Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What's in a word?

My tidbit from Malice Domestic today is really more "food for thought" than anything else. At the conference, there was a survey being handed out, asking folks if "cozy" should be replaced by some other term. For those not familiar with the term, a "cozy mystery" usually has an amateur sleuth (often female), no "on screen" or graphic blood, gore, or sex, and no (or very little) profanity. For further discussion of what goes into a cozy mystery check out Definition of a Cozy Mystery here or Writing the Cozy Mystery here.

Anyhow, there is a general feeling I've sensed (and heard expressed) that cozy mysteries do not get their due. That, in the world of crime fiction, "big thrillers," "literary mysteries," and so on are better respected, more heavily promoted, get the bigger bucks (in advances), and are higher on the review chain.

I'm not going to dive into that kettle of fish (or mangle any other idioms), but I do find it interesting that there's a belief that, by changing whatever you call this genre, you can somehow change how people view it. If we were to call cozy mysteries something else, they would still be what they are. If we labeled such mysteries as, oh, I don't know, "extreme mysteries" would it make a difference, do you think? Can you come up with another label for these sorts of cat-and-teapot traditional mysteries? (If you are still not sure what constitutes "cozy," think Jessica Fletcher and Cabot Cove).


Enid Wilson said...

Cozy mystery, that's an interesting term. I know for erotica, they use vanilla etc. Maybe mystery writer can classify by other interesting objects...

Fantasy stories by Enid Wilson

Anonymous said...

Interesting subject. Me, I don't think it'll work. I heard on talk radio the other day that GM was considering changing its name as a ploy to help improve their image.

Ridiculous. Learn how to build a car that works better and lasts longer.

Marvin D Wilson

KK Brees said...

I also think of Miss Marple sitting and knitting while the bodies fall around her. Perhaps the term is dated.

Elle Parker said...

Fluffy doesn't really sound right...

Personally, I like the term cozy. I can't really think of another term that doesn't have the same potential problem as cozy.

It's sort of the nature of the beast. Romance writers aren't viewed as being very high up on the food chain, but they have a remarkable share of the sales pie

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm a cozy author myself and really don't see anything wrong with the name. To me, it just signifies the kind of mystery that you can relax and read---it has a puzzle, an offstage/non-stressful murder, and interesting characters to share some time with.

I completely understand the authors' complaints about cozies not getting their due, but if the name changes, the characteristics of these books will remain the same. And really, considering the number of readers they pull into bookstores, I don't think a change is necessary.

Interesting post! Thanks for the food for thought....

Ann Parker said...

Enid: Vanilla, etc.? How interesting! Maybe sometime you could a blog on the sub-genres of erotica; I had no idea that the genre was divided up in such ways.
Marvin: I agree.
PP: You've got the picture! Another term bandied about for this sub-genre is "traditional mysteries," which has a more neutral feel to it.
Elle: I agree with what you say as well. Romance, from what I understand, is holding up extremely well in the current economic climate, and I've heard romances account for something like 51% of all book sales (?I might have that wrong... all fiction sales? anyhow, a huge amount).
Elizabeth: So true! And the readers are a loyal bunch. I think that "cozy" is just fine and have no trouble with the term at all. :-)

Patricia Stoltey said...

I have no problem with "cozy," but tend to call my books amateur sleuth mysteries instead. I'm sure there's a really good reason why I do that...

As for cozies not getting enough recognition, well, yeah, I suppose that's true. But they're so darned fun to write!


Dani said...

I think most of them have become "not-quite-cozy", at least the ones I read. How about meaty mysteries? That conjures up some images for me.


Ann Parker said...

Meaty mysteries? What about all the vegetarian readers? ;-)