Wednesday, August 15, 2012


What do those three things have in common? They came together last week. Author Jenna Bennett reported that her book, A CUTTHROAT BUSINESS, had received an unkind one-star review. The reviewer called it “racist” because the author used the word “darkie.”

However, not only did the book receive many four- and five-star reviews, it’s clear the “shocked” reviewer had not read much of the book and didn’t understand what she did read. The story--a cozy mystery--takes place in the South and a minor character in the book uses the term. What foolishness. Like people who want to take the word “nigger” out of Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN. The author admitted she’d had a hard time selling the book to a publisher, because many editors feared alienating their southern readers. Political Correctness, anyone?

Which is where Bridge comes in. I’m having a hard time selling my own cozy mystery because my amateur sleuth teaches Bridge. I have one chapter--out of 31--where she plays a hand brilliantly and wins a lot of money she didn’t expect. Young editors--and aren’t they all these days, fresh out of college English courses--said “Nobody plays Bridge anymore.” Obviously they don’t know Bill Gates is an avid player, there are tournaments all over the world, books like BRIDGE FOR DUMMIES, Bridge columns in every newspaper, software programs and daily Internet playing.

Just last week I sent off the manuscript to yet another editor and doing so reminded me of my college days. I lived close enough to commute, and when I’d return to the sorority house on Saturday night after a date, I had to sleep in the third-floor “dorm.” It turned out that four girls would show up, steal blankets from unused beds to keep warm, smoke cigarettes and play Bridge. After a few Saturday nights of that, I found a solution. I arrived early and “borrowed” all the lightbulbs. Naturally I hated Bridge then, but later my parents forced me to learn--in order to have a fourth--and now I love it. True Bridge players are often addicts.

In my cover letter, I volunteered to remove the one chapter, but is that “selling out” and should I insist it’s important in my character’s life? Well, maybe. I really, really want to sell that book and start my own mystery series. Like someone said, “Writing is murder.”

P.S. The Olympics are over, but please read my account of the 1984 L.A. Summer Closing Ceremonies under “Beyond Writing” on my website. I guarantee a “good read.”

Jenna Bennett
Mark Twain
Summer Olympics


  1. I'm with you on all the political correctness crap, Phyllis. People don't know how to laugh at themselves anymore. You can't joke with anyone or the next thing you know, they're suing you for slighting them in some way.

    So what did the girls do when you snatched the lightbulbs?

    1. Jannine: They grumbled and stumbled around in the dark but I was curled up in bed and they had no choice but to do the same. I got some sleep that night.

  2. I almost didn't come to the blog because, as a Southerner, I've developed a twitch about racism. Even in the cozy mystery you reference, my guess is that the Southern character who used the term "darkie" was a raging bigot. I've never heard anyone use that term outside of a Stephen Foster song, anyway, and I'm no spring chicken. And yes to Mark Twain. How could anybody miss the fact that his books, specially Huckleberry Finn, are about combating racism, not celebrating it? Argh.

    Your post made me smile in a good way. And I can just see the girls wrapped in blankets, puffing away (tobacco, wasn't it?) and playing bridge all night. They had it coming, having the lightbulb stolen. Go, Phyllis! I hope you do get your mystery series. I'll bet it's going to be a fun ride!

    1. Larkin:
      Thanks for your comment. Thanks also for your good wishes about my cozy mysteries. Yes, they'll have humor in them.

  3. You might find the article by Jenna interesting. The character in question is half black and (spoiler) the love interest. Sometimes you have to show something how it is, to show how awful it can be.

    Bridge is a highly addictive game and is alive and well. Lots of very successful people play and there have been articles in publications like the Wall Street Journal about how it can help stave off dementia.

    It's a great game. I am biased though, as I make my living as a bridge teacher. You might mention to your publisher that bridge was in the book The Help.

    1. Samantha:
      Thanks so much. I did read Jenna's blog about her book. I also taught Bridge for many years. Didn't make a living at it, but it sure helped the budget when raising the kids. I did know it was in THE HELP. In those days everyone played Bridge. You were out of the loop if you didn't. Where do you live? Maybe we can get together for a friendly game. I'm in the So. Ca. desert.

    2. Phyllis, yup! Those were the days. People dropped out of college to play bridge back then. I'm so glad that people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are doing everything they can to get new players, especially kids in schools. I live in Los Angeles. I'd love to get together.

    3. Phyllis,

      I remember almost majoring in BRIDGE when i WAS at college. I did play w/ my mom, dad and sister at times but haven't since graduating from college. Played a lot more poker to be honest. But you're right about the bridge column--I follow the one in the San Francisco Chronicle to see if I still have any skill at all (not that I had much). But you know everything is subjective in the puiblishing world, so just because one editor dissed your chapter, doesn't mean you should offer to excise it. GIVE ME A BREAK!

    4. Carolann:

      Thanks for your comment. I'll see what the current editor has to say.

  4. I don't play Bridge, but think the book sounds wonderful. I enjoyed your post, too.


Speak to me! I'm listening!