Why I’m Writing My Way around the Genre

Some readers read mainly one genre. Romance, for example. Or historicals. Or Sci-fi. The genres include many variations on a theme, but, generally, each novel is similar to the next. Which can be comforting. You know what you’re going to get.

I’d like to think the crime fiction genre is different. As a crime thriller writer, it seems to be broader. Yes, a crime is central to the plot, and you can be sure you’re going to deal with the underbelly of human nature. But there are so many different ways in which the crime and the characters involved are revealed, treated, and resolved that it never seems tired. There are many sub-genres within crime fiction, and each has its own conventions. Consider:

Thrillers (Crime, legal, political, medical)
PI novels
Amateur Sleuths
Police Procedurals
Caper Stories

In fact, the thriller sub-genre, according to James Patterson, is constantly evolving:

“Thrillers provide such a rich literary feast. There are all kinds. The legal thriller, spy thriller, action-adventure thriller, medical thriller, police thriller, romantic thriller, historical thriller, political thriller, religious thriller, high-tech thriller, military thriller. The list goes on and on, with new variations constantly being invented. In fact, this openness to expansion is one of the genre’s most enduring characteristics.

So, instead of churning out 15 novels in the same series, I’ve spent the last 15 years writing my way around the genre.

Why? Several reasons. One, I get bored easily, and variety is the spice of life. Two, I love fresh challenges and the chance to experiment with shades of suspense, characters, settings, plots, endings. Third, I don’t want to run a series into the ground. I want my work to stay fresh. Fourth, as I mentioned before, every subgenre has its own subtle conventions and quirks. I get a kick out of the challenge of learning and applying them to a story.

JCI don’t want to trot out yet another of the same old thing to my readers. Although it may be comforting, I’ve seen too many series dwindle and then just disappear after five or six installments. I’d rather send Ellie Foreman, my amateur sleuth, on vacation for 10 years. Which I did. She only just emerged from “hiatus hell” to anchor JUMP CUT, which came out in March.

Ellie3someEllie on the precipice

Beyond the predictability of a series, there were two reasons I had to stop writing Ellie. The first was her voice. I write Ellie in first person, which I believe is the most intimate voice a writer can use. You really KNOW Ellie inside and out by the time you’ve finished one of her stories. However, as my craft developed and matured, I wanted to explore other characters’ POVs as well, and I found I couldn’t do it as gracefully as I wanted. I did it, primarily in AN IMAGE OF DEATh, but it wasn’t perfect. I needed a third person POV so I could dip into other characters’ thoughts.

The second reason was that Ellie was an amateur sleuth, and by book four I found myself bending over backwards to find a credible reason for her to get involved in a murder investigation. There are only so many bodies a video producer can realistically run across. After that it gets a bit strained and harder to suspend belief. It’s probably due to my former life as a broadcast news person – I want to be as accurate and credible as possible, and Ellie wasn’t making it easy.

Georgia3someGeorgia has more staying power

Georgia Davis, the protagonist of my four PI novels, solved my dilemma. She’s a powerful character and a popular (my Georgia books actually do better than the Ellie books in terms of sales.) Best of all, it’s her job to investigate murders, so I don’t have to turn backflips to find a reason for her to get involved. After four novels she’s gone through a development ARC, but she’s still fresh with lots of potential. So I’ll be coming back to her at some point. The key is to wait for the right story to showcase Georgia’s circumstances and skills.

More crime thriller sub-genres

Libby Hellmann Historical NovelsBesides the nine novels in the two series, I’ve written three stand-alone historical thrillers. One is about the late Sixties in the US; another is about the Iranian Revolution; the third begins during the Cuban revolution (sense a theme here?) I’ve also written a cozy novella, and one of the Georgia Davis novels is actually a prequel and occurs when she was still a cop, so it’s a police procedural. I’ve also been sidetracked by World War Two. I’ve written one novella and several short stories that are set then, and am about to finish a second novella about German POWs in the US. My plan is to package them all together later this summer, and I’ve given it the tentative title Homefront. Next up is a caper novel – a “Thelma and Louise” story with a happy ending for a change.

So, while it might make it more difficult to “brand” myself (whatever that really means) I like the freedom to explore and sink myself into new challenges. I think I’ll keep it up.

In the meantime, what sub-genre of crime fiction appeals to you? Why?