Category Archives: Tony Hillerman

Call Up the Craftsmen, Bring Me the Draftsmen*

HandmadeThere’s something about handmade, custom-created things. There’s a personal touch that you don’t see in machine-made products. And when you’re fortunate enough to have something custom made, you know what a difference that extra effort and personal touch can make. Before the advent of the assembly line, a lot of things were handmade, but that’s not as true now. So when you can get something handmade, the experience can be all the richer.

Handmade and custom-made products add richness to crime fiction, too. There are, of course, historical series such as Eleanor Kuhns’ that feature handmade things. Her Will Rees is an itinerant weaver whose trade is a part of this series. And this is by no means the only example.

But there are also books and series set in modern times that include people who create handmade and custom-made things. For example, Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn novels take place mostly among the Navajo people. The Navajo Nation is noted for exquisite weaving, so Navajo blankets and rugs are well-made and beautiful, too. If you know where to go, you can actually find some that are made traditionally (i.e. not just produced for tourists). In People of Darkness, for instance, Chee, who is a member of the Navajo Tribal Police, is looking for a man named Tomas Charley, who may have valuable information on a case he’s investigating. He learns that Charley will be attending a rug auction at a local elementary school, and goes there. The rug auction is a regular way for local weavers to sell their wares, and for those handmade products to be available to successful bidders. It’s not the sort of thing that you find at a roadside tourist stop. But for those who know, there’s nothing like a custom-made rug or blanket.

Handmade rugs also feature in Anthony Bidulka’s Date With a Sheesha. In that novel, Saskatoon PI Russell Quant gets a new client. Pranav Gupta wants to know what happened to his son Nayan ‘Neil.’ The younger Gupta had been on a trip to the Middle East to give a series of lectures on antique carpets, and to get some samples of traditionally-made carpets for the University of Saskatoon’s permanent collection. He was killed in what police said was a tragic, but unplanned, murder by local thugs in an open-air market. But Pranav Gupta thinks otherwise, and sends Bidulka to the Middle East to find out the truth.

If you enjoy baked goods, then you know that it’s hard to match the quality of fresh-baked, homemade bakery items. That’s part of the reason why Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is successful with her bakery, Earthly Delights. She is dedicated to making real breads with proper ingredients, and she knows the difference between machine-produced bread and handmade bread. And her apprentice, Jason Wallace, is just as dedicated. His specialty is muffins, and his work is of such quality that one of his nicknames is ‘The Muffin Man.’ When a competitor from a large chain called Best Fresh moves in down the street in Trick or Treat, we see just how seriously these two take their work. Best Fresh may be a larger company, but the cooks there are more technicians than they are real bakers, and that difference shows in the product.

D.S. Nelson’s Blake Heatherington knows the value of handmade, custom-created products, too. He is a former milliner, who ran the family business for several years in London. Now he’s retired to the village of Tuesbury, where he still makes hats to order – discreetly, of course, so as not to arouse too much interest from the local council. After all, he’s not technically supposed to have a business on his home property. But anyone who has a Heatherington hat knows how well worth it that extra effort is. Heatherington creates hats from the right materials, and always with his client’s needs and wishes foremost in mind. He’s quite observant, too, which makes him not only a skilled milliner, but also a very apt amateur detective…

Fans of Peter Temple’s Jack Irish novels will know that he has unofficially apprenticed himself to cabinetmaker Charlie Taub. Both of them know the value of careful workmanship and the right wood. They tease each other, but they both respect the effort it takes to do a cabinet job the right way – by hand.

And then there’s Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen’s Benjamin Cooker. He and his assistant Virgile Lanssien are wine experts, and they know what it takes to make great wine. Certainly there are machines and technology used in the process, but at the same time, the real key to fine wine is the personal touch of the vintner. Properly made wine doesn’t taste ‘mass produced,’ and these amateur sleuths know that. In this series, along with the mysteries, readers also get a look at the way wine is made, and the many subtleties that the personal touch adds to the final product.

There are other series, too, that feature characters who make handmade and custom-made items. There’s Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Southern Quilting mysteries, which feature Beatrice Coleman. She’s retired from her work as an Atlanta folk art curator, and has moved to Dappled Hills, North Carolina, where she’s joined a local quilting guild, the Village Quilters. In this series, readers get a look at the Southern tradition of handmade quilts. And there are Beth Groundwater’s Claire Hanover novels, which feature custom-made gift baskets. Those are only two examples; there are many others.

