Monday, July 13, 2009


The hot buzzword at the last mystery conference I attended was "crossover."

Let me first explain that the mystery genre has for years been dissected into increasingly more minuscule sub-genres by publishers and book distributors. Their logic was, if you group mysteries by like attributes--say, all those that have tough private eyes versus all those in which cute old ladies outsmart local constables between sips of tea--then readers who like private eye books won't accidently be subjected to old ladies or cats or ghosts or, heaven forbid, souffle recipes.

Lately, though, some smart marketing cookie noticed that readers aren't accidently buying books they might not like, and since people not buying books is a bad thing, the concept of "crossover" was born. A "crossover" mystery novel is one with elements of two or more sub-genres, published in hopes that it will appeal to a broader slice of the market, and therefore sell more books. Publishers and distributors salivate at this notion, just like Pavlov puppies.

If you're a yet unpublished writer, or perhaps a not-published-in-way-too-long writer, you may want to consider converting your current project into a crossover novel. Here's how:

Let's say you're writing a book in which a body is found in the library. Said body has been done in by a "blunt object" (that bust of Great Uncle George would be ideal). A cat is present. Aforementioned little old lady with blue hair solves the crime after having a lavish tea with crumpets, cakes and cress sandwiches, all described in great detail.

First, "library" is not an acceptable gumshoe novel location. Still, readers do like books. Warehouse" is acceptable (has an "On The Waterfront" feel, doesn't it?), so change "library" to "book warehouse." As a personal favor to me, please insert a well-executed forklift chase to take out their stock of bad female-in-jeopardy thrillers.

Instead of Uncle George's bust, the blunt object should be something that calls to mind mean urban streets. A stoplight would do, or a stale soft pretzel, or the fender of an SUV, especially if the SUV is still attached.

Since black is the clothing color of choice for P.I.s and spies, all cats should be black with markings reminiscent of tattoos. Tough-looking tattoos, mind you, that say things like "Born to Shed." Body piercings for cats, however, might be considered bad taste.

I don't think the blue-haired old lady is a problem. One only needs to research what turns your standard little old lady into a psycho. The paper boy missing the porch every day? The bowling alley running out of donuts at Senior League? The Feds cracking down on Canadian pharmacies with the lowest nitroglycerin prices? Stuff like that. Oh, and make her blue hair match her Harley.

Food is the biggest challenge. No self-respecting P.I. would touch a crumpet. Still, at a minimum, I think chocolate needs to be mentioned, perhaps as a slippery coating poured on a mountain road to make the murderer's Jag spin out.

Think about it.

Elena, who was writing crossovers before it was fashionable. For my next, what do you think of the title GANG WAR GHOSTS IN THE CAT'S SOUFFLE?

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