Apologies, dear readers, but all the self-publishing I know about is related to technical writing and graphic novels, so I'm going to chat about something a little off topic. Do forgive me, please.
I went to Bouchercon three days early, and finished my novel. Cue the brass band.
One of the things you have to do once you finish a book, if you want someone else to publish it, is to write a query letter to agents or publishers and persuade them to read the book, fall in love with it, and be desperate to get it published, as desperate as you are. Or in the agent's case, perhaps 15% as desperate.
You'd think a letter full of praise for the theme, extolling the virtues of your protagonist, or sharing just how excited your mom, husband, and pet cat are about the plot would be great selling points.
Not so much.
Turns out, in that first paragraph, they want to know the page length and genre.
But I'm a brilliant writer. I'm so beyond genre. I'm a genre bender, man! Don't try to put me in a box.
Alas, if I want them to put my books in a box and ship them to a bookstore, I have to fess up and clarify what part of that bookstore my firstborn story will land in. If I can't make it clear in the query letter, it's likely I'm not going to be able to sell the thing until AFTER something else of mine is published.
Which got me a tad panicked. I'm not a cozy writer, but not really the blood-and-guts of modern noir, either. Soft-boiled. I made that term up, but I hear a lot of writers are using it now. Soft-boiled doesn't sound like a market-dominating commodity, does it?
All that got me to thinking, exactly what is a cozy? A scientific definition, like the difference between plants and animals. After the careful application of a few glasses of cask-distilled scotch (thank you, Cleveland Downtown Liquor!), it hit me: cozy or traditional mysteries take place when something uncomfortable happens in a comfortable world. And the story isn't over, not only until the murderer is revealed, but until the comfort or promise of comfort is restored.
Noir, at the other extreme, is the most uncomfortable world you can think up, with the most uncomfortable things happening. I think too much, so of course I have a lot of other definitions for noir, but they aren't relevant here. If you apply a second dose of cask-distilled scotch, you get the rest of the theory. You've been warned.
So cozy equals comfortable world, and noir equals uncomfortable world, and the other genres are strung along that continuum. Hard boiled, soft boiled, police proceral, and private eye. It gets complicated, because some genres are orthogonal to this continuum: historical mysteries can be cozy or noir. Hm, I think I need another scotch.
The gutsy broad in my book, Amelia Wells, is a fraud investigator. Private. Really she's like a specialized private eye, one that knows more about faked invoices than surveillance techniques. Which gets her into a bit of trouble, but more about that later...
Point is, I have a theory. So now I know my book is in the private eye tradition, not even a bit cozy. So now I'm out of excuses and have to start polishing that query letter!
Les Roberts hosted a panel at Bouchercon for private eye writers and readers. They are a cynical crew, or maybe they are cock-eyed pessimists. Anyway, I learned a lot from them, and I'm hoping to be lucky enough to join their ranks soon.
What's the most uncomfortable world you've been in? For me, it's the time I got my rental car stuck on the ice in a deserted national park in the middle of Montana (I was trying to get sense memories for my book about Mongolia. Sometimes I think too much, sometimes not enough!).