It is my pleasure to welcome cozy mystery author Janice J. Richardson back to my blog! Today she shares with us her thoughts on genres, as both an author and reader.
She is also getting ready for the August 19th release of the third book in her Spencer Funeral Home Niagara Cozy Mystery series, Grave Mistake. I’m looking forward to reading it! You can find more about it at the bottom of this post, along with my review of her second novel, Winter’s Mourning.
And if that isn’t enough, you can also read a lovely interview and review of her first book Casket Cache, here.
Genre Identity and The Author’s Voice by Janice J. Richardson
The Oxford dictionary defines genre as: a style of art, music, or literature. The subgenre is defined as a subdivision of literature, music, film, etc.
How many times as a child did you hear that sound? Shhh. Silence your voice. Shhh isn’t always a bad thing. You were being taught manners. When someone else is speaking, you are quiet. Concert, church, classroom. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. We all learned that as children.
As a child, I would walk quietly into the children’s section of the library and make a simple decision, right or left – non-fiction or fiction. Libraries were wondrous things to me then, and now. Picking a book was simple, I would walk up and down the rows until something caught my eye. It wasn’t until I worked in a university library as a teen that I fully learned about subgenres and the classification of books.
As readers, we evolve. Thrillers once were my go-to read. Police procedural’s followed. Now it’s memoirs and general non-fiction, with the occasional cozy. No longer do many of us wander up and down the fiction or non-fiction aisles randomly looking at books. We go online, pick a topic and browse dozens and dozens of books related to that topic. Just like people, no two books and their authors are the same (unless they are formulized). Not even identical twins are the same. I know this because I am one. My twin is a night person, I am a day person. She is highly intelligent, I am just normal. She is cranky, I’m nice. 🙂
Over time I found myself chafing against the ‘formulized’ mysteries and thrillers that were being churned out. I stopped reading them. I was drawn to books that downplayed violence, blood, gore, you know, the stuff video games are made of. It had nothing to do with religion or belief, it had to do with the fact that in my career I was exposed to enough of that. Like any front line worker, one sees more than they want to see. A peaceful, kinder, gentler read was/is relaxing and entertaining.
Then I became a writer. I don’t feel like an ‘author’ some days. Just like I don’t always feel like being an adult. 🙂
Genre identity is a necessary part of posting your book, the correct categories and search terms define sales.
I wrote a memoir. It fit the memoir category because it was my voice, my story. It fit a subgenre of funeral service. A simple search on Amazon – books about funeral directors will take one to that book, the fifth one down when I looked it up.
The fiction series was not so easy. When is a mystery not a mystery? I locked myself into a cozy genre because Casket Cache met many of the criteria. According to Wiki, cozies are a subgenre of crime fiction. Notice it is ‘crime fiction’ not ‘mystery.’ I’m already confused. According to the Wiki definition of a cozy mystery, the death is downplayed, minimized or humorous. (As a funeral director I take exception to the classification of a ‘humorous’ death. Death is serious. Sometimes the events around the funeral are humorous though). In a cozy, there is no blood or gore, no swearing. Usually, the ‘detectives’ are women who are not associated with the police but who have contact with someone on the police force. They hold a job and are intuitive and likeable. The authorities don’t take them seriously. They usually live in a small town or village and interact with the community members, an important part of the cozy genre. Non-violence is part of the cozy genre, suspects are taken into custody more or less quietly. In one of my books, a bag of milk swung in self-defence brings down the suspect. (Canada puts milk in bags). Romantic interests may evolve without graphic details or sex. Often the protagonist has a cat and a hobby. I like the cat part. Grimsby is the cat in my series. I skipped the hobby part.
A mystery does not have to be a murder. It does in a cozy, if I read the criteria correctly. Again, I take exception. Don’t shhh me or lock me into a genre. I am an adult, an author and/or writer. I have my voice and my voice isn’t like everyone elses. I want the reader of my books to close their eyes and picture the scene. I want them to fill in the blanks and see in their mind’s eye what is going on. I want them to be entertained and enlightened and educated. I want them to feel safe and as they finish the last chapter, I want to them to think about what they just read. Louise Penny (Inspector Gamache series) is a master at that. But I cannot write like her, she is brilliant. I have to write like me, in my voice. I have read some wondrous books lately – The High Cost of Flowers, (Cynthia Kraack); Bridge of Sighs and Dreams, (Pamela Allegretto); Radio Okapi Kindu, (Jennifer Bakody;) and The Lover’s Portrait, (Jennifer S. Alderson). I did not detect a hint of formula in any of those books. Those authors took me on a journey and I finished the last chapter of their books satiated and content, sorry to see it end. I didn’t even look at the genre.
