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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?

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