Recent Sister in Crime emails have questioned the usefulness of blogs for promoting sales of mystery novels. Guppies who submit to small presses have mentioned that these presses suggest authors reach out to readers outside their writing groups. Mystery writing groups are supportive of their members but writers within these groups want to sell books as much as buy them.
If a mystery has a setting that emphasizes cooking, sewing, or gardening, a writer can reach out to non-writers interested in these activities. The same holds true for writers who perfuse their stories with music, politics, or sports. Perhaps a regional setting grounds a mystery and would interest people living in the area.
The interests I write into my stories tend to be social. My dad grew up poor and hungry at a time when little was done to help the families of single mothers. I think for that reason he always encouraged his children to be involved in helping the community. Four of his six children have careers in medicine and teaching. I would find it hard to ignore a homeless person or a disheveled person talking to himself and clearly disoriented.
Although the novel I am now submitting for publication does not have an upfront theme of the rape of the innocent, the story does develop characters raped in their early teens. Everything in the media and often in literature also emphasizes the wonder of sex and how every red-blooded American woman should welcome her sexuality. Teenage women want to be popular and they’re often in a hurry to grow up. Unfortunately they often lack the street smarts to insure their safety.
According to statistics put out by the Justice Department, one in two rape victims is under the age of 18, and one in six is under the age of 12. It’s estimated that 60% of rapes go unreported and that 93% of juvenile victims know their attacker. Possibly these two estimates are related. A juvenile can be threatened into silence. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, if unreported rapes are factored into the numbers, approximately 6% of rapists ever spend a day in prison. The rest are free to rape again.
As a mother of teenage daughters, I was concerned for their safety. As children, they trusted the adults involved in their care and development. Suddenly, at a time when they wanted to feel their independence, these same adults started to insist there were bad people out to harm them for no reason. I imagined how an assault would affect the awakening emotions of an adolescent. I think my imaginings during that time have filtered into my writing.
The next novel in my series, a series about missing persons, includes homeless characters. As a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, I took care of homeless persons, some of whom were set on fire by groups of young people. The flea-infested clothes of homeless persons were removed in the ER. As nurses, we found out it took a week of showers to remove fleas from hair and body. Before leaving the hospital, a homeless person would be given a fresh set of clothes donated by religious organizations. Often homeless people would be upset that they couldn’t keep their original clothes that were thrown out. They were homeless for a number of reasons and their personalities varied widely.
Often on a snowy night, as I walked from the parking lot to the hospital entrance, I would wonder how homeless persons could tolerate the extreme cold with only a cardboard box or a subway grating to warm them. I wondered why they didn’t move south for the winter. Before MGH was renovated, the front desk officers would let some of the homeless stay in the huge main lobby out of freezing winter temperatures. Sometimes, as I left in the morning, one of them would wave to me. “That’s Pauline. My nurse,” he’d say to one of the other homeless persons. I doubt whether being a brand name among the homeless will help me sell books but I do know many homeless persons seek connection.
Although I’m not an avid cook or sports woman, I enjoy reading books that include these subjects. I can’t believe I’m alone in wondering what happens to rape victims over time or how do the homeless survive. Are there characters you wonder about as you walk or drive through busy streets?