younger than my neice is today when I was captivated by my first fictitious murder. In fact, I'd bet my knickerbockers and shoulder pads I was around age 13 when I picked up Christie's Evil Under the Sun.

So why hesitate to let Lili, my lovely niece, read, say, A Plot to Die For, my homage to that very novel? In my story, I have a group of well-to-do types lolling at a luxury boutique hotel when, shock horror, a murder is committed. And, as is the way with murder mysteries, it must promptly be solved by my friendly visiting Ghostwriter, Roxy Parker (think Miss Marple but a lot younger, cooler and in way better clothes).

And still I hesitate...

Is it the occasional profanity in my books? 

It can't really be that, can it? I mean, surely Lili would hear much, much worse every day on the bus, in the school yard, on her family television set. Kids today are so much savvier and more blasé than we ever were. Swear words are one thing, blasphemy wouldn't even trigger an eyebrow raise. She may not even have heard of the term, so innocuous is it in modern Australian society.

Is it the fear that she will see me in a different light? 

I'm not the straightest Aunt she has, or even the sweetest by anyone's measure, but I'm also pretty sure, at this stage anyway, that Lili doesn't consider me a madwoman whose daily job involves conjuring up weird and wonderful ways to bump people off. Does she need to know I've imagined slitting someone's throat? That I've delighted in whacking a sleazy husband over the head with his treasured golf club? That it's all in a day's work for me; that my mind is that dark? Will she start to look at me sideways next time I stop to visit, and maybe even remove the sharp knives from the kitchen drawer?

Probably not, that's a bit extreme, but nonetheless it gets you thinking.

Perhaps I'm just scared I won't live up?

It's one thing to have strangers dislike your novels, it's quite another to be on the nose with those you, well, know. Even amongst grown-ups, I have always hesitated to recommend my stuff to loved ones, or  distant friends for that matter. If they read it and despise it or, worse, get bored and stop halfway (is there any worse fate for a writer?) will that sully our relationship? Will that cloud their judgement somehow?

Forget about the knives, will Lili struggle to look me in the eye next time I come to visit?

These are all vainglorious questions, pure self-indulgence, I know that. But they're questions I ask myself each and every time I publish a new novel. And now that a beloved niece wants to read one, they're questions I wish I could answer.

Instead, I guess I'll let her decide for herself. Tell her to do as most of my readers do, and check out the synopsis, read the sample chapter and decide for herself.

But I'll also quickly add: if she decides my books are too rude, or boring or, like, total crap, please don't tell me. I don't think I want to know.

Happy (age-appropriate) reading everyone.
xo Christina

Saturday 13 June 2015

WTF (Why The Fuss?)

I swear to God, I'm still trying to get my head around some readers' adversity to cursing and profanity in my books, and for that reason, I'm embellishing on an older post I wrote some years ago explaining why there appear to be 'so many' swear words in my novels. 

I hope this goes part of the way to explaining why I drop the odd f-bomb and why I refuse to take it out, but if it still gets under your skin, feel free to get in touch and let me know (colourful language most welcome!)

xo Christina

Every now and then I get an irate reader outraged by the profanity in my books, demanding to know why I need to swear so much and refusing to read anymore of my work until I desist. 

And I don't blame them. 

There are a lot of swear words in my stories, I admit that. And while the vast majority of my book reviewers/fans seem to have no issue with it (one committed reader confessed she never even noticed until I pointed this out!), I do feel compelled to explain myself to those of you who are upset, distressed or shocked. 

It's not premeditated, I promise!

Like the aforementioned fan, I never even realised there was much profanity in my stories until an Australian expatriate now living in Canada got in touch to say she'd forgotten how much Aussies swear until she read my first novel Killer Twist, and it made her feel quite homesick! Obviously it makes some of you just feel sick, and for that I apologise. 

I never set out to intentionally upset, distress or shock anyone when I write. I am in fact just trying to compose stories that are both entertaining and realistic. Just as characters and plot lines develop and unfold as I write, foul language appears out of nowhere (well, usually from the mouths of 'baddies', although not always). It seems to be a natural, fluid process, one I can not control. Sometimes, when I read back through the copy and the bad language feels overdone or jarring, I remove it, just as I remove cliches and descriptions that don't work. But I have to confess, most of the time I barely notice it.

And the reason...

Aussies swear a (bloody) lot!

It's a truth universally acknowledged that your average Australian cusses like a trooper. It's just a fact. Listen in on any conversation on any Aussie street, in any Aussie pub or office block, and you'll hear a colourful variety of words. 'Bloody' is the common one, but they get a lot, lot worse than that. We recently had a court case here where a teenager got off for using the 'F-word' at a policeman. The judge was forced to concede that it's now so common, it can't be construed as offensive. It's everyday language whether we like it or not. And my stories are everyday Australian stories (albeit with a little murder and mayhem in the mix). I need my Aussie characters to not just be colourful, but to sound like, well, everyday Aussie characters. My editor Maria at Glossy magazine (Killer TwistLast WritesDying Words) is the perfect example. She is modelled on two real-life editors I used to work with who swore a hell of a lot more than she does. A hell of a lot. I have, in fact, toned her down for the books.

Murder is okay but swearing is not? Huh?

I find it really strange that the same people who take umbrage at swear words seem to have no issue with people getting murdered in my books. Slicing someone's throat or leaving them in a dank basement to be devoured by rats is okay, but cussing is not? I'll never understand that one. Sorry, guys but these are murder mysteries, not fairytales or children's books. I think you have to expect a bit of grit when you pick one up. 

To censor or not to censor?

Hate to break it to you, but I won't take the profanity out any time soon. There really isn't that much, and to do so would be bordering on censorship. It feels contrived. It wouldn't be real. It wouldn't be honest. And it would be swapping credibility for sales. Once you start doing that, you might as well just give up and ask your readers to write it for you with all the reality taken out.

I have, however, considered publishing two versions of each book—one for the Americans who seem to be the main people who take offence, and one for everyone else. And I'm happy to do that if anyone feels strongly about it (please send me an email or leave a comment here). But I do think the real story needs to be available in one format with the real street language included for those who want, well, reality.

What do you think? Please let me know, I'd love to continue the conversation. In the meantime, happy (slightly wicked) reading everyone.

xo Christina