I wish my royalty statements were broken down demographically. (I also wish they showed better sales, but that’s a whole nother rant.) I’d really like to know where my readers are. I’m willing to bet, for instance, that the Hilda books, set in South Bend, Indiana, sell a lot better in the midwest than anywhere else, but I’d like to know specifically where.
One thing I’m pretty sure of is that most of my readers are female. For one thing, the emails I get from fans are overwhelmingly from women. Which is what I would expect, since I write cozies. But I got to thinking, on my walk this morning, about why most men prefer action-oriented books, whereas many women love cozies.
I know that anything I say on the subject is going to smack of profiling, so I’ll admit right off that I have no statistics to prove these opinions. They’re just that, opinions based on seventy-one years of observing my fellow humans, with a smattering of social science thrown in.
The thing is, guys seem to enjoy violence. (But hey, guys, don’t direct it at me, okay? Just opinion, remember?) Now, the men I know, and I think most men, get their violence vicariously. In sports, for example. Whether they play or just watch, they enjoy seeing other men getting punched and elbowed and buried under several hundred pounds of rival “players.” Or their penchant for violence may be much more subdued, even to the point of preferring the war that is waged on a chess board.
Or a nice bloody murder or two in a book.
The pleasant part about all this is that violence at second hand is safe. Those humongous football players aren’t going to burst out of the screen and pound the guy who’s sitting on the couch eating Doritos and drinking beer. That serial killer stalking the pages of the book isn’t going to slip in the reader’s back door in the middle of the night and slit his throat. So the guys get the thrills without the actual danger.
I’m not saying woment don’t enjoy violence. A lot of us watch football, too. (I don’t, but then I don’t have a functioning TV.) A lot of us slow down, at least, to look at the accident on the highway, and mixed with the horror and sympathy is at least the tiniest frisson of excitement. But I think our enjoyment is different. I think that women, by our very nature as child-bearers, are hard-wired to need security. The part that many women like best about murder-by-book, at least murder-by-cozy, is that we know everything will be all right in the end. No, there won’t be a happy ending for everybody. We’re reasonable enough to know that’s not possible. Someone has died, perhaps several someones. A community has been disrupted; lives have been horribly changed. But we know that the person responsible for these actions will be captured and led to justice. We know that, by the end of the book, healing will have begun.
Women enjoy, too, the image of the quieter, more ordered world. The world of a cozy mystery is one where things move at a little slower pace than the real world we live in. There’s time for a cup of tea, and there’s a community of friends and family with whom to have that tea. Many of us, both men and women, live in a world of constant activity, of too much to do and too little time to do it in. We move from home to the morning commute, from job back to home, picking up the kids at school on the way and taking one to soccer practice and another to ballet lessons and stopping to get groceries, and, and, and…. There’s barely time to breathe, let alone chat with friends or enjoy any recreation more strenuous than collapsing in front of that TV set. We may not even know our neighbors. But in Three Pines there’s always time for a lovely breakfast with Gabri and Olivier. In Broward’s Rock we can drop into Death on Demand for coffee, books, and conversation. In Sherebury we can visit with the next-door neighbor or pop into the Cathedral for some refreshment for the soul.
And if in all those places there is conflict and hatred and violence just as virulent and horrific as on the mean streets, it’s surrounded and tempered by the goodwill of the ordinary—or extraordinary—people, the people very much like us, who help work through the maze to the solution.
Hey, guys, you might want to desert your mean streets for a little while and sample the deceptive peace of St. Mary Mead. You might find the streets a little meaner, and a whole lot more interesting, than you think.
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