Working on the Not-So-Cozy Mystery

12Sep18

I finished writing a novel. Now it’s in the early stages of deciding a lasting title, and even the genre.

That’s not saying that I don’t have genre in mind. It is definitely a mystery novel, but certain aspects of the story push the classification more toward the Cozy Mystery category. Wanna know what that is OK great:

A “cozy mystery” is a sub-genre of the mystery novel. While it still involves crime and murder, the violence and sex components are downplayed. Cozy Mysteries usually have punny titles based on the theme or characters or small town setting. A mystery set in a coffee house will have titles like “ON WHAT GROUNDS” (a real book) while others set around a crochet club have titles like “KNOT GUILTY” (also a real book).

My book is about a hair stylist who has telepathic abilities, so when she cuts someone’s hair, she can see what the customer wants. But things change when one day she looks into one man’s mind and sees a murdered body (dun-dun-DUN). So given the sort-of gawdy elements of a telepathic barber solving a murder, I have to consider titles like “Hair Will Be Blood” and “The Murderer In the Barbers Chair.” This all seems to align with the cozy mystery genre.

HOWEVER, I’m nervous about the cozy mystery’s PG-levels of storytelling. While most of my story currently rests in PG and PG-adjacent territory, I did go kind of big on some of the violent portions. I can work out the swears and such, but I kind of like how tough things get for my hero in the end. And bloody. And hurt.

It’s got me thinking about the responsibility a writer/creator has to assigned genre. If I go see a Captain America movie, I expect to see certain things happen (fighting, explosions, shield tossing, etc.). Then again, if you get a movie like “Logan,” which — while still delivering many of the requirements for a super hero movie — holds a spot on the far end of the super hero movie spectrum.

I suppose if I got very serious about selling this as a true “cozy mystery,” then I would have to adhere to the rules. It’s not like I could just tell everyone to adjust expectations based on my personal demands. That’s the deal. You wanna play baseball, you wear a glove and swing a bat. You cannot show up wearing basketball shorts and a football helmet. There are rules and they should be followed.

With all that being said, I think a few of the other tropes of the “Cozy Mystery” could be ignored. The ones I’ve read deal a lot with morning routines, older people (probably to meet their audience), business steps, recipes and other such things that I suppose make the characters more “real,” but almost always get me to skip ahead to the parts dealing with, you know, the actual murder case. I mean, I like scones, but we got work to do. “Cozy Mysteries” also owe a debt of gratitude to the romance novel (their first cousin). I don’t have a problem with this (I have a romantic sub-plot in my story, too), but most of these books tend to lay it on pretty thick. Normally the slightly horny older character will nudge the younger, available-for-dramatic-reasons female lead into pursuing the attractive cop/reporter/ranch hand. It’s not particularly feminist, as you’ll hear the phrase “a man to take care of you” more than once.

If I’m being totally honest with myself, the level I’m aiming for is the Hitchcock level. “Rear Window,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” a less messed-up “Vertigo.” In his prime he basically made one cozy mystery after another, focusing on the juicy details of the mystery, hinting at possible supernatural answers to the mysteries that will eventually get solved with real-world solutions. That’s my target. It’s always been my target.

Now I just gotta finish the damn thing.

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