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











October Interview Schedule: 10/3 Ellen Byron, 10/10 Cynthia Kuhn, 10/17 Jacqueline Seewald, 10/24 G. A. McKevett, 10/31 Alan Orloff

Saturday Guest Bloggers: 10/6 Mary Reed, 10/13 J.J. Hensley,
WWK Satuday Bloggers: 10/20 Margaret S. Hamilton, 10/27 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:


Grace Topping signed a three-book contract with Henery Press for her Laura Bishop Home Staging series. Congratulations, Grace!

KM Rockwood's new short story, "Map to Oblivion," has been included the anthology Shhhh...Murder! edited by Andrew MacRae and published by Darkhouse Books. It was released on Sept. 12.

Warren Bull also has a story in Shhh...Murder! Look for "Elsinore Noir," Warren's short story, in this anthology.

Annette Dashofy's Uneasy Prey was released in March. It is the sixth Zoe Chambers Mystery. The seventh, Cry Wolf, will be released on September 18th. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Annette on September 19th.

Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in July 31, 2018.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

North of Cozy; South of Noir

Tybee Island Lighthouse
Tybee Island Lightouse in Georgia

At a recent meeting of the Low Country Sisters in Crime chapter, of which I am a founding and lifetime member, we discussed the various subgenres into which mystery/suspense/thrillers are cast. We had reasonable agreement about the broad requirements for a cozy: Sex and violence is off the page, utilizes a small town or village setting (or at least a closed setting in which the characters mostly know each other), usually an amateur sleuth, mostly female protagonists (a few males, some animals, some ghosts, etc.), often a romantic element (frequently with a professional lawman), often the protagonist has a craft or small business that brought her to the area in the first place (often by way of a dead relative).

We had somewhat less agreement on noir, it being a bit difficult to distinguish from hardboiled. I thought my definition of “first you’re screwed and by the end you’re really screwed,” hit the nail, but others suggested I was affected by my politics. Generally, people agree noir stories are hard-boiled, the protagonist is not police, he (although there are plenty of shes these days as well) could be a PI, or victim, or crook, and is usually self-destructive.

We had no real agreement on mystery vs. suspense vs. thriller. For me, mystery has been a story about solving the crime. In thrillers, the protagonist is in jeopardy almost from the start and the stakes are larger than their small piece of the world. Suspense has the reader worrying about how the protagonist will fare, but the reader may already know who-done-it.

I have the worst time defining exactly what I write.

Take my Empty Promises. There are definite mystery elements: the amateur sleuth (Seamus McCree) and the police want to figure out who was responsible for two murders—one recent, one old. There are suspense elements: the Happy Reaper is in the area and if Seamus gets in the way . . . And it contains elements of a domestic thriller (a psychological thriller that focuses on interpersonal relationships)—but that’s in a subplot.

Enter my new catchall: “North of Cozy; South of Noir.”

I first used the phrase to help guide the authors writing novellas for Lowcountry Crime: Four Novellas. It worked well. Without anything more than each author’s understanding of what that tag line meant, we ended up with a book that includes four different stories, all linked by crime in the Lowcountry. None would be called cozy; none noir.

Oh yes, and one of the stories I edited, Tina Whittle’s “Like a Freight Train Coming” is a finalist for a prestigious Derringer award in the novelette category (8,001 – 20,000 words). Keeping my fingers crossed for her.

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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. Empty Promises, the fifth novel in the series—this one set in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is now available. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com.

17 comments:

Warren Bull said...

I wonder if cozy noir is the new traditional.

Jim Jackson said...

I think Andrew MacRae coined that term to describe his first book and produced an anthology of stories using that theme. While Cozy-Noir (as I understand it something of a gritty atmosphere with a likable character) would fit solidly within my North of Cozy; South of Noir, I don't think it is equivalent to "traditional."

But that's just my opinion.

Margaret Turkevich said...

We will always have cozies, but "north of cozy" is becoming more popular.

Grace Topping said...

It is a areal problem trying to describe a mystery. They are all so different. It becomes a real problem when publishers want your work to fit a defined category so they can shelve it with a particular category. It's hard for readers as well. We have an expectation of what a book in a particular category will be like (no graphic sex, violence, etc. in cozies; lots of thrilling scenes in thriller, etc.). So if a writer veers in a totally different direction, we are left scratching our heads.