Although today’s technology certainly has its place, there really is something about handmade and custom-made items. Perhaps it’s because so much is machine-made that we really appreciate it when something is made just for us.


ps. The ‘photo shows you what I mean. This set of bookshelves was handmade by a friend who’s, among other things, a skilled carpenter. I love it, not least because of the careful workmanship that went into it. What?! Can’t a girl find a solution to the TBR problem? ;-)



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Bragg’s Between the Wars.



Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Beth Groundwater, D.S. Nelson, Eleanor Kuhns, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Kerry Greenwood, Noël Balen, Peter Temple, Tony Hillerman

Once Upon a Time in the Land of Misty Satin Dreams*

Fairy StoriesEvery culture has fairy tales and legends that are passed along from generation to generation. Because they’re such an integral part of our culture, it’s not surprising that fairy tales are woven into our daily references and allusions, too. If I mentioned that I knew someone with hair as long as Rapunzel’s, you’d probably know exactly which fairy tale I meant, and how the story goes. That’s how much a part of culture fairy tales and legends are.

We also see them in crime fiction, both in subtle and less-subtle ways. Agatha Christie, for instance, included several references to fairy tales in her stories. One of them is in The Murder on the Links. That story begins with Captain Hastings returning to London after a trip to France. He meets a fellow passenger who, so she says, is going to meet her sister. The two get to talking and end by striking up a friendship. When he asks her name, she tells him it’s Cinderella. Shortly after Hastings returns to London, he and Poirot get involved in a strange case of murder when Poirot receives an urgent letter from Paul Renauld, who lives in the small French town of Merlinville sur Mer. ‘Cinderella’ has a role to play in this story, so we meet up with her again. And at one point she and Hastings have this conversation:

‘‘Cinderella married the Prince, you remember. I’m not a Prince, but—’
 She interrupted me.
 ‘Cinderella warned him I’m sure. You see, she couldn’t promise to turn into a princess. She was only a little scullion after all—’’

Perhaps ‘Cinderella’ doesn’t have evil stepsisters in this story, but the references to that fairy tale are clear.

Nele Neuhaus’ Snow White Must Die features police detectives Pia Kirchoff and Oliver von Bodenstein. In this novel, they investigate a terrible accident in which Rita Cramer falls (or was she pushed?) off a bridge onto a car passing underneath the bridge. As the detectives start to look into the case, they naturally begin with people who know the victim. This leads them to an insular sort of town, where everyone is keeping secrets. It also leads them to a puzzling coincidence (or is it?). It turns out that Rita Cramer’s son Tobias had spent the last ten years in prison in connection with the disappearance of two seventeen-year-old girls. Now he’s been released and has returned to the village. Was he guilty? Then another young girl goes missing. Now the detectives have to ‘fight the clock,’ as the saying goes. This case turns out to be connected to the story of Snow White, and to a play that tells that fairy tale.

Carin Gerhardson’s The Gingerbread House makes, I admit, a less direct connection to the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. But it’s still present, if you look. Stockholm police detective Conny Sjöberg and his team investigate when real estate professional Hans Vannerberg goes out to look at a house for a client and doesn’t return. His body is found at the home of Ingrid Olsson, who was recovering from surgery at the time of the murder, and couldn’t be guilty of it. Since she’s not guilty, the team look among Vannerberg’s family and friends, but there seems to be no motive. Then there’s another murder. And another. Now it looks as though someone either has a personal vendetta, or there’s a serial killer at work. In the end, the answer lies in the past, and in people’s relationships years earlier. This story doesn’t, as I say, directly mention the Grimm Brothers’ story of Hansel and Gretel. And I don’t know for a fact that Gerhardsen took her inspiration from that story. Still, it’s arguably a subtle influence in the novel. There’s even a sort of fairy-tale reference at the beginning of the novel:

‘The brown, Queen Anne-style villa is a stately structure, perched at the top of a grass-covered hill, surrounded by tall pine trees. The white corner posts and window casings, with their rounded corners, give it an inviting, fairy-tale shimmer.’

Despite that almost magical beginning, the story turns out to have anything but a fairy-tale happy ending.

