I had an argument with an author friend the other day about cozy mysteries versus…well, everything else when it comes to my books. Cozy’s typically have a murder that happens off the page and/or that isn’t violent in appearance – no blood and guts, no gore – and the crime is solved by an amateur sleuth. There’s no other graphic violence in the book and no on the page sex either. Her argument was that my first book, Relic is a cozy. I disagreed.
While crimes committed in a cozy novel are usually solved by an amateur, my entire Morelville Mysteries series to date features a County Sheriff and a U.S. Customs Agent assigned to special investigations as the protagonists. Those two ladies are certainly not amateur investigators. Book two, Busy Bees, has a pretty graphic description of a murder victim as he dies, after the murderer has left the scene. Beginning with the third book, Dana’s Dilemma, there are also some graphic sexual encounters. Those will be present in the fourth book as well, Hitched and Tied, which is already underway.
There are lots of other reasons these books can’t be termed cozy mysteries. I personally feel that they’re set up more like the pulps of old or like more current works featuring sleuths like Kinsey Milhone and V. I. Warshawski. Those ladies face danger and they overcome it. Sometimes they have a little adult fun along the way (not depicted quite as graphically as in Dana’s Dilemma, but there all the same). My protagonists do all of that too.
If you follow the work of they very successful writer of gay themed mystery fiction, Josh Lanyon, then you might be aware that some of his work has been termed ‘cozy’ as well, specifically his Holmes and Moriarty series. I’d argue that point too. There’s nothing cozy – in the sense we’re using the word here – about a gay detective/gay detectives running around finding dead bodies, lusting after other men and, in some cases, having those men. While they’re enjoyable, well written works of mystery fiction, they certainly don’t qualify as cozies and Josh Lanyon himself doesn’t bill them that way.
My argument made to my friend, she finally conceded my point but then prodded me with something a bit more thought provoking; why stick to specific genre fiction (i.e. lesbian themed mystery novels). Why not branch out and do something with more appeal to the mainstream – like a cozy – or something along the lines of the stuff two of my sleuth fiction idols, Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich write? In a confidence booster to me, she told me, “You’ve already proven you can write so doing something like that should be easy for you.”
Frankly, I enjoy the genre fiction and the small intimate audience of readers I’ve managed to build so far. I don’t think I’d ever give up writing Dana and Mel stuff. I’m hooked on it and I have more than a couple of readers who are too. I’d hate to shift gears for something completely different but then I got to thinking; maybe there’s a hybrid possibility somewhere in there.
Morelville is a tiny village but most of what goes on is within the confines of the county it sits in and the larger (but not huge) city of Zanesville. Perhaps a spin off cozy series with Sheriff Mel as the local law officer that comes in at the end to haul the murderer out in handcuffs is in order? Or maybe Dana really does – SPOILER ALERT – retire completely and not set up a private practice doing investigations. Maybe instead she takes her settlement money and sets up to do something completely different but she gets sucked into stuff by an old busybody who fancies herself a sleuth? – END SPOILER.
I could keep my lesfic fans happy and I could stretch my wings a little too. There are certainly possibilities to consider. I’d love to hear from other genre fiction writers who have branched out into more mainstream areas and/or who have spun off a series from another series. Your thoughts are very welcome! Please feel free to comment.