Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Crossing Genres: Does It Work? By Jacqueline Seewald

There seems to be some confusion as to whether romantic mystery and romantic suspense are the same genre of fiction.  In fact, they are not. My mystery novel THE TRUTH SLEUTH published in hardcover and large print, for example, is a romantic mystery not romantic suspense. It’s the third Kim Reynolds librarian sleuth mystery novel in a series, the first two being THE INFERNO COLLECTION and THE DROWNING POOL (now both available in e-book formats as well as paperback and hardcover).
In romantic suspense, the mystery is secondary to the romance. Plot focus is always on the romance while the mystery mostly offers a plot device, usually ways to bring the hero and heroine closer together. In a romantic mystery, the love interest is secondary. The mystery and finding its solution is the key plot factor. The romantic aspect usually serves to provide added depth to the main character(s) and make them more real to the reader.

In romantic suspense there is always a happy ending with the couple united at the end in the love of their lives. In romantic mystery novels, which are often part of a series like mine, that is not necessarily the case--although it can be. Also in a romantic mystery series the main protagonists are more like real people with their lives changing and their character developing and evolving. Ideally, these novels are not static. That is one reason a romantic mystery series can grow in popularity and recognition.
 But what of a novel that crosses genres? Can it succeed? Reviewers as well as readers are often confused when authors move away from pigeon-holed tried and true formulas for genre novels and experiment. In my current novel, DEATH LEGACY, I’ve written a romantic suspense mystery thriller, a fast-paced novel full of exciting action, based loosely on an actual spy case. Can such a novel work? Reviews from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and BOOKLIST among others indicate that it can. The reviews have been excellent.

As a reader, I enjoy many types of genres, crossed and otherwise. As a writer, I like to experiment. I’m grateful that my work has been published and critically well-received. Now all I need is lots of readers like you!

To celebrate the new large print edition of DEATH LEGACY which can be requested at libraries everywhere, I’m offering an a.r.c., a  print trade size copy of the novel, to someone chosen at random. So please leave an e-mail address where you can be reached along with your comment.

Now back to the original question: does crossed genre fiction work for you? Why or why not?


jenny milchman said...

Cross-genre novels are usually my favorite to read (and write). I think there is the potential for to get past the expected in unusual ways. Congrats on the large print edition!

Unknown said...

Very nice blog, Jacquie. I like novels that cross genres. Mine have been called everything from romantic suspense to romantic mystery to romantic action-adventure. I like that! Congrats on those great reviews. I look forward to reading your latest.

Maggie Toussaint said...

As another writer of books that cross genres, I can speak to this topic. Jacquie is right on target about the differences between romantic mysteries and romantic suspense.

In general, I've found that my romance readers are more likely to cross over to read my mysteries rather than the other way around. With there being so many veins of romance out there, fans are willing to go anywhere for a love story. However, died in the wool mystery fans, in general, seem to prefer their mysteries undiluted with romance.

Those statements aren't absolutes, of course, but as long as readers know what they're getting, either from an author or a certain genre, they are more likely to be satisfied by the read.

If you're thinking to write a cross-genre book, be sure and say that in the labels, tags, or other descriptors for the work. That advice is worth about two cents, probably less if inflation hits.

Nice post, Jacquie!

Marilyn Levinson said...

I cross genres often, and always have a bit of romance in my mysteries. I don't agree that the love element in a romantic suspense is more important than the suspense or mystery element. Both must be present and intertwine to work.

Mary F. Schoenecker said...

I still wonder about labeling the last installments of my romance series that ended up having as much mystery in them as suspense. I think they ended up as Romantic Suspense, yet my review from Publishers Weekly called one a "sweet cozy mystery" Your blog is thought provoking and a truly interesting post. I'll definitley sign up for that free copy.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Jenny, Christy, Marilyn, Maggie and Mary,

Thank you all for the wonderful, intelligent comments you've posted here!

Sharon Ervin said...

I remember trying to limit a book to one genre. Mixing and matching was forbidden. It was like balancing on a high wire, teetering a little too far one way or another. I am glad publishers loosened up, and think it was due to demand from both readers and writers. We are an awesome, if disorganized, bunch.

Leigh Neely said...