There’s also Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm series, which features Sabrina and Daphne Grimm as youthful sleuths. The novels are intended for young readers, and take place in the world of Everafter, which combines real and fantasy characters. Perhaps this series isn’t targeted at adult readers, but it’s an interesting look at how fairy tales and mystery fiction are woven together.

In Ruth Rendell’s Gallowglass, which she wrote as Barbara Vine, we meet Joe Herbert. He’s despondent and in fact, is about to throw himself under a train. But he’s saved at the last minute by Sandor Wincanton. What Joe doesn’t know at first is that Sandor has plans for him. He wants Joe to be his ‘gallowglass’ – the servant of a Chief. Joe is blindly loyal to Sandor, and is easily groomed for his role in Sandor’s plans. And Sandor uses a very effective means for winning Joe over. He tells the boy a fairy tale about a prince, a kidnapped princess, and the prince’s quest to rescue her. What Sandor’s really planning, though, is something quite different. He is obsessed with supermodel Nina Abbott, and intends to ‘rescue her’ from the heavily guarded home in which she lives. His use of a fairy tale is essential in getting Joe’s cooperation in a quest that turns horribly wrong.

Of course, fairy tales and legends come from many cultures, and we see that in crime fiction too. For instance, Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger features the Ute folktale of Ironhand, a Ute who was able to slip in and out of canyons magically. This allowed him to steal sheep from Navajo (the Utes’ traditional enemy) and confound Navajo attempts to catch him. This tale proves useful when a band of right-wing militiamen pull off a robbery at a Ute casino. It’s suspected that Deputy Sheriff Teddy Bai was an ‘inside person’ who helped the robbers, but Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito doesn’t think he is guilty. When she tells Sergeant Jim Chee about her concerns, he starts to ask questions. It turns out that the truth about this robbery is related to that Ute folktale.

Fairy tales and folk tales may be dismissed as fantasy. But they have permeated our cultural consciousness. And it’s interesting to see how they also permeate crime fiction.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Falling of the Rain.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Vine, Carin Gerhardsen, Michael Buckley, Nele Neuhaus, Ruth Rendell, Tony Hillerman

You Can Bet That He’s Doing it For Some Doll*

Changes for LoveLove – or at least attraction – can make a person do some strange things. Sometimes those things end up being really beneficial. For instance, a smoker who falls in love with a non-smoker may find just the motivation needed to quit. Lots of people start taking better care of themselves when they find themselves attracted to someone and that’s all to the good. But sometimes, people find themselves making changes they really don’t want to make, or that aren’t in their nature. That’s when you can get conflicts (even if they’re just internal conflicts). And that, of course, can be the stuff of interesting character development in crime fiction.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, a group of people is staying at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay. Two of those people are famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall and her husband Kenneth. With them are Kenneth’s daughter Linda. When they arrive, Kenneth is surprised and delighted to see an old friend, famous dress designer Rosamund Darnley. They don’t get much chance to catch up, though, before Arlena is found murdered one day. Hercule Poirot is staying at the Jolly Roger, and he works with the police to find out who the killer is. In one sub-plot of this novel, Rosamund is faced with a dilemma (or at least, it was one during this era). She has feelings for Kenneth; as it turns out, he cares for her, too. But she also has a very successful career of which she is justifiably proud. Will she give that career up for Kenneth’s sake?

More than once, Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee finds himself contemplating changing his life for the sake of love. Early in this series, he’s in love with Mary Landon, a teacher at Crown Point Elementary School. It doesn’t matter to either of them that they are of very different ethnic and cultural groups. But those differences have real consequences. Mary isn’t sure she’s ready to give up her life among her family and friends in Wisconsin. If she remains on the Reservation, she’d basically be adopting Chee’s way of life, and she doesn’t know if she’s prepared to do that. On the other hand, she knows that asking Chee to leave the Reservation and live as a White person is asking too much. He contemplates it, for love of Mary. But he doesn’t know that he could leave his home and lifestyle, either. Hillerman handles this dilemma very realistically.

