Monday, November 5, 2012

Mystery on Monday - Guest Blogger Kaye George on What Should Be in a Mystery

Welcome back to Kaye George, who was my guest last July (click here to see that post). Kaye is back today with a new book and some thoughts on what should (and shouldn't) be in a mystery. Welcome, Kaye!  ~ Sheila
What exactly should be in a mystery? 

How mysterious should a mystery be? I guess what I mean is, how pure do you need your mysteries? Some of them have a touch of romance, some have a lot. Same with humor and paranormal elements. This is, of course, highly subjective and my opinions won't match yours. But mine are the only ones I have, so I'll go with them. 

I like some romance, and can take more than a little. However, it's important to me how it's portrayed. I don't want specific details that mention a whole bunch of body parts usually covered by underwear. Maybe this is because I'm a female? The romance, for me, is in the foreplay, the looks, soft words, and brief, tingling touches that lead up to…things. One way I've seen this described recently is the difference between closing the door and leaving the door open. I close the door. 

However, I don't want the romance to be more important than the mystery. I still want the dead bodies to be what the book is all about--how the bodies got dead, what led to that, who did it and how, etc. 

Romantic suspense calls for a lot more, to my way of thinking. Those books are, first and foremost, about the relationship. Any mystery involved takes a back seat and lets romance drive the bus. But, even in romantic suspense, a little bit of description can go a long way. I remember listening to a romantic suspense on my car CD player and pulling up to the bank teller window. I suddenly realized that he was groping for a certain body part, which was becoming wet. I couldn't hit the "off" button fast enough. How embarrassing! When I'm reading those passages in a paperback or ebook, I skip them, but you can't on a CD. Ugh. 

Humor is important, too. I like many mysteries that don't contain any humor, but I reread those that do. The laugh-out-loud type is my favorite. Subtle humor is all right, but doesn't float my boat like the Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, Erma Bombeck, David Sedaris, James Thurber, PG Woodhouse kind. I know those aren't/weren't all mystery writers, but they're all darn funny, for sure. If I ever wrote anything half as funny as any of them, I could die happy. (Not right away, just…some day.) 

Paranormal is another matter. I'm slowly evolving on this one. I wrote an entire guest blog recently on my changed attitude. I used to close the book if anything that smacked of unreality appeared. Werewolf, vampire, ghost, ESP, they all sullied the intellectual aspects of crime solving for me. Then, one day, a sort-of-werewolf popped up in a short story. The story is called "Retransformation" and is included in the anthology, ALL THINGS DARK AND DASTARDLY, as well as my own collection, A PATCHWORK OF STORIES. It was originally published in "Mysterical-E ezine" and reprinted in the other two places. Can you tell I grew fond of that story? The title character, Isabel Musik, a Retransformer, is a former werewolf herself, in charge of finding rogue werewolves and changing them back. It isn't that I wanted to write about werewolves, it's just that this idea popped up and wouldn't let go. 

Likewise, for my most recently published novel, BROKE. Imogene Duckworthy has decided it's time for her to move out of her mother's singlewide, but has to find a place that will accept not only her daughter, but her daughter's pet potbelly pig, Marshmallow. The story was already set in October, so--a ghost floated onto the scene. She made it all the way to the cover of the book! 

So I guess I'm not against ghosts in mysteries any more. Writing one that way took care of that. 

What would it take to convince you to accept elements in your mysteries that you've been opposed to? How open minded are you about changing your views?


Kaye George is short story writer and novelist who has been nominated
for Agatha awards twice. She is the author of three mystery series,
the Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas series, the Cressa Carraway
musical mystery series, and the FAT CAT cozy series with Berkley Prime
Crime. The last two will debut in 2013. She reviews for "Suspense
Magazine", writes for several newsletters and blogs, and gives
workshops on short story writing and promotion. Kaye is agented by Kim
Lionetti at BookEnds Literary and lives in Texas, near Waco.

Amazon author page:
Facebook author page:

(also available at Nook, Smashwords, Untreed Reads, and elsewhere)


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  1. Hello, Kaye and Sheila,

    Because I also write mysteries with some humor, some romance and a touch of the paranormal, I found this blog quite interesting. Cross-genre mysteries are definitely becoming more popular and accepted. I agree, however, that in a mystery, any romance must be secondary to the mystery itself, otherwise the novel is described as romantic suspense. As I write both, I'm well aware of the differences and agree with what you've written here.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    DEATH LEGACY--romantic suspense mystery thriller

  2. I wonder if this is a pendulum thing, tolerating woo-woo in our mysteries, Jacqueline. Or a straight line progression with no return?

  3. I like this post. If I were teaching a course in mystery writing, this would be required reading. Re your approach to romance, I laughed when I read your comment, "I don't want specific details that mention a whole bunch of body parts usually covered by underwear." I know what you mean. Too much information is definitely not good.

    Kaye, good luck with BROKE and all your work.

  4. What a lovely thing to say, Gail! You have made my day. :D

  5. Great post, Kaye. Good job, Sheila, having Kaye back. I always said I didn't like paranormal elements in the mysteries I read, and wouldn't put them in my own stories. I still don't think I'd ever write a whole novel with such characters, but I have done a few short stories. Usually this was because of a call for submissions that caught my interest. And speaking of humor, since I can't take paranormal stuff too seriously, the stories I wrote were more often humorous than not. So, if I hear from others who particularly like something and recommend it, I will now even read some. But one major point--I want to known in advance that those elements are in the story. I will then read it with different expectations.

  6. I agree, it's bad to be surprised by paranormal elements. It's awfully easy to use them for cheating.

  7. Kaye, it strikes me that the paranormal (including "answers to prayers" in certain sub-genres) work a bit like good old-fashioned deus ex machina to get characters out of impossible situations. Interesting.....

  8. I agree, Sheila! Not fair in a mystery.

  9. Thanks for having me here today, Sheila!

  10. You are very welcome, Kaye. Than you for coming!

  11. I'll read books that are light reading if they contain a ghost or haunting, but I don't really care for the no-humor-the-author-just-wants-to-scare-you stories. And I agree with you about the TMI. I'd rather leave those scenes to my own imagination. Good post!
    Marja McGraw

  12. I like to be scared if I'm in the right mood. But, strangely, I don't like that with my mysteries. Thanks!

  13. I agree with your whole post!!!!

  14. That's good to know, Diana--thanks!

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