Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Carolyn Hart and Sisters in Crime

On Friday, I'm going to be on a panel called "Doing Time with Sisters in Crime" at the Public Library Association conference. Each panelist is to introduce an author who is a newcomer (Terry Shames for me), and one who represents classics. Who is more of a classic, and a classy woman, than Carolyn Hart? In my mind, as a reader of traditional mysteries, I could have selected either Agatha Christie or Carolyn Hart. But, I've met, and hosted Carolyn, and heard her speak about the history of women mystery writers. Carolyn Hart, as a co-founder and former President of Sisters in Crime, is my selection. And, this year, she'll be honored by Mystery Writers of America as a Grand Master.

In 2011, Carolyn appeared at the Velma Teague Library with Earlene Fowler. Her twenty-first Death on Demand mystery, Dead by Midnight, was just out. She said, she was a failed author when the first one was published. She had published five juvenile books, but she had written seven adult books in seven years, and hadn't sold any. So, she wrote one more book, and decided if it didn't sell, she'd give it up, and play tennis.
So Carolyn Hart decided to write an old fashioned traditional mystery with characters she liked. She loved mysteries, and since the book was going to sell, her main character was a young woman who owns a mystery bookstore. And, Hart hadn't seen many happy marriages in mysteries, so she created a couple that would truly love each other, Max and Annie, since the book wasn't going to sell. Carolyn had no expectation that the book would sell. She sent her book, Death on Demand, to a new agent. That agent sent it to Bantam Books, where it became the second book in Bantam's new paperback line. 
At the time, New York only recognized two types of mysteries, the hardboiled crime novel written by a male author with a male protagonist, and the traditional mystery, written by dead English ladies. Then, in 1977, Marcia Muller's first book, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, was published. That was the first hardboiled mystery to feature an American woman as a P.I. Then Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky's books were published. The American women mystery authors became a valued commodity. Hart's Death on Demand came out in 1987. Now, the twenty-third, Dead, White, and Blue, has been published. Carolyn said she loved writing the books. The one thing New York does understand is money.

Asked what they thought of the term "cozy" mysteries, Hart responded saying cozy originally was a pejorative term. Raymond Chandler coined it in an essay in which he sneered at Agatha Christie. She said the term traditional mysteries is the proper one. Traditional mysteries are about fractured relationships, and the sleuth, amateur or professional, has to find out what went wrong with someone's life. 

Now, the publishing world uses cozy to define a book with a nice, genteel background. They don't know the word is pejorative. Carolyn said there can be trauma and despair in lives, but they can still have a genteel background. However, there is nothing cozy about murder. In her opinion, Agatha Christie was the finest mystery writer of all. Her favorite way to kill people was poison. How cozy is poison? 

Hart said Chandler was sneering at all the murders that took place in little villages, as in the Miss Marple books. However, quarrels can destroy lives and go on for generations. Great evil can happen in a small English village just as much as in New York City.

I may only have a few minutes to remind librarians that Carolyn Hart is important to the mystery genre. She has won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2012 Amelia Award at Malice Domestic, and was named a 2014 Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America. She has published over fifty mystery novels, including books in three series. It's going to be my honor to discuss Carolyn Hart's books.

With Earlene Fowler and Carolyn Hart (2011)


TFJ said...

I've read Carolyn Hart's Annie and Max series since the first book and look forward to each one. And it was the fact that a bookstore was involved that initially drew me in. Of course, after reading the first few pages, it was the story and characters that kept me there.

Have a wonderful time, Lesa, with the wonderful Carolyn Hart.

Pat S. said...

I too have read everyone of Carolyn Hart's "Death on Demand" books since the first one was published in 1987 and wait for each new one. They are wonderful. I have also read her newer three series which I also enjoy although I couldn't really connect with Henrietta. I am now reading all of her 'stand-alone' books. What a great and versatile writer. I am so glad that she finally got that first book published !!

Lesa said...

Oh, I'm only talking about Carolyn Hart's books. She's not at PLA. But, thank you. I'm glad you both enjoy her books. She is a true Grand Master.