Book Cover Art

I’ve just reviewed 2 more artist’s concept sketches for my upcoming book. Originally, I thought THE HATBOX MURDERS would be an easy cover. After all, it’s got two main characters, a hatbox, and it’s set in the 1950s.

But each sketch goes in a completely different direction from what I had been imagining. They’re unexpected but also very cool, and I can can only guess what the finished art will look like.

At the end of the day, I’m neither the artist nor the publisher, but it will be fun to see what Barking Rain Press and the artist come up with for my book! I love the old covers for Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L. Sayers, but I’m not sure if they would fit the contemporary mystery market. Here’s the Pinterest board I’ve created for Mystery Retro Book Covers: http://pin.it/J0RjENY

A mystery by any other name…

20161204_114917How does one describe a mystery genre? 5 or 6 years ago, when people used to ask me what I write, I would tell them I wrote mysteries. I would often have to explain that, no, I didn’t write thrillers, horror, or medical suspense. I wrote more old-fashioned mysteries, more like Agatha Christie’s stories. Classic whodunits, with a fairly small cast of characters, a clever sleuth, a charming location, and nothing too offensive or graphic. You know; just fun, old-fashioned murder mysteries.

Until one day, someone nodded knowingly and said, “Oh, you write cozies.”

Cozies, I learned, are a subgenre of mystery where the sex and violence happened “off stage,” and the primary focus is on solving the “puzzle” of the crime. So far, so good. I did some research. Stephen D. Rogers (who knows his stuff) even wrote that cozies are “typified by Agatha Christie.” Brilliant. My books apparently had found a home; they were cozies.

But it’s not that simple.

With two completed books, I boldly went to my first writers’ convention. And a prominent agent (who also knows her stuff) promptly informed me that my books were not cozies. Her explanation was that cozies absolutely must have an amateur sleuth (sorry Poirot!) and even though I have an amateur sleuth in my character, Victoria, the presence of the handsome Inspector Riggs disqualifies my books from using the cozy title.

I did a little more research and while I couldn’t find a universal definition, most people in the cozy-loving world seemed to agree (more or less) that cozies should: 1) balance the protagonist’s personal story with the mystery, 2) contain a cat, dog, or some other adorable animal, and 3) should not contain more than two victims per book. That’s 3 strikes for me. (But only 2 strikes if you happen to consider seagulls “adorable”).

Maybe genres evolve. Maybe it’s a great big world of mysteries and we don’t always define genres the same way. That’s okay. As long as we get to read what we love.

These days, if you ask me what I write, I’ll say I write mysteries. They’re historical because they’re set in the 1950s. They’re traditional because you’ll need to sort through clues and red herrings to solve tJennifer Berg mystery writerhe puzzle of the crime. They’re detective mysteries because, they usually have a detective somewhere. You know, just fun, old-fashioned murder mysteries.

You can read Roger’s excellent article: From Cozy to Caper: a Guide to Mystery Genres at http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/genres.shtml. For further complications on the exact definitions of the various mystery subgenres, just ask anyone.

Cast of Characters in Mysteries

20170101_140622I’m currently reading Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse (which is excellent!) and I noticed that it begins with a bio list of all the pertinent characters. It’s the sort of thing we expect from plays, but it can be a great cheat for mystery books as well. Keeping characters straight in a mystery isn’t hard when everyone appears at more or less the same time, but when characters drift in and out of the plot, or trickle in over time, it’s too easy to unknowing mix them up. When mysteries don’t list the characters (and they usually don’t) I generally make my own cast list as I read. Sometimes, it’s overkill, but at least I can enjoy the actual mystery as the author intended instead of some weird disjointed story caused by my unintended character swapping. For the record, I didn’t include a cast list for my first book, The Hatbox Murders, because I didn’t think about it in time, but now that I’m editing The Charlatan Murders, I’ll definitely talk to my editor about including a Cast of Characters. Maybe the rest of the Elliott Bay series will feature a hand cast list.

Discovering my favorite genre

20161208_113134I was in 8th grade when I picked up my first mystery. I remember the aisle and the shelf. The book was a paperback. Like all the library mysteries, it had a bright sticker with the image of a magnifying glass  and the word “Mystery” stuck to its spine. The author was Agatha Christie. I don’t remember which Christie it was, but dozens followed, and more mystery authors after that. What I do remember was the tantalizing feeling of escaping into those magical pages. I remember the excitement as the plot unfolded, the adventure, and my mounting suspicions as I approached the thrilling climax. Even then, I knew I’d found something wonderful; I’d discovered my favorite genre.

lunch break Agatha Christie

I’m currently reading a classic Christie. The first time I read it was probably 15 years ago. So I can safely say that the only thing I remember is that I loved it. I’m about a third of the way through and it’s starting to get really intricate. I’m beginning to doubt the main character’s new friend. It’s better this time around, especially since I’m old enough to appreciate that other funny business. But, that’s all for now. Until I can get back to it tomorrow, I’ll be mulling this plot over.

oh, typo, joyful typo

I probably shouldn’t be quite so happy about this…. BUT after so many hours spent editing and re-reading and triple checking HATBOX, after so many polite mentions from my editors pointing out my absurd and ridiculous mistakes, (Did I actually write that???), and after I commit to do it all over again with CHARLATAN, it’s so wonderful to find an innocently misplaced “t.” The fact that it happens to be in a very read (and reread book) makes it even sweeter. Oh, joy. Editing really is hard work, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.