If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.


Our reason for creating WWK originated as an outlet for our love of reading and writing mystery fiction. We hope you love it, too, and will enjoy our holiday gifts to our readers with original short stories to celebrate the season. Starting on 11/16 stories by Warren Bull, Margaret S. Hamilton, Paula Gail Benson, Linda Rodriguez, KM Rockwood, Gloria Alden, and E. B. Davis will appear every Thursday into the New Year.


Our November Author Interviews: 11/8--Ellen Byron, and 11/15--Sujata Massey. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


November Saturday Bloggers: 11/4 Margaret S. Hamilton and 11/11 Cheryl Hollon.


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.


In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," just published, will appear in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

You Gotta Have A Gimmick

The other night, while procrastinating on my plot, I flipped through cable channels and caught Rosalind Russell belting out ‘Gypsy”. The song that grabbed my attention, though, was the three strippers schooling a neophyte Louise that simply taking off her clothes wasn’t enough. “You gotta have a gimmick,” they tell her and proceed to demonstrate how a trumpet, some light bulbs and a bit of gauze have lifted them out of the chorus.

Seems to me, mystery writers are in the same boat, constantly being advised to have a hook. “I need to be able to say it’s a cat mystery or a cooking mystery,” one agent told me. “You need to layer something in so we can sell it to people who are interested in that sort of thing.”

Problem is, all too often, those layers have the subtlety of ‘80’s leg warmers over stirrup pants. “Oh wait,” the amateur sleuth cries. “I can’t follow up on this clue until I meet with a new client for my free-lance astrophysics business.” Which is okay if astrophysics solves the crime – but all too often the business or hobby seems to be a concession to “we could call it an ‘astrophysics mystery’ on the cover.” And then the poor author gets stuck slotting in tips at the beginning of each chapter. (“80% of the universe is made up of invisible matter called ‘dark matter’.”)

I have nothing against cooking, owning cats or practicing free-lance astrophysics. Amateur sleuths should do something beside hang out with their police detective boyfriend waiting for another body to drop. I just don’t want to hear about it in detail. Even though Miss Marple knitted, Dame Agatha didn’t provide patterns in the back of the book.  Nero Wolfe raised orchids yet Rex Stout never included propagation tips. They were first and foremost detectives and didn’t need to dress it up with gauze and light bulbs.

Far from choosing books because I share a hobby with the protagonist, I find myself rejecting books whose covers proclaim “A Such and Such Mystery.” The obvious layering in of a hook is beginning to bore me. Even more, I resent being told “I can’t sell it without a hook.” One of these days, I’m just going to grab me a trumpet and take off my clothes.

Vaudeville no longer uses a giant hook to pull bad acts off stage. Is it time to retire the mandatory hook in mysteries as well.

11 comments:

Pauline Alldred said...

Hi, Cathy. Sleuths need to be rounded characters but I agree a hobby or hook doesn't necessarily accomplish that. There's their sex life and their demons, often alcohol, but that's been covered for years. Some authors manage to make their sleuths more than their role and I believe these authors accomplish this with voice and larger than life characters.

E. B. Davis said...

I agree with you, Cathy, and yet some of those books are a lot of fun and every book needs some sort of premise. My main character sells champagne and sparkling wines. Does she solve the mystery using those skills? No, but an event she supplies puts her in the right place at the right time, and the fact of the matter is that I like those types of wines--so it's a natural for me.

Sally Carpenter said...

For myself, I like the sleuth using her unique skills in crime solving. Otherwise, why give her any special talents/interests/occupation at all? But that's my opinion. As for "hooks," more and more new authors are coming up with different hooks (sleuths in various careers) besides the standard pet/cooking/craft cozies. It's nice to have variety.
Sally Carpenter

Warren Bull said...

Another trend is to have sleuths with psychological problems. I enjoy Monk and Matt Scudder but with many authors their search for quirks is less successful. I read a short story once where the cop kept shoving gum into his mouth. by the end I wondered how he was able to talk at all.

PS If I were less of a gentleman I'd ask about where and when your strip tease was scheduled.

Michele Drier said...

I agree, Cathy, that "quirky" characters and gimmicks seem to be required. I don't much like this trend. And you're right, Miss Marple never gave knitting instructions!

Gloria Alden said...

I agree with you Cathy especially when an agent/publisher suggests that the author write a character with a certain vocation. I once heard an author on a panel saying her agent/publisher wanted her to write a book with a female blacksmith as the protagonist. This author knew nothing about horses or blacksmithing. Still, I like reading about characters, who have some kind of profession,skill or interest that makes them more interesting. Because gardening is a passion of mine, my protagonist is a botanist and works part time at a large public gardens and has her own small garden center, too. She sort of falls into finding bodies.I made sure she's not much into cooking so I didn't need to put any recipes at the end of my books.

Linda Rodriguez said...

I like sleuths to have some interest outside of tracking murderers, but it probably needs to be one the writer has--like your champagne, E.B.--or it will wind up feeling artificial.

In defense of agents and editors, they're trying to tell their authors what sells. We, the readers, are responsible for "what sells."

Patricia A. Guthrie said...

That's very good! I'm still grinning. I don't like calling a career choice a gimmick though.
Everyone in life has a lifestyle which includes a job, maybe a family, cats, dogs, horses, maybe they take up knitting etc. It's fun to integrate their life into their mysteries.

Polly said...

Great post, Cathy. I couldn't agree more, but that's because I don't read cutesy. I like my heroes and heroines smart and tough, and I want to know what makes them tick. Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon is an art restorer. He's also an assassin. John Sandford's Kidd is an artist and computer expert, and a thief. I'd say those are hooks too. So hooks can work both ways. It depends on your style. Gee, I prefer assassins over knitters. What does that say about me?

Ellis Vidler said...

If the hobby/hook can play a part in solving the crime, I'm okay with it. ("No, no--the killer is no knitter. You'd never use that sort of knitting needle with that yarn," she says of the needle sticking out of the victim's chest.) I think it comes down to the writing. If it's good and entertaining, I'd be okay with it.

MSBjaneB said...

This was such a great post. Gypsy Rose Lee actually wrote a couple of pulp fiction mysteries as well. The one I read was "The GString Murders" and yes, she had a gimmick there as well. Keep up the great work!