Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Interview with Sarah Weinman on Domestic Suspense

Sarah Weinman
Sarah Weinman, crime fiction critic, blogger, author of short fiction, and news editor for Publishers Marketplace, is the editor of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense, an anthology of works by notable (though in some cases, nearly forgotten) women crime writers of the post-war era. We caught up with her to ask her about the new book and the contributions these authors made to crime fiction. And be sure to visit the anthology website at where you can view photos and read more about the included authors.

BF: Tell us about your new book. What motivated you to put this anthology together? 

SW: Troubled Daughters emerged from an essay I wrote for the literary magazine Tin House titled “The Dark Side of Dinner
Dishes, Laundry, and Child Care” (and yes, that was the working title of the anthology). I’d been approached by an editor there to write something for their themed “The Mysterious” issue, and I’d long contemplated why it seemed that a fair number of female crime writers working around or after World War II through the mid-1970s weren’t really part of the larger critical conversation. They weren’t hard boiled per se, but they weren’t out-and-out cozy, either. Hammett and Chandler and Cain, yes; but why not Marie Belloc Lowndes and Elisabeth Sanxay Holding and Vera Caspary? Why Ross Macdonald but not his wife, Margaret Millar, who published books before he did and garnered critical and commercial acclaim first? I knew after writing the essay that I wasn't done with the subject, and when I had lunch with an editor at Penguin on an unrelated matter and started going on, rather enthusiastically, about this widespread neglect, he said, “sounds like there’s an anthology in this. Why don’t you send me a proposal?” It took a while to organize, but eventually I did, and Penguin bought the anthology. Publishing being what it is, it’s taken a little less than two years from acquisition to release date.

BF: What is “domestic suspense”? What relationship does it have to other kinds of crime fiction?

SW: Domestic suspense is a catch-all term for work largely published by women and describing the plight of women—wives, daughters, the elderly, spinsters, the underserved, the overlooked, and many other phrases used then but thankfully, not so much now—as World War II was coming to a close and the feminist movement dawned. Without domestic suspense you couldn’t have contemporary psychological suspense. Conversely, the work of people like Gillian Flynn, Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, Sophie Hannah, Tana French, and many more would not be possible without the likes of Hughes, Jackson, Millar, Highsmith, and—though not included in Troubled Daughters for reasons outside the scope of this interview—Ruth Rendell, Mary Higgins Clark, Mignon Eberhart, and more. 

BF: Sisters in Crime was founded in 1987 to promote equality for women in the crime fiction genre. Since then, women mystery writers have gained ground in terms of publication opportunities, review space, and recognition (particularly compared to the literary landscape charted by the annual Vida count), but are still less likely than men to have their books reviewed in the most prestigious publications or be recognized with major awards. How would you compare the obstacles the authors in your anthology faced with the climate for women writing today?

SW: In some ways it might be more difficult now than it was then, because for women writers publishing 40–70 years ago, there was more choice in terms of who published mysteries, and domestic suspense novels were fairly likely to get hardcover publication (and presence in libraries) along with more lucrative paperback release. Most of the women in my anthology were reviewed by Anthony Boucher in his New York Times “Criminals at Large” column, or by Hughes in her columns for the LA Times or Albuquerque Tribune, or by other mystery columnists for other papers. Now there are blogs, and online outlets, and Marilyn Stasio, who’s been at the NYT seven years longer than Boucher ever was. Consolidation and a great need to subcategorize makes it hard to break out these days, unless books are packaged as straddling genre lines. “Mystery” doesn’t sell, but “fiction” or “psychological suspense” does. Mass market paperback originals were always a longshot to get review coverage; now it’s even more difficult with ebook originals (as mass market declines further and further).

Barbara Fister
Barbara Fister is the author of the Anni Koskinen series and coordinates the Monitoring Project. She lives in Minnesota, where she works in a college library and blogs for Inside Higher Ed and Library Journal. She recently published an essay, “The Millennium Trilogy and the American Serial Killer Narrative,” in an anthology of criticism published by Palgrave.

The full interview will be featured in September's inSinC Quarterly, which is available through a members only link on our website and also is mailed directly to our members.