Like my writing, I don't want my reading trapped by constraints. I read a lot and really enjoy cross-genre books. They usually provide a diverse and interesting story.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Sharon,

It's great not to have to worry about fitting a writing "formula." There are still publishers who demand it, of course, but you're right, writing restrictions have loosened allowing for more creativity.

Jan Christensen said...

Frankly, I'd never heard of romantic mysteries before. I thought all romances with mystery or suspense in them were called romantic suspense. It's confusing that things are reversed in these two designations. If a romantic suspense is a romance with suspense, shouldn't a romantic mystery be a romance with a mystery? I'm glad you pointed this out because I'm much more apt to read a mystery with some romance than the other way around. I'm a happy reader when the emphasis is on the mystery or suspense. A little romance in the story is nice, but doesn't interest me as much as a good mystery does. Which is why I write mainly mysteries, but some do have some romance in them. Most, in fact. But not at all in the way of a typical category romance does.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Leigh,

I'm of a similar opinion. I enjoy mystery and romance and don't mind when the two are mixed together. The main thing--well-developed characters in an interesting plot.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Jan,

At one time, romances were just that. Now there's more meat on the bones so to speak. As to mysteries, it's great to have characters that are more lifelike and that includes elements of romance.

B.K. Stevens said...

You raise some interesting questions. My guess is that publishers care about categories more than readers do--and since publishers care, writers have to care.

Cindy Sample said...

Hi Jacqueline. As usual, you've written a thought-provoking post. I once had a NY publisher tell me there was no shelf in the store for a humorous romantic mystery. He wanted me to take the romance out. I know my fans enjoy the sexual tension I've created between my protagonist and her detective. At this point in my life, I'll write what my fans and I enjoy reading. I'm also seeing far more genre crossing lately and I definitely approve.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Your definitions are right on the mark. My Bad Hair Day series are romantic mysteries. They fit the puzzle requirements for a cozy with a romantic subplot.

As for mixing genres, I am more likely to do so with my romance novels. My current Drift Lords series blends adventure, romance, sci fi, fantasy with elements of Norse mythology.

I tend to believe that cross-genre books are harder to sell.

dkchristi said...

I don't worry that much about genre - cross or otherwise except for those I choose not to read - period. Same for writing - a good story is my goal, reading or writing. author of Ghost Orchid and more

Nancy Means Wright said...

Good, thoughtful post, Jacquie. Even though you're technically crossing genres, it's not a wide bridge, in my thinking, since you're roughly in a mystery mode whether the romance succeeds or not. I enjoy all the genres you mention, and truly have no problem crossing--though some may. The big jump, which I want to write about one day is crossing into a wholly mainstream mode--no mystery, murder, thriller novel at all. I've tried it, with only moderate success. Many fans like the "same old." Anyway, thanks for this!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I very much appreciate the thoughts expressed here by fellow authors.
I notice that authors who consistently write in the same genre may have more trouble convincing readers to consider their crossed genre work. If as a reader you're expecting a humorous romance, for instance, you might be upset to find yourself faced with dark horror. So the point is well-taken that work needs clear identifiers.

Anita Page said...

Jacquie, a thought-provoking post and interesting responses. Like Jan, I'm more interested in mysteries than romance, but appreciate some sexual/romantic tension.

Fiona L. Woods said...

Like Jan, I'm more of a mystery fan.

I didn't even know there was a specific genre for romantic mystery until reading your blog post. If there was no "resolution" to the romance at the end, I've always put it in the mystery category. If there was a "resolution" to the romance at the end, I've always put it in the romantic suspense category. Now, I find out I've been wrong all this time.

Life gets so confusing!

bn100 said...

Nice post. I think it works because it makes the story more interesting.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks for all the interest and good comments!

I want to add a comment in regard to separating romantic suspense from romantic mystery. A romantic suspense novel definitely puts the romance ahead of the mystery. However, there's no reason that romantic suspense can't have a quality mystery in the plot line. But the romance always has priority.

In a romantic mystery, there's romantic and or sexual tension. However, the mystery is most important to the plot, the romance is secondary. That's why a romantic mystery can continue.

Nancy G. West said...

Hi Jacqueline,
Thanks for the thoughtful article. I especially like your comment:
"The main thing--well-developed characters in an interesting plot."
As you point out, romantic mysteries (which I write, too) provide the opportunty to develop character(s)because traits are amplified by the puzzle and danger of a mystery.

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