Mysteries And Self-Publishing

June 9, 2013

Humphrey BogartI’ve never been a fan of crime mysteries in books or movies. All the shootings, blown up buildings, and car chases are plenty exciting but don’t lend themselves to the kind of character development I like. However, since I’m always looking for ways to expand the scope of both my reading and writing, I recently downloaded two classic examples of film noir on Kindle HD, “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Big Sleep.” I’m trying to see how much I can sympathize with detectives Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, both portrayed memorably by Humphrey Bogart.

How good are these stories at character development? It seems to me that the detective game forces the crime-solvers to be as diabolically clever and immoral as the crooks they chase, until the two are barely distinguishable. Spade and Marlowe fool around with attractive women clients and are at various times being investigated by the conventional police for the very crimes they’re trying to solve. For my money, neither cops nor crooks are particularly believable. Still, they can be intriguing in their mysteriousness. It’s the acting that brings the characters to life.

What’s astounding to me is that these two classics have many of the same flaws that we self-published novelists are constantly criticized for. The plots are complicated and full of exposition-spouting characters who act foolishly and whose motivations aren’t always clear. “The Big Sleep” in particular seems intent on driving its viewers crazy, dropping red herrings and murdered bodies all over the place. The main plot line involves a chauffeur to a rich family who is in love with the younger of two wild and beautiful daughters. He has apparently (although we can’t be sure of anything) murdered the blackmailer who holds her gambling debts, and then apparently ends up getting murdered himself. Then his murderer is murdered, and so on, except that in a few of these incidents it’s possible the wrong guy got murdered.

So if classic mysteries aren’t all that perfect, why can’t we self-published authors catch a break from reviewers when we try something similar? I made somewhat of an attempt at a crime story in my novel Let’s Play Ball, published in 2010. It has a kidnapping at the heart of it, but the real story is about the relationship between fraternal twin sisters who are buffeted by this event. The “whodunit,” if you can call it that, ultimately involves nefarious doings in high government places. It evolves into a political scandal that takes a long time getting resolved, and imperfectly at that. The main point is that the sisters, after enduring a rough patch, rebuild their relationship and incidentally, their marriages. Thus the book turns into the same old chicklit, which is what I like. I believe in the book, but it gets mostly scorned by reviewers. I can hear them asking: where’s the mystery?

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3 Responses to “Mysteries And Self-Publishing”


  1. You get to write the book you want to write, and shouldn’t have to defend your choices. I bet you still love the story.

    Reviewers should express their own opinions of how the story hit them, but they don’t get to tell you what to do or how you should do it – they should write those books themselves.

    If you are technically competent, and not full of typos and grammar mistakes that aren’t deliberate, the plot and characters are yours to create.

    Beginning writers I’d respond to differently, but mature writers make deliberate choices once they learn to write.

    I’ll get around to reading some of yours soon, as the person who writes these nice posts is the same one writing the fiction; just don’t hold me to the timing. I stayed up last night to read some George RR Martin short stories (something I never risk) and was up until 3am. It kind of ruined this morning’s writing because I got pulled in and didn’t get my writer’s rest.

    • lgould171784 Says:

      You must get your rest. I try to write every day, but it’s much harder without a good night’s sleep.

      I still think “Let’s Play Ball” is mostly about the sisters. Some reviewers got that, but they still wanted more mystery and/or crime. One reviewer (actually a nice one) said she liked the story, but living in Spain, she didn’t know anything about baseball, and didn’t learn anything from the book!

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