|photo by Marion Ettlinger|
SJ Rozan, a native New Yorker, is the author of twelve novels. Her work has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story. She's also the recipient of the Japanese Maltese Falcon Award. BRONX NOIR, a short story anthology SJ edited, was chosen NAIBA "Notable Book of the Year." SJ has served on the National Boards of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and is ex-President of the Private Eye Writers of America. She speaks, lectures and teaches, and she runs a summer writing workshop in Assisi, Italy. In January 2003 SJ was an invited speaker at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The 2005 Left Coast Crime convention in El Paso, Texas made her its Guest of Honor and she was Toastmaster at Bouchercon 2009. A former architect in a practice that focussed on police stations, firehouses, and zoos, SJ Rozan lives in lower Manhattan.
Martin Luther King Day, 2011by SJ Rozan
When Kaye invited me to do a guest blog and asked me to choose a date, I chose Martin Luther King day specifically because I wanted to muse about the relationship between what I and my pals write -- crime, including violent crime -- and the darker aspects of American culture. Crime writing, and even bleak, dark, unredeemed crime writing, isn't unique to the U.S. -- look at all those Scandinavians -- but the idea of that bleakness, that nihilistic vision, as something to strive for, not against, was born here. It's been exported now -- those Scandinavians outdo us in their joy of it, as do the Japanese and sometimes the French -- but we were first to tire of murder-as-puzzle and start thrashing around for meaning and consequence.
I was going to talk about that, about why that was, and what it meant; but that was before the shootings in Tucson. Now I want to speak about something different, something less well thought out, but it's my way of groping toward an answer, trying to find something positive to say about who we are.
Here's what I think: as Sam Spade once said, there are such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. I blogged about this myself, about the Second Amendment problem; one of my commenters convinced me that the solution lies in the world of the founders. They didn't have or anticipate automatic weapons, so maybe it doesn't contravene the Second Amendment if we ban them. Fine with me. The easy availability of guns is a big part of the problem. It's really, really hard to assassinate someone with a knife. And two hot-heads mixing it up in the schoolyard are thousands of times more likely to both survive if neither can draw on the other, no matter how much, in the moment, they want to taste blood.
But it's not the guns, it's the brains, that are the real issue.
Not that there are actually so few. Americans on the whole are no dumber than any other humans -- though as architect William McDonough said recently, "It took our species 5,000 years to put wheels on our luggage. We're not that smart." But whatever we have for brains, it's what we have. Why do Americans, more often than other people, insist on blowing each other's out?
I think it's this image we have of ourselves as, in the end, alone. The good news is, it's that sense of ourselves, each of us singly and us collectively, as the backstop, the superhero, the court of last resort, that's enabled us to do things like go charging into WWII on two fronts. And win. Deep in our hearts is embedded the idea that if anyone comes to help you it's your good luck, but don't sit and wait. If it needs to be done, you'd better be able to do it yourself because you're all you can count on. This almost desperate idea has pushed us -- singly and collectively -- to great things.
That's the good news. The bad news, we've all seen, and quite recently. If we don't find some way to rein in the idea that the ability to Just Do It confers, immediately and without the use of those brains, the right to Just Do It, we'll descend on an ever-faster spiral into millions and millions of tiny, armed camps, all of us waiting behind bunkers to blow the bad guys -- meaning, the other guys -- away.
My thoughts on Martin Luther King Day. Peace be upon you.