Ever wonder about the behind-the-scenes stories of the book publishing industry? Well, wonder no more, because each month we’re featuring an interview with a well-known book blogger, editor, or agent. For March, we’re thrilled to welcome Les Blatt, from the popular blog, Classic Mysteries!
Please tell us about your blog. Why did you decide to write it? What are some of the challenges and/or successes you’ve experienced along the way?
First off, thanks for inviting me, folks. I am delighted and honored to be here with you.
I am the producer, “talent,” engineer, sound editor, chief cook and bottle washer of the Classic Mysteries podcast and blog. When I retired from my former life, first as a television journalist and later as a specialist in on-line public relations, I wanted to do something in retirement that involved:
1) Writing (because that’s what even “retired” writers do);
2) Reading (because I love books—I’d better; I’m married to a now-retired school librarian whose first name, by the way, is also Leslie—same as mine); and
3) Talking about traditional or classic mysteries, because those are the ones I’ve been reading all my life.
So the Classic Mysteries podcast was born, in 2007. For nearly twelve years now, I have written, recorded and published a new review every Monday. The blog followed soon thereafter as another popular format in which to reach readers. So far, as of the week of February 25, I have reviews of 611 books on both the podcast and the blog. There’s a backlist on the site which lists all the books, alphabetically by author. There are links to each book’s audio review.
The books I review, overwhelmingly, fall into the “traditional” genre, which I’d define as “puzzle-plot” mysteries. Some are very well-known authors indeed—people like Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, Edmund Crispin, Elizabeth Daly, Craig Rice, Georges Simenon, Arthur Upfield, Stuart Palmer, Ellis Peters and Catherine Aird. Over the past few years, as small publishers began rediscovering and republishing unjustly forgotten classics from the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction,” usually defined as the years between the two World Wars of the 20th century, I’ve added a lot of names to that list.
When I started, there weren’t very many publishers re-issuing these books. The Rue Morgue Press (now sadly defunct) had a fine collection of classics. Crippen and Landru Publishers specialized in short stories. A few other small houses kept some of the better-known names alive. And, of course, some writers, like Agatha Christie, have never been out of print. But a few years ago, to my delight, some new publishers joined in the rush to rediscover more of these traditional mysteries—The British Library, with its Crime Classics series (published in the U. S. by Poisoned Pen Press), Dean Street Press, Ramble House, Open Road Media, Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series, the Collins Crime Club/Detective Club imprint and more. It has made my life a lot easier, with so many very-good-to-excellent writers being brought back out of obscurity.
What are some of the best or most surprising experiences you’ve had related to your blog?
I guess I’d have to say that I’ve genuinely been surprised at the number of publishers who have sent me copies of many of these rediscovered traditional mysteries for me to review. As a reviewer, I really try to publish only reviews of books that I have enjoyed. If I dislike a book, I generally won’t review it. Like every reader, there are books I enjoy and books I don’t enjoy, and I’m always aware that the fact that I dislike a particular book doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy it. So I’ll write about the books I enjoy and leave the ones I don’t enjoy for others to review.
I’m also surprised at the number of real experts online these days and writing about traditional mysteries who have been kind enough to point me at authors who are new to me. I attend several of the major conferences of mystery authors and fans every year and I am always surprised at the generosity and good fellowship I find among the attendees. By the way, folks, if you want to meet most of the “Chicks” who keep this site going, I look forward to seeing them at the Malice Domestic conference in the Spring. Fine writers, great people! [And we look forward to seeing you, Les! (say the Chicks)]
What advice would you give to new bloggers and/or authors who would like to connect with book bloggers?
If I had to boil it down to a single precept, it’s this: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. I’m always amazed at how many publicists (and, I regret to say, new authors) try to pitch books to me that are clearly out of my expertise and/or my readers’ interests. We’re book bloggers, for Heaven’s sake! Go to our sites and spend a few minutes looking at what we say, how we do our reviews, what type of books we’re likely to enjoy. For example, if you see that I prefer classic, puzzle-plot mysteries, don’t try to pitch me on your latest “inside-the-mind-of-a-serial-killer” thriller!
If you could have dinner with one character from a Classic Mystery novel, who would it be and why?
Difficult choice. I guess I’d have to go with Nero Wolfe, although I’d hope he would invite me to dine on a night when Archie Goodwin was home and maybe some of the other characters from the 35th Street Irregulars were on hand too. Perhaps Fritz Brenner would feed us on Saucisse Minuit or shad roe. No business is ever discussed at Wolfe’s table, of course, but I suspect I’d still learn a great deal from the conversation!
What’s the difference between a “cozy” mystery and a “traditional” mystery?
I’m glad you asked. I see far too many “critics” who seem to think that traditional, plot-oriented mysteries are all “cozies.” No, they aren’t. I’ve seen Agatha Christie called a “cozy” writer! No she isn’t—try And Then There Were None, or Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, for example, for distinctly non-cozy treatment of traditional mystery themes.
Granted, there are a lot of similarities between the genres. Both traditional and cozy mysteries emphasize the plot, often over either setting or characterization, and—generally—provide carefully hidden clues that could lead the careful reader to solve the mystery before the protagonist. The cozy always, and the traditional mystery often, keeps both sex and violence offstage. “Traditional” is a much broader umbrella definition than “Cozy.” You could argue that virtually all cozies are traditional mysteries but not all traditional mysteries are cozies.
Please read more about Les below and say hello in the comments.
For nearly twelve years now, Les Blatt has been the host of the Classic Mysteries blog and podcast, presenting weekly audio reviews of mystery classics, with more than 600 reviews posted so far and available for reading, listening or downloading. The blog also offers additional reviews and conversations about great “traditional” mysteries, from the Golden Age and before, as well as new mysteries written in the classic tradition. He spent most of his working life as a TV network news producer, writer and editor, and he hopes that this will not be held against him.
Classic Mysteries Blog URL: https://www.classicmysteries.net/
Classic Mysteries Podcast (XML link): https://classicmysteries.libsyn.com/rss