In Praise of Marple and Plum

SparkleAbbey Mystery spinner Sparkle Abbey joins us in the ‘vert today.  Make room for 4 volumes worth of pampered pets and their clever humans (single nom, double tete).

Recently at a mystery conference awards event, a fellow author remarked “I wish they wouldn’t even include the cozy mysteries. They don’t have any substance.”

It was an unintentional insult. She just didn’t think. But really? Really? I mean, seriously, why would anyone say something like that? Especially to a couple of cozy writers.

And how on earth do you respond to a comment like that? Well, after we broke her knees… oh, wait, we didn’t really do that…after all we’re cozy writers.

Even worse, we’re humorous cozy writers. Not us – the books. We’re pretty funny and all (especially after a couple of margaritas) but what we’re really trying to say is that our mysteries have a humorous tone. We hope.

A double-whammy in the serious world of killing people off in books.

Amateur sleuths, particularly women amateur sleuths, are often targeted by critics as fluff. And if that amateur sleuth happens to be in books with names like say, Desperate Housedogs, Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, or Yip/Tuck? Can you say, big target. Huge fluffy target.

Kitty Kitty Bang Bang Cover

But wait a doggone minute. The female amateur sleuth goes all the way back to Agatha Christie. Miss Marple didn’t exactly enter the drawing room guns blazing. Though we know she’s no wimp, Jane Marple is a woman who very much relies on her wits to solve the crime. No fancy forensics, no intense interrogations, no official authority. It’s all about the fact that other people underestimate her. Then she uses her very shrewd understanding of human nature to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Which all comes back to observing and understanding people. Interesting people. People with secrets.

And people are funny. People trying to keep secrets can be extra funny. Which brings us to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum.

We would posit Stephanie Plum as a modern day Miss Marple with just as much reliance on her observance of humans being human. Okay, St. Mary Mead is a long way from Jersey. And Jane Marple is more tweed suits and sensible shoes while Stephanie is more high-heeled boots and Levi’s. Stephanie does have a gun, but we’d point out that she mostly keeps it in a cookie jar. No official authority in the investigation, and yet in the end she figures out why things went down the way they did.

And if there’s an explosion (car or otherwise), a wardrobe malfunction, or a funeral home visitation gone wrong, all the better. There’s still a puzzle to be figured out, there’s still an injustice to set right, and Stephanie is not going to give up. She will keep asking questions until she gets to the truth.

Both amateurs. Both smart and tenacious. Both students of human nature.

So, here’s to Marple and Plum. Two ladies who are who they are; and who use who they are to intrigue and entertain us. (You can’t see us, but we’re raising our margarita glasses. Clink. Clink.)

But back to our cozy critic for a moment. How would Miss Marple and Ms. Plum have handled the unintentional insult?

Here’s what we think:

Jane Marple would have looked at her curiously and perhaps remarked, “I see.”

Stephanie Plum might have flipped off a, “Well, yippy skippy.” (Maybe something stronger.)

Our reaction? “Hmmm.” We looked at each other and smiled. Isn’t human nature interesting?

What are your thoughts? What do you think about genre labels? What do you think about responding to unintentional insults? What do you think…should we have just broken her knees?

Sparkle & Abbey

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of mystery authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter who co-write the Pampered Pets Mystery Series featuring feuding former Texas beauty queen cousins Caro Lamont and Melinda Langston, who study human nature and often find themselves in the midst of murder investigations in the posh pet-friendly community of Laguna Beach, California.

About Kathleen Eagle

Kathleen Eagle is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels.
This entry was posted in cats, cozy mystery, dogs, mystery, mystery series. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to In Praise of Marple and Plum

  1. Thanks for the ride-along, Kathleen and crew. We’re happy to be here!

  2. Kylie Brant says:

    Welcome, you two! Since I’m all for murder and mayhem I say a good knee-capping would have been the way to go 🙂 Seriously, when people say something so blatantly offensive I am most often left speechless. But I *dream* of kneecapping them…!

  3. Tami Wirth says:

    Fun stuff! And I for one, think you are very funny!

  4. Good morning, you two! I’m so glad you brought your pets. We’re animals lovers, and do we adore a a good mystery.

    As for for that pitiful comment…Oh, my goodness, out of the mouths of the uninformed. And a fellow author, no less. Any writer who thinks humor or “coziness” is automatically devoid of substance hasn’t done her homework. Maybe it’s not your cuppa as a reader, but if you’re a writer you ought to be familiar with the diversity within the genre and recognize that substance has to do with the basic elements of storytelling, ALL storytelling, and how effectively those elements are turned out by the storyteller.

    Okay, that’s the teacher in me. The reader in me turns to the person who made that comment and says, “What the hell are you talking about, no substance? Define substance.” And the writer in me says, “That’s quite a broad brush you’re using, sweetie. Save it for painting houses.”

    • Thanks for the welcome, Kathleen. Our thoughts exactly! You realize that what you write may not be to that person’s taste but that doesn’t mean all the elements of storytelling aren’t just as important. Thank goodness there is diversity out there because there’s something for every reader! Still, we’re filing away the house painting comment for when we might next need a comeback.

