A short while ago I suggested you can play with formats. I went on to say that for me the outcome is never what the character really wants. The writer I was talking to said, “But that’s not genre.” As though my approach meant losing any hope of attracting readers.
At about the same time, another writer recommended a book her colleague had just written. Here, not only was mixing formats frowned upon but the overriding claim was you have to meet readers’ expectations right off the bat. As though people go on Amazon, look at the cover, click on “Look Inside,” peruse the opening for, say, a creepy thriller or a harmless cozy and if their expectation isn’t immediately met, it’s over.
However, in the words of the old show tune, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
Take Marja McGraw’s Old Murders Never Die. The cold, gripping opening written in the third person follows a young pregnant women frantically running from the clutches of a killer. In no time she’s dispatched and we’re in the throes of a nightmarish tale.
But the next thing you know, P.I. Sandi Webster, her fiancé and sidekick Pete Goldberg, and their dog Bubba are off on a camping trip in the mountains of Arizona. Lighthearted Sandi is telling the tale, glad to get away from all those bodies that keep cropping up back in L.A. but a bit disconcerted when they lose their way. Not only that, they come across the remnants of an old mining ghost town circa the 1880s and become stranded when someone swipes the ignition relay module from their Jeep.
When a cowboy on a black stallion keeps appearing and disappearing, even shooting off his six guns, we’ve segued into some kind of twilight zone. At the same time, Sandi discovers an old diary written by the sheriff way back then. It seems a 15-year-old girl was found with her throat cut. Old medical records reveal the specter of more mayhem and, in due course, the pressing question: Why did everyone suddenly leave town?
Will yesteryear, the cowboy and the here-and-now collide? Will the couple and their dog ever get back to L.A. and those cozy, everyday murders?
Why can’t you tweak any format and ask readers to come along for the ride?