Working at the bookstore, I always see these people coming in and buying stacks and stacks of clearance mystery/thriller paperbacks, and I envy them. Those books look so fun, and gosh it must be nice to have the time to read so many each week, which I assume they do as they are in here often enough for me to know them by name. Granted, I also buy stacks and stacks of books that I’ve yet to read, but they’re mostly Joyce Carol Oates novels or short story collections I intend to someday not only read but learn from. To me, a one-dollar paperback mystery novel is not anything I can learn from; it’s sheer leisure-reading, which I just don’t have time for these days.
That’s why I was excited to be assigned Stansberry’s Naked Moon this week in the Writers on Writing class I’m TA-ing. Not only is it a mystery novel, it’s a noir, which apparently has its own set of traditions (some might say “clichés”). This particular story (the fourth and final in the series) takes place in North Beach, San Francisco's predominantly Italian-America
Sometimes I like stories that are predictable. I like to take a break from endless character development and fancy prose stylin’s and get lost in a twisty plot and hardboiled, bare-knuckled dialogue. I remember reading my dad’s Spencer novels (R.I.P. Robert B. Parker) when I was a kid and marveling that entire pages would shoot by in streams of tagless back-and-forth, one-liner dialogue that often made absolutely no sense to my young brain. I remember needing to get my parents to sign some form at the library granting me permission to read “adult” books, like Parker or Stephen King, because I was under thirteen. The first novel I read (Goosebumps and Fear Street books aside) was Dean Koontz’s Intensity, and I remember being just so absolutely riveted. Recently I reread it and realized just how extremely lacking it is in literary grace, but there is no denying that the concept - the plot and character ideas - was captivatingly original.
I can’t say I had a lot of fun with Naked Moon, though. The dialogue wasn’t as snappy as, evidently, I prefer my mystery parlance to be. It was cool to read about a semi-fictionalized San Francisco that I’m still taking baby steps in exploring, and it was clear that the history of the city is very important and inspiring to the author. Stansberry did win an Edgar Award, so he’s doing something right for fans of the genre. As part of the class, I also got to meet him and hear him talk about the traditions of the genre and the blurred lines of genre fiction and literary fiction. I am encouraged by this idea of blended genres; my writing seems to be edging more and more into realms of this so-called magical realism with elements of horror and I’d like to think there is some space out there in the publishing universe in which it can fit. Time will tell.
Dayna Ingram is a writer and student living in the Bay Area. She received her BA in Creative Writing from Antioch College in 2008, and is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. She works at Half Price Books, where she buys more books than she can reasonably hope to read in a lifetime.