Reading Outside The Box

Jane/Susannah here, so excited to be doing her first post as a Wicked Accomplice!

I have a confession to make. Now that I write cozy mysteries, I read fewer of them than I used to.

Oh, there are still series that I read religiously, the ones I’m invested in, like Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen mysteries (oh, those recipes!), and Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series (will the penniless Lady Georgiana ever get her HEA with the hunky, equally penniless Lord Darcy?). And of course now that I’m fortunate enough to know so many authors, including the Wickeds, in real life, I try to read as many of those as time permits.

But it’s only partially about time. I have found I need to read other genres to keep things fresh in my own writing. So while I adore the cozies, quite often I will reach for something quite different:

Romance. Romance is a cousin to the cozy, in that the reader always knows what to expect, and there’s always a satisfying resolution. Girl meets Boy, external and internal obstacles come between them, Girl and Boy get back together at the end. It’s a formula, and it works. The mystery writer has a lot to learn from romance, which requires going deep into the characters’ heads and hearts, and establishing, building, and sustaining emotion as the main focus of the story. Mysteries are usually more plot driven, and I constantly catch myself only scratching the surface of my characters. The more romance I read, the more I realize that the key to any story is the characters–who they are, and how they interact. Complex characters superimposed on a well-constructed plot take a mystery to the next level.

Horror. Yes, you read that right. I read horror. Stephen King is a favorite. I don’t actually love the parts where gory stuff happens, but I’m not the type to have nightmares about it, either. Books never scare me (although movies can–they must activate a different part of the brain or something).  Like romance, horror speaks to something primal in our psyches–not the search for love, but the idea that there is the potential for good, and evil, in all of us. How does that help the mystery writer? Well, we’re writing about murder and associated crimes. Just because cozy authors don’t depict anything graphic, or explicitly describe deranged killers, it doesn’t mean we don’t need to understand what makes our criminals tick. Horror writers have this down pat.

Literary Fiction. I read this less often, but if it’s a successful book (meaning lots of people are buying, reading, and recommending it), I will often give it a try in an attempt to analyze what makes it so popular. And I sometimes enjoy the slower pace literary fiction usually has as opposed to genre fiction. In a lightning-fast world, anything that can slow you down to savor a beautiful (likely tragic) story can be a good thing. Literary fiction is often as much about the words as well as the story. Reading it can make you more aware of what words you are using and how you’re putting them together.

How about you? Do you read outside your genre box?

23 Thoughts

  1. Welcome, Jane! We are so happy to have you with us. I read lots of thrillers. It started when I was young and my dad would hand them off to my sister and me — Ken Follett, Lawrence Saunders, Lawrence Block among many others.

    1. Oh, thrillers! I like those too once in a while. From those I learn about pacing, tension and suspense. Again, things we need as mystery writers.

  2. Welcome! I’ll read anything you put in front of me. I look at cozies as comfort food–satisfying but not necessarily challenging. It’s nice to mix things up now and then.

    1. I’m an omnivorous reader, too, Sheila. And yes, cozies are like the macaroni and cheese of the publishing world. Oh, so satisfying 🙂

  3. I certainly don’t read horror! Actually, I rarely read non-mysteries and almost never read non-fiction books, although I love New Yorker articles. But you make good points about what we can learn from outside our field. (And welcome to the Wickeds!)

  4. I read nonfiction (memoir, history) but also what would be called women’s or book club fiction. I also, once or twice a year, try to read a brain-busting classic. Most of the time, though, I am reading manuscripts.

  5. I’m smiling because reading cozies is reading out of the box for me as my “traditional” reading tends toward a bit darker mysteries. But I am eclectic, enjoying nonfiction, YA, science fiction/fantasy and the occasional literary novel (usually a book club selection).

    ~ Jim

  6. I’m reading the Daniel Silva and Steve Berry’s series for a change of pace. I love learning about historical events and places, art, and the world of government agents who operate under our radar system. I’ve always loved reading biographies of historical figures too.

  7. You bring up good points about what can be learned from other genres.

    I read more cozies than anything else, and it seems to be getting that way more and more every year. I just can’t keep up with all of them. However, I also read Middle Grade books. Some mysteries and some fantasy. They are a nice break because I find that every so often I must step away from cozies or I stop enjoying them. But after that break, I come back refreshed and ready to solve another murder.

      1. Thanks, Mark! I find it hard to keep up, too. I also enjoy the cozies more once I’ve read something completely different. When my son was younger we were totally hooked on those 39 Clues books and the Percy Jackson series. Someday I hope to catch up on them.

  8. Hi, Jane. Great first post! I can relate. First, while writing and editing (which is almost all the time), I don’t have as much mental energy for reading. I miss it! When I can pick up a book, it’s often something outside the cozy genre, such as a memoir or suspenseful novel. Last year I especially enjoyed Maggie Barbieri’s ONCE UPON A LIE.

    1. Oh, I do like suspense! I’m going to be on a panel at Malice Domestic with Maggie Barbiere–I will have to read that book before I go.

  9. Welcome to the Wickeds, Jane, and thanks for the thought-provoking post! It is so interesting to to discover the types of books others enjoy! I read things from all sorts of genres but have a particular soft spot for narrative non-fiction, and Gothic tinged rollicking adventures.

    1. Gothics–my all-time favorite. I’ve mentioned before, I think, that Jane Eyre is my very favorite book, and they don’t come more Gothic than that. I also love the old Victoria Holt gothics. I like the sound of Gothic tinged rollicking adventures–what author(s) would that be? As for narrative nonfic, I like that type of book too, especially the funny ones like those written by David Sedaris and Bill Bryson.

  10. Welcome, Susannah! Besides cozies I read traditional mysteries, literary short stories, literary novels and narrative non-fiction. Everything good inspires me.

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