(Note: This post originally appeared at 7 Criminal Minds, a virtual panel where, each week, mystery/crime writers respond to provocative questions about crime fiction, writing, publishing and life. I’m very happy to be a participant. Please make it a part of your blog reading.)
Question of the Week: We’re getting to the panic-buying days. And nothing makes a better present than a book, right? What book would you most like as a gift? Tell us, and you can share this post with “someone” who needs to know!
It’s a hard question. I’m a writer, and same as any one of us, I’m lousy with books. From the research materials for stuff I’m working on, to the reciprocal purchases I have stacked, and finally, the manuscripts folks ask me to beta read, I’m already digging myself out of a quantum amount of words. When the question of the five books I’d give for the holidays came up, I had to curb my desire to list fifty. I’ve given plenty of books, sure, but I don’t think I’ve ever received a book as a Christmas gift. I grew up with the largest library in the city across the street from my house. Amazon came along in the 90s. Books I have covered by my lonely. If y’all want to give me something, send me a warm lead on an acquisitions exec at Netflix. My folks over there have long since moved on.
I’ve never received a gift-wrapped book, per say. Once a lovely lady gave me a box of vintage comics from my lost childhood collection, but book books? I generally only receive them from folks after I’ve admitted I’ve never read title-x.
“Oh, my God. Here. Take it and let me know what you think of it.”
Yeeeeeah. Lemme g’on ‘head and push my to-do list back a couple of months so I can do that. Wanna schedule our discussion now? When are you good in, say, never?
My other issue with this week’s question is I have great friends, many of whom follow our blog. They’ll read this entry and whatever I mention will show up on my doorstep, in triplicate. Aw man. Decisions, decisions.
Got it. Hook me up with this one:
Rex Stout is responsible for creating, in my opinion, the lushest and most vibrant world in mystery which he forged out of components of New York City that readers thought they already knew. At its center, he placed an orchid-loving, fresh-air hating, agoraphobic epicurean savant of the highest order. Nero Wolfe solved the unsolvable by sending out his ace footman Archie Goodwin with vague instructions to be carried out within loose parameters and discerned the truth from his mistakes. Nero Wolfe was Professor Xavier before there were any X-Men. He was also Alfred before there was a Batman. The mysteries Rex Stout crafted for his genius to solve weren’t the most intricate, but they also weren’t convoluted. His stories weren’t plotted for the sake of plot, but to highlight the personality of the protagonist, the contrasting style of his subordinate, and the cluelessness of the nouveau riche. The capers were the sort of jams in which a member of high society would find themselves unknowingly entangled. As avoidable as an open manhole cover, and just as dangerous. If people didn’t walk around with their head up their ass, Rex Stout would’ve had nothing to write about. That probably goes for the rest of us.
But mysteries are made to be solved, and soon it’s back to the witty banter and quirky traits of the great Nero, who only took cases so that he could make enough dough to cover that month’s nut, the bulk of which being his elaborate and exotic tastes. Only when I revisited Rex Stout’s exquisite creation as an adult did I realize that the function of Nero Wolfe’s appetite was to compensate for his existence as a shut-in. He brought pleasures in from the outside world because he was afraid to go out and get them because he’d have to contend with the rest of us. Realizing that made each story even more beautiful. Rex Stout is my avatar. If anything I write manages to come off even half as sublime, I’ll probably quit while I’m ahead. If I do, at least I’ll be able to cook and eat and drink and brew like Rex did through Nero. May even allow myself to grow just as large as Mr. Wolfe one day.
So if y’all want to put your nickels together and get me something, grab me this joint right here. I write mystery/crime, I cook (my ass off, if I do say so myself) and I like it inside more than out. If I was Nero, Amazon Prime would be my Archie Goodwin.
Best of the season to you all.