Jen Forbus is one of my absolute best friends in the book business. I know, as a writer, I’m not alone, either. When I finally got to meet Jen at Bouchercon last year I noticed the steady stream of authors who flocked to give her a hug.
Her blog, Jensbookthoughts.blogspot.com, is far more than a review site. It’s more like a tribute to everything in crime fiction. Her Six-Word Memoir project has drawn authors from near and far, from the biggest names to, well, names like mine. It’s worth a trip just to see it but while you’re there be careful, you can lose hours.
Anyway, without further ado, here is my first installment of Reviewing the Reviewers, fittingly with Jen Forbus.
1. What really gets you interested in a mystery?
Great characters definitely hook me in any book, but especially in a mystery. I want to care what happens to them. They can be repulsive villain-type characters and I want to see justice or they can be strong protagonists that I’m rooting for. I also appreciate characters who are witty or smart or both.
For me to care about what’s going on in the book, I first have to care about the people the action is happening to and around.
2. What bores the hell out of you?
The same old, same old. When it feels like the same plot is being re-enacted, just in a new location or with new supporting characters, I lose interest. Some people feel comfort in that; they know what to expect from their favorite writers, but I prefer when my favorite writers challenge me and surprise me.
I’m also not a big fan of gratuitous sex, violence or profanity in the books. If it serves no more purpose in the plot than to show how macho the protagonist is, it doesn’t need to be there. If it’s obvious that it’s serving a purpose in the overall scheme of things, I appreciate it. But violence for the sake of violence is offensive and insulting.
3. What cliches would you really like to see go away?
Probably my biggest turnoff cliché-wise is the damsel in distress. The woman who is so helpless that she needs the strapping hero to save her from life’s evils. And while I see less of that – maybe because I purposely stay away from it – I do still see it on occasion. There’s nothing wrong with having a great male protagonist. Some of my favorite characters are male. But, don’t make the females helpless. They’re allowed to be smart or funny or talented. They don’t have to be beautiful, dumb or helpless. They CAN help save the day and they don’t have to be every hero’s Achilles heel.
But, on the flip side, I’m also turned off by the female character who hates all men. Just strike a good, realistic balance.
4. What topics, themes etc would you like to see more of in mysteries?
I don’t like to see a lot of any one thing. I enjoy variety and uniqueness. I’ve been surprised at topics I’ve taken an interest in because the writers handled them so well. That’s one of the joys of reading, having your world open up to new ideas and concepts.
5. What mistakes do you think authors make?
I would never presume to know what makes the publishing industry tick and what mistakes authors do or don’t make in that realm. As a reader, what makes me stop reading an author is when he/she becomes formulaic. There are several very popular authors that I don’t read for that reason. Since they’re making the best seller lists, I don’t guess they’re actually making mistakes since they’re selling books, but I don’t read them.
Michael Connelly made the statement that publishing involves a great deal of luck. There are many, many talented writers but it’s often some element of luck that raises one above others. So, I guess you could be doing all the right things and just never walk under that lucky star.
6. Do you write? Would you like to?
Not beyond my blog. I’ve never felt like there was an idea or concept that I really needed to turn into a story. Maybe if that ever happened I might. But I prefer to be the reader and to talk about books with other people.
7. Who are your favorites?
Wow! Answering this one better not get me into trouble. The two people I always credit with hooking me on the genre are Robert Crais and Linda Fairstein, so they definitely are favorites. Alafair Burke absolutely writes my favorite female protagonist, Ellie Hatcher, so she has to be on my list. Michael Koryta is simply amazing. Gregg Hurwitz and Marcus Sakey are my favorite thriller writers. People will often hear me say that I think James Lee Burke is one of the greatest living American writers today. And the folks I will always spend money on to get their books right away: Chris Grabenstein, Craig Johnson, Louise Penny, Tom Schreck, Craig McDonald, Kathy Reichs. An author I really like but he hasn’t published anything for awhile is Thomas Holland. And this past year I was introduced to and fell in love with the works of Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman.
A couple of writers who had their debut novels in 2009 and who I believe will join the ranks of my favorites are Sophie Littlefield and Brad Parks.
If you ever asked me to pick just one, I’d not be able to do it. These are all favorites for all different reasons. They are all amazingly talented writers. I’m so thankful that they do what they do.
8. Why did you start reviewing? If you really hate a book will you still review it?
I just wrote about this question recently. As odd as it may sound, I started reviewing because I left the classroom. I was a high school English teacher and when I left the classroom and didn’t have a daily opportunity to talk about books, I felt a real void. So, I started talking about books on a blog. It was purely for selfish reasons, so when CRIMESPREE contacted me about submitting reviews to the magazine, I was extremely flattered.
If I really hate a book, I won’t review it. I don’t think there’s any benefit in that. I want to encourage people to read, not discourage them from it. And I have absolutely nothing to prove by being snarky or mean. If there are minor elements that didn’t sit well with me, I’ll mention them in a review. But if my overall reaction was, “god, this is terrible,” no, I won’t review that.
Read more Reviewing the Reviewers here.