Fans of Reginald Hill’s series featuring Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe will know that in the course of An Advancement of Learning, he meets an old flame, Ellie Soper. As the series goes on, they rekindle their romance, marry, and become parents. For her sake, Pascoe makes several changes in his life; and not all of them are to Dalziel’s liking. In fact, one of the ongoing sources of tension in this series is between Dalziel and Ellie. She’s a strong political leftist and staunch feminist, not exactly views that are likely to endear her to Pascoe’s boss. And she is not one to give in easily, any more than Dalziel is.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch meets Eleanor Wish in the course of the events of The Black Echo. At that time, she’s an FBI agent involved in an investigation that’s related to one Harry is pursuing. The two fall in love and marry, and for Eleanor’s sake, Harry tries to make some changes in his life. For Eleanor it’s a different matter, though. She finds that the changes she makes to her life for Harry’s sake are too much for her. It isn’t that they don’t love each other or care about each other; rather, they are, as Connelly puts it, on different planes.

When Angela Savage’s PI sleuth Jayne Keeney first meets Rajiv Patel in The Half Child, he is helping out in his uncle’s bookshop. The two happen to meet when Jayne goes into the bookshop, and it’s not long before they begin a romance. They’re very different people, from different cultures, so building a life together isn’t as always as easy as they’d like. Each has to make changes and adjust to the other. For instance, in The Dying Beach, they’re taking some time off in Krabi, when one of their guides dies in suspicious circumstances. Jayne is all for staying as long as it takes to find out the truth behind the death. Rajiv wants them to consider the cost (since they are not getting paid for this case) and the potential for lost revenue from other cases. What’s more, he’s none too happy because he thinks she’s made the choice to stay on without discussing it with him. They do settle the matter, but it’s interesting to see how she is still working on becoming more interdependent (instead of independent). For his part, Patel needs,

‘…to grow a thicker skin.’

Both of them find that they’re making changes they never thought they would.

Of course, not all changes have happy results. And there’s plenty of domestic noir that attests to that. Just as one example, there’s Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. Joanna Lindsay and Alistair Robertson make the long journey from her native Scotland to his native Victoria with their nine-week-old son, Noah. Joanna’s already had to make some major changes in her life since they’ve gotten together; it was, for instance, Alistair’s idea that they should become parents, and Joanna completely changed her life to become a mother. Now, she’s even changing her country of residence. The whole point of this, from Alistair’s perspective, is for him to gain custody of his teenage daughter Chloe, who lives in Victoria with her mother.  When they arrive in Melbourne, they begin the long drive to their destination. During the trip, they face every loving parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. A massive search is undertaken, and the media makes much of the case, with a lot of sympathy for the family. Then, little questions begin to arise about, especially, Joanna. Might she or Alistair have had something to do with Noah’s disappearance? As the novel goes on, we see just how many changes Joanna made to her life for Alistair’s sake.

It’s interesting how motivating it can be when one’s in love (or at least, attracted). People give up bad habits, lose weight, take up hobbies, and do any number of things for the other person’s sake. Sometimes it works out really well. Other times…not so much.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Helen Fitzgerald, Michael Connelly, Reginald Hill, Tony Hillerman

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear*

StereotypesIt’s only the beginning of September, but, at least in the US, there are already intense conversations going on about, ‘what to be for Hallowe’en.’ Even if you live in a country that doesn’t observe Hallowe’en, or you don’t observe it yourself, you may have been to a fancy dress/costume party.

If you look at costumes, you see something interesting: many of them make use of the ‘shorthand’ that stereotypes offer. A pointy hat and a dark cape, and you’re a witch. A scarf around the head, a lot of jewelry, and a deck of cards, and you’re a gypsy. You get the idea.

Those stereotyped symbols may be all right for a party. But in reality, we know that people are much more and go much deeper than stereotypes. And some of those stereotypes can be damaging. That’s why one of the many things I love about crime fiction is that it goes beyond those ‘surface’ assumptions, and explores the lives of real people. Those people may happen to be members of a heavily stereotyped group, but they are still people. And this invites readers to re-think stereotypes they may have, even if they’re not conscious of them.

For example, all kinds of stories have been told about witches for many centuries. You don’t need to look really hard to find such legends; they’re a part of a lot of cultures in one way or another. I’ll be you’ve read at least some of those stories yourself. But those who really practice Wicca aren’t very much like the stereotypes at all. For example, Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman lives and has her bakery in a large Melbourne building that houses several residents and businesses. One of them, The Sibyl’s Cave, is owned by Miriam Kaplan, who goes by her Wiccan name of Meroe. Meroe is hardly a stereotypical witch. She’s knowledgeable about herbals, and there are other ways in which she’s almost mystical. But a witch such as you see in Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (I know there were other directors, too, including George Cukor)? No. And she’s nothing like the evil witches you read about in fairy tales, either. As time goes on in this series, we learn a little about Meroe’s Wiccan traditions and beliefs, and Trick or Treat, offers insights into some Wiccan observances and ceremonies.

