What my daughter thinks of mysteries
Most of us have probably seen one of the memes about what a writer does. It usually has several different pictures captioned with phrases like, “Mom thinks I’m a hobo. Society thinks I attend lavish parties. My husband thinks I drink all day…” Some of these lines are more accurate than others, but I’ll leave it to you to figure out which ones. I’ve chuckled when a writer friend posts such a meme on social media.
What’s not to find funny?
Then the other day I heard someone ask my 8-year-old what I do. Sighing dramatically — the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree — she said, “She writes boring books.”
Did I mention that my daughter doesn’t have a filter? Her dad should be so ashamed. Obviously this trait did not come from me. Ahem.
When she was then asked why they were boring, she replied, “She only writes mysteries. There aren’t even dragons.”
Now, while I can’t fault her logic — I mean, what story isn’t better with a scaly dragon or two? — it was the first time I’d ever heard her describe my career to someone else. And though I could give a long-suffering sigh of my own at her opinion of what I do, that wasn’t what caught my attention. I asked her about it later, and she confirmed my darkest fears.
My daughter thinks mysteries are boring.
Huh. I felt like Vizzini from "The Princess Bride": “Inconceivable.” Mysteries were some of the first books I can ever remember enjoying as a child. Everything from Laura Lee Hope’s Bobbsey Twins series to Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile to Deborah and James Howe’s Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery. It wasn’t until I stumbled across Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time that I began to read widely in other genres, too.
How is it possible that my child thinks mysteries are boring? It’s obviously a form of rebellion. I mean, she refused to go see the new Star Wars movie with us. Rebellion, right? She’s a contrarian. Again, totally my husband’s fault. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
After calming down and having a think about it, it kind of makes sense. In 2010, Sisters in Crime published a report on the Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age. Basically, the report concluded that older women are the main consumers of mystery fiction. This is not really news, but it adds to a sneaking suspicion I’ve had for a while now.
Where are the youth who love a good mystery?
When I go to a Mystery Writers of America dinner, I’m almost always one of the youngest there. Odd, since I’ve fallen on the other side of 40. I’m pretty sure the same holds true when I attend a Sisters in Crime luncheon. Some of these barriers are financial since younger people — teenagers and college students, for example — are less likely to have disposable income. Also, the format for these events may not appeal to a younger crowd. But in a way, that’s my point. How are we attracting kids and young people to mystery reading? Do we have to wait until they grow up and cross into the over-40 demographic to interest them in a good mystery?
That’s not to say that there are no youth interested in reading mystery. There obviously are or authors like Chris Grabenstein or Amanda Flowers would need to pack it in. Heck, maybe it’s only my daughter who’s not interested in mysteries. But I don’t think so.
To me, her comment raised an important question about how to attract a younger audience to mystery. I mean, is this a branding problem or something more?
As a mystery reader, writer, and fan of the genre, I want my kids to enjoy a good mystery. And they do. When it’s not explicitly stated to be a mystery. Lots of wonderful kid and YA fiction have mystery elements in it but aren’t categorized as mystery per se. My little contrarian was not impressed when I pointed this out to her. She might have mumbled “boring,” under her breath a few dozen times. But what’s wrong with calling a story a mystery? How do we make mysteries sound cool again?
Is it enough that my kids think they’re reading fantasy or science fiction, but there is a mystery within the pages? Where does that leave the genre in 30-odd years, if today’s children aren’t as captivated as many of us “old fogeys” were when we were children? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can tell you that I’m keeping my eye out for mysteries with dragons. Anything to keep them reading mystery in whatever guise it may take.
If you have thoughts on how to get young people engaged in mystery reading, I’d love to hear them.