Friday, May 14, 2010

Don't get boxed in

I'm fascinated by the different types of mysteries, or crime novels, that are out on the bookshelves today: hard-boiled, cozy, traditional, police procedural, paranormal, you get the idea. Some people say they read only cozies, or amateur sleuth mysteries. Some only read hard-boiled noir novels. Some like something in between. Is that what's called "traditional?"

I'm hesitant to put books into little boxes that supposedly identify them. You could say Louise Penny writes cozies because her books are set in a small Quebec village, but she does have a police detective, so then she veers more into, perhaps, traditional. Julia Spencer Fleming's books are along the same lines. Neither fall into any particular category, they're just good books and hugely popular.

I think we all know what constitutes a cozy. Those hobby themed mysteries, like the cupcake or doughnut or cheese or flower shop mysteries. Sewing, knitting, crocheting, glassblowing, orchard owning or gardening amateur sleuth protagonists. They more than likely have puns in the titles and most times than not the plucky young protagonists fall for the hunky detectives.

When I was contracted to write the tattoo shop mysteries, I wanted to veer away from the norm and give a little edge to the cozy. Granted, they are about tattoos and they're set in Vegas, which means they have to have an edge, regardless. But I also decided against the hunky detective boyfriend and made the detective Brett's brother instead. Of course now I have to find a little romance elsewhere, so it probably would've been easier to have the detective boyfriend. Oh, I didn't mention the romance, did I? Yes, they also must have romance.

Because my books have more of an edge, they would fall into the more "traditional" mystery category. Although so would my Annie Seymour books, despite the addition of a tougher character with salty language. Both do have some humor. Elaine Viets and Nancy Martin might be in this category, too.

What's frustrating is that once you're boxed in to one category, it might be hard for readers to see you writing something different. Nancy Martin is an example. She wrote the delightful Blackbird Sisters mysteries, which was much lighter than her current Roxy Abruzzo book. Roxy is a tough, independent protagonist, hard-edged with a sharp sense of humor. That's not to say that Roxy is better or worse than the Blackbird Sisters, just different in a good way. I'm glad Nancy stepped out of her box and took on the challenge of Roxy, and I'm glad she found a publisher who was willing to go along on her journey.

I heard about a panel at Bouchercon a couple of years ago where cozy writers had to improvise a hard boiled novel and noir writers had to improvise a cozy. I'd like to see that in reality, because I think a good writer can cross lines and make the boxes disappear.

I would personally love to see Reed Farrel Coleman or Lee Child write a cozy. And going the other way, I'd love to see a dark noir novel by Hank Phillippi Ryan or Julie Hyzy. Who would you pick?

6 comments:

jenny milchman said...

I like mysteries that bust conventions of genre, or sub-genre. Gerrie Ferris' THE END GAME won the Malice Domestic award for 'traditional mystery' but as has been discussed on other blogs, it really departs from the definition of traditional. I love coming across books like that...

Vicki Lane said...

Oh, I'd pay money for a cozy by Lee Child. Reacher settles down in a small New England town and opens a consignment shop/tearoom . . .

PamelaSueJames said...

I would like to see Sue Grafton write a cozy and I would love to see Carolyn Hart wrote a detective mystery, another that comes to mind is to see Sarah Graves write a stalker mystery and Victoria Laurie write a locked room mystery.
Pamela

Karen Olson said...

Jenny, I'll have to check out that book.

Vicki, your post made me laugh! Jack Reacher owning a consignment shop/tea room. Priceless!

Pamela, I love the idea of a locked room mystery, and I love stalker books, too.

oyejohn52 said...

First, let me just say that I love titles with puns! Sure, they may be corny, but sometimes ther's a kernel of truth. Or they just really pop...

And I agree--I hate to see writers--or any artists, for that matter--being boxed into the confines of some small area when there is a whole large world out there to explore.

Critics have often said that Mary Higgins Clark writes thrillers that go for the jugular, while her daughter, Carol, aims for the funny bone. Maybe they should swap MO's. Or just the name on the book jacket...

Sheila Connolly said...

Hi, Karen--nice to see you here!

Vicki, I'd love to see that cozy from Lee Child (maybe he could auction off a collaboration, a la James Patterson).

I've been hearing comments about "edgier" cozies recently, from a variety of sources. Also a senior Random House editor said that the "soft" cozies sell well in the Midwest, but the harder-edged ones are more successful in urban areas. I have a copy of Nancy Martin's new book and I'm looking forward to seeing where she took it (I liked the Blackbird Sisters).