  5. I like the knee-capping thingy. However, I like you guys and would hate to see you behind bars for assault. How about — “So, what is it about OUR books that you feel lacks substance? The plot? The characters?” Sometimes putting them on the spot, when they have no clue they’ve insulted you, works wonders. LOL

  6. Lois Greiman says:

    Huge welcome, ladies. Yup, you should have gone for the caps. And for those who don’t know, these two write a dog gone good mystery.

  7. bellwriter says:

    As one who has had margaritas with these ladies, I protest! They are hilariously funny, and don’t contain an ounce of fluff! Appetizers, maybe. (I was there, remember? ;)) I hate genre labels. Hate, despise writing to the market. If you have a great story to tell, and Sparkle Abbey does, tell it, and pffft to anyone who belittles your genre. Storytelling is too big for one genre!

  8. Trish Jensen says:

    Hi, Sparkle and Abbey! I LOVE cozy mysteries. And grit my teeth at naysayers. But since you’re cozy, how about just stepping on, and breaking their toes. What way you can swear it was accidental

    It irritates me that any genre of book-publishing gets trashed. Try being a romantic comedy author. “Oh, you write THOSE books?” I’ve wanted to crunch a lot of toes. But trust me, your supposedly “silly” books are so much fun! And there’s a huge reading audience for your books. So smile through gritted teeth and say, “And you write what worthless trash?” Just kidding.

    Keep going, because I, for one of thousands, want to keep reading.

    • LOL on the toes, Trisha! Oops, didn’t see your oh-so-serious foot there. Perhaps because it was in your mouth? The truly funny thing is that readers don’t care. They read cozy mysteries, or romantic comedy, or suspense or whatever because they love it. And we writers write what we write because we have a story to tell.

  9. Cindy Gerard says:

    Welcome lady and critters! Love your sense of humor and your attitude. I’d say go for the knee cap. But I’m mean that way :o)

  10. Abby Beal says:

    Hi Sparkle Abbey, 🙂

    I guess I’m biased: I LOVE cozies! They’re my favorite type of mystery to read.

    I think I would have gently suggested that they might not have found the right cozy to read if they don’t think cozies have substance.

    Kitty Kitty Bang Bang looks adorable and fun. Congratulations on your series & success!

    🙂 Abby

  11. Lisa Scott says:

    Cozy and fluffy are two of my favorite things! Love your book titles, btw. Couldn’t you make your clueless critic a character in a future book and kill her off? Or at least have her step in dog doo…

  12. I love cozy mysteries! Maybe a pampered pet could lift a leg over her kneecap…

    • Christie, you just never know. Pets are so unpredictable!

      • Trish Jensen says:

        Ha! mine is totally predictable. She whines exactly one minute before “puppy supper time” and she lays her head on my leg every time she wants something. I’ll go through the litany of what she might want, and as soon as I say the right word, she bows. USUALLY the right word is “treat?”

  13. leannebanks says:

    Welcome Sparkle. Just thinking…. your pets could help at a time like this. The dog could lift its let or the kitty might eject a hairball. What wonderful timing!:)

  14. ghurt110@bellsouth.net says:

    Well I for one like a little comedy in my mysteries or any book I am reading. Not sure what I would have done in your case but sometimes I just let thing roll off and go on.

  15. You’re right, ghurt110. Life’s too short, you have to laugh!

  16. Vickie King says:

    I can never think of something clever to say back to an insult, whether the insult is unintentional or not. Give me five minutes though, and I might. I guess I could always go after them and say, “Wait. Wait. I’ve got it. I know what to say to you now.” LOL. When I read, I want to be entertained. Give me a cozy mystery, put some good laughs in it, and that’s a feel good read.

    • Great point, Vickie! When we read it’s for entertainment. Or at least for us it is. Part of the reason we began writing cozy mysteries is that was what we were both reading. After a long day, give me a little escape. LOL We’ve had a lot of fun with this series!

  17. Eve Gaddy says:

    Hi, Sparkle and Abbey! Great blog. I think you should kill off the insulter. Fictionally, of course.:) It’s very rewarding.

  18. Christine Caudle says:

    When I searched for substance in the thesaurus, matter was the first word that popped up. I thought about it for a minute, asked myself what really matters to me when I read a book, regardless of the genre. It comes down to emotion. How I feel when I reach the end of a story. Have I laughed or cried, and do I want to buy an extra copy for my keeper shelf so I can later give it as a gift to someone else. Because if I find a book of substance—one that matters—I immediately want to share it with others. I guess my long-winded response is Sparkle Abbey books (humorous cozy mysteries) have great substance and greatly matter. I know because your stories have touched my heart and made me laugh. Thank you for all the hours of entertainment!

  19. Ahh, Christine. Thanks so much! That’s everything a writer hopes for.

  20. Knee-capping is a great contact sport!
    Seriously, why do people bash other genres? Just let it roll off. Your books are cute and of substance. They are entertaining reads, and isn’t that what writing is all about? Good post.

    Hope Clark
    http://www.chopeclark.com
    http://www.fundsforwriters.com

  21. Cozy mysteries are cool, and some folks are just mean or not too bright! As my grandmama used to say, “Pay ’em no never mind. Some folks just aren’t right.” (She didn’t approve of using aint. )

  22. Pingback: How I Became a Mystery Writer: | eHow Tos

  23. Pingback: Explosive Eighteen: A Stephanie Plum novel : by Janet Evanovich 2011 « Percypaschal's Blog

  24. Mamie says:

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  25. Janell says:

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