"Empty Promises" by the way, was terrific. It had a good balance of mystery book elements.

Jim Jackson said...

Margaret & Grace -- I think they have always been there, but the problem is acerbated by search engines and online bookstores. It used to be you could ask a librarian or the salesperson at your local book store. They'd do what Shari Randall calls the "readslike" thing to help you find new authors. Now readers search on their own to find the exact thing they are looking for and Amazon and others have split the mystery/suspense/thriller genre into 10,000 subsets.

And Grace -- I'm so glad you enjoyed Empty Promises.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, I thought Empty Promises was definitely a mystery and suspense, too. I certainly worried about the young guy whose name often changed and Seamus McCree, too, but not so much about Seamus since he's the main character in your series. I think even cozies can have an element of suspense in them, too.

Jim Jackson said...

Gloria -- I agree with you that Cozies can have elements of suspense -- and most stories have some suspense elements, they help keep readers turning pages!

Loretta said...

Love the label for the genre of these novels! The whole piece was just right for my coffee break while learning something. I've always liked the intrigue of things just a little north, or south, of something. Piques the interest, doesn't it? :) Of course I have to go in and have a look at the book now, because of its enticing genre...headin' north to Amazon, then south to my Kindle :)

KM Rockwood said...

An awful lot of mysteries defy classification (some even strain the definition of "mystery.") I've always been fond of Margaret Yorke's psychological suspense. I'm not sure they are mysteries.

I call my Jesse Damon series "crime novels." Of course, at this point I'm not worried about placement in major books stores, etc. I might change my attitude if I ever get to that point.

Kait said...

The lines are definitely blurring these days. More and more cozies fall closer to the traditional mystery than traditional cozy. It's an exciting time to be writing.

Jim Jackson said...

Loretta -- Made me smile!

KM -- crime novels always works and yours would fit right into my subcategory of "North of ..."

Kait -- I wonder if readers who prefer "pure" Cozies might not object to those traits that carry them toward traditional. I've seen some negative ratings for cussing and such on what I'd take from their covers as cozies. Any experience with that?

Andrew MacRae said...

An interesting discussion. Yes, 'North of Cozy, South of Noir' is a good fit for what I've been calling 'cozy-noir'.

Just as noir doesn't require late night, rain-slick streets, nor do cozies require a small town, just so long as there's a close community of characters.

Regards,
Andrew

Jim Jackson said...

Hey Andrew, Thanks for stopping by.

Kait said...

Jim, I have seen some negatives for true or excessive cussing (I tend to avoid both in my books) but for situations that move cozies to traditionals, no, no negative reviews. I keep detailed death violence off the page, but peril violence is there, situations are gritty, and subplots often are too. Oddly enough, what I have found is that the praise comes in e-mails of the "love that you are dealing with darker, more realistic issues" variety. I strike up a correspondence with most reviewers, but I've never been comfortable asking them to post their opinions online.

Jim Jackson said...

That's interesting, Kait. I'm glad that's the response you've been getting. I've never particularly thought of Cozies as dealing with light issues -- after all, no murder should be taken lightly -- and fortunately, society no longer needs to feel protected from the dark underbelly of life.

Kait said...

No, no murder, or death, should ever be taken lightly. I did not mean to give that impression. In cozies, the surrounding circumstances of the investigation often were lighter. Police missed the big clues, failed to follow the leads, or make the connections requiring the amateurs to step in. It's what makes them fun to read rather than perilous. The reader knows there has been a death, but also knows that justice will prevail, and somehow, a sleuth very similar to the reader will have a hand in that justice. They are satisfying reads. In a more traditional cozy, the sleuth may be an amateur, but they often work with law enforcement (although the friction still exists creating a source of conflict) and the ultimate solution is a team effort. More and more in my reading of traditionals, I'm finding that the endings are satisfying, but there are very realistic (dare I say intentional) loose ends.

There are very distinct tonal differences between cozies and traditionals. It's interesting to watch, and participate, in the evolution.

Shari Randall said...

This is the best description ever of what I like to read. I like books that blur the boundaries, so keep it coming!