Another group about which there’ve been a lot of legends, stories and stereotypes is the Roma people. Often called ‘gypsies,’ they’ve often been vilified in legend. There’s even been some crime fiction that hasn’t exactly been kind to them. But if you read, for instance, Stef Penney’s The Invisible Ones, or Susan Kelly’s The Lone Traveller, you get a different portrait of the Roma people. They’re certainly not all portrayed as nice, loving, good people. But books such as these and Donna Leon’s The Girl of His Dreams portray these characters as human people. And once you get to know a group of people as humans, it’s harder to ‘buy into’ the stereotypes about them.

There’ve been many stereotypes, misconceptions and worse about Native Americans and other Indigenous people. And if you read novels such as Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, you can see how the first encounters between Indigenous people and new arrivals resulted in a lot of misunderstanding, which led to conflict, which led to terrible tragedy. Those stories persisted for many generations and gave rise to a lot of ‘taming of the West’ myths in the US, and other myths in other countries. The fact is, though, that the myths about Indigenous people don’t have much to do with reality. And crime fiction shows us that. Work by Tony Hillerman, Adrian Hyland, Scott Young and other authors show us the real lives of Indigenous people, behind the masks they frequently wear when Whites or others are around. They are, first and foremost, just people. And they are a far more diverse group than the stereotypes would suggest. In fact, that’s one issue that Hillerman brings up more than once in his novels. In the US, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is supposed to be the government’s connection to the Native American Nations. But as Hillerman portrays it, many Native American people have nothing but contempt for it. To many of them, it’s staffed by people who have no conception at all about the real lives of the Indigenous people of the US, and of what their cultures and priorities are. To the BIA (according to a lot of Native Americans), there’s not much difference among Nations. The truth is, though, that they are very diverse.

And then there are the persistent myths about bikers and biking. You know the stories: they’re drug-crazed, they’re dangerous, they’re…  Of course, it’s quite true that some biker groups do live up (down?) to the stereotypes about them. But the world of biking is a lot more complex than you’d think just by reading the stories. And Geoffrey McGeachin shows us that, at least a little, in a few of his stories. In Fat, Fifty and F***ed, banker Martin Carter meets up with a new-age biker gang that runs a very clean, well-kept motel and retirement home. Not at all a vicious gang. And in The Diggers Rest Hotel, Melbourne copper Charlie Berlin has his own share of encounters with a bike gang. He finds out there’s a lot more to those people than just roaring around on bikes, striking terror in people and causing trouble wherever they go.

There are a lot of other stereotyped characters I could mention, but space won’t allow it. Besides, I’m sure that you can suggest more than I ever could, anyway. At least we have some well-written crime fiction to clear up those misconceptions…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Blank Uhuru’s Solidarity.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Donna Leon, Geoffrey McGeachin, Kate Grenville, Kerry Greenwood, Scott Young, Steff Penney, Susan Kelly, Tony Hillerman

And I Know That You’ll Use Them However You Want To*

Prior Knowledge ReadersIn yesterday’s post, I mentioned that authors often tap their own experiences and prior knowledge as they create new stories. That’s only natural if, as the research suggests, knowledge comes from associating new things with what we already know. But what about readers? Readers come from a wide variety of different backgrounds and have a wide variety of experiences. So how does an author invite readers to tap their own life experiences to make meaning from what they’re reading, and thus connect with a book at a deeper level?

I think it’s important to start by saying that readers enjoy using their imaginations. Wise authors respect their readers, and give them credit for the ability to imagine things they may not have experienced. Just because a reader hasn’t, say, been to Canada’s Ellesmere Island doesn’t mean that he or she can’t fully enjoy M.J. McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk novels, which take place there. Authors who assume otherwise either condescend to readers, or provide so much ‘information dump’ that it distracts from the story.

That said, though, there’s also research that shows that readers engage more with stories, remember them better and make more meaning from them when they can identify in some way with a story. In other words, when readers can tap their own backgrounds, they’re more likely to enjoy and remember what they read.

