It’s no secret: the Chet & Bernie Mysteries series by Spencer Quinn has a dedicated and generous fan base. What’s not to love about a book series told from the perspective of an endearing, mystery-solving dog? To get excited for the upcoming book in the series, Of Mutts and Men, read Spencer Quinn’s thoughts on the Chet & Bernie fandom and on being a big fan of his fans.
By Spencer Quinn
That’s an actual quote from a reader of the Chet and Bernie series, but others in a similar vein come in every day via email, Facebook, the blog, or Twitter. How about a few more?
“I never get tired of these books. I may have read them twice but I wouldn’t know because … these books are such a joy!”
“I am starting the series again for the third time, this time on audiobook. I am listening while I walk—lost 3 pounds so far!”
“I’d like to think there is a parallel universe where their world exists and maybe we will visit someday.”
“I keep one on bed stand and one by the sofa. Whenever I start feeling down/anxious/worried I have an immediate pick me up!”
“Please don’t wait too long between Chet and Bernie books. They are so good for my soul.”
Okay! Enough! Writer patting self on back is not a good look. Did I expect this kind of reader reaction when I began the series? No. I don’t think about reader reaction while I’m writing. That would be a distraction and distraction is an enemy of the imagination. To digress for a moment: writing fiction has two components, imagination and technique. Technique – which can be taught, at least to a certain extent – is always on call once you’ve got it. Imagination might be reluctant on certain days, and try not to answer the bell. I’ve always been lucky in that if I just sit there for a few minutes my imagination begins to stir. If necessary I can sort of prod it. Here’s how: I think of the engine that is driving the story, its beating heart. Regrettably some novels lack a beating heart. I don’t know what you’d do in that situation, but the beating heart of the Chet and Bernie series is the love between Chet and Bernie (Bernie being the detective and Chet his dog). Once my imagination remembers that, we’re on our way.
And how nice! This digression has led us right to the bulls-eye of what I’m supposed to be talking about, namely why this series seems to have struck such a deep chord in readers. What I set out to do was write good mysteries – mysteries would still be good if written in a conventional narrative form – and have them narrated by a dog. Not a talking dog! A talking dog would ruin it! But dogs have a narrative of what’s going on in their heads, and that’s what I try to get on the page. (I also want my mysteries to include thematic material – to be about something. Of Mutts and Men, the new Chet and Bernie – and don’t worry, they can be read in any order – was inspired by real events concerning cynical university endowment investing and water issues in the southwest.)
One thing I quickly discovered: Chet’s an unreliable narrator, at least in human terms. When you marry an unreliable narrator to the traditional plotting of a mystery, you suddenly find that you’ve blown up the form. And possibly create something fresh! I think that freshness is part of the appeal to the readers. But the bigger part is the beating heart I mentioned – the love between Chet and Bernie. That just appeared during the writing. I didn’t consciously put it in and might not even have been aware of it. But I sure am now! The readers started letting me know right away and they haven’t stopped. Not infrequently they tell me that C&B have helped them or their family in difficult times – of illness, for example, or death of someone close. That’s humbling.
I’ve become a fan of the fans. They share photos of their dogs on Chet’s FB page (and not just dogs, but cats, gerbils, birds, and even the odd stuffed animal. Check out our Friend-of-the-Month contest!). They often quote favorite passages from the books – and use Chetisms in daily life! Chet and Bernie fans are funny and smart and decent and very entertaining. And generous! One day this patchwork quilt arrived, all about the stories and made by readers in different parts of the country. Or take a look at these handmade wooden blocks. The fans are decorating my office for me. A writer couldn’t ask for more.
Now it’s time to let Of Mutts and Men out in the big wide world. It is literally – and I hope figuratively – the deepest in the series so far. The fans – a sort of Chet and Bernie Trust – will let know soon enough.
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