Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Fine Blend


The Flower Maker,
Harriet Campbell Foss,
oil on canvas, 1892.

Now and then, someone will comment on cross-genre as if it is a new and dubious departure, but I think it's been going on all along.
Writers always seek to combine and vary standard elements.
Romantic suspense, one might say, is a love story with a plot. While h/t/awt sex scenes may be decried as a pure commercial intrusion, their addition may also be seen as a meld of erotica and thriller/mystery/adventure/fantasy/whatever themes.
As soon as enough combinations become popular with readers, a sub-genre is legitimized.
Cozies are charming, clever little mysteries often involving an accidental investigator as opposed to the professional private eye. Still, the mystery is often solved by application of specialized knowledge associated with the main character's occupation - or hobby.
The Cozy may blend the standard mystery trope with elements often found in non-fiction, in arts and crafts how-to's, with the inside-story - not of CIA spies, of the police procedural - but with doll-making, knitting, collecting of Depression glass, or any other unexpected, incongruous and comfortable activity and talent.
And such snug stories have a built-in platform - if the writer can access the interest of the thousands of craft associations associated with the particular hobby-trope they have chosen as a vehicle.
Part of the charm to those readers is that the main character is one of them - not some curious investigative official led by the hand to understand the intricacies of their specialty.
Cozies have always struck me as the ultimate write-what-you-know.
So, do you have a hobby, interest or collection that would lend itself to a novel?

18 comments:

Carla said...

Interesting definition of the cosy mystery! Would Miss Marple count?
And, yes, I agree that cross-genre has been going on for ever - arguably it's the idea of genres as neat and tidy pigeonholes that's the aberration. I heard an interview with someone from one of the big UK publishers a few months ago, who said that most of the market genres were only invented in the 1980s when the number of books being published took a sharp upturn and publishers needed a way of organising their lists.

Bernita said...

Been wondering that too, Carla - and eventually decided that Christie became a genre of her own.
And now classification has become a monster that has many writers shivering under the covers.

Ric said...

Do fetishes count? Is it Friday yet?

Bernita said...

Viagra-niagara is usually filed under "erotica," Ric...but I'm sure there are associations for various psychological and physical conditions whose members might provide a natural platform.
The term "Cozies" usually apply to a different kind of handiwork.

Ric said...

Aren't we feisty this morning!
I have noted the uptick in hobby cozies. A natural extension of a local writer here who has pet cats solving crimes (with huge success).
The strict definition of a cozie (per St.Martin's contest) makes it clear sex is not allowed. A cozie with a sex therapist heroine might be interesting.
I agree that Christie is a genre onto herself. The closest thing lately was Murder, She Wrote - whose main warning was you didn't want to live in Cabot Cove because you would eventually end up dead.

ORION said...

It's interesting how we try to categorize books. If Mary Shelley had written Frankenstein now she would be off the literature table!
I would love a cozy mystery that took place in a harbor or at a horse farm/ranch/riding stable. It is such fun to read about a venue that attracts you. Even still I like to incorporate what I know into my novels. LOTTERY has sailing for the simple reason that I know about sailing and it lends an air of authenticity.
Yes Bernita -- you might well ask what I am doing up at 4 am!
(My UK publisher is 12 hours ahead of me!)

Bernita said...

Hee, Ric.
Cozies lend themselves to serialization too.

No, Pat, because I'm often up by 4 A.M also - though without your burden-of-success excuse.

Kate Thornton said...

I have been so caught up in obsessive thinking about writing a novel - a sort of modern horror cosy - that I blogged about it today. The whole question of genre usually boils down to mystery, science fiction and romance for me, but they're only bookshelf labels. After all life is a crossover.

raine said...

I've always wanted to try a cozy mystery. Christie's influence, no doubt.

Hobbies that would lend themselves to creating such a novel?
A carnival portrait artist who sees things in his depictions of clients that others don't, but that may be cliche.
I started one once about a postal worker whose job it was to track down the recipients of poorly-addressed ("dead letter") mail, and who got into all kinds of adventures through her knowledge of zonal climates, the condition of the mailpiece, handwriting, old romances ended by letters, etc...

Yes, I have been working at the sucky day job far too long...

Bernita said...

I hope you do more than just think about it, Kate!

Raine, that dead letter idea sounds like a fascinating main character/plot.
And who cares if the street artist theme has been done, it wouldn't have been done your way; and, usually, the artist is not the main character, merely the inciting incident in those stories.
That may be one of the things that define cozies - the milieu is central, not merely a neat bit of information supplied and applied to assist the non-hobbist to solve the mystery.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think people only make a big deal about "cross-genre" when it's two formally "hardened" genres that get crossed. Like a western horror novel. You're right, of course, crossing genres is quite an old concept.

Bernita said...

Hmmm, Charles. A good example. And longhorns, rustlers, desperadoes are quite horrifying enough, in situ.
Would one call a western paranormal...campire fiction?...

Jon M said...

Jon Mayhew fails to solve the Mystery of the Murdered Morris Dancer...He stumbles at the first fence of motive and suspects, when he asks: 'but who would want to murder a traditional English folk dancer who annoys everyone in pubs on Mayday?'

Hey nonny no!

Bernita said...

"Men were deceivers ever"

Seeley deBorn said...

I think my research addiction lends itself well to writing historicals. The Man is in school and has access to a number of on line scholarly databases. I am drawing the line at learning to read Ukranian so that I can read a paper on medieval architecture in the Dneiper Valley. I doubt anyone could solve a mystery with that kind of knowledge anyway.

writtenwyrdd said...

I didn't know what a cozy mystery was until about a year ago (don't read many of them) but I think a great example of write what you know is Dick Francis, whose works always involve the horse world in some way, shape or form.

As for me, I'm afraid the best I could do for write what you know would either be a police procedural, and that would still take a lot of research to get current. I've had a lot of experience in a lot of things, but I'm more the jack of all trades person who knows a little about a lot. However, I know where the library is and can look stuff up! And...the internet! Whee!

Bernita said...

Ah, the lust for lore, Seeley! And plot bunnies abound!

I'm something of a generalist myself, Written, and don't have a magnificent obsession.

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