Maybe it’s my imagination, but while Writer’s Digest magazine celebrates its 100 years of publication, it’s also demonstrating a newfound maturity that seemed to be missing in recent years. The current September/October 2020 issue – a special double-sized “The Future Is…” issue – is a meaty read with instructive and thought-provoking articles from front to back. Practical business matters are well covered by Jeff Somers discussing his experience working with agent Janet Reid, followed by Cassandra Lipp and Robert Lee Brewer’s “The Next Step”, an 11-page roundup of twenty literary agents. In “Female, Powerful And Real”, Lorena Koppel-Torres shares her thoughts on writing authentic, relatable female characters in YA fiction, but her remarks apply to any audience. Susan Shapiro’s “Genre Fluidity” (Note: “Genre”, not “Gender”) didn’t simply look at genre-bending projects but actually reworking in-progress manuscripts into altogether different genres. Genre bending fluidity felt perfectly timed as I wrap up Elizabeth Hand’s latest genre-bending Cass Neary masterpiece, The Book Of Lamps And Banners (more about that one soon).
But of particular interest to a mystery/crime fiction reader and writer was David Corbett’s “The Future Of Crime Fiction”, a roundtable including Alafair Burke, Rachel Howzell Hall and six other writers discussing the evolving law enforcement landscape, criminals’ countermeasures and how crime writers will keep up. This hit close to home. I’m intrigued by the many ways imaginative writers concoct genuinely puzzling mysteries in contemporary settings where routine (but ever changing) technology would dazzle any classic gumshoe, leaving Spade’s, Marlowe’s and Hammer’s heads spinning till their fedoras fell off. Our frighteningly detailed digital footprints and increasingly pervasive surveillance (and the easy online access for pros and amateurs alike) provide rich, new tactical fodder for mystery writers on one hand, but at the same time, diminish some of the unknown and hard-to-uncover that was the core of classic mysteries for decades.
I’ll admit it: I’m more comfortable in an era in which the entire world isn’t a touch screen away. As my ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ character began to take shape in my head a few years back, I always imagined her residing somewhere in the late 1950’s through mid-1960’s. There’s no iPhone in her purse, and even when she doesn’t need a pocketful of change for a pay phone, she’s flipping through the Yellow Pages and chipping her nail polish on a rotary dial, along with a zillion other things that made up a sixty-year-old ‘then’. Frankly, some of them make it a little bit easier to concoct a ‘mystery’. Mind you, I’m not a nostalgia geek, and wouldn’t trade places with 2020 and 1959 (well, maybe for a day or two, purely for note-taking and observation). That’s fine for me and this project. For the braver writers turning their back on the ‘then’ and dealing with the ‘now’, the remarks Burke, Hall and crew provided in David Corbett’s Writer’s Digest article are well worth checking out.
Illustrations: Sam Peffer and Raymond Pease