Several books in The Spencer Funeral Home Niagara Cozy Mystery series are a bit different, a little off the genre definition. The characters are the same, a few minor ones come in, some go. A couple of the books follow the cozy mystery format tightly, the other two are looser in their style.
In the end – whose voice matters most? The authors or the readers? As an author, my reader’s voices matter. I also need to be true to myself. If that means stepping outside genre lines, then so be it. As a reader, I respect the author’s voice. If I don’t like their work, I don’t have to read it. I met a new author at a book reading earlier this year. His work was brilliant. He mentioned that he had taken out all the swear words during the reading. How bad could it be, I thought as I ordered his book. It was bad enough that I couldn’t read or review it. His readers love it and his book is doing very well. He is a nice person who was true to his voice. He would not like my books. I choose to write cozies because they are gentle and free of language I don’t use in real life. I don’t want to diminish or degrade people in my real life, nor in my writing. I abhor gratuitous violence. That’s my voice.
Grave Mistake (TBR August 19, 2017) is a true cozy. It is a mystery first. The funeral home undergoes renovations and a designer is murdered. There is a tornado, a recalcitrant family, a wedding. It should entertain a hardcore, cozy fan. It is available on Amazon (ebook version) for a pre-release price of .99 USD.
First Call, the final book in the series (TBR late 2017), does not quite meet the criteria for a cozy mystery. Anyone who has read the series will guess the murderer immediately, which won’t make it a mystery in some reader’s minds. A true cozy mystery reader wants the puzzle, the putting together of clues. I put the murder in First Call to fit the cozy mystery genre but the story is about the challenges faced by the characters during an influenza pandemic, specifically the protagonist, Jennifer. The mystery is in the evolution of the characters, and in their fate. Once one reaches the last chapter it will leave the reader with unanswered questions. I won’t tell readers what to think. The outcome of First Call is in their imagination. It was a tough book to write. For two years I have ‘worked’ with my characters. It will be hard to let go.
Shhh. What do you prefer – having the story ‘spelled out’ for you or letting your mind take you where it wants to go? Do you prefer a set genre meeting the criteria or a modified version? Does it matter?
Thank you, Jennifer – it is an honour to be your guest blogger.
About the Author
Hailing from the Niagara Region in Canada, Janice is a retired funeral director. Prior to her funeral service career she was employed as a university library technician, a medical office assistant, and a small business manager. At Humber College she worked as a peer tutor in anatomy, pathology and physiology and was the recipient of the Wilfred R. Scott award. She continued with post graduate training, receiving the designation of Certified Funeral Service Practitioner. Janice is retired, filling her days with writing, reading and friends.
Grave Mistake (Spencer Funeral Home Niagara Cozy Mystery #3)
Mistakes have consequences.
Funeral Director Jennifer Spencer’s mistake was not checking the weather report. A tornado wrecked havoc at the cemetery where a burial was to take place. First mistake.
An interior designer is murdered. Jennifer is determined to find the killer. Second mistake.
Adding to the business of running two funeral homes comes an illness, a wedding and potentially the most grave mistake of all.
Two mistakes too late.
Order Grave Mistake now on Amazon.
My Review of Winter’s Mourning (Spencer Funeral Home Niagara Cozy Mystery #2)
Winter’s Mourning is a lovely continuation of the Spencer Funeral Home series and an enjoyable story to boot.
The main protagonist, Jennifer, once again proves herself to be a compassionate funeral director and trusted friend who goes above and beyond to help those in need. The funeral home setting and emotional situations the characters find themselves in while serving the living and dead, are quite unique and that makes it an even more interesting read!
This time Jennifer’s fighting for her own life and trying to save a young, tragedy-stricken woman. Niagara, Canada is again the gorgeous setting.
I do suggest starting with book one; those who haven’t read it may not fully understand the storyline in this one.
I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery and look forward to reading the third book in the series!
4.5 out of 5 stars