Wednesday, July 13, 2011
There is a condition familiar to all mystery devotees: Mid-series Stress Syndrome, or MSSS (MISS). I’m a fan, and I’ve been there. It is characterized by a tightening of the chest, and a rise in blood pressure, followed by a moment when you snap. The delicate balance of admiration and devotion alters into frustrated expectations, and your fidelity as an aficionado morphs into exasperation. It’s been too long! Where’s the next book in the series? When will the torture end!
As readers, we give our time and our imaginations into the keeping of our favourite authors and their literary creations, and our principles can become a bit skewed from the vexation of waiting. Anticipation becomes thwarted desire. An excellent
recent article in the New Yorker magazine outlined the territorial tendencies of series readers (the piece was mostly about rabid sci-fi junkies, but we mystery readers know that we too are guilty). At some point, fans become consumers, and consumers demand gratification. Hardly a new phenomenon – think of the legion of followers who would not let Sherlock Holmes die, much to Conan Doyle’s chagrin. But we’ve become accustomed to a new sort of consumer speed: when we want something, we want it now and delays are unacceptable.
In my days behind the desk at Prime Crime, it was common to hear, ‘When is so-and-so’s book due? Why the long wait? They should be chained to their computer until they finish it.’ Spoken in jest of course, but there was that edge of irritation and entitlement – they weren’t getting what they craved, no doubt due to the writer’s moral turpitude and sloth. We need our fix, before the plot of the last book fades, and the characters begin to blur. Really, we’re only half fooling about that chaining thing.
We get pretty proprietary about the series we love, and feverish waiting for the next instalment. But books differ from other ‘products’ (and how I loathe that term in relation to works of the imagination.). What writer hasn’t longed for a big hit, only to discover they’ve become a commodity? There’s a delicate contract between authors and their follower; as the New Yorker points out, there is an ever-closer connection with all the blogs, Tweets, web pages, and Facebook updates, but this all takes a lot of time – time spent not writing. Their work has to be produced the old-fashioned way: one person, an empty page, and an inspiration – you can’t get it ‘on demand.’ Writers have lives, and they have to live to write, as well as write to live.
Sylvia Braithwaite has been in the book world in one way or the other, her entire life: fanatical reader, bookseller, publicist – and occasional writer. This summer, she is spending a lot of time in her garden, which also involves plenty of reading in the shade, and dreaming up plots as well as tending them.