Why? I love to read mysteries. Actually I love reading lots of things, but I love the intrigue of a good mystery. When I picked up my pen and began the process of writing, I didn’t think, “What kind of mystery are you going to write?” No, I simple started writing.
My first book began less as a mystery and more as a family saga. But, as I wrote, things started happening that created more and more mystery and suspense. Still at the conclusion, I did not consider The Clock Strikes Midnight a mystery. In my opinion it remained a family saga with lots of suspense. My first professional reader (a published writer), however, informed me that The Clock Strikes Midnight was a mystery, but “Not your typical genre mystery.” In fact, it was considered a general mystery.
After I finished that project, I decided to write a genre mystery. I did this because it’s easier to place and sell a book that fits nicely in one genre or another. A book like The Clock Strikes Midnight is harder to place. Publishers like books they can place in certain categories. Book sellers like to put their books on certain shelves. That’s why I wrote the Jenna Scali series. In my view this was a cozy mystery.
Unfortunately the first book in that series, e-Murderer doesn’t quite fit the cozy category. Although there is no explicit sex or violence and the book features an amateur sleuth, it does center around some pretty ghastly murders. In the early stages of this book, I asked the Cozy Mystery readers on Goodreads to tell me if they felt the book fit the cozy genre. Yes, they liked the book, but a couple of readers said it had too much “blood” to be considered a cozy.
I took a long deep breath and then wrote the second book in the Jenna Scali series, Murder on Moonshine Hill. This time I was determined to write a book cozy readers would recognize as one of theirs. This book features a murder in a nice little mountain lodge around a wedding ceremony. It has a bunch of quirky characters and lots of intrigue. It will be released this fall by MuseItUp Publishing. If this book gets rejected by cozy readers, I’ll just have to give up and simply write what I want.
Okay, you say, why not do that? Why not just write what you want and quit worrying about the sub-genres in the mystery world? One reason is that the sub-genres are very important to help readers find the books they like and for authors to connect with those readers. That’s why I keep trying.
In the mystery world for example, things are very fuzzy.
- Police procedural. This sub-genre focuses on the police conducting an investigation of murder. The characters who move from book to book are police officers. But how is the police procedural different from detective mysteries?
- Detective mysteries. This sub-genre focuses on a single detective who solves the murders. This detective can work for the police (Does make it a police procedural–See the problem?) or can be a private detective. But, what about when the detective is not officially a detective?
- Amateur Sleuth mysteries. This sub-genre focuses on a person who is not an official detective or often not a professional in law enforcement but who solves crimes. What about the medical examiners who solve crimes? Where do they fit?
- Cozy Mysteries. Most cozy mysteries include an amateur sleuth, but cozy readers are very strict in terms of other things. The locale for the mystery has to be “cozy.” A nice ski resort or a cute little town in Maine like Cabot Cove. The story cannot include a lot of blood and guts. People are killed but that happens off stage. We don’t experience the murder. We hear about it.
As you can see, there are some blurry places. Readers and writers get confused. The typical mystery lover enjoys all kinds of mysteries and does not care if its a police procedural or a cozy. But, there are those who congregate around one genre or another and these groups are growing.
But, I’ve also learned that I cannot write toward a genre. I have to write what I want and then try and fit it in the right place. If I was a formula writer–like James Patterson or Sue Grafton, maybe I could churn out books in one genre.
Meantime, when Murder on Moonshine Hill comes out, maybe you can tell me. Is it a cozy?
If you want to get a taste for the e-Murderer take a look at this book trailer.
C. Mark Burford says
Okay, after reading this, I don’t know which direction to go. I’ve had a story stuck in my head for 15 years. I grew up on Hardy Boys Mysteries. But, I don’t think my book will fall into YA mystery and doesn’t quite fit just Mystery (no murder, no sex, no violence in my book), but possible Family Saga mystery and cannot “reconcile” my storyline to fall into just one of those categories. There could be a hint of faith-based situations. Quick summary – family with teen boys move to small mountain town from big city – mother is pregnant – father to follow but disappears – answer to disappearance lies in a closer big city – mother becomes catatonic after several stressful situations – one teen sets out to find answers to father’s disappearance – finds his maternal grandfather that his mother was estranged from – several more twists and turns which may require two or three books to complete. These twists will lead to some history on both sides of the family and possibly uncover some more twists and turns involving the families in the small mountain town to which they have moved. Mystery? Family Saga? Suspense? Thinking about using the surname WARD and calling the series – if it becomes one – WARD FAMILY MYSTERIES. Again, no murder, sex or violence and no foul language. Is there a forum for such a book that I can turn to for advice?
Joan Curtis says
I wouldn’t call it a mystery. But it’s definitely a family saga, full of mystery. We must have some mystery in all books to keep the reader reading, but that doesn’t necessarily make it of the mystery genre. Your story made me think of so many books, including those of Faulkner. He wrote 3 books around the same families. So, yes, absolutely, keep going, but it may turn out to be literary fiction. Have you finished the novel? I recently finished reading The Patron Saint of Lies. Full of mystery but not a mystery. Take a look at that.