Monday, May 12, 2008

Mystery Genres

Dearest Rejecter,

I am writing a series of what might be called "ultra cozy" mysteries. My stories don't involve murder. I think there is plenty of evil that men can do in addition to homicide, and I think a lot of that evil doing can drive stories that can be compelling and satisfying.

But I don't quite know how to pitch them. I'm afraid that if I say they are in the mystery genre, most agents and editors will have the standard preconception that there "must" be a murder or the story isn't worthy. Is there a genre title for what I am writing?

Yes. Thriller. Sorry, but now you are obligated to thrill. Or suspense. No, wait, I think suspense is the one where the protagonist is in danger, while thriller implies that other people are in danger, but not necessarily the protagonist. I always get these mixed up.

The long answer is that it kinda depends what the crime is. If your protagonist investigates international intrigue, you're writing a political thriller. If your protagonist is investigating a religious conspiracy, you're just writing a thriller that has an angle. If your protagonist is investigating the proper use of pre-existing water maintenance regulation, you'd better throw some lesbian rape in there, because otherwise it's probably going to be pretty boring. And you'd better be a woman too, because then it makes it a feminist piece.

"Mysteries" are generally to classify books about murder, or at least the implication of murder. Why that is, I'm not sure entirely; it's just now the industry developed. Either way, feel free to query agents who deal in crime, thrillers, suspense, and mysteries. Depending on what the crime actually is will narrow it down a bit for them in the query.

For more on your question, there's a discussion here.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

My memory is a bit rusty, but weren't quite a few episodes of Matlock about not-murder mysteries?

Sarahlynn said...

I didn't watch Matlock, but some episodes of Monk are about non-murder mysteries.

I'm also writing a series of mysteries, several of which don't involve actual murder (attempted murder, intellectual property theft, fraud, etc.). It's my opinion - and my hope - that an interesting and well-written mystery will appeal to mystery readers even without a dead body. After all, I'm part of that target market, and I often find myself drawn to novels where the mysteries involve much more (or less) than discovering who is responsible for the stiff in the parlor.

Bernita said...

A strong and appealing central character would go a long way to to cover any lack of bodies and keep it in the cozy line.

kitty said...

Should writers write what they read? (I use the term "should" loosely.)

I love mysteries, but as hard as I try I can't write them. My writing veers into women's fiction which I rarely read.

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150 said...

They aren't as common because the stakes aren't as high, but thefts, kidnappings and blackmail should count as mysteries if they're handled in much the same way as any cozy: old busybody bustles around town poking her nose into secrets and getting to the bottom of things.

Deb said...

Wouldn't this be rightly termed a cozy mystery?

I'm with Sarahlynn--I don't feel comfy with every mystery I read involving a murder. Since I don't write mysteries (yet), I don't mind what others wish to write, but the stiff in the parlor does get kinda old after a while.

Andrew said...

I wonder if a writer of ultra-cozies might do well to start with young-adult or middle-grade mysteries. Those often wouldn't have murders for the protection of young impressionable minds, but still could explore the idea of crime and investigation. Then, once you've got an industry reputation and track record, you could start making your cozies more mature.

Thomas said...

I caught an episode of Murder: She Wrote the other day and it occurred to me that Cabot Cove, Maine must have been the most dangerous place on earth. Someone got rubbed out there on a weekly basis.

Anonymous said...

Call it a thriller if you want to sell. 'Metery' if yo're an old fudd-duddy literary type who doesn't care about sales.

Maggie said...

Many mystery shows have plots other than murder. Although, in the case of SVU (more of a cop show, but it's got mystery elements) they involve rape, molestation, or kidnapping. Criminal Intent does more of the identity theft and whathaveyou sort of stuff.

SVU is the only law and order show that was picked up for next season (last I heard), so yeah, non-murder mysteries can capture interest.

AJ said...

Okay, people gotta stop bringing up TV shows. It's a completely different medium, and how many books can you read in just one hour? Mysteries tend to have murder in them because it takes big stakes to keep people interested for the day or days (or weeks) it'll take to read the book. In my Detective Fiction class in college, the prof. brought up the fact that mysteries with "death", "dead", "murder", etc., in the title sold better than titles without. Wish I had the numbers and reference now, but it makes sense, at least to me.

That said, write really well, and you can get away without murder.

Katrina said...

I'm trying to figure out what my work-in-progress would be categorized as... the protagonist's life becomes Hell when some unknown villian starts a campaign of identity theft and electronic attack to harm, annoy and discredit him. He has to discover who is attacking him (although not physically) and why (it involves industrial espionage) in order to get his life back. Is this mystery, thriller, or suspense? There will probably be physical danger, but not murder. My notes I took when I first got the idea say cyber-thriller...