If that’s true, then how does the author accomplish that? One effective way to go about this is to focus on things, events and feelings that most people can identify with and connect with their own lives. For example, one plot thread of Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark concerns Gerda Klein and her daughter Ilse. Originally from Leipzig, in what used to be East Germany, they left there during the 1980s, during the Cold War, and ended up in New Zealand. That’s where their lives intersect with the life of fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman, who is one of Ilse’s most promising students. When she loses interest in school, Ilse becomes concerned. And everything changes completely when she disappears. Not all readers have experienced life under a totalitarian regime. Not all readers know what it’s like to move to another country. But just about everyone has had the experience of being in a new and unfamiliar place, where you have to get used to where everything is, how to get things done, and how to fit in. On that deeper, human level, it’s easy for readers to identify with Gerda and Ilse Klein.

Today’s readers never experienced the Victorian Era – not on a personal level. So why do Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories still resonate the way they do? In part, of course, it’s that the mysteries are interesting. But more than that, there are common human experiences and themes woven throughout the stories. For instance, in The Adventure of the Dancing Men, Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the mystery of a strange set of coded messages sent to Elsie Cubitt. Her husband Hilton is concerned about them, mostly because of the change he sees in his wife. She’s obviously frightened, although she won’t tell him why, or who sent the messages. Not all readers are interested in or good at ciphers and codes. And as I say, today’s readers can’t identify on a personal level with the Victorian Era as a rule. But we can all understand at a deep level what it’s like to care about someone who’s hurting or frightened. And it’s not hard to understand the feeling of wanting to protect a loved one, as both Elsie and Hilton Cubitt try to do.

There’s another way in which authors can invite readers to tap their world views and knowledge and engage in a story: helping to build background knowledge. Some authors tell stories about places or times or particular events that others might not know very well. In those cases, giving the reader some information can be very helpful.

Of course, there’s an important caveat here. Too much information (and not enough story!) can pull a reader out of a novel. So it’s got to be done carefully. That said though, giving some background information can be helpful.

That’s what Stan Jones has done in his Nathan Active novels. Those novels take place in Chukchi, Alaska, and feature several characters who are Inupiak. Readers may very well not be very knowledgeable about those people and their lives. So Jones provides some really interesting information to help in forming some background knowledge. Yet, he doesn’t distract the reader from the story and the characters. Instead, the information is given as it’s relevant to the story, in pieces at a time. I hear you, Tony Hillerman fans…

That’s also true of Faye Kellerman’s Rina Lazarus/Peter Decker series. Those novels feature an ‘inside look’ at Orthodox Judaism, since Lazarus is an observant member of that community. Several plots in this series involve Jewish observations, history, customs, and so on. And yet, Kellerman doesn’t overload the stories with facts, background information or long-winded histories. Rather, she provides information as it’s relevant to the story at hand. So readers who don’t have background knowledge can build it and can use that understanding to make meaning for themselves.

And that’s another aspect of inviting readers to connect with a story: trusting them to make that meaning. Authors who don’t assume that readers are active participants in the reading process risk several things. First, they risk insulting those readers. Not a good idea. Second, they risk boring those readers. If an author spells everything out (rather than trusting the reader to use her or his background knowledge to ‘fill in the blanks’), readers quickly lose interest. That’s also not a good idea.

It goes without saying (or should) that readers will engage themselves more in novels with effective writing and interesting plots and characters. But there is another, deeper level at which readers can also choose to identify with what’s happening in a story. That comes when the author provides characters, events and things that readers can connect with in their own lives, no matter their background. It can also be helped with the author provides some background information when it’s less likely readers would have it.

More than anything else though, at least in my opinion, it’s important to remember that readers bring their own backgrounds and experiences to the reading process. Trusting them to use that knowledge and giving them some points of connection can make the difference between a good book and one the reader will always remember (and hopefully recommend).

What are your thoughts on this? Are there books you’ve connected with on that very deep level? What’s done that for you? If you’re a writer, what do you do to invite readers to make those connections?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Anna Nalick’s Breathe (2 AM). Best understood if you know that the preceding line is: ‘Cause these words are my diary screaming out loud.


Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Faye Kellerman, M.J McGrath, Paddy Richardson, Stan Jones, Tony Hillerman