My Craft is Not Your Gimmick by Abigail
With the increased acknowledgement of knitting popularity in the past few years, it comes as little surprise that there have been a number of authors who have sold mysteries where knitting is promoted as the craft of choice. While I occasionally enjoy themed mysteries that provide the opportunity to learn a little bit here and there about antiques, coffee, embroidery, etc, I have no patience with writers who seem to be applying a liberal glaze of craft to their story in an attempt to have a ready made market.
The most blatant offenders I’ve read have the knitter taking up the craft about three pages before the book starts. Certainly, people take up crafting at a variety of points in their lives, but this adoption when written comes across as needing a hook for the story so that it would sell. I recognize that this was probably not the author’s intent, but that’s the end result to the reader. At least one mystery that I started had the main character repeatedly announcing her knitting ignorance over the course of the first several chapters. It was such a turn off that while I can’t tell you the title or the author, I can remember the perky ignorance and that I struggled to care about the character. Whether or not she developed into a more interesting knitter after the first book, I refused to find out.
Similarly, anything that forces knitting into the very forefront of a mystery also turns me off. In the majority of the themed mysteries I’ve come across, it’s acknowledged that knitting is someone’s hobby, as opposed to their vocation (cooking, coffee, and antiques lend themselves better to vocation). But the knitting becomes a turn off when pushed so frantically to the fore that one feels assaulted by it or glopped on after the rest of the story has been written, as though the first manuscript got the edits *put knitting HERE*. Yes, knitting is a major part of my life. I knit constantly on public transportation, in meetings, at parties, pretty much anywhere that I can. I am subscribed to podcasts about knitting and the wool stash has it’s own budget line. However, while knitting is something very present in my life, that also makes it less of a big deal. I knit. Everyone knows it. We all move on. If I want something where knitting is at the forefront, there are any number of excellently written knitting memoirs. I refer you to Crazy Aunt Purl’s Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair or anything by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.
There are exceptions, certainly. The best knitting related mystery that I’ve read was Barbara Bretton’s Casting Spells. I knew immediately that Bretton knew the craft, knew the major dyers, had a handle on advanced techniques. She used the knitting store owner as character, giving vocation as well as hobby to knitting. But she also assumed intelligence on the part of her reader. We heard about bits of knitting like blocking, explained in enough detail for someone who isn’t fully familiar with the practice, but written to provoke humorous empathy by those who know what she’s talking about. Knitting is a casual part of everything the main character does, not just convenient moments when the character stops at a knitting store to tell what’s happened/will happen next.
Knitting themed mysteries are by no means the only guilty ones when it comes to mystery with a dollop of craft gimmick, but certainly for me they are the most annoying. Please know, authors, that if you are going to include my craft, then I hold you to a higher standard and a better understanding of my craft than what I would get from a how-to-knit kit on the bargain bin. Oh, and if you’re going to include a pattern, could you make it something at least slightly challenging? I know how to make a scarf.