Thursday, November 25, 2010


False perceptions.

In a recent Mayhem on Monday post Mary Jane Maffini pondered an apparent paradox. Writers are constantly told by publishers and agents that Americans won't read books set in Canada. Yet whenever Mary Jane speaks to an American audience and asks whether they want to read Canadian books, they give her an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Their only complaint is that the books are hard to find in their local stores.

One has only to read a list of the prizes that Louise Penny garners each year to realize that people south of the border love these books set in Three Pines, Quebec. My friend from Virginia borrowed a Giles Blunt book from me and loved it. She had to buy the rest of his list online, however, as they aren't available in the Borders near where she lives.

I love Peter Clement's edgy medical thrillers but I wish I could have read the first version set in Montreal, a city of fascinating cultural and language conflicts. Peter's agent told him he would only be able to sell the books if they were set in Buffalo. Buffalo? I kid you not.

Could it be that American publishers are out of touch with what their readers actually want? It reminds me of the story of the late Harry Elton. Harry, a young film school graduate from Toronto was recruited in the late nineteen fifties to produce programming for the brand new Granada Television Network in England. He commissioned Tony Warren to write thirteen episodes of a new soap opera. When Harry screened the first installment for his bosses at Granada, they were appalled. Nobody wants to watch shows set around a pub and a row of council houses in industrial Lancashire, they told him. People are interested in the rich and famous not the poor and ordinary.

They threatened to scrap the project until Harry arranged to have a single episode aired on monitors throughout the Granada building. When the tea ladies and secretarial staff begged to see the next installment, the Granada management grudgingly allowed Harry to put the show on the air. The rest, of course, is history. Coronation Street is still going strong and is watched throughout the English-speaking world. After more than fifty years, it's the longest-running and most financially lucrative soap opera in the world.

So how do we get our books into the hands of the "tea ladies" in the United States so they can tell publishers and booksellers that they really do want to read mysteries set in Canada?

Sue Pike has published nineteen stories and won several awards including an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story. Her latest, Where the Snow Lay Dinted will appear in the January issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Sue and her husband and an opinionated Australian Shepherd named Cooper spend the winter months in Ottawa and the rest of the time at a mysterious cottage on the Rideau Lakes.


  1. I love the Harry Elton story...the last laugh & all that. Remember Lindsey Davis being told historical mysteries will never sell! And so it goes. If publishers would just start listening to readers (and booksellers)!

  2. Rock on, Sue! I love the Coronation Street take on it. Too true. What are